I’m running a small company with headquarters in Denver and Brisbane Australia. I’m in Brisbane with my Australian software engineering team and we’re discussing the importance of our next release. As a company, we’ve burned through $64 million of other people’s money and our largest most important strategic partner and investor have stopped using our product. We have two major global brand resellers hanging by a thread and dependent on an on-time, feature-rich, operationally-perfect release. In other words, if in the next quarter we don’t deliver on our promises we’re toast.
I’ve explained this to the team and look to my Vice President of Engineering, a former senior manager from HP relieved to hear his confident response, “No Worries.” Great! These guys are signed up and I can relax. ….. oh if I knew then what I know now.
When he said, “No Worries,” he wasn’t telling me to relax. He wasn’t letting me know that he had the appropriate level of concern, that he was going to drive his team to keep the late-night lamps burning. No, no worries, in this case, meant he’s not worried, that he’s relaxed. This project wasn’t getting in the way of surfing or wine collecting or life.
….. we missed and what was supposed to be a turn-around, turned-around to be a tear-down, asset sale.
I’m in a sales meeting with a major financial institution in Minneapolis with my top sales gunslinger from New York. Sales guys presenting, the bankers are all smiling and shaking their heads. Heads are nodding, short discussion at the end of the presentation. Smiles all around. Handshaking, praise for the presentation, promises to call in two days. Debrief with the sales guy later and he thought that went well. No arguments, no one challenging him, no one treating him like the Wall Street sharpies that comprise his usual customer base.
Welcome to Minnesota and Minnesota Nice. Minnesotans aren’t New Yorkers. They don’t challenge, they hold back. Their not rude New Yorkers who have little compunction to share their thoughts and actually give you the opportunity to handle objections. No in Minneapolis smiles and all nicely nice isn’t a sign of things going well. In Minnesota, people are “nice,” except when they’re not and unfortunately, they don’t tell you when they’re not nice. In New York, when someone aggressively challenges a premise, it does not mean they’re angry or hate the premise-er. And in Brisbane, “No Worries” may mean something different than no worries from ahead of development in Silicon Valley.
When doing business in Japan, it is so obviously foreign. The language, the business card trading ritual, bowing protocol, Westerners are constantly reminded that you are involved in a transaction between two very different cultures.
We Americans tend to feel comfortable when dealing with Western European-based culture. After all, that’s where we find our roots. When doing business in English-speaking cultures like here in the US, in the UK, or Australia, the differences between culture, custom, and meaning are more easily missed. Yet there is no more dangerous trap than assuming that doing business in Minneapolis, is the same as doing business in the Bronx, or in politically-infused DC, or laid-back LA. In these cases, the nuances of language and custom become tantalizing traps difficult to avoid.
Ohio isn’t Texas. South Carolina isn’t Chicago and of that, we must always be aware.