Second trip to Vietnam

In September, I took my second trip to our office in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  I was extremely impressed, as I was on my first visit back in May, with the intelligence, energy and commitment of the people in the office.  It’s energizing for me to spend time with this team – to hear their ideas, to see the results of their work, and to get feedback on our future plans.

 When I return home and tell colleagues and friends about my experience, they frequently seem surprised.  “Really?  Are they as good as employees here?”  In many cases, the answer is Yes, they’re just as smart, just as enthusiastic, and just as creative.

Why are people surprised?  Is it just “home town bias” – the idea that “others” aren’t quite as good as “our people” – or is there some other cause?

I think I found part of the answer – not surprisingly, provided by one of our managers in the Vietnam office.  In my final meeting with him, on my last day, I asked for any final thoughts I should take away from my trip.  He said that he hoped that people in Seattle (our main office) didn’t dismiss or discount the skills of people on his team, simply based on their English communication skills.  There’s no question that some of the team members are better than others in verbal English (both speaking and listening).  Communicating by phone (or Skype) amplifies the difference, making things worse.

Since I get the opportunity to spend time in the Vietnam office, I get to see people face-to-face, where communication is always easier.  I can see their reactions and know if they understand what I’m saying.  I can more easily understand them, with body language and facial expressions helping my comprehension.  In the end, I can connect better and, as a result, appreciate the talent and intelligence that might have been masked by language and distance.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Communication barriers can block real teamwork.  Remote teams with different native languages need to work to overcome biases that lead to misjudging others’ abilities.

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Tribute to Mariano Rivera

I don’t like the New York Yankees.  Anyone who knows me well knows that.  I always root for whoever is playing against them.  This weekend will be different – my admiration for Mariano Rivera will trump those feelings.

Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history and he’s retiring at the end of this season.  There have been countless tributes to him in recent weeks, as he nears retirement.  One of the best, by Joe Posnanski is here. Another, from ESPN, is here. This entire season, as Rivera has played his last game in each city, his opponents have paid tribute to him, celebrating his career and honoring his legacy.  Through it all, he’s been gracious, appreciative and professional.

I can think of no other athlete who has been so universally admired and respected while being one of the best in his sport for so long.  Barry Sanders, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Serena Williams and others have been at the top of their sports for years, but each had detractors and critics. Try to find anything negative about Rivera, anywhere – it’s awfully hard to do.  He’s a humble, private, respectful man.  In a time when athletes are no longer role models, he’s a throwback – the kind of player every kid would hope to be (and parents would dream of their child becoming).

I always root against the Yankees, but this weekend will be different.  The Yankees will close out their season with three otherwise meaningless games against the Houston Astros.  I’ll root for them to win, in a close game, every time.  I’ll root for them to have a lead as the game enters the ninth inning, so Rivera can enter, just a few more times, to close out the game.  Let him earn the last saves of his unparalleled career – he deserves it.

 

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Mariano Rivera, one of baseball’s greatest players – and a great man – is retiring.  Like millions of other fans, I will miss watching him play.

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Slideshare version of my Paul McCartney post

With help from Warren Sukernek, Amber McCrory and Brian Crouch, my “Lessons from the Paul McCartney Concert” has been turned into a SlideShare presentation.

http://www.slideshare.net/SDLonline/8-customer-experience-lessons-from-paul-mccartney

[SlideShare is the world’s largest community for sharing presentations – an online slide hosting service.  Users can upload PowerPoint, PDF, or OpenOffice files in the following file formats.  Those presentations can then be shared with other online users]

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My Favorite Bookmarks

I read a lot of books – actual, physical books with pages made out of paper.  Over the years, I’ve used a variety of different bookmarks.  My goals in finding a bookmark were always pretty consistent.  It had to be flat, of course – I didn’t want to damage the book’s spine by putting something thick inside it.  It needed to be durable – no one wants to have to find a new bookmark after finishing every book.  It couldn’t be too expensive – I’d hate to fret over losing it, since its only purpose was temporary.

About five years ago, I finally stumbled across the perfect bookmark, at least for me: paper money.  It happened on a trip to India.  I was using my boarding pass to mark my place in a book I had started reading on the plane.  I made a purchase and, when I received my change, I got back a 10 Rupee note – the equivalent of about 20 cents.

As I looked at this bill, I realized it was ideal.  Paper money is designed to be durable – it needs to last through years of usage, being folded or crumpled without easily tearing.  Since it’s made of paper, it’s the ideal size.

In most western countries, the denominations of paper currency don’t meet the “inexpensive” goal.  Euros, British Pounds, and Canadian dollars use coins for every amount less than about five U.S. dollars.  The U.S. dollar bill is fine, though not terribly interesting.  In India, it was different –10 Rupee and 20 Rupee notes equate to 20 or 40 cents.

India-10 Rupee-Front India-10 Rupee-Back

When I traveled to Vietnam for the first time earlier this year, I found new options: 1000 Dong and 2000 Dong notes are equivalent to about 5 or 10 cents.

 

Vietnam-1000 Dong-Front Vietnam-1000 Dong-Back

 

 

Vietnam-2000 Dong-Front Vietnam-2000 Dong-Back

 

As an extra bonus, using currency from a country I’ve visited can make a great conversation starter.  In addition, since it reminds me of my travels, it makes me smile.

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8 Business Lessons Learned from Paul McCartney

Last Friday night, I watched Paul McCartney play the first rock concert ever at Seattle’s Safeco Field.  He put on an incredible performance (which is reviewed here and here).  As I reflect back on the event, I recognize some core lessons for any business.

1.     Give customers what they want

Most of the concert consisted of Beatles favorites, satisfying the desires of the audience.  After, opening with Eight Days a Week, McCartney played dozens of classics, including Let It Be, The Long and Winding Road, Hey Jude, and Yesterday. In addition, he played several hit songs from Wings, including Live and Let Die and Band on the Run.

Video – Eight Days a Week

Video – Yesterday

Video – Let It Be

[The complete set list is here.]

Often, veteran artists want to veer away from the songs that made them famous and, instead, focus on their new material.  Frequently, that alienates the fans who bought their concert tickets to hear the songs they fell in love with.

Lesson: If your customers love something you offer, continue to give it to them.

2.     Stay current and relevant

The technology for this concert was impressive.  Massive video screens stood to the left and right of the stage showing, with exceptional quality, close-ups of the performance mixed with creative animations and archival photos and videos.  The pyrotechnics during Live and Let Die were incredible to see!

Video – Live and Let Die

Lesson: Adapt and modernize your offerings.

Big picture, with screens

3.     Celebrate your achievements without boasting

The Beatles, of course, were influential far beyond creating music.  McCartney told a story (which is also portrayed at The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool) of a meeting with the Soviet Union’s Defense Minister, after the Beatles played the first rock concert in Red Square.  The Defense Minister commented “We learn English listening to Beatles records.  Hello, Goodbye!”

The story was told with a very matter-of-act delivery, without a hint of ego or boasting.  McCartney was comfortable with the global importance the Beatles had achieved, acknowledging the impact with this anecdote, without conceit or arrogance.

Lesson: Claim credit for your accomplishments when it’s justified, but don’t falsify or exaggerate them.

4.     Deliver a surprise

During McCartney’s second encore, he welcomed the surviving members of Nirvana (Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, along with Pat Smear) to the stage.  Together, they played Cut Me Some Slack (a new song they had recorded together last year) followed by several Beatles songs, including Helter Skelter and Get Back.  It was the first time the Nirvana alumni had performed together in Seattle in more than 15 years.  [Details of this part of the concert and the “Sir-vana” partnership can be found here and here.]

Video with Nirvana – Helter Skelter

Video with Nirvana – Get Back

Lesson: Even when your customers know what to expect and are getting it, it’s valuable to surprise them with something completely unexpected.

With Nirvana

 

5.     Personalize and localize the experience

Lots of artists give lip service to this, inserting a “Hello, Seattle!” greeting early in their event and McCartney followed that convention.  However, he went further (and, therefore, seemed more sincere).  He acknowledged the historic nature of the “first concert ever” at Safeco Field.  In addition, he celebrated Nirvana’s local Seattle connection when he introduced them.  Finally, he played a tribute to the legendary guitarist (and Seattle native) Jimi Hendrix.  He followed that with a funny story of Hendrix playing a song from the Sgt Pepper album (two days after its release) and then calling out to the audience to ask Eric Clapton to tune his guitar for him.

Video – Tribute to Hendrix

Lesson: Understand what’s unique and personal about your customer and build an experience to match.

6.     Show gratitude and respect

The concert featured two separate memorial tributes recognizing John Lennon and George Harrison.  In spite of whatever differences McCartney may have had with each of them, his affection for them and his celebration of their accomplishments were genuine.  The recognition was accompanied by video montages, followed by songs specifically associated with John and George.

Lesson: No one, no matter how talented, achieves success alone.  Acknowledge and thank those who help you.

7.     Give people their money’s worth

On this tour, McCartney and his band have consistently played two hour sets (or longer).  Fans across the country have been thrilled with the thorough coverage of the Beatles (and Wings) song catalog.  With the Nirvana guests added in, the Seattle concert was nearly three hours long – quite an endurance achievement for the 71 year old McCartney.

Lesson: Provide value to your customers – exceed their expectations whenever possible.

8.     Enjoy yourself

Several times throughout the concert, McCartney paused and addressed the crowd with comments like “I knew we were going to have a good time!”  He proudly acknowledged the historical nature of playing the first rock concert ever at Safeco Field.  Once, as the nearly full moon rose over the stadium, he stopped to admire it, commenting on its splendor.   For the entire evening, his delight and excitement were infectious.

Lesson: If you have fun, your customers will sense it and will share your joy.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

You can find learning opportunities in every experience.

Pre concert-SDO     Scoreboard-SDO

 

 

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Strategic Planning Offsite

Last week, our leadership team went to a strategic planning offsite.  I know the perception of these meetings is often negative: they’re boring to attend, their results are fleeting, and (wherever the offsite is located) it’s a boondoggle to travel there.  None of those has to be true and, for us, none was true.

Our meeting took place in Crescent Bar, Washington – about a three hour drive from Seattle.  Our team of twelve met for two very full days.  In addition, our Group CEO flew in from the UK, along with our Group CTO from Amsterdam, for the second.  I think it’s a tribute to the importance of this kind of meeting those both of them were willing to invest the time (and the personal wear and tear) to endure 18 hours of flying plus more than 6 hours of driving for a single day of meeting.

So, what made our meeting successful?  It’s no secret: with preparation, focus and active participation, any team can make its meetings successful.

The first half day of our meeting was focused on about half a dozen small operational topics.  Each was led by an owner who had prepared in advance.  Most of the topics had some lively conversation, but we stayed closely on track.  Topics ranged across Sales, Marketing, Product Management, and Professional Services, so the variety was pretty broad.  The afternoon of day one focused primarily on one larger topic: the evolution of the social enterprise industry and our position within it.  Mark and Dennis, our CEO and CTO, arrived that evening.

The second day’s agenda was primarily centered on the product roadmap, presented by me.  However, we expected that we would veer off-topic frequently.  Mark frequently has that effect on meetings – he’ll ask pointed (and insightful) questions and they’ll need to be addressed before circling back to the main presentation.  Although we sometimes wandered far away from the product roadmap, we always came back on track fairly quickly.  In the end, we covered a lot of ground, answered some critical questions (about both the roadmap and other subjects), and identified a lot of actions for each of us to take.

In the end, the success of this meeting won’t be measured by the time spent in the meeting.  It’ll depend on our follow-up.  We’ve identified a lot of actions.  As leaders of the organization, it’s our job to make sure we complete them.

Finally, what about the “boondoggle” perception?  It’s true that we mixed some fun in with the meeting.  We went boating and rode jet skis.  Several people played golf.  We drank more than a little bit of wine and beer.  However, I sincerely believe that sharing those experiences helps us work better together as team.  When we have meetings in the office, typically we all go home to our families at the end of the work day.  That’s not bad – it’s just reality.  Going offsite (and sharing in some fun activities) helps bring the team together – shared experiences help build camaraderie and common understanding.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Strategic planning meetings (and offsite meetings) are just like other meetings: their value depends on preparation and execution.

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First Trip to Vietnam – Sightseeing

My last post described my first trip to Vietnam, in the middle of May.  After my week in the office, I had Saturday free to be a tourist in Ho Chi Minh City, before heading to the airport for a midnight flight headed for home.

My first stop was the War Remnants Museum, focused on what the Vietnamese call the “American War.”  As an American, visiting this museum was a sobering and humbling experience.  Although I was never a staunch defender of the American military’s overall record in fighting the war, it was eye-opening to see the war depicted from the perspective of the Vietnamese.  Particularly disturbing were the exhibits highlighting the effects of napalm, Agent Orange, and other chemical attacks.  The exhibit demonstrates the impact of these both during the war (destroying countless square miles of vegetation and killing thousands of civilians) and afterward (leading to horrific birth defects and other suffering).  The most impressive other exhibit in the museum focused on war photography and highlights the courage of the photographers and journalists who reported on the war.

Outside War Remnants Museum

Outside War Remnants Museum

 

 

Outside War Remnants Museum

Outside War Remnants Museum

 

The rest of the day provided much more uplifting highlights.  I spent several hours walking through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.  In several places, my timing was poor – I arrived at both the Reunification Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral as they were closed for lunch and returned after 4:00 pm, to find that they had closed for the day.

Reunification Palace

Reunification Palace

 

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

 

I visited the Bitexco Financial Tower, taking the elevator to the observation deck on the 49th floor and then enjoying a beer in the bar on the 50th floor.  The 861 foot tall building is the tallest in the city and is also notable for its helipad at the 52nd floor.

Bitexco Tower

Bitexco Tower

Throughout my time in Vietnam, I thought frequently of the unique experience (at least for Americans of my generation) of visiting (and being welcome in) a country that I grew up knowing as “the country where we are at war.”  I suppose my parents’ generation had similar views of Germany, Italy, and Japan through the 1970s and 1980s. It’s possible that my children’s generation will view Iraq and Afghanistan through similar eyes twenty or thirty years from now.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Being a tourist for the first time in Vietnam was a wonderful (and sometimes thought provoking) experience.  I look forward to exploring more on future trips.

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Another Milestone – My First Trip to Vietnam

My last post celebrated a family milestone – my daughter’s graduation.

As I left Miami after graduation, I immediately embarked on another milestone – my first trip to Vietnam.  In my new job, our team has an office in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).  Part of my team is in this office, so I’ve been eager to meet them all.  I’ve spoken to the team on the phone and over e-mail, but was ready to see them face to face.

The journey to Vietnam was awfully long, since I was coming from Miami (rather than from Seattle).  I flew from Miami to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City – a little over 26 hours of travel.  I was surprised to realize a quirk in my scheduling: the three flights had departure dates of May 11, May 12, and May 13!  The trip felt like I was in transit for three days, even though I wasn’t.

I arrived in HCMC on Monday morning and, after checking into my hotel and showering, went straight to the office.  I immediately felt the energy, warmth and excitement of the entire team and that continued throughout the week.  Each day was filled with lots of meetings, while the nights were busy having dinner and celebrating with various co-workers (which provided a great opportunity to get to know them a little better, outside of the office).

The team is preparing to move to a new office, on the 14th floor of the REE Tower near the current office.  The highlight of the week, for the entire team, was on Friday – a mini-party in the new space.  For most of the team, this was the first opportunity to see the new office (although the build-out was not yet complete).

I was fortunate, throughout the week, than my boss, John, was with me on the trip. John has spent lots of time in Vietnam, so I never felt like an inexperienced foreign tourist.  Whether it involved deciding where to eat, avoiding getting cheated by unscrupulous taxi drivers, choosing where to get a massage, or knowing how to get around, John had it all under control.   [Yes, we went for a massage, not once, but twice.  For those of us coming from the U.S., it’s remarkably inexpensive – each massage cost the equivalent of US$10.]  I had one day (Saturday) to set off on my own, for some sightseeing (which I’ll discuss in a future post).

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

My first trip to Vietnam was a big success.  I look forward to returning soon (and sharing the experience with my wife on some of my future trips).  

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A Family Milestone

This week marked a major milestone in my life – my daughter graduated from college, earning a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Miami.  My wife and I are incredibly proud of her and her achievements, matching the pride we have for her older brother who also earned a BFA in Musical Theatre from U of M in 2009.

Events like this give an opportunity for reflection.  As our daughter moves onto the next stage of her life, so do her parents.  For the first time in eight years, we’re not the parents of a college student.  [And we’ll have no motivation to fly from Seattle to Miami multiple times per year!] More significantly, for the first time in more than twenty years, we’re not the parents of any student at all.  Both of our children are now officially “adults”, by any measure, although we’ll still support them emotionally (and in other ways, if they need it).

Much of our reflection centered on looking backward.  We’ve raised our children well (he says modestly).  Though they’re both talented and seem likely to be successful in their careers, those aren’t the most important traits.  They are kind, honest, respectful, and principled.  Their instructors, their peers, and their colleagues frequently praise them, consistently respect them, and genuinely like them.  Those are the characteristics that we acknowledge, as parents, with pride.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Being a parent provides the greatest pride I’ve ever felt, reveling in the accomplishments of my two children.  

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Social Media Stories

I wrote this post for the SDL corporate blog, but liked it enough to post it here.

Social media usage in business is exploding, but it hasn’t yet provided a “magic bullet” to help companies use it to improve their results.  Companies struggle to jump from social media monitoring and listening to taking actions that improve their business.  Marketers try to glean nuggets to help them make decisions from a flood of data, but it’s a challenge.

 Marketers (along with politicians, public speakers, corporate presenters) have long known that audiences connect more with stories than with bulleted PowerPoint slides.  If you present a compelling narrative that people can understand and let them connect with it emotionally, they’ll be more receptive to your message.  This is true, whether you’re seeking votes, trying to persuade co-workers to embrace your proposal, or selling a product.  We connect with stories (a fact which is true at a biological level[1]).

 When it comes to gleaning insights from social media conversations, marketers should learn from their own craft, treating themselves as the audience.  Statistics aren’t enough.  The fact that there is an increase in number of tweets about my brand doesn’t help generate more revenue.  Seeing a declining trend of “content tone” in blog posts about my product doesn’t give any real insights into customers’ buying behavior.

How can a marketer go beyond “just data” and deliver stories with a narrative that resonates?  It’s more complicated than simple social media monitoring.  There are tools (including’s SDL’s Customer Commitment Framework, or CCF[2]), that provide real insights from social media conversations.  With more sophisticated analysis, social media content can be correlated to the stages of a customer journey.  In addition, audience segments can be identified, matching specific profiles of buying behavior.  This rich collection of information reaches beyond just listening to social media posts, allowing us to elicit the stories that match the experiences our customers (or prospective customers) are having.

The deeper insights might indicate that prospective customers learn about a new product, but struggle to get it working when they download a trial from the vendor’s website.  They might show that buzz and excitement were generated when a Memorial Day sale was announced.  They might demonstrate that the upgrade that seemed to generate lots of volume actually created a lot of frustration with ease of installation and with customer support.  In each of these cases, the story helps drive understanding and action.

What does this mean for marketing professionals?  Through the stories that are produced, Marketers can identify specific actions they will take.  Maybe they’ll target an advertising campaign at a specific segment of customers.  Maybe they’ll adjust their web presence, tweaking the pages that are presented to website visitors who are already customers.  Maybe they’ll invest in improved customer service tools.  Maybe they’ll offer discounts or run a sale, to attract cost-conscious buyers.

The important, valuable, difference is that they’ll be making these choices based on factual, reliable information – information that provided through a story.

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