Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Independent American

Even in this time of economic uncertainty, layoffs, store closings it appears that at least some Americans still believe the can create their own destiny, make good things happen. I see evidence of this around me. People I know who have been laid off are starting new companies (and booking real paying projects) or are evolving their skills (photographer to specialty videographer) and doing well. The American attitude that you can try something new, that change brings opportunity, and the basic underlying do-it-yourself optimism that fueled the development of the country still appears to exists.

And it seems I’m not the only one who sees the independent American spirit around me. According to David Brooks writing in the New York Times ( Americans even in this difficult time believe“ that their own individual actions determine how they fare.” He draws his conclusion in part from recent polls (from the National Journal, Allstate, Gallup) that indicate that while Americans see volatility, uncertainty in the economy that will effect them they are reluctant to have the government step in to try to take over, fix everything. Rather the government can and should do some things but overall individualist Americans still believe they can rely on themselves. “I’ll do it myself” children say with great intensity as they learn to tie their shoes, and “I’ll do it myself” they continue to say as adults trying to find new ways to cope with uncertainty.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Way Forward

The Financial Times ( published an article recently titled Fifty Who Will Frame a Way Forward. Fifty people from around the world that they identified as leaders toward our future. Politicians, bankers, investors, heads of institutions economists, industrialists, representatives of media and academia. Some names were well known, (Barak Obama and Angela Merkel) others not so familiar (Lous Jiwei and Michel Pebereau). You can find the list at

While the list is interesting what I believe is most important point in the article is the reminder that it is networks, connections and links between individuals and institutions that will lead us forward. Isolation on any level will not work. Our futures depend on our ability to connect with people everywhere.

Once you understand that reality then its time to think about building the networks. It seems simple but sometimes it isn’t. Differences in business culture can limit our possibilities. Errors as seemingly small matters as knowing when to drink your wine at dinner, how to greet someone, and what time is “on time” can create friction and misunderstandings. Each culture in each country is unique. Differences occur in daily activities as well as in patterns of management, style of negotiations, the pace of activities.

To build networks, connections critical to our futures, spend some time learning about the varied definitions of how business is conducted, the culture that shapes the behavior you can observe. Be seen as knowledgeable, polite, linked to the world. Be prepared to be successful.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Global Business Today

For some of the artisans in Florence, Italy (, the global slowdown,( crisis or meltdown depending on your choice of vocabulary) is a daily reality, not simply a concept covered in the news.

We talk about business being connected around the world. But how that reveals itself may be a surprise. Would you think that a shop in Florence would be having trouble because people in the US aren’t shopping as much at the New York speciality store Barneys? ( It's true for a Florentine jewelry maker who uses glass beads threaded together to create elaborate pins, bracelets and necklaces that sparkle under the lights. A favorite of visitors who (did) flock to Florence they now struggle. Fewer tourists in Florence and fewer Americans buying imported jewelry at Barney’s NY adds up to their challenge.

For the mask maker Professor Agostino Dessi ( there are still a few special orders with packages being sent as far away as Iowa but the daily tourist business has almost vanished. Other than a group of US students learning how masks are made in the traditional methods, the store stands empty, waiting for tourists to appear. Business is badly down he says and isn’t optimistic that it will pick up soon.

The downturn here is evident in every conversation, every place in the city. Restaurants and streets seem empty. You hear very little English, some Germany, a bit of French, Japanese but it's mostly Italian that surrounds you. Compared to last year or the one before, the city feels quiet. You can walk the streets without being crushed by a group following a tour guide holding an umbrella raised to the sky or visit the Uffizi ( and see the paintings up close.

Being globally connected is wonderful when the tourists arrive and shoppers fill the stores. When times are challenging the global connections aren’t always joyful. We can only hope that the streets will be full and shops crowded soon so that these special places will still exist for us to enjoy.