ES2007S Blog Post 4: Evaluating Intercultural behavior

What and when?
I am going to take you back to a Fraternity House at the Stanford University. The date – 7th August, 2006. I was 18 years, 4 months and 19 days ago and I was the youngest student to have made it to RealAcad – an intense global venture management program. It was the 2nd day and while one part of me was skipping in delight at the thought of all the learning that was bound to take place, the other parts, were in shock..

I was surrounded by 18 top performers from all over the world. Our group consisted of 5 Indians, 3 Americans, 2 Belgians, 2 Brazilians and 1 each from Bolivia, China, Serbia, Mexico, Wales, Haiti and Kyrgystan. We had a tumultuous 1st day where one of our camp mates had fallen ill and had to be rushed into hospital. Added to this fact was the clashing of expectations of every individual in the camp and the 2nd day felt like a day out of the world war.

What happened?
I noticed two strong groups emerge. One group was a collection of all those from the west (Europe and the USA) who were fixated on the agenda while the rest (from Asia and South America) were those who weren’t as concerned about time and a fixed agenda. From my Indian lens, I just couldn’t understand the fixation behind following the agenda. After all, it was one of ‘them’ who had to be rushed to a hospital. Besides, I felt ‘their’ constant stress on the agenda was only throwing the camp further off the agenda.

More background
Every person in the room had tasted success in their professional lives, as top performers in companies like Microsoft, BCG, as entrepreneurs etc, and were leaders in every sense of the word. RealAcad promised to bring this entire team together and form a new entrepreneurial venture by the end of the sixth day. Every individual in the room, hence, was trying to pull the camp in the direction of their ideas.

What did I feel and do?
I strongly felt that being ‘efficient’ here would not do much to solve the inherent issues. In my understanding, the basic issue here was that the participants were unclear of how their expectations would be met given the open ended nature of the camp and only effective conversations that brought about alignment would help iron out our issues.

Luckily, the leadership team felt the same and we did iron these differences before we moved forward. This entire process took 2 whole days and caused further discontentment and angst. But, our leaders still persisted.

Eventually, things came together by Thursday and in the remaining 48 hours, I was truly astounded by the impact of aligning a team with open and transparent communication. During this course, we also understood the point of view of our friends from the other side of the Suez Canal and planned our next steps effectively. By the time the camp closed on Saturday, we had created 4 new companies!

And hence, my 3 mantras for cross-cultural group success are –

Mantra 1: Be open(to new/weird ideas, behaviors, food habits etc)
Mantra 2: Seek to understand before trying to be understood
Mantra 3: Read Mantra 2 again.

And one last thing, I did learn never to forget an agenda!

Enjoyed my last NUS mid-sem break..

Here’s why…

1) For the first time, I took a BREAK! A complete break – no agenda, no schedule, no nothing. Work did get done but it was because it fitted right in.. else it was thrown right out..

2) For the first time, I have no mid-sem exams coming up in the next few weeks..

3) Went to Bintan and hence, visited a new country.. That’s 14 now..

4) I decided to indulge myself and played and finished Roadrash – yes, that’s all five levels and had gotten myself a Diablo and zoomed through the last 3 levels. It took me only about 7 hours.. 7 hours well spent..

5) I played football, swam – so all in all, I wasn’t just a couch potato. Watched 2 movies as well and yes, I didn’t like ‘My name is Khan’..

6) Watched Man Utd give AC Milan a whooping..

7) Most importantly.. just had fun.. was a complete break. There’s a lot to look forward to – Sparkz, finishing up FYP, finishing up module.. and the not-so-nice thought of 8 labs for my design module.. but hey, it’s my last semester at university.. and that’s awesome as well!

When it comes to good things, we tend to only celebrate firsts and not celebrate lasts.. I disagree. It’s been a wonderful 4 years.. and all good things come to an end..

I’m sure going to make it a happy one! :)

Just remembering my past mid-sem breaks –

1) 1st Semester – Mom came down to Singapore!! Boy, wasnt’ that fun! Also, played my first and only Kreeda – a sports event organized by the now – defunct ‘Society of Indian Scholars’. Our team was called ‘Bahaya Jangan Dekat’ (Malay – Danger! Keep out!)

2) 2nd Semester – The work fever had gripped me. Most of this break was spent in the office..

3) 3rd Semester – As above.. (but I had a Langkawi trip to look forward to in about 2 weeks..)

4) 4th Semester – As above..

5) 5th Semester – As above..

6) 6th Semester – IA – so, as above..

7) 7th Semester – The 10/10 adventure trip to Cameron Highlands!!

and now..

Wow, It’s been a long ride..

Hogging Bandwidth..

Mental bandwidth is one of those things that is ignored often. We don’t generally have space in our head to entertain too many things at once. Things are best done the traditional way – one thing at a time.

The worst kinds of activities i.e. Those that gnaw into this band width and yet don’t get out of the way are those that are abstract. Here are examples of a few such task descriptions –

‘EE4307 work’
‘Progress on FYP’
‘Progess on job search’
‘Do something about..’

Abstract tasks hog band-width, make us feel ‘stressed’, make us sick of day to day existence as we seemingly don’t have time to do anything else..

How can we avoid it?
3 things that come to my mind are –

1) Make actionable tasks: This is the simple to do. For eg: Progress on Job search could be – apply to ABC, BCD and CDE by Saturday. Making it actionable definitely helps.

2) Place actionable tasks in a container based on priority: Sometimes meaningless tasks like transferring photos to a friend can tend to hog bandwidth. Putting them in a low priority box means we only need to get to it when all the other important tasks are done.

3) Plan!: The 1st two are quick fixes, of course. A longer term fix is to plan the week ahead so we are prepared. Sudden tasks that pop up are those that can hog massive amounts of band-width and they often lead to no real result either.(cue: meaningless worries)..

Oh, and one last thing, I’ve learnt not to underestimate the importance of band-width. There is only so much we can do in a day, a week, or even a month..

Let’s learn to say ‘NO!’..

‘Never say yes when you want to say a no’