Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why Language is Overrated (from Seoul, Korea)

Yesterday was election day in Korea, so Angie and I had a chance to see some sights.
It was a beautiful day in Seoul - sunny and warm, with a cool breeze.

Our first stop was Unhyeongung Mansion, where we stumbled into a Pansori performance.
I heard a microphone check, walked over to see what was going on, and discovered this performance.

Pansori is a traditional storytelling method that is very rhythmic.
Think trance-rap, and you start to get close.

I love it, because the audience is encouraged to participate.
It can get a little rowdy, with the feeling of an Southern church (Amen, brother!!).

Anyway, we walked right into a front seat, and this vibrant woman put on a great performance for us.
She also sang Arirang and a few other songs; clapping, smiling, snapping her fan, and joking with the audience till she had us all laughing. 

I didn't understand a word, but it didn't matter.
Why is that true?
  • Because the rhythm spoke to my body
  • Because her body language communicated so much information
  • Because my fellow audience members signaled me with laughs, groans, and shrieks of delight
  • Because her eyes, smile, and face spoke a thousand words
  • Because melodies reach across all borders
  • Because the tone and pace of her voice was full of signals
  • Because she used her fan as a prop to signal us

How many of these tools do your use purposefully in your communications?
Not enough, if you're anything like me...
Give just one a try and see what happens.

If you want to see Pansori in action (and see a great movie), you should rent or buy "Chunhyang". It's Korea's Romeo and Juliet - an excellent story, beautifully filmed.

This lucky discovery reminded me once again:
Keep your eyes, ears (and heart) open, and you never know what you'll find.

How to Get a Response (from Seoul, Korea)

This Korean Team is 'On The Case' (study)

I led two classes this week in Seoul - "Working Globally", and "7-Step Problem Solving".

We had some particularly animated discussions during the BKM's class, as we discussed how to work more successfully between Korea and the US.

During the discussion, I found out that Korea has a cultural norm that I've also seen in China.
That is, it's common courtesy to refuse something the first (or even second) time it's offered.

While this happen most often during an offer of a gift, or food - it can also apply to questions such as "Any questions or concerns?", "Do you have anything to add?", "Is this plan okay?".

The lesson here? To avoid a non-response, ask your question three times.

You can do this with some subtlety.
"Any questions?"
"Would anyone like clarification on a point?"
"Shall I go over it again?"

Try it. You'll likely get a more complete response.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hanging Out in Seoul

Here I am, in Seoul, with some new friends.
We're at a traditional festival at Namsan Park.

I think they're supposed to be old-time policeman, which means I'm under arrest.
Fortunately, it's bad publicity to beat a white man with those little clubs, so I got away with just a warning!

I also managed to be the token white interview for TV again.
In 2002, I was asked my opinions on the tradition of eating dog (for what it's worth, I don't have a problem with it... it's pretty hypocritical to eat cow, but say that dog is off limits) for a World Cup special.

This time, TV station KBS wanted to know about my thoughts on this festival.
I, of course, gave it a big 'thumbs-up'...

Is 10% Good Enough for You? (from Seoul, Korea)

Over the past 6 months, I've been working with the technical support group to improve the quality of customer escalation meetings.

We made an rough estimate of how many escalation meetings have been held in this company in the past 25 years.
50 a day (across all our divisions, a conservative estimate) x 365 days x 25 years = 456,250.

So, half a million escalation conference calls.
And how much training have we done?
0. Nada. Zip. None.
Seriously. No one has been trained on how to conduct or contribute to an escalation meeting.

Now, you may think that it's a pretty easy thing to do.
You'd be wrong.

We identified 31 key attributes to a successful escalation meeting (it's since grown to 37).
We then ran a couple simulations with experienced technical support engineers.
The results?
8-12% of the criteria were met.

So, we're delivering a solution that will include some training, job aids, practice, and real-time coaching.

Lesson - don't assume that any job is 'easy'.
Will all tasks or jobs require training? Probably not.
But almost any task or job could use quantification and a job aid.

Unless 10% compliance is good enough for you, that is...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Iris, Iris, Iris (from Seoul, Korea)

Another image from the Dano Folk Festival in Seoul.

This one shows a girl wearing a Hanbok - the traditional Korean dress - and washing her hair in iris water. Apparently, this used to be a big deal.

My iris, looking through the camera iris, was more than happy to capture her iris washing.
I took about 350 pictures today, but this one may be my favorite.

Swinging in Seoul - Seoul, Korea

We arrived in Seoul on Friday night.
The taxi ride in was a bitch... 2 hours in bumper to bumper traffic.

We're staying at the Shilla Hotel, which is very nice, but English-challenged to say the least (at least, compared to the Westin Chosun, where we used to stay).

Saturday was rainy, so we spent most of the day in a book store.

Today (Sunday), however, was very nice.
We went to the Dano Folk Festival at the Namsangol Hanok Village.

We ate kimchee pancakes, made an appearance on the local news (I was interviewed, for my feelings on the festival by TV station KBS), mingled with the locals, and watched traditional activities.

One of my favorites was the Korean Traditional Swing, pictured above.
I can't tell you much about it, except that mostly women do it, and they seem to really enjoy it.

Anyway, it was a great day...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Learning Through Music: Deli Spice (from South Korea)

Since I'm heading to Korea in the morning, I thought I'd give you a taste of my favorite Korean rock band.

The name of the band is Deli Spice.
I've been listening to them since about 2002, when they caught my attention with a weirdly captivating cover of "Bette Davis Eyes".

Here's a video for their new song, "Missing You".

If you're curious about the video, it's from the Japanese movie "Mazon do Himiko" (available here at DVDAsian, my favorite source for Asian DVD's).
I recently bought it, but I haven't watched it yet. I'll post a review after I do see it.

The film features a couple of Japans biggest stars - Shibasaki Kou (who was in two of my favorite Japanese films; "Battle Royale" - watch the trailer here to see why it wasn't released in the US - and "Go") and Odagiri Jo (who's also doing pretty well for himself).

Bali Dreaming

We head to Korea (and then Israel) tomorrow, but tonight my thoughts are of Bali.

I've been going through a bunch of my slides and moving them to my photo website - hues. Tonight, I added some more shots of Japan and Thailand.
I also created new galleries for Vietnam and Bali.

I love both countries, but Bali ranks a little higher for me.
Probably because of the music.
I'm a sucker for the rhythms of the gamelan.

Of course, you can't complain about the views, either!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Weaving a Web of Teamwork

During my recent trip to Taiwan, Martin and I conducted the Leadership Challenge Workshop with the management team.

We had some excellent constructive debate in the room.
Everyone shared personal stories and visions, while challenging themselves to shape those experiences into practical work applications.

Along with the workbook activities, there were some team activities that help us build openness, and a sense of fun.
My personal favorite has to be the Spider Web game.

While we use this activity quite often, it's always a kick to watch it with a new group.
If you ever look for an activity to build into a session - try this one!

Five Books to Enhance Your Presentation Skills

I watch a lot of presentations.... and most of them stink.

For example, today a group of us watched a 30 minute presentation that felt like 4 hours.
Don't get me wrong; the speaker had a lot of positive attributes.
He moved well. He engaged audience members. He had good stories. He was passionate.

The problem was that he had no (and I mean NO) structure.
We had no idea where he was taking us. It was a disorienting journey, with no end in sight.

Guy Kawasaki says (I'm paraphrasing), "The only thing worse than listening to a sucky presenter, is listening to a sucky presenter and not knowing when he will stop sucking".

Learning point: always show an agenda.

After he left, I asked the group what his key point was. I got 6 different answers.
When that happens - you failed.
Wait. Sorry, YOU FAILED!!!

Learning point: always have a core message.

If you don't have one, don't talk.
If you have more than one, you have none. Eliminate all but one.
Repeat your core message many, many times (hint: at least three times).
Make the core message short. Supplement it with appropriate gestures and image(s).
Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you want to get better at presentations, here are a few places you should go:
By the way, besides being an excellent host, Weissman seems to be a genuinely nice guy. We had a phone conversation today (part of what triggered this post), and he was very generous with his time to answer my questions.

Any Publicity is Good Publicity?

Not when it's this...

Discretion (and legal) prevents me from commenting, except to say -
Sunlight not only is the best disinfectant... it's also a food for flowers.

So, bring on the sunlight...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Monkeys and Typewriters, Airplanes and Seatmates

You've probably heard the saying - put enough monkeys in a room with typewriters, and one day you'll come out with a novel.

I feel the same way about airplane travel - throw me in enough economy seats, and eventually I'll be lucky enough to meet someone interesting.

That's not usually the case. On my flight home yesterday, for example, I had a fat Chinese man overflowing next to me. He was snoring like three simultaneous Starbucks expresso machines, and constantly jostling me.
His wife, sitting in the window seat, asks if I'd like to swap seats with her.

Right.... the only thing worse than sitting next to this guy would be getting trapped against the plane wall by him. I passed on her generous offer.

One very selfish reason I like to take Angie traveling with me, is that she provides a buffer (literally) against this possibility.

Anyway, I can't complain too much since I had a fantastic seating partner on the flight to Taiwan.

Hsiu Shih (pictured above) and I started a conversation almost immediately, because I was finishing my reading of a book on Chinese Proverbs - the very thorough "ABC Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs".

During the flight, Hsiu Shih, an English Major, helped me understand many of the proverbs by explaining where she first heard them (school, home, etc). It was very helpful for the project I'm working on.

Besides the book, we discussed her time in the US, the lack of good Chinese food in Massachusetts, my experiences in Japan, (mis)perceptions of Asian females in the US, the usual pressure Taiwanese women feel to get married and have children, and the glory that is Hsinchu.

12 hours on a plane never really goes fast, but she sure made it enjoyable.
If I can meet someone like Hsiu Shih once in every ten flights, it even makes up for the monkeys!

Five Reasons I Love Travel (from Hsinchu, Taiwan)

My high school English teacher, Mrs. Remington, always said, "It's a sad day, when you don't learn something new."

I have my own spin on that, which is, "It's a sad day when I don't see something new."

As Martin, Stephanie and I were walking through Hsinchu, we spotted this monk. He was meditating.
It's not that I hadn't seen a monk before. I've seen plenty.
It's just that I hadn't seen one in Hsinchu, and I wasn't expecting it.

Perhaps I'm easily amused, but whenever I see something I wasn't expecting, it reminds me why I travel.

  • Travel helps me break familiar patterns
  • Travel makes me aware of life's potential
  • Travel induces a sort of physiological delirium that I find pleasant
  • Travel introduces me to new smells, sounds, sights, and touches
  • Travel forces me to see what I am, and am not
As I'm sure this monk would echo - it's the journey, not the destination, that matters.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Multicultural Bride - Hsinchu, Taiwan

I'm back in Santa Clara, so I'll be posting some images from Hsinchu over the next few days.

As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a wedding party arrived.
This woman got out of one of the cars and smiled.

"Beautiful dress," I said.
She then gave a response that I had never heard, in my previous 13 years of Asia experience - "I know".

I almost fell over.
In Asia, modesty is king (and queen).
Typical responses would be "It's the best I could do on short notice", "All the good ones were taken", or "I wish I could do it justice".
Even "Thank you" is typically considered too bold.
I had to give her credit for her unusual boldness.

She then asked me where I'm from.
"California", I said.
"REALLY!!! Me, too".

Ahhhh, an American. That explained everything.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What Would Sherlock Holmes Say?

I'm staying at the beautiful Ambassador Hotel in Hsinchu.

Before the Ambassador came to town, we played 'hotel roulette', rotating through various 2-star hotels, but the Ambassador is truly an oasis.
The staff is great, the rooms are great, and the location is great.

I have had a couple of strange things occur here, though, that haven't happened to me anywhere else.

A few months ago, Angie and I were checking into the hotel late at night.
As Angie sat on the lobby sofa, the desk clerk leaned over to me whispered, "I've got your shoes from your last visit".
I told him I didn't leave any shoes.
"Yes. They are ladies shoes. We found them when we cleaned your room. I have them here for you."
No, I explained, I was alone last time. They are not my shoes.
He seemed to understand, so we went to our room.

The next day, housekeeping came to my room, "Here are your shoes".
No, those are not my shoes.
"Yes. They were in your room when you checked out last time."
She opened the bag, revealing a pair of red, worn-out high heels.
I laughed and said that they were not mine, not my wife's', not my girlfriends', and that I didn't need or want them.
"Okay." She walked away, lugging the shoes.

Of course, now Angie wondered why a pair of red women's' shoes would be in my room from my last visit.
Fortunately, it didn't take long to convince her that even if I did have a woman in my room who wore red high-heels, she probably wouldn't have walked home barefoot.
Still, it was a strange event.

I was reminded of that event last night, as I sat on the toilet (bear with me - if the image of me on a toilet is uncomfortable to you, imagine that I was just reading).
Across from me, on the edge of the bathtub, was a green toothbrush kit from EVA Airlines.
This was interesting, because I flew economy and didn't get a toothbrush kit.
The kit wasn't in my room the previous two days, but suddenly had appeared in my room.

This forced me to ask the following question - What is happening in my room when I'm at work?

When you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left - no matter how unlikely - is the answer.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Where does Emotion Come From?

One of my favorite things about travel is that I finally get the time to read.

Today, I finished "blink" by Malcolm Gladwell.
Quite an interesting book, about how the best decisions are sometimes the ones made instantly.
Like most books I enjoy, it veers into many unexpected directions.

My favorite quote regards the surprising discovery, by a team of German psychologists, that your facial expression can influence your emotion (vs. the opposite view)

"...we take it as a given that first we experience an emotion and then we may - or may not - express that emotion on our face. We think of the face as the residue of emotion. What this research showed, though, is that the process works in the opposite direction as well. Emotion can also start on the face.
The face is not a secondary billboard for our internal feelings. It is an equal partner in the emotional process."

Which makes a pretty strong argument for the age-old warning "if you keep making that expression, your face will freeze"!

Tomorrow, I start on "The Wisdom of Crowds".

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Philosophy of Bruce Lee

I've been reading a lot of Asian quotes and proverbs recently, for a project I'm working on.

One of my favorites is this one by Bruce Lee

"True observation begins when one is devoid of set patterns."

(man, shouldn't that be the mantra of every student and teacher!)

Here's an interesting video montage of Bruce, talking about martial arts.
I didn't realize that he majored in philosophy at the University of Washington...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Headed to Taiwan

I'm off to Taiwan tomorrow.

This video gives you a taste of traditional Taiwanese music.
You've heard the song - "Return to Innocence" by Enigma - no doubt.

What you may not have realized is that the heart of the song comes from a traditional song by the Amis Tribe of Taiwan.
The story of the song is here.

And here's the video...

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

B.S. - A Tale from Santa Rosa

As mentioned in my last post, Angie and I were in wine country over the weekend.
At the Sunce Winery in Santa Rosa, we were tasting some very good wines, when the sommelier and I entered a discussion about one of my favorite TV shows - Penn & Teller's Showtime expose series titled "Bullshit".
If you've never seen it, Penn & Teller challenge a different piece of 'BS' each week.
Whether it's the 'science' of feng shui, the hypocrisy of PETA, or bottled water - P&T are cheerfully skeptical hosts.

To explore the 'taste' of water, P&T filled a dozen different fancy bottles with water from the nearest garden hose, then surveyed restaurant patrons on the 'difference'.
Of course, the fanciest bottles and 'French-est' names got the highest ratings.

Anyway, it turned out that our friendly pourer was a big fan of Bullshit, so we shared stories and laughs about our favorite episodes for about 10 minutes.
Then, with perfect timing, one of her coworkers walked in and announced, "This man has a tool that can age wine 1 year for every second he puts it in your glass".
We all broke into a fit of laughter at this poor gal and guy, as they had no idea what was so funny to us. (That was almost as funny as when she asked him to show us his tool....)

"This is a job for Penn and Teller", we agreed.

Well, he (in the right side of the photo above - you can see his silver 'tool' in his hands) gave us a thoroughly unimpressive display of the aging capabilities of this amazing invention.
Our sommelier (with the glass) didn't taste the difference, and neither did I.

To be fair, I probably have the least delicate palate on earth.
But, I can taste the difference between a 2003 and 2004 pinot noir, so I'm not totally numb.