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A cable, a motherboard and a fence

John's reflections Leave a comment

You may be wondering what this title is all about. What can these three items possibly have in common, or how can they be connected? Well, let’s see if we can trace the link between them. We can begin by recalling the cables from the last blog post—the ones built by the Americans at AT&T, the ones that met or exceeded all the guidelines and technology requirements stipulated by their Japanese client, Nippon Telephone. The ones that were subsequently rejected by the aforementioned client, who called the cables unacceptable because they were “too ugly”. Last week, a friend sent me a recording of a speech by Walter Isaacson, the biographer of Steve Jobs … Continue reading

The complex game of cultural decoding

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Whenever I speak about intercultural management, one of the stories that seems to captivate audiences most describes a basic misunderstanding between American and Japanese business units collaborating on a telecommunication project. This short anecdote sheds light on some of the profound differences between Japanese and American societies. And, it addresses a larger point about decoding, meaning, and context across cultures.  I first heard the story years ago, and it quickly became one of my favorite tales of intercultural misunderstanding. Here is a quick summary: A unit of the US communications giant AT&T specialized in designing and producing telecom cables, and it sold them throughout the world. One of its largest … Continue reading

Some lessons in “intercultural management”

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As I wrote last week, the topic of intercultural management is one that I always have a lot of fun with, and one that I would welcome more opportunities to talk about in public. Whenever I prepare for one of these talks, it causes me to reflect on some of the insight I have had the good fortune to garner about crossing cultures. And, I usually rediscover some of the stories and lessons I have not considered for some time. For example, on the day of my speech, I was reminded of a lesson about perspective. The speaker who preceded me on that Saturday morning was the Taiwanese ambassador to France. As … Continue reading

Speaking about “intercultural management”

John's events, leadership 1 Comment

This past Saturday, I spent the day in Aix-les-Bains, a beautiful resort town near Lyon. The event was the annual conference for the officers of the region’s Rotary Club. I was invited as an outside speaker to talk about management across the world’s cultures. About 500 people attended, and the lively audience was a pleasure to interact with. This was my initial contact with Rotary, and I was indeed impressed with the members, and with the day’s three other speakers. In addition, I enjoyed learning about Rotary, an organization about which I knew very little prior to this event. As a matter of fact, my knowledge of this organization was limited … Continue reading

Steve Jobs and the “holy wars”

John's reflections, Leadership in the news Leave a comment

When I read a recent headline in the Financial Times that proclaimed “Steve Jobs promised a ‘holy war’ on Google” it made good sense to me. In fact, part of Steve Jobs’ leadership success over the years stemmed from his remarkable ability to construct and tell a certain type of narrative, one that goes even beyond a story of meaning and purpose for his company. Part of his storytelling genius was the way he always seemed able to define a quest for his troops, a struggle that pitted Apple as the underdog against the most powerful forces in the computer industry. As we have discussed here on past entries, stories of deep purpose are among the strongest of … Continue reading

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