Collaboration: Do You Do This Well?

A year ago i wrote about a quality that I believed to be the most overlooked quality in leadership. The response was humbling as many of you shared the same sentiments. It got me thinking recently about other attributes that serve well in establishing one’s true leadership. One quality that may be talked a lot about is collaboration. There is an art to effective collaboration and when mastered I believe it can be quite defining in establishing one as a great leader, colleague, and steward in an organization.

But what type of collaboration am I referring to?  Naturally, paying attention to someone in a meeting by putting your cell phone away is a requisite to collaborate. Or asking questions to show you are genuinely interested in a conversation with a colleague. These may seem common place but are not always followed-through in today’s world of never ending distractions.  But the collaboration that I reference here goes beyond this and addresses how we genuinely help, support, cooperate, and / or mentor others in our daily jobs.

Some of the reasons why collaboration is so important in business are common sensical but some may not be as transparent.  Such things as enhancing an organization’s efficiency or increasing internal awareness of what people are doing are some examples of why collaboration is important in today’s modern working environment. But these are just the beginning; here are some other reasons why I believe collaboration is a building-block to practicing effective leadership:

  • Helps Challenges the Status Quo
  • Helps A Business Grow Faster
  • Helps to Establishes a “One Company” Culture
  • Nurtures a “Can Do” Environment
  • Helps to Fosters Innovation

The benefits of collaboration are substantial and because of this it is covered extensively in many books as well as thought leadership platforms. Despite this, collaboration is not always easy to do when the rubber hits the road. When was the last time you deeply collaborated with someone who was not part of your P&L or group? When was the last time we genuinely helped someone who is a peer and who may — and rightfully — be vying for a promotion? Collaboration can be hard to do for these and many other reasons but it is these hard things that great leaders find a way to thrive in through and through.

Personally, this is one area that I hope to get better at in 2019. It will not be easy but with some small wins I am sure that it will become a more natural way for me to do business. Please share your thoughts in the comments section about your own experience.

The thoughts expressed within are my own. Thanks for reading.

Coming (back) to America

Perhaps I have to get use to this but a lot a people have asked me if I miss Japan or if I have experienced reverse culture shock.  My answer to both questions is a resounding “YES” but it got me pondering about how different things have become here in the states.  Indeed it is natural to want to highlight the political climate, technology, fashion, and other social trends but many of these are a given byproduct of time.  Some of the most obvious changes are the shared economy —  Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and Turo are some of the biggest services in town that have changed how we live, work, and play. But it got me thinking, what else has changed, good or bad?

Some immediate “good changes” that come to mind include my observation that people are more environmentally-conscious than I remember.  To help cultivate this environment mindfulness, people are encouraged to bring their own bag when grocery shopping.  After living in a country that is very environmentally-driven, I appreciate this.  Somehow though I keep forgetting to bring my own bag and I consequently end up spending money on paper or plastic but someday it will click.  Note to self — keep a bag in the trunk of the car.  

Another big change that I have uncovered is home entertainment.  It is easier to cut the cord than ever before with the many online streaming services out there like YouTube TV, Hulu, and Netflix.  In the past it was literally impossible especially if you watched sports but now you have sophisticated options.  As someone who has been vocal that people should watch what they want when they want to, I’m happy to see that there are more options out there with high quality content.  Note to self — Check out Hulu content.  

I would be remiss to not mention sports.  Having moved to the Bay Area, it is virtually impossible to not hear about the Golden State Warriors and their marquee players like Stephon Curry and Kevin Durant.  And the Golden State Warriors are good, very good.  I remember when they were the bottom of the barrel in the league but now they are not only world champions but also a true dynasty having won 3 championships in the 4 years.  Moreover, their style of play has changed how basketball is being played all over the country.  Note to self — master the three pointer.   

But what seems to be overshadowed by the good are the things that are not so good.  When I was here back in the early 2000s, people seemed more engaged and less distracted.  People are too consumed and somewhat controlled by their cell phones everywhere: in their car, in the restaurants, at home, and in the office.  This has been a sobering reality that I am hopeful will change soon but I’m not going to hold my breath.  Note to self — be an example for others.  

But perhaps the biggest observation that I have after returning back to the states is that the gaps between haves and have nots seems to be widening. After living in Japan where everyone seems to have a fighting chance to make a working living, I have been saddened by how expensive it has become in the Bay Area.  The cost of living has always been an issue in places like Silicon Valley but I never thought it would come to a mind-numbing point.   This is something that needs to be addressed by not only policy makers but also tech companies as we are on an unsustainable trajectory.    Note to self — remain hopeful and vocal.  

Naturally I could probably keep on writing about my observations but I will refrain for right now.  While I am still adjusting to the American lifestyle, it’s been a very interesting and an informative few months.   A lot has remained the same but inevitably  a lot has changed both for the good and for the bad.  It is my hope and my working hypothesis that the good will be far greater than the bad for my family.

 

 

Baseball is Getting Personal Again

From August 24th through the 27th , Major League Baseball will be introducing the 2nd Annual Players Weekend to baseball fans nationwide. If you are already a fan of the game then I do not have to tell you how successful this event was last year. Regardless if you love the game or not, it was a great example of how a little unconventional thinking and risk-taking together can create something wonderful in the process.

A Quick Description

Players Weekend is when fans are given a closer look at the personality of each and every baseball player on every team. Each player is allowed to wear a nickname on the back of their jersey for 3 consecutive games. Also, each player can wear a “tribute patch” on their sleeve that acknowledges someone or a group of people who they have great appreciation for helping them reach the Major Leagues. These two factors alone could be characterized as the genius of Players Weekend. Because of this, fans are able to get a personal complexion of almost every player on the field. This is coupled with colorful uniforms that are exclusively designed for the weekend. Moreover, players are allowed to wear colorful socks and kleets and unique bats — of their choosing — that would not normally be allowed in any other game.

Why I knew it Would be a “Hit”

I knew that Players Weekend was on to something special by watching how my wife reacted to the game. On most weekends we would have my hometown team, the Minnesota Twins, come into our living room. On most days depending on the score she will tune in and out over the course of 9 innings but during Players Weekend, my wife’s attention was acutely focused on the players. She was intrigued by the colors of the uniforms and the imaginative nicknames. Because of that, we had unchartered conversations about the players and their personalities the very first time. For example, Ervin Santana‘s — a Minnesota Twins pitcher — nickname was “Magic.” As we listened to the broadcasters we learned at the same time that Ervin (correct spelling) was a prolific baseball and basketball player in his home country, The Dominican Republic. And, it so happened to be that his boy idol was Earvin “Magic” Johnson. We also learned that Ervin’s real name was actually Johan but he changed it to Ervin to avoid confusion with another famous Twins pitcher who had the same first and last name. Without question, this conversation and mutual intrigue of the players that my wife and I had was singlehandedly catalyzed by this inaugural Players Weekend.

The Power of Being Personal

What Major League Baseball and the Major League Players’ Association did was a teachable reminder that organizations — no matter their industry, size, or location — should never stop to reimagine how to connect with customers in meaningful and untraditional ways. In this example, MLB focused on the product (i.e., the players) and made the overall platform (i.e., the game) experience much more personal in the process. By doing so, they were able to uncover new customers and deepen the loyalty of existing ones. It is because of this that I commend the MLB for their willingness to take a chance on this a year ago. I look forward to seeing this continue and only get better for years to come.

5 Reasons to Get Out of Town

Last month I was invited to speak at the Product School about my experience doing #product marketing and product management roles #overseas. I talked about a variety of reasons but perhaps one of the biggest ones is that it enhances one’s ability to practice _20180725_184446empathy.  A skillset that I believe is critical to being a customer centric product manager. The other reasons why I would recommend a stint overseas I explain in the below article that I wrote a couple years ago.  Many thanks to the product school for the invitation and also to the students that attended.

 

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Have you ever been in a headquarter based meeting when someone says, “This marketing campaign will be impossible to localize in China?” Or when a product manager says to her engineering team, “This product schedule will miss Diwali in South Asia.” One may presume that these comments are from people who originally came from those respective regions but that is not always the case. Rather they are coming from individuals who have worked abroad for an extended period of time and returned to their home country with an incremental impact to the company’s performance and bottom-line.

In today’s international economy, having global awareness at headquarters is no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have for survival. A TRULY global firm must operate with a deep and sensitive awareness to stay relevant with consumers in order to ultimately have profitability at home and abroad. In most cases, this has to start at the top to cultivate a global DNA across the organization.

Nissan comes to mind as a perfect example who understood the benefits of having a global DNA at the top when Mr. Carlos Ghosn was appointed CEO of the automaker in 2001 and ultimately Chairman in 2008. Before Mr. Ghosn executed his “Nissan Revival Plan” in 2001 and his “Nissan 180 Plan” in 2002, the Yokohama based automaker was losing relevance outside of Japan. But under his unprecedented leadership, Nissan relinquished the status-quo (e.g., keiretsu) and asked employees to act globally (e.g., English is now the official language). As a result, Nissan has grown to a respectable position worldwide and has significantly increased sales worldwide, most notably China.

Some may believe that having overseas experience combined with solid performance may help accelerate one’s career. While this is not always the case it is well-known that many executives in Fortune 500 companies have done extended assignments overseas before acquiring their stripes at home. Indeed, this alone is not the only reason to take the leap abroad but for many aspiring executives it could be a compelling one.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

–Muhammad Ali

Despite the potential for career advancement, many still refrain from seeking opportunities overseas or are not aware that the opportunity — including local hire — could be available to them. This certainly cannot be over simplified but I truly believe that exporting one’s services is a matter of timing and willingness. Timing can be out of our control but obviously the latter is not. Having the willingness to go and live abroad – regardless of location — is a combination of curiosity, desire, and courage.

Everybody’s situation is unique but if you (or your spouse) need a little help to muster the courage to go abroad, I would like to suggest some obvious and not so obvious reasons you might want to know. On the other hand, if you have no plans to go but are curious about the working-professional’s experience overseas, perhaps the below thoughts will change your mind.

New relationships that could last a lifetime: By living abroad you will be able to cement new relationships with people you normally would not meet in-person both inside and outside the office. It is my humble opinion that the connections you will make with colleagues and locals will likely enrich your experience exponentially. Many people will be intrigued by your courage to start a new chapter overseas and will want to hear your story the first time they meet you.

Enhance your resume: Showing that you have worked in a different environment and produced results demonstrates a tested business acumen and your ability to adapt to a unique environment. This is not easy to do as doing business differently or adhering to business culture can be challenging. This works to your advantage and could help you in the long-run.

Benefit from the same boat effect: If you live abroad, you and your family will have countless opportunities to meet other expats and local hires just like you from your country and elsewhere. Many of these connections could likely be with C-level executives and even dignitaries. From my experience, these relationships help expatriates navigate the good, bad, and the indifferent when living abroad.

Become a champion for your region: Regardless of your craft, during your tenure abroad you will have the opportunity to become the headquarters go-to-person for your region or country. The spotlight will naturally be on and you will inevitably be able to increase your sphere of influence and establish your credibility far and wide within the organization and have a real impact.

Learn something entirely new: From harnessing new hobbies to learning a language, the cultural experiences you gain will add a new element to your journey. Naturally, this largely depends on how open you choose to be and your priorities; the more open you are, the more willing you will be to challenge your comfort zone. If you do decide to go abroad, I highly recommend taking up a new hobby that could only be learned in that country. You will never regret it!

In my case, I can say that working abroad has been extremely rewarding because of these five reasons. But I would remiss if I did not state that a stint overseas does not mean that returning back to your home country will be easy. Unless you have a guaranteed position at the home office, getting back to the mothership will require hard work and creativity. The relationships you nurtured at the home office and your effectiveness at teaching how your new developed skills can be used are two key factors that will determine your repatriation. Naturally, these factors have to intersect with business needs. Despite this reality, I strongly believe that the positives of working abroad trump the challenges immensely.

The 4th Industrial Revolution: Is Japan Ready?

This past week one of Japan’s Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet members, Minister Hiroshige Seko, came to the United States to talk about Innovation & Future Vision. A politician for more than 20 years, Seko-san is the Minister of METI: Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry. In my opinion, as someone who has an intimate interest in Japan-US relations, Minister Seko had a respectable wit and humble presence that made him very interesting to listen to.

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Mr. Hiroshige Seko, Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, speaking to an audience hosted by the Japan Society of Northern California on July 31st, 2018.

What impressed me the most was Seko-san’s passion and sincerity about Japan’s place in the world now and in the future. He strongly believes that Japan has a responsibility in fostering innovation not only within its own borders but around the world. But there are indeed challenges. Speaking in English, Seko-san talked how there are 3 gaps that need to be addressed in order for the 4th industrial revolution to really come to fruition.

But what is the 4th industrial revolution?

The original revolution was about using water and steam power to fuel mass production. This evolved into the electric power which became the 2nd industrial revolution. The third revolution was catalyzed by electronics and IT — such as robotics — that has automated production more than ever before. I believe this next revolution will likely not change how we do things but how we view ourselves in the process. The technology that we know and have become so use to will just evolve to the point that digital and physical will become even more connected, embedded. There are obviously significant opportunities that may come with this 4th revolution but there are also ethical and moral challenges that have to be addressed.
So what are these 3 gaps that Seko-san talked about in unleashing this 4th industrial revolution?
Seko-san talked about the following:

  1. Overcoming gaps between regulation and reality.
  2. Overcoming gaps between our perception of technology and reality.
  3. Overcoming gaps between international order and reality.

Of the these 3 items that he spoke about, the one that I found the most interesting was the last one: overcoming gaps between international order and reality. To summarize, his key message was that in order to promote digital innovation on a global scale, we need leadership to create trade and investment rules between Japan and the US that are for the 21st century and beyond.
Seko-san’s biggest concern is digital protectionism — an often used term that can also be misconstrued. But I believe the Minister’s definition is nations who control the internet and internet economy within their own state borders. Simply put by the Minister, Japan, US, and Europe need to be role-models on how to manage data such that other countries, including developing ones, will follow.

USITC’s Definition of Digital Protectionism: “barriers or impediments to digital trade including censorship, filtering, localization measures and regulations to protect privacy.”

At the end of this speech, the Minister underscored that “Japan is Ready” to play a role in supporting this shift to the 4th industrial revolution on a global scale by working closely with the United States. Japan needs the United States probably more than the other way around and needs to continue to put its rhetoric into action. I hope Seko-san and Abe-san’s administration will show the world just how ready they are by leading the charge in international trade and investment cooperation.