Friday, December 18, 2009

We all need culture training.

I distributed a detailed plan to the students in my writing class at Heinz College of Carnegie Mellon University and a student from Turkey objected to the plan saying, "We would never give that much detail in my country."

I suspected he wouldn't because of the difference between low and high context cultures. I told him that but he seemed confused because, I presume, he did not know the difference between high an low context (the Edward Hall theory).

I explained the theory as best I could and told him that in the low context USA executives need much detail. He was unimpressed and I had to pull rank saying, "Hey, if you're working with Americans, you need to give them detail." End of story.

I hated myself for that! On the same evening, I told the class they needed to "get a partner." The usual delay ensued as people who sit next to each other but seldom talk had to group up. After a few minutes one male student from Turkey still hadn't a partner, so I asked him again. Still he did nothing but look confused. A little irritated, I asked him, "Who is your partner?" and he said quietly and sincerely, "My wife." Didn't I feel like an %#@hole!

It made me wonder how many similar mistakes I have made over my ten years of teaching people from all over the world at CMU. I know I must have made many mistakes and the students were too polite to tell me. And, if I'm making them and I teach communication, how many mistakes are the rest of the faculty and staff making?

I may be making these mistakes because I haven't taken an opportunity at CMU to learn about our students, the many who come from India, China, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, Mexico, Italy and many other countries whose cultures are unlike America. But, I'm not sure any opportunities exist in Heinz College. CMU has a learning center for the whole campus but most of us are too busy teaching to look around.

If it's not happening at CMU where he have programs with 75% of students from Asia, what is happening at UPMC, KFC, or at the little start-up down the street? I know of little such training. If it weren't often funny, it would be sad. For example, I just read about a company that tried to sell baby food in Liberia. The company put a picture of a cute baby on the food jar but no one bought it. Later, the company learned that packages in Liberia show pictures of the food inside the packages!

We are a global community with global problems. How will we ever cooperate if we can't understand each other? We need culture training!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

If you want to achieve a goal...

...take a lesson from John Malkovich.

If you watched "Dangerous Liaisons," a movie of a few years back starring Michele Pfeiffer, Glenn Close, a young (and topless) Uma Thurman and John Malkovich, you'll remember the monomaniacal focus the character Valmont (Malkovich) had on women. If he set his sights on a woman (and he regularly did), forget it, she was his. He wouldn't take "No" for an answer. He was single-minded, driven, and undeterred. And, he understood human nature and human frailties. He scored at will. I would not want that character after my wife (despite her great virtue)!

Valmont gives us all a lesson in purpose, and you might say, goal setting. If you want a job or a client, or a love, you need a singleness of purpose that borders on obsession. It also helps if you have a deep understanding of human nature, strengths and frailties. I suppose you also need a good portion of courage and, in some instances, a shortage of conscience.

In any event, when students ask me what to study for success in marketing, I always mention psychology first, along with art, anthropology, literature, research methods, and several other subjects. When they ask me how to get a job, I suggest they pick the place where they've always wanted to work, learn as much as they can about the needs of the employer and focus on it, ala Malkovich. I jokingly tell them that if they want to work at Microsoft they need to find out where Bill Gates parks his car and lay in front of it until he hires them.

I don't go for pop psychology, but after watching "Dangerous Liaisons" I felt that anyone can get what he or she wants by focusing and positively visualizing. Even if you don't agree, rent the movie and watch Malkovich wear away the defenses of Michelle Pfeiffer and pay the ultimate price to defeat Glenn Close at her own game. I promise you'll enjoy the movie!

Monday, December 14, 2009

This product can't miss!

I was once involved with what I thought was a "can't miss" product, a 100% rubber booty for horses, kind of a “spare tire” for use on the trail if a horse threw a shoe.

My partners and I thought it was a great concept and guaranteed to be the next hula hoop. Why did we feel that way? Well, the market had no such product. "Soft Shoe", as we named it, was incredibly unique. We owned the rights to distribute the shoe in the twenty-five states east of the Mississippi. The shoe wasn’t expensive to manufacture or difficult to warehouse and we already had contacts with major distributors of equestrienne equipment and large tack shops. We greedily multiplied the number of horses east of the Mississippi by four hooves and salivated! We saw ourselves as wealthy business people.

In our lust, we saw no problems with our product. We were in love with it. Rubber booties seemed a more humane way to shod a horse than with nails. We felt we had great selling points. To wit: Very few products are made of 100% pure rubber. Even your car tires are synthetic. A farrier/blacksmith invented our product. Veterinarians used our rubber horseshoe in their treatment of horses; the vets loved it. If they had to sedate a horse, our booty was ideal for the moment the horse regained consciousness and struggled to its feet. It was perfect for horses on concrete, on parade, or on show in a mall.

We were psyched. We saw dollars signs everywhere. We tested the product with the Amish and acquired their endorsement. We printed glossy brochure with a sexy, young woman on a horse. We were counting our profits before we sold any product, making plans to buy summer homes in Belize and new Hummers. In other words, we were greatly subjective.

Unfortunately, after months of trying to hustle the shoes, we found that no one wanted to buy them. We were dumbfounded. What had we done wrong? Well, for one thing we didn’t invest in any research to find out the values, attitudes, behaviors and beliefs of our potential customers. We learned the hard way that people who own horses weren’t ready to give up on thousands of years of traditional shoeing. We would have known that if we had not been so much in love with our own creation, so subjective. We wasted a lot of time and money.

What does this mean to you? More than anything it means you must understand the customer and give him/her something he/she wants/needs. It means that you must be objective, not subjective. You must learn as much as you can about the values and motivations of customers. If you don't, you, too, will end up with a "can't miss" product or service, one that you love but no one uses!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The media may change...

but the fundamentals remain the same.

I recently had a chance to write about social media for the IABC "student connection"

In the brief article I admitted that I grew up, personally and professionally, with the conventional media, the BIG 3 - TV, radio and print - but that I have been scrambling to learn the social media. As I learn, and fill my office with more books, I am impressed with Twitter, Facebook, blogging, cell phone apps and so forth. But, I am more than ever convinced that some basics will always apply.

Consumers still watch TV and listen to the radio. They still look at magazines, and a few read newspapers. Many have grown up with social media and many others, like me, are rushing to learn about them. But, regardless of the medium, you will sell nothing if you don’t remember to Live in the Land of the Audience. You will sell nothing unless you:

1.Understand the wants and needs of customers.
2.Serve them.
3.Satisfy them.

Talk with them, by all means, as the social media so easily allow you to do. Whatever you do, however, don’t blog to hear yourself talk. Don’t tweet that you’re parking your car. Don’t send me an e-mail for something I don’t need or want. I’m too busy ducking the thousands of other messages pushed in my face every day.

Honor me. Tell me something I don't know. Challenge me. Get my attention. Get me involved. Talk WITH me, not TO me. Actually, the best conventional media did this; they involved viewers, listeners, readers with questions such as "Where's the beef". Admittedly, much of the conventional media pushed messages into our faces. Much of the social media do the same.

If you want to communicate, especially with a marketing communication, remember, the
fundamentals remain the same. The audience rules!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More E-vidence Mail

LONDON - E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don't support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.

The 1,073 e-mails examined by the AP show that scientists harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The scientists were keenly aware of how their work would be viewed and used, and, just like politicians, went to great pains to shape their message. Sometimes, they sounded more like schoolyard taunts than scientific tenets.

The scientists were so convinced by their own science and so driven by a cause "that unless you're with them, you're against them," said Mark Frankel, director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also reviewed the communications.

Frankel saw "no evidence of falsification or fabrication of data, although concerns could be raised about some instances of very 'generous interpretations.'"

Some e-mails expressed doubts about the quality of individual temperature records or why models and data didn't quite match. Part of this is the normal give-and-take of research, but skeptics challenged how reliable certain data was.

The e-mails were stolen from the computer network server of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in southeast England, an influential source of climate science, and were posted online last month. The university shut down the server and contacted the police.

The AP studied all the e-mails for context, with five reporters reading and rereading them — about 1 million words in total.

One of the most disturbing elements suggests an effort to avoid sharing scientific data with critics skeptical of global warming. It is not clear if any data was destroyed; two U.S. researchers denied it.

The e-mails show that several mainstream scientists repeatedly suggested keeping their research materials away from opponents who sought it under American and British public records law. It raises a science ethics question because free access to data is important so others can repeat experiments as part of the scientific method. The University of East Anglia is investigating the blocking of information requests.

"I believe none of us should submit to these 'requests,'" declared the university's Keith Briffa in one e-mail. The center's chief, Phil Jones, e-mailed: "Data is covered by all the agreements we sign with people, so I will be hiding behind them."

When one skeptic kept filing Freedom of Information Act requests, Jones, who didn't return AP requests for comment, told another scientist, Michael Mann: "You can delete this attachment if you want. Keep this quiet also, but this is the person who is putting FOI requests for all e-mails Keith (Briffa) and Tim (Osborn) have written."

Mann, a researcher at Penn State University, told The Associated Press: "I didn't delete any e-mails as Phil asked me to. I don't believe anybody else did."

The e-mails also show how professional attacks turned very personal. When former London financial trader Douglas J. Keenan combed through the data used in a 1990 research paper Jones had co-authored, Keenan claimed to have found evidence of fakery by Jones' co-author. Keenan threatened to have the FBI arrest University at Albany scientist Wei-Chyung Wang for fraud. (A university investigation later cleared him of any wrongdoing.)

The e-mails also showed a stunning disdain for global warming skeptics.

One scientist practically celebrates the news of the death of one critic, saying, "In an odd way this is cheering news!" Another bemoans that the only way to deal with skeptics is "continuing to publish quality work in quality journals (or calling in a Mafia hit.)" And a third scientist said the next time he sees a certain skeptic at a scientific meeting, "I'll be tempted to beat the crap out of him. Very tempted."

And they compared contrarians to communist-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Somali pirates. They also called them out-and-out frauds.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The beat goes on (or, people continue to mis-use e-mail)!

(I thank my friend Chuck Reynolds for this!)

Analyst Quits Over Embarrassing Email (by Martin Evans at

"A female graduate trainee at the consultants Deloitte has quit after an embarrassing email she sent discussing attractive male staff, was forwarded around the world.

"Holly Leam-Taylor became the latest victim of a viral email craze when her light hearted message to colleagues spread like wildfire across the internet.

"In the email, entitled Deloitte First year analysts Christmas Awards, sent on December 8, Ms Leam-Taylor asked her female colleagues to vote on which men in the office they considered most attractive.

"She listed nine categories including, 'boy most likely to sleep his way to the top' and 'most attractive older member of staff'.

"Miss Leam-Taylor, who is in her early 20s, wrote: 'I'll send out the results on Friday 18th Dec (that is all I will be doing that day as I will be SO hung-over from the ball!)'

"The email was only intended for a small group within her office, but was quickly forwarded outside the building and within hours was being read by millions of internet users as far away as New Zealand and Australia.

"The email began, 'So's been nearly 4 months at Deloitte so I think we should have some sort of Xmas awards ceremony for us ladies about the stuff that really matters at work ie.gossip/the boys! This probably massively violates HR equal opportunities policy, but never mind! It's all for fun and a bit of a laugh.'

"But her employers did not agree that it was a laughing matter and she was warned that she would be subject to a disciplinary hearing which could lead to her dismissal.

"A source at the firm said: 'She realised that her credibility both internally and externally had been damaged and so took the decision to hand in her resignation immediately...We are very disappointed by this matter. While intended as a joke, this is a stark reminder of the need to exercise careful judgment when using email.'"

Careful judgement goes out the window when people sit before their computers. They become DIS-inhibited. They believe they are in the lobby or at lunch talking to friends, instead of placing a message before the world. For Deloitte this must be doubly disconcerting since (a few years ago) they paid to have 50,000 people undergo e-mail training. (I wish I'd had THAT gig. In fact, I hereby recommend myself to Deloitte to re-train the 50,000! I'll give them a volume discount!)

When they give me the gig, I'll tell them this: Always write the message first! Let it sit for a moment. Look at it as if you were seeing it on the front page of the newspaper. If you don't want to see it there, delete it. If you want international notoriety, address it and hit the send button. Then, get a lawyer.

Thanks for the great article, Chuck!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Watch your e-mails!

Not a day goes by that someone doesn't compromise him or herself with an e-mail message. I guess it's to be expected with the 35 TRILLION e-mails that are sent every year. But, really, why would anyone write a message that might come back to haunt him?

Take Sean Ramaley, for instance. According to today's Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "In an October 2004 e-mail, former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon chided his legislative assistant Sean Ramaley for not knocking on enough doors to win over voters, during Ramaley's race for an adjacent House district.

'Why not any doors yesterday, Sean? A very nice day. The pace on the doors seems to be slowing down. Is it going to get any better?' Veon asked in the e-mail that was displayed on a large video screen yesterday in Dauphin County Court, where Ramaley is on trial.

Ramaley responded...'After picking up some checks at a labor breakfast, I decided I needed to spend the rest of Friday preparing for Saturday's debate. I expect to be back on doors heavily this week.'

Ramaley, 34, of Baden faces six felony counts for allegedly using the part-time job in Veon's Beaver Falls district office as income while he campaigned for the House seat he subsequently won....Prosecutors claim Ramaley conspired with Veon to hold the no-work job, and that taxpayers paid for Ramaley's campaign."

Gee, I wonder if he did? "...back on the doors heavily this week." That seems to present some serious evidence. But, innocent until proven guilty, I say. He allegedly used the part time job as income, and all that.

Whether Ramaley is guilty or not guilty, he probably learned a lesson in communication. Say as little as possible and say nothing you don't want to see on the front page of the local newspaper... or in court.

Is there any wonder e-mail continues to be called "e-vidence" mail? Most of us have a bad habit of treating e-mail as an informal medium and, thereby, revealing things we later wish we hadn't revealed. It's the great leveler; everyone does it - rich and poor - and everyone suffers accordingly. In fact, look for a series of e-mails to surface that reveal a little more of Tiger Woods than he would want us to know.

As a person who has written his share of emotional messages with little to no thinking (and sent a few jokes he wishes he hadn't sent), I urge you to watch your e-mails... and your texts... and your tweets... and your posts.... You may be reading them on the front page of the local fish wrapper and wishing you had never hit the Send button!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do you know this term?


Know it? It's a Hindi term and soon everyone will be using it alongside Six Sigma, TQM, kaizan and other popular business strategies.

"Jugaad", pronounced "joogard", implies the combination of simplicity and innovation. Considering that those two terms seldom go together, "jugaad" will strike many as refreshing. Imagine, innovation AND simplicity!

What else will accompany simplicity? How about inexpensive! American companies, especially those that embrace the management flavor of the day, will go for "jugaad" in a big way. It will mean asking employees to innovate in the moment. This will especially help in customer service as companies empower (sound familiar) employees to find solutions on the go.

Customers will like it and "juggad" will fuel America's (appropriate) return to simplicity. As Da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." He said that long before Einstein said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." But, both were right. Nothing looks better (or simpler) than a pretty woman in a black dress!