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Herd Behavior, Useless Meetings, and Solomon Asch.

An interesting blog entry from a Blanchard consultant. On the “uselessness” of meetings, his conclusion states, “When describing the attributes of an outstanding team member, we frequently include the word loyalty. Some well meaning leaders see candor and honesty as potential indicators of disloyalty—but actually, it’s the other way around. Pioneers should be honored, but frequently they are punished. Leaders should be informed, but frequently they are shielded. High performing teams are willing to tell it the way it is. This may be uncomfortable initially, but the long term payoffs are priceless.”

My response follows:

The reasons for meetings are highly contextual: on intended purpose, style of meeting management, level of personnel involved and situational urgency, as well as on company and national culture. Meetings in some countries are simply public confirmations of decisions already taken beforehand, whereas in others they may be truly necessary to gain consensus, and in still others a generator of new ideas through brainstorming. Or all three. In Dr. Asch’s research example, were the others around the table of equal social stature, higher or lower? Were they subject matter specialists and you are the only generalist?

“Truth” and “right answers” are almost never as clear-cut as Dr. Asch’s example. Nor are “high-performing teams who are willing to tell it the way it is” always the way to achieve results, long-, medium- or short-term. One person’s “candor and honesty” is another’s social faux pas or lack of respect, causing more damage than good. Don’t forget that any one person’s opinion is highly influenced by their own individual perspective, one that you may not necessarily share.

The best leaders, in my opinion, are those who leave open the possibility that they may be wrong, and are willing to “sacrifice face” in order to get to the more essential, more elemental shared truths. In Dr. Asch’s experiment, the true leader wouldn’t have given an answer at all, but instead would have asked “Why?” Why have you given an answer that I see as different? Why have you all answered the same? Am I missing something? It takes courage to ask these questions, and true leaders are those who display this sort of courage, instead of contrariness through “candor.”

An interesting experience over the weekend. In the course of last week a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. Young fellows with an appearance that would be familiar anywhere in the world: white shirts and ties, short cropped hair, youthful. We had good conversation and afterwards I asked them if it was possible to join them in their service. As regular readers of this blog may know, not only am I busy with intercultural dynamics in businesses, I’m also active in interfaith activities. I’m slowly becoming acquainted with various faiths and their forms of worship.
Last Sunday was their gathering at the Kingdom Hall in Almelo. I was a few minutes late and even though the parking lot was full, there was nobody to be seen. The security gate securing the lot was shut tight, but a walkway fence was unlocked, so I walked my bike inside the immaculately kept grounds. At the main door there was, again, nobody in sight and I tried the door: locked. Even before I let go of the handle, though, a clean cut, smiling young man bounded towards me and welcomed me inside. On leading me into the building I realized why his timing was so good: he was sitting behind a bank of security cameras which monitored my arrival.
 
I was asked to wait in the foyer and was then introduced to a smartly dressed gentleman, my age. He asked me a few questions and after determining my intent was benevolent, showed me to a seat near the front of the main hall. A group of maybe 75 equally smartly dressed, freshly scrubbed churchgoers of all ages sat listening to a handsome young man giving a sermon. I glanced around the room and noticed that everyone there was neat, clean, good looking and well dressed. A diverse group, probably one of the most diverse gatherings I’ve ever seen in Almelo. The average age was somewhere in the late 30s, which is about half the average of the parishioners at our St. Georgius Catholic Church. I was joined by Wesley who was one of the young men who came to my door, and he stayed with me during the nearly 2-hour service.
 
It was very interesting, the service. After the sermon (which, I learned, is performed on a rotating basis by any number of fellow parishioners – apparently JWs believe in a very flat organization), there was an interactive reading of an article from “The Watchtower.” Parishioners were called on by a moderator to contribute, and most of the responses included relevant quotes from the Bible. What it lacked in spontaneity was made up for in thoroughness and preparation. Nearly everyone in the hall contributed at some point, from 5-year old kids to seniors well into their 70s.
 
Afterwards, a great number of people came up to me, welcoming me to their church. In addition to Wesley’s entire family (mother, father and brother), the most interesting was a family from Armenian background: they had just returned, 3-days earlier, from a month-long holiday in Glendale, California, where they were visiting family. A great number of Armenians in Almelo, including Anton who cuts my hair, have family in Glendale. The most interesting comment of the day came from Gert Hollander, the my-age man I initially met in the foyer. I told him my very positive impressions of the service while sitting on my bike in the parking lot upon leaving. He said, “You know, if more people were open, like you, and would experience our service just once, the overall impression of Jehovah’s Witnesses would be far different in the world.”
 
I guess the same could be said for all religions and cultures, couldn’t it? 

There are many who are getting their panties in a twist about the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial verdict announced today. I’ve got two things to say:

1) There are only 6 people who are qualified to make a judgment about what should be the consequences of what happened the night that Zimmerman shot Martin: the 6 women on the jury. They are the only ones who have heard both sides of the story and are empowered to deliver a relatively objective decision. Everyone else, everyone, has a vested interest. And nobody else, nobody, is in a position to make a judgement. The judge is there to make sure everyone plays by the rules. And, considering there’s been no mistrial asked for or granted, it appears that everyone has.

2) This is how the justice system works in the State of Florida in the United States of America. If you don’t like the verdict, then change the system for the next time.

How? you ask. How can I change what I see as an unjust legal/judicial system in Florida? I’m not a politician, legislator or voter there. You’re right: you can’t change the system there. Not directly. But you can change the system where you are.

And as far as “unjust” is concerned, instead of screaming for blood revenge for a situation you frankly know nothing about, why not channel your vicious energy towards the unjust that you’re surrounded by every single day. Instead of shouting at talking heads on TV or beating up on internet trolls, fight to end poverty, hunger, disease and homelessness exactly where you are.

What will I do? Appropriately enough, today’s reading in church is Luke 7:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But until I come across a beaten and dying traveler on the side of the road, this checklist of change is one way, every day, I can change the system starting in my own backyard.

Go and do likewise.

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The rule of the Kingdom of the Netherlands will transfer from Queen mother, Beatrix, to her son, Prince Willem-Alexander, on 30 April, in little more than one week. In preparing for the celebration, the State has commissioned various art and cultural works to commemorate the occasion.

Schermafbeelding-2013-04-19-om-10.49.06One of these works, the so-called King’s Song, has generated much negative commentary in the Dutch press. “Old fashioned drivel,” “schmaltzy,” and “forgettable,” are some of the more tame comments. Some commentators, perhaps full of Dutch courage, have even suggested that the composer be tarred and feathered, and worse. The critique has been so intense, and in some cases so personal, that the composer, John Ewbank, has resigned his commission. I’ll admit, my first reaction to the song itself was little more than lukewarm: “What do you people have against melody?!” was my first comment to my wife, who wisely holds her tongue against defending “her people” against my tirades. She knows I’ll eventually come around.

And come around I have. I came here to rant about the lack of diversity in the song’s text. To point out the irony that both the man who will be King and his wife who will become Queen – Princess Máxima of the Netherlands (née Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti, of Argentina) – are both “allochtone,” of non-Dutch ancestry, yet there’s nothing explicit in the text about the diversity this country usually celebrates.

But then I watched the song’s accompanying video. I’ve been completely won over. I find the video a marvelous and genuine Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 12.55.26 PMrepresentation of all sorts of diversity in the Netherlands. And without the “Coca-Cola commercial” artificiality, where you magically wind up with exactly one of each national type – exactly one Asian, one black, one Pacific Islander, etc. The King’s Song video shows all sorts of diversity in a broad variety of Imagesettings: white, black, asian, young, old, all socio-economic levels, rural/urban, handicapped, obese (the heavy guy munching on friet at the train station is my favorite – just your ordinary “kerel” enjoying a snack), LGBT (lots of gays!) – even a hipster! And what comes through when you watch the video is these people aren’t from any sort of casting agency, but are truly the people you meet every day in this country. Well done! Image

Okay, the song’s not the strongest. And, as they are now saying, if your goal was to unite the Dutch in their dislike of something – mission accomplished! But my lesson learned is what it often is in multicultural situations: before you pass judgment, get the whole picture. And remember, as always, that context is everything.

The following is an introduction speech for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on the occasion of his visit to Europe during Diversity Tour 2010, organized and executed by GrapeVine Promotions International. The speech kicked off a press conference held at the Steinberger Kurhaus Hotel, the Hague (the Netherlands) on 4 February 2010. I’m reprinting it in honor of César Chávez Day, 31 March, 2012

I was born and raised in California, on the west coast of the US, in 1957. When I was coming of age in the 1960’s, the most prominent civil rights leader for us was César Chávez. As head and co-­‐founder of the United Farm Workers, señor Chávez was the embodiment of the migrant workers’ struggle for basic human rights in California and the Southwest. He was, for us, the most visible figure in the struggle for human rights in general.

During his “Fast for Life” on August 21, 1988, Chávez was visited by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. Of course, by 1988, I had heard of Rev. Jackson and knew who he was. But Rev. Jackson was “East Coast” (according to Californians, pretty much everything east of Las Vegas is “East Coast”). He was for the blacks; he was distant. Chávez was our man, la familia, the one fighting for la raza. Until that day in August, 1988.

There is an iconic photograph from that day that for many represents putting in perspective the local and regional struggle for migrant workers’ rights in the larger global struggle for human rights everywhere. It shows Chávez, weak and thin from 36 days into his hunger strike, sitting in a simple wooden chair in the dusty sunlight. Kneeling next to him in the dirt is Rev. Jackson. Chávez is passing a simple crucifix that represents his “Fast for Life” to Rev. Jackson. The two appear to be praying together. At this moment, not only is Rev. Jackson accepting the Imagesymbolism of shouldering Chávez’ struggle, he is also accepting the practice of the fast. From this moment, he himself begins a 3-­‐day fast, going from this time forward with only water to sustain him, before passing the cause on to others. This symbolic struggle was then assumed by leaders across the country, which gave enormous attention to the workers’ struggle that Chávez advocated. After this, the plight of migrant workers in California became a national issue, thanks to the intervention of Rev. Jackson. But even more, for we “nativos” it symbolized a joining of forces. Jackson literally and figuratively offering his hand to Chávez, and to us, with a simple, “Hermano, sí se puede.

And of course that gesture has now echoed across generations and across continents, to where, finally, a man also from a disadvantaged background and of color, ascended the steps to the White House using the same words, “Sí se puede,” – “Yes we can.”

And to me, and to millions of Latinos over the world, the circle was made complete when as one of his first significant and lasting decisions as Chief Executive, President Barack Obama nominated the first Hispanic to the US Supreme Court: Her Honor Sonia Sotomayor. The hand that Rev. Jackson reached out to César Chávez was then offered to Barack Obama, and then through him to maestra Sotomayor. The circle is complete, and we are all stronger for it.

It is with great honor and humility that I introduce to you the pre-­‐eminent civil rights leader of our time, the champion of the voiceless and disenfranchised everywhere: Reverend Dr. Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr.

Leo Salazar
4 February 2010
The Hague, the Netherlands

I had a meeting with the Imam yesterday in our city. Another  major step in getting local support for my Interfaith Dialogue initiative. Even though he is clearly a busy man in an important position, he was very generous with his time. For more than an hour we sat, drank tea and had a conversation about my idea for establishing an interfaith dialogue in Almelo. He was enthusiastic about the idea because it enhances his own mission. He said that even though his primary duty is to his followers, reaching out to the non-Muslim community is also an essential part of his responsibilities. Coincidentally (or not ;-)), I arrived at the same time he was giving a presentation about Islam and the mosque to a group of about 30 bureaucrats from City Hall. He regularly does the same with schools, civic organizations, other churches and the like. He said, “Even though we don’t proselytize, we do find it important to instruct others in our faith. After all, Mohammed (PBUH) was also surrounded by non-Muslims: Jews and Christians. It was also His responsibility to tell others about His faith.”

What I found most remarkable about our conversation was how learned the Imam was about Christian beliefs. And clearly how much respect he has for other faiths. In his presentation to the city employees, I found him somewhat defensive, without prompting explaining how the Islam is a peace-loving religion and the acts of violence committed in the name of Islam were perverting the teachings. Even though it’s understandable that he would do this, considering the amount of demonizing around the faith, I found it unfortunate. During our one-on-one, however, he was nothing but gracious, generous and supportive. I’ve clearly got the Imam in my corner.

It was interesting, even though the meeting went as expected, there were some interesting surprises. The first is how young the Imam is. A young guy, maybe in his early 30’s. When he was saying prayers and later in front of the group of city hall employees he was dressed in his ceremonial robe and headwear he projected an air of religious authority. But when he met with me he was wearing a simple business suit with tie, giving him the air of a junior associate with an accounting firm. I guess the thin, scraggly mustache didn’t help (no beard, as is the custom of most Turkish men). The second surprise, though it shouldn’t have been surprising, was that he spoke little Dutch. He is relatively new in his position, having been sent by Istanbul to Almelo for this assignment relatively recently. We had an interpreter, a young guy in his early 20’s. We got by, even though we weren’t able to converse on the level I was hoping to. Whenever the sentences or ideas became complex, the kid was a bit lost. He performed admirably, nonetheless. It was interesting to hear that every time he would translate for the Imam, he would, without fail, preface his text with “The Imam says . . . “.

A most amazing blog post on Saturday, 11 September by a certain Pam Geller praising the speech Geert Wilders gave at the site of the WTC in NYC. The caption to this photo was “The Dutch Parliamentarian and freedom fighter Geert Wilders gave a magnificent speech.” My response to this caption: “Wilders is anything but a ‘freedom fighter,’ unless you mean that term to be someone who is fighting to take away the ideals that freedom, liberty and the ‘Dutch tolerance’ stand for.” I was promptly viciously, and personally, attacked by the rabid right-wingers who populate the site.

My further comments regarding this speech:

As an American who lost a dear friend at the Pentagon on 9/11, I can’t think of many things more irrelevant, inappropriate or offensive than Geert Wilders, of all people, giving a speech at Ground Zero and continuously using the inclusive pronoun ‘we.’ As in ‘We are gathered here to draw a line [against Islam].’

It reminds me of that joke:
The Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion Tonto are riding on horseback through a narrow canyon, when suddenly they see hundreds of enemy Apaches lined up on the ridges above them.
“It looks like we have a problem, Tonto!,” exclaims the Lone Ranger.
Tonto replies, “What do you mean ‘we’, white man?”

The point being: don’t include me in your ‘we’, Wilders. You have no right to subjugate for your own nefarious purposes my right to freedom.

رمضان مبارك, Joyeux Ramadan, Happy Ramadan, Selamat Berpuasa, Feliz Ramadan, ماه رمضان مبارک – To all my Muslim followers.

It’s been interesting following the “trending topics” on Twitter, especially when there is something of value (i.e. NOT “Justin Bieber” or the latest Disney film). Last night it was the beginning of Ramadan. Even though I’ve read about Ramadan, this was the first time I’ve heard in detail from those who are practicing it. It was fascinating to read that nearly every practitioner who was writing about it saw this time as an opportunity to deepen their spirituality and their relationship not only with God, but also with their families and themselves. A typical posting, this one from @NomadicEmpress, reads:

“I am in complete happiness! The beautiful month of Ramadan is here to bless and cleanse us all. May we all benefit from the month of mercy.”

Reading these filled me with such a feeling of joy and happiness for my Moslem brothers and sisters. Suddenly all the noise about the “Ground Zero mosque,” Geert Wilders and other anti-islamists appeared to me to be shallow, hateful, self-righteous and intolerant.

I also felt a small twinge of envy. As a practicing and faithful Catholic, we have our own season of self-denial and spiritual examination in the Lenten period before Easter. Feeling the depth of the experience reflected through social media made me realize how much deeper an experience it can be.

Thank you, my Moslem brothers and sisters, for sharing a glimpse into your faith. I wish you strength, health, happiness and a deeper spirituality during this time.

Ramadan Mubarak.

This question was placed on De Baak International’s LinkedIn Group page in reference to the Dutch doing business with Indians. Armijn Peltekian of NexusNovus gave a detailed, very complete and, in my opinion, spot-on answer that deserves a wider audience. I’ve reprinted it below:

__________________

[It] is of great importance to understand the socio-cultural differences that exist between the two countries. However, India is immensely multicultural with a large number religions, castes, sub-castes and regional differences. To generalize all Indians as equal in terms of politeness, humility and sensitivity would be an error. In my opinion the most important lesson to be learnt is that since you have to deal with a vast array of cultural differences, your approach needs to be tweaked on a case-to-case basis.
Experience is crucial when conducting business in India. SME’s in general neither have the required in-house experience, nor can they afford to hire an experienced expat to conduct business functions for them on location. The task of facilitating an effective entry into India would prove to be extremely challenging to them.
MNC’s too, face a number of problems, particularly in management styles. Deputing an inexperienced expat to carry out necessary business functions in India very often fails to generate expected results. This boils down to the cultural differences as mentioned by [a previous respondent]. A very direct style of management might be counter-productive. The cost perspective of Dutch managers is quite off from the point of view of the existing reality as costs are generally much lower in these regions. However, many managers fail to understand the extent to which the costs are lower. In India, it would be a grave error to come across as one who gives in to unnecessary splurges. To pay “too much” for something is a sign of weakness. Hindustan Lever (now Unilever), McDonalds and Maruti-Suzuki, have attained their position of success due to the fact that they have completely Indianized their functions and processes.
[The original question] however questions whether the Dutch will have the skill sets to compete in a new (flat?) world. In my opinion, the greater majority of people in Europe lack the skill sets required to conduct business efficiently in Asia. But with the rise of the new economies there will be a large premium on people who have acquired these skill-sets and this will result in adjustments/ training for people currently lacking those skill-sets. If one takes some historical aspects into consideration, throughout past centuries the Dutch have been able to trade with many different Asian and African countries as well as all different cultures contained within Europe. If that teaches us anything, it shows us that these skills-sets can be acquired.
To conclude, India is extremely multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Your approach needs to be custom designed on a case-to-case basis, and to do this, one requires a great deal of experience. Entry into India can be tough for SME’s due to cost restraints and lack of experience. MNCs do face hardships as well due to the large cultural difference that exist, as mentioned by [the previous respondent]. I also feel that Europe currently has a lesser focus on India than America does. Outsourcing and the flat world are well known concepts in those regions. Europe has not yet been exposed to India to the extent that America has, but that is rapidly changing. I fail to recognise any factors that would inhibit The Netherlands in any attempt to reap the benefits of lower sourcing costs and tremendous market potential of India.

After seeing the shocking number of Dutchmen and women who voted yesterday for the PVV and their representative Geert Wilders, and after hearing his unbelievably shocking words during his victory speech, I thought it perhaps prudent to remind those to whose country I contribute substantially to their tax base, of not a small thing called their “Constitution.” To wit, Article 1:

Allen die zich in Nederland bevinden, worden in gelijke gevallen gelijk behandeld. Discriminatie wegens godsdienst, levensovertuiging, politieke gezindheid, ras, geslacht of op welke grond dan ook, is niet toegestaan.”

In the Queen’s English:

“All residents of the Netherlands will in all cases be treated equally. It is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion, lifestyle, political persuasion, race, sex or for any other reason.”

That is all.

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