Different strokes

Coming back to the deluge of email, a slightly smaller torrent of postal mail and a soupçon of voice mail after 3-1/2 weeks in southern France and northern Italy is a bit disorienting. I’m still thinking about strolling over to the Rialto market in Venice to buy some fresh fish for dinner…

Travelling (although for vacation this time) always makes me ponder on cultural differences. Although I work primarily in Canada and the US these days, I’ve spent a great deal of time working in other countries in the past, and one of the things that I like most about business travel is seeing how different cultures do business differently. For example, only in France would a prospective client, upon meeting me, bow over my hand while shaking it and murmur “Enchanté, Madame”. And only in the Middle East would I need to wait until a man extended his hand to me before offering to shake hands, since I wouldn’t want to offend someone by suggesting that they violate their religious sanctions against touching a non-related female when I’m on their turf. [When I returned to my office in California and related this latter incident, I was asked “Doesn’t the discrimination bother you?” to which I replied “Well, at least they’re overt about it.” That resulted in a few stony glares.]

Aside from the greetings, there are other differences in how things work: I remember a BPM system that I designed in Germany several years back where the management wanted a supervisor to review each piece of work and decide who it went to, instead of using automated work assignment. With some foresight into how these things work in practice, we implemented a system configuration setting that caused that step to be either visited or bypassed, so that two days into production when the customer’s need for efficiency overcame their need for control, the supervisor review step was removed in about five minutes.

As an outsider coming into organizations and helping them to design their processes, or develop a strategy for application architecture, I’m always a bit of a foreigner, even in my own country: I have to quickly learn a new language and a new culture so that I look like less of a tourist wandering around with my camera and guidebook. In business, as on vacation, I’ve always found it best to just dive in and act like the natives.

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