Sunday, July 20, 2014

How Close is Too Close?

Having just returned from five weeks of travel with what seemed like endless hours spent standing in lines (airports, taxi lines, entrances to museums and more)  I’ve had lots of experience with the shape and space of lines.  I hadn’t thought much of it until I read Lisa Condle’s post about living in Italy and comments about Personal Space.

I suddenly had a vision of the lines I’d spent time in.  Not the nice long neat, one-by-one, at least 12 inches apart lines you’d find in a bank in Los Angeles.  Rather a floating, changing straggle of people generally headed in the same direction almost touching each other that I recently experienced.  Too many people, too close.  Where’s my place, your place?   

How we define the appropriate space, the personal bubble that we want around us isn’t something we often consider until someone gets too close or is too far away.   A bother we might think but it’s more than that.  It’s an essential component of how we communicate.

Edward T. Hall, the cultural anthropologist was one of the first to study and write about this area formally called Poxemics.  He identified personal space as a form of non-verbal communication.  For a more in depth look at the topic, based on Mr. Hall’s work, read through Martin Tolley’s article “The Psychology of Personal Space.”

The next time you're standing in line take a minute and as yourself.   How does you feel?  

The Gelato Search

The search was on.  Where would we find the best gelato?  Where would it be? In Rome? Florence? Venice? 

Little did we know there was more to understand about this topic than which flavor to select from the dozens that appeared in each shop.  Lemon?  Cream?  Which one of multiple versions of chocolate?  Mango?  Nutella?  Coffee?  Endless decisions and combinations.

Imagine our surprise to learn from Sarah, our guide on the Eating Italy tour ( that there is real gelato and “fake gelato.  The first made by hand with natural ingredients.  The  others from an industrial mix.  And guess which one is more impressive to look at?  Of course, the industrial version.  Piled high,  often with bright colors (think green, green pistachio), covered with pieces of fruit. Impressive to see.  But filled with air to create volume.  Less cream, less flavor. 

Now we look for containers filled just to the top,  the gelato  almost flat with quiet colors.   In our search we’ve discovered not only dozens of flavors.  We’ve also found tiny places with 5 sizes of cones and more of cups, places where the cones are colored and other where cones are not allowed.  Gelato served only in one of six sizes of cups. Discovering the gelato you love  in the size that’s right for the time of day is a delightfully time consuming, tasty process. 

But without Sarah’s advice we would never have given a second look to the flat, simple, stunningly delicious gelato we’ve enjoyed so much.  Local knowledge made the difference.

Now I have a Gelato Rule.  Search out local knowledge for business too.  Listen to people who may know things you only learn through years of experience in a place, a company, a region.

Local knowledge can help you find  best Gelato in all different forms.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Where's the English?

English is the language of business.  Everyone speaks English.
Two familiar phrases which sometimes seem to be true.  But then one discovers.  Not always.

I was reminded of  this simple fact when I purchased a travel hair dryer while I was just in Paris.  Small.  Inexpensive.  With plugs that fit local outlets and electrical system appropriate for local voltage.  Cute, light weight and practical.

But when I skimmed through the instructions including a notice written in nine languages:   “do not use this device near bathtubs, showers,  and other items containing water” – I was surprised not to find a bit of English.    The  warning was clearly displayed in languages included French, Italian, Spanish, Estonian and Slovenia.  No English.

A gentle reminder from a small hair dryer -  English isn’t always everywhere. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What Language?

Does language we’re using (reading, speaking) shape our decisions?  Boaz Keyser and Albert Costa make the case that whether we’re operating in our mother tongue or what for you is a foreign language, your decisions may differ.

Reporting on research in the journal PloS One they found that are responses to moral dilemmas, in this case whether it was acceptable to sacrifice one person to  save many, changed depending on the language used to solve te problem.    Read their intriguing article “Our moral tongue” published in the international edition of the New York Times.

Move this idea from a philosophical discussion to our business lives.  While  a global group, a company, may use one language to operate  diverse teams likely represent multiple mother tongues. 

How does that impact decisions that are made?  Would they change if the language changed?  I wonder.