Almost a Year Later

It’s been almost one year since moving to the Bay Area after 12 years in Asia. After countless networking meetings, stressful interviews with tech companies; ruthless travel back and forth between SFO and Narita, and countless runs to Target, I am encouraged about my decision to move back to the states. Of course, there are things that I know I will miss about Asia and Japan specifically but those things will not overshadow the exiting potential we have here in Silicon Valley. Furthermore, being closer to my immediate family is always a good thing. The pace and speed of technology here is mind numbing; the appetite to keep growing and learning is refreshing; and the amount of potential for new business development for international companies are endless. These and many other things — both personal and professional — get me excited about my future here in Silicon Valley.

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.

Situational Adjustment: Mastering the Art of Different Cultures

I attended the 8th Annual Japan US Innovation awards hosted by the U.S. Asia Technology Management Center of Stanford University and the Northern California Japan Society early this month (July’18).  This event recognizes pioneering companies that honor innovation and economic opportunity between the two countries.  It featured a keynote speaker,  award ceremonies, and fascinating panel discussions with the award recipients.

You can find out more about the companies recognized at the Japan US Innovation Awards event here.

The event began with a fireside chat between the Director of U.S. Asia Technology Management Center , Dr. Richard Dasher and the CTO of Nest, Dr. Yoky Matsukoa.  Nest is is a Google company that makes connected devices  for the home.  Dr. Matsuoka has both an impressive and unique background. Born and raised in Japan, her love for tennis brought her to the United States.  Ultimately, she made a pivot to teaching robotics after completing a PhD from MIT.  She was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and subsequently the University of Washington.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. 
–Steve Jobs

Dr. Matsuoka’s sports to academia to business leads many to ask how and why did she make the decision to change her career.  But as she stated a famous quote from Steve Jobs: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”  This to me means that we do not have to have a well-thought out, perfect plan; rather we should follow our hearts and dreams.  If we do that thoughtfully and trust ourselves,  our life’s story will will come together beautifully.  Dr. Matsuoka’s career is certainly no exception.  Her love for tennis cultivated her passion for human motion which has been instrumental in her robotics career.

Having been born in Japan and now working as an executive in Silicon Valley has its challenges but — as I’m sure Dr. Matsuoka may agree — it also has its rewards. Both environments have starkly different cultures, especially for women.  When asked by the audience how she manages this, she coined the expression “situation adjustment.” That is, when she needs to be vocal and direct she can play that card effectively. Conversely, when she’s in Japan, she understands the cultural idiosyncrasies there and knows how to communicate while respecting traditional cultural norms of her native country.

Thank you Dr. Matsuoka for your inspiration and sharing your personal story with the audience.  Knowing one’s environment and adjusting how you behave is a work of art that you have certainly mastered.  I am hopeful that more people who are bridges between Japan and the US will embrace this concept with the intention of creating opportunity and innovation between the two countries.

 

 

 

 

 

20 Years Later: Happy But Not Content

Earlier this month I attended my 20 year reunion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. There were a few friends who could not make it so — truth be told — my excitement was slightly deflated. But as I look back at it now, without question, I’m glad I went and connected with classmates I have not seen in years.

Before driving down to campus, I had a thought-provoking chat with my Mom that Saturday morning. We were discussing whether or not I was happy and content about where I am now post college graduation. It got me thinking about all the good things that I have been able to accomplish since 1998. So my immediate answer was “yes!”

But that would not be my complete answer….

Indeed, if I knew where I was now 20 years ago I probably would be happy but would I be content? In other words, would I feel like I have arrived? Or like I have used all my God given talents and skills? My answer to that would be an emphatic, “no, I’m not content at this stage.”

Don’t get me wrong, having lived overseas, married to a beautiful and loving bride, having 2 healthy little ones, having a strong family, and having started my own business are just a few of the things I can say without any hesitation that I’m very blessed and proud about. But these are not reasons for being content. A resounding sense of appreciation and gratitude, yes, but certainly I am not in a state of bliss or utter satisfaction. And I’m OK with that because this is what I believe makes the journey of life so enjoyable.

In my heart’s of hearts, I know that my greater purpose in life is just getting started. And for me to reach contentment, I have to continue this path with humility, discipline, integrity, and hunger. And by being hungry, I mean feasting on knowledge that will keep me fired up to take thoughtful action. It is this action that I hope to achieve my utmost greatness in this gift we call life.

And to find out what that greater purpose is, well then I guess you’ll have to keep following the “FullEffect Life” to find out.

In conclusion, if you have a reunion coming up definitely go but have that internal conversation with yourself before you step foot on campus. This will ensure that you benchmark your life against YOU and nobody else.

The Golden State Warriors: A Team First, Super Second!

On Tuesday, June 12th, the Golden State Warriors celebrated with their fans in the Bay Area their third championship in four years. As someone who just moved here, I cannot help to marvel at what this team has accomplished as an organization and as a TEAM.

The Warriors’ victory got me thinking about the psychology of the terminology “Super Team.” As many of us know, the Warriors have super mega star players, therefore, it is easy to categorize them as a “Super Team.” But just calling them that I feel is a disservice because I believe that they are more than that.

What makes the Golden State Warriors extra special is that they never get consumed or distracted by how “super” they may be. They always maintain poise, humility, and brotherly camaraderie that can be hard to find in professional sports. This is why their greatest strength is their cohesiveness as a unit.

This Team’s Identity is Everyone

When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 — cleverly called “The Decision” — to join the Miami Heat, he started this “Super Team” era. He played with super stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade and won 2 championships in the process. But, as some may argue, the identify of this team was always LeBron James. What makes the Golden State Warriors special is that the identify of this team may be different on any one night. Is it Kevin Durant? Is it Stephen Curry? Or Klay Thompson? Either one of these players could be superstars on any other team but they would be the first one to tell you that the identify of this team is EVERYONE.

No matter if you are playing in sports or on a team in an organization, there are a few things they consistently demonstrate that makes them the benchmark on how a team should operate.

  • It Starts with the Leader: Steve Kerr did a sensational job managing this team despite the many injuries the Warriors had to face during the season. He always believed in his players and maintained a sense of calm even when he was going through physical ailments himself. No matter how big or challenging the adversities a team has to face, it all starts with how the leader responds and rallies behinds his/ her team.
  • Play Together: What makes the Golden State Warriors very difficult to defend is their ability to circulate the basketball well. This sharing of the ball is fun to watch and is one of the reasons why they are able to create open looks and high percentage shots. But this is not easy to do especially when you have as many mega starts as the Warriors do have. But this willingness to pass the torch on to the next teammate is a refreshing reminder that this is something that teams have to do to unleash collective greatness.
  • Humility: Perhaps the greatest attribute of the Warriors is their unselfishness and humbleness. This narrative consistently is on the display in how the play as a team and how they speak about each other. When Kevin Durant won the MVP award after the 2018 NBA Finals, a reporter asked about Curry not winning the award despite a stellar performance and Durant astutely stated “does it matter….we just won back to back?” At least publicly, Durant would not let his individual accomplishment overshadow what his team accomplished.
  • Recognize Each Others’ Strengths: One key element of a strong team is the willingness to acknowledge each other’s strengths, contributions, talents, and value to the team. This is easy to do if each team member is bought in to the idea that no one person is above anyone else. This seems to be the character of this team. Because of their unwavering humility, players on this team seem to deflect being placed on a pedestal publicly and recognize others. For example, Kevin Duran, who is arguably one of the greatest players to play the game once referred to his teammate, Stephen Curry, as the “system” of the team.

It is because of the above factors that the sum of the individual parts of this team is greater than the number of players combined. These are qualities that can be emulated by any good functioning team. The great Coach John Wooden said it best when he stated “that sports do not build character, they reveal it.” Without question, the same goes in business as well.