Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wrong Time Turned Out to Be Right Meeting...

It was the wrong day to arrive for the party, but it turned out to be the right meeting after all. It was too funny how getting things sidewise sometimes works out for the best.

Yesterday evening I had two events on my "Smart"phone calendar - a fundraiser for the League of Women Voters in a warehouse full of "one-of-a-kind" personal items that were so unique, then to give a check for the Plan BEE group that is helping women in poor countries develop a business that even the men now want to be involved and trained! In honey production no less.  They discovered that to be viable the women needs to have at least 5 hives. And hives cost $125 each. That small investment ends up benefiting an entire family - and the honey goes to 5 Star hotels under contract in that country - a win-win.

So when we rang the doorbell for the Plan Bee event  we discovered it had been THE NIGHT BEFORE. The residence owner had just sat down to have dinner with her parents!  I was ready to drop the check to pay for one beehive ($125) but Barbara said: "Come have some wine and dinner." And we did!

Instead of being jammed in a small room with 80 people including Ambassadors and a crush of others you really can't talk to much in the din of a noisy room.

Instead Laura and I got to meet Barbara's parents who are English and live in Corpus Christi and we had  a great time over dinner and wine getting to talk to them in a relaxed, quiet setting.

So it was the wrong time to be there, but the right kind of meeting.

At one point during dinner a thought occurred to me. "We should have an international Progressive Dinner" so people can really get to know one another - a Borst in Russia, Ocktorfest in Germany,  some sushi in Japan and Argentina beef.  Even some hummus in the Middle East.  How many Americans really have had a chance to meet someone from another country and get to know them? Not enough. So we end up with too many assumptions - and negative hate speech. It comes from fear and ignorance.

I have been in nearly 50 countries the past three decades and had those conversations.  Once I had dinner with my Indian taxi driver and met taxi drivers in Syria who took me to an ancient Christian church. I have come to know young Chinese in walks on the Great Wall and laughed at English sayings like "I will knock you up" which really means "I will CALL you" in England. I know them as people, not words on a screen or images on a TV.

 I learned that sitting with your legs crossed at a meeting in Saudi Arabia - exposing the sole of my shoe - would guarantee I would NOT get the contract when negotiating a deal for my Fortune 500 company. Nor would being pushy with the Japanese, who avoided eye contact and had their own pecking order that you had to figure out or screw up the deal. 

As an international negotiator where the object is to win and not piss off people, I knew that being stupid and insulting people is not good salesmanship!

We had executives decline to stay for a dinner when a Sheik invited them, insisting on "keeping to their schedule."  They had no idea they just turned down a rare invite, and blew their deal.  Some have asked for alcohol in countries that don't serve it.

I knew that in South America it was an insult if I did not ask about their family. And that in the most conservative countries in the Middle East it was an insult TO ASK about his wife.

So I was pretty shocked to read that not until President Obama did we begin giving our troops in Afghanistan cultural training - to avoid these mistakes that cause unnecessary problems. Unfortunately, it has led to over 50 NATO soldiers being killed by Afghan soldiers just this year. Such cultural training should have been started on Day 1 a decade ago! You don't win "hearts and minds" by being disrespectful and ignorant of their culture. I would have unintentionally insulted a lot of people during my global travels if I hadn't taken the time to learn something about them.

And as a result even when I messed up they were polite and helpful. I have found that in every country I have been to.

Americans would be amazed how much we are all alike despite our different cultures and languages. All people want opportunity and respect. No one wants to be hassled by any person or government.

So, I call for Americans to start a new tradition: 1st Annual Global American International Progressive dinner - you can start by having something Italian or Mexican out for dinner tonight. LOL. But really, TRAVEL.  It will open your eyes to truth.

Go see the other 40 countries that have SPACE PROGRAMS. Go ride the Shanghai MAGLEV that runs 268 miles per hour from the airport to town. It will give you the insight to be a better, smarter American - you will see what we have to compete with in technology from Bullet Trains to Space, and how we are all so much alike.

You may find yourself showing up at the wrong time and having the right meeting.

THEN you will know who to vote for -- the party that will keep us in the technology game - and from my global experience from Fortune 500 to entrepreneur that's President Obama -- vs the guys who  keep cutting our education and training that will cost us the 21st century global high tech game.

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