This happened a while ago, long enough so that the main characters can not be easily identified. Except for me, of course. It is okay, I can take it. I am blond. And I am lean. No, I am not Paris Hilton in disguise. I am a freaky-geeky kind of blond.
Some time ago I was given an opportunity to work with an offshore team from India. It was a very valuable experience from which I learned a lot.
I never went to India. Some of the team members came to the Stockholm office, where I work, now and then, but very rarely. We had a space distance between us, yet we were working tightly, every day. That does not come easy, you have to work a lot on keeping a long distance relationship functional.
Down with the Agile bat! (Long live Agile!)
To cut the long story short – among other things, I was trying to coach the team in Agile methods. Instead of hitting them on their heads with a big bat with “AGILE” written all over it, I had this idea that we should work on adopting a set of common values as a first step.
So, I started a series of workshops we held via WebEx, since that was the best way of communication we had available. Face-to-face communication is always the best, but we could not do that. Visual conferencing involving web cameras is second best, I think, but we did not have that either. Well, we had WebEx. They could see my screen and presentation and we had an audio connection.
Long live innovative examples!
During one of those workshops I was talking about Lean principles and was trying to explain why it is important to decide as late as possible. Then I brought up one example. Now, what not all of you may know is that I am quite proud of my examples. I am also proud of the fact that very often I come up with my own ones in order to simplify and explain things. And then it came:
Decide as late as possible
“You know, it is like when a guy meets a girl. You don’t really go and say the day after you met her: “I want to marry you!”, and run off to buy a ring. No, no, you wait for some time, until you have more information about her, your feelings, her feelings, how you get along etc. THEN you start thinking about the possible proposal.”
“My point is that this is an IMPORTANT decision, and that is an example why it is valuable to decide as late as possible. You will simply gather more of the relevant information during that time! You will minimize uncertain assumptions and crystal ball predictions, and maximize the facts that will help you make better decisions.”
Okay, silence or not, I was so happy how I quickly came up with such a great example, without any preparation that I just continued with my presentation.
During the upcoming two days I did not get much feedback on my presentation, which made me feel a bit down. I was new to the assignment, it seemed hard to work with all the distance, and I was warned about the cultural differences I might encounter, but anyway – I was very enthusiastic and happy to work in such a challenging setup! Still, I got no feedback for my first action, and my enthusiasm started to suffer some damage.
It is very hard to try to coach a team you never met. You do not even get to see their faces during the workshop. We humans get so much information through the non-verbal communication, and now I was stripped of that!
And then it came – the team told me that what I did was “A Milestone for the Team!”. Wow. They liked Lean! My interpretation seemed to have helped them! My efforts were not in vain! I was sooooo happy!
Some more feedback
Shortly after that great first feedback, a guy from the team contacted me via Skype in the evening, after the working hours. Usually all of the guys from the Team were “just business”, very nice and polite, but very serious and formal. Well, what I could not see coming at the time, their usual ways were about to change a bit.
This guy, after all the introductory apologies for what might follow, dared to ask me the following:
“Are you married?”
Hm, okay, that WAS a bit different. “Yes”, I answered.
Of course, I mean – the usual story – you fall in love, you date, you move in together, and then, after some time – you marry the one you love. Or – you live happily ever after without getting married. What else could it be. I was thinking… and thinking…
NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. THEN it clicked for me. What I said during the presentation and all… NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Love and marriage
But, my new Skype-friend continued to chat with me:
“I will ALSO get married for love!”
Aha. This was getting interesting. I was recovering from a Am_I_A_Jessica_Simpson_Clone_? experience, but put that aside quickly. What this guy had to say seemed really important.
“… Ok. That is good! I recommend it!”, I was recovering quickly.
“No one shall choose my wife! My parents will have nothing to do with it!”
“That sounds like the way to go. Yes, some parents might try to get too involved sometimes.”
My new friend did not give up on clarifying his views even more.
“I will also find love, and get married to my true love!”.
My heart melted. He was so sweet! We chatted for a while, about India and arranged marriages, among other things. I was so touched that I got to know someones private thoughts and appreciated so much a view through that window to another culture I got to experience. What I learned later, through close interaction with the guys from India, is that, put very simplified, the ones who practice arranged marriages see marriage as a union of two families, not only two individuals. That made me understand it better.
It is a very complex question, about the arranged marriages and the whole different culture than the western one. Millions of pages were and millions more could be written about it, and it is not my aim to tackle that here. Personally I do not think that there is an ultimate right or wrong way to find your significant other, and what works for one, might not work for other. Still, I am for the freedom of choice.
I learned something that day. It is okay to make mistakes. People will forgive you as long as you are honest and true to yourself. And after a mistake is made, you will hopefully learn something. It is not what happens, but how you deal with it.
BTW, whatever your hair color might be, my dear friend, remember – being blond is a state of mind. ;)