Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Look Them Straight in the Eyes

Growing up, everyone gets the lessons or the lectures from the parents. Comparably, I would say I received very little advice from my parents than most kids. It seemed to me that their philosophy was to raise children with the right principles and then let them lead their own lives and make their own decisions. Recently one of the principles that I've been reflecting on, and finding so true...is something my Dad used to tell me.

He said, "Always look people straight in the eyes." Never look down, and never look up. It seems like a simple lesson: People are people, and no one is better or worse than anyone else. The first half is that he taught me to never look down on other people for economic, racial, education, nationality or any other reason. Everyone has just as much value as a human being as I do. So the application of that lesson was to smile at everyone, greet everyone, and generally treat them with respect. And the result? You are well-received and liked wherever you go. The service you receive is better, the conversations you have are more genuine, etc. Valuing other human beings is invaluable.

The flip side of the lesson: Never look up at someone like they are unreachable, or better than you, or have the right to treat you like they are. Don't fear a person's power or money so much that you feel they are better than you, you can't be yourself, or can't see them as human. Who knows, it could be just a matter of time before you are in the same place. And the result? Confidence. To say what you think and be who you are, no matter who you are talking to.

I see this lesson at work in my life in China all the time. I can constantly cross boundaries up and down that my Chinese counterparts can't or won't cross. Why do my housekeeper, door guard and waitress all greet me and smile every time I pass, but fall silent when anyone else passes? My Chinese coworkers don't know how I got into the inner circle of 40-something male shareholders of the company. Compared to the coworkers, I wasn't afraid of the hierarchy, the money, or the job. I would joke or chat with them, and always say my opinion on the business whether it was pleasant or not. You can call it American...or Southern...but I call it Brown, because I know it came from my Dad. I might not have noticed it previously in the the U.S., where it is a more common life philosophy, but recently it has been so evident that I was raised differently from most of the people around me in China. And I'm thankful for not knowing those limits when it comes to people.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Battlefield: Techies vs. Marketers

In business school we often talked of the inevitable battle between the tech guys and the marketing guys in a company, and the difficulties in managing roles, communication and solutions between the two departments. As I have previously worked in more consulting or retail roles, I am experiencing this for the first time in my internship in an IT company.

Today I was again stunned at the vast gap between our points of view. Something that I felt should be designed simple, targeted and usable for the purpose of the customer's clarity was actually designed very complicated and with so many functions that existed for no other reason than "because we can," or "it's cool though, right?" I both participated and watched today for two and a half hours while 7 people battled it out on a whiteboard, and realized a lot in the process:

A) Things you think are right or obvious are not always so obvious to your coworker. This goes both ways of course. I often couldn't see the week's worth of programming that my 60 second suggestion would create.
B) Therefore you should always be prepared to have both sides list pros and cons of their suggestions.
C) Look at both sides suggestions' effect on sales and the bottom line.
D) Always come prepared with the appropriate market research to back up your opinion. Thinking that you or your group's perspective actually represents the entire target market can be a huge mistake.

The only reason I could shut down one of the arguments today is because I happened to include that question in December's 400-person targeted survey, therefore disproving the assumptions the other side was making about the way they thought the market would react.

After they developed these technologies in R&D phase for 2 years, I am one of the first people brought into the company with a market-driven perspective and it is like trying to turn around a tanker that is on full-speed ahead. However, we are making progress and all of us learning in the process. It's always fun to see business school in action...

Monday, February 11, 2008


Going to Indonesia for my job was such a learning experience. As if dealing with Chinese-U.S. culture differences isn't enough sometimes, we throw a third into the mix. One of my biggest lessons recently has been the importance of not managing every person or relationship the same. Each person or entity has something different that it values and that motivates them, and must be managed accordingly...learning how to put yourself in their shoes and give them what they want or need to get the job done.

Another interesting phrase and lesson I learned from a successful Chinese friend:
山高不耐寒...meaning something like “The high part of the mountain is not cold-resistant.” Sometimes being at the top isn’t everything. People admire you for the things you do and accomplish, but you yourself might actually realize all the things you’ve sacrificed or lost getting there. In other words, keep your priorities straight. That is one of the fun parts of learning Chinese...you can guarantee that there is a catchy phrase for any idea you want to express.

And finally, last funny but true lesson that my boss shared with me: 熊傻子掰苞米- "The foolish bear grabbing the corn." I loved this story. The bear, in all his excitement, keeps grabbing corn and putting it under his arm. Every time he grabs a new piece and lifts his arm, he drops the one that was already there. He thinks he's accumulating things, but really losing others. Going in too many directions or grabbing at too many opportunities without paying attention to feasibility or value is often a dead end. But at each step, make sure you are adding to the cumulative value of what you already have.

Translated these lessons always sound funny in English. But come from years and years of history in China. It is impossible to ever hear or learn them all, but it sure does make for good conversation :)

A few pics from Bali and Jakarta. This was the beach behind the hotel. The one I didn't get to actually visit because we had too many meetings. Next time...

This was the best meal we had in Indonesia. Coconut roasted seafood, while sitting on the beach of Bali Island. Mmmm

Colorful sailboats...

I was impressed with this bar inside of the pool. You don't even have to get out of the water to get a fruity drink!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Year of the Rat!

Happy Chinese New Year Everyone! It is now the second day of the year of the Rat in the Lunar calender. The celebration at midnight on New Years Eve was incredible. It was magical to be in Beijing. Fireworks were going off between buildings, in the street, on EVERY city block, and for 24 hours. It is hard to describe the feeling, other than it is special.

This week Chinese spend all the time on a somewhat rigid schedule moving from house to house seeing all the relatives and friends in a certain order. There are all types of traditions as to who to see, what to eat, how to decorate, what to do, etc. I guess trying to explain Christmas would be equally as hard. This week is the Chinese Christmas, where it is mandatory to make the trek home, no matter how far, and to exchange gifts and eat special foods. For me, it is nice to watch from the outside, but I am thankful from a break from work! You can be certain that very few people are at work, just the few Western cafes in the area are open today.

I wish you all prosperity and happiness in the new year!