India – A Feast for the Eyes

Elephant in Traffic

Glances out the window reveal life in action. A bare-foot and bare-bottomed boy running down an alleyway using a stick to control a rolling bicycle tire. An old man wrapped in many layers of clothing to ward off the morning cold, lighting his morning cigarette. A young girl, maybe 10, carrying a toddler along the sidewalk on her hip. Begging. Filthy. Her hair matted with dirt. But somehow pretty all the same.

An elephant, painted for some occasion-or maybe just for an everyday show. A platform strapped to his/her back with a single large rope. Moving through traffic, horns blaring on all sides, the sound of bells clanging as the huge beast rocks back and forth on a stiff march through the centre of the city. What is the look in his or her eye?

A groom riding a white horse as part of a noisy procession. Making his way to his wedding. Not a young man. Women, girls, young men colorfully dressed. All dancing along throwing some sort of powder in the air as they followed a small vehicle playing music over a loudspeaker.

A man working in a building 6 ft square – a barber shop. A look of pride and recognition as we make our way past his shop for the second time today. We see him and he sees us as he flicks a sheet around the shoulders of his next customer.

A woman on the back of a motorcycle. Dressed elegantly and colorfully. Barely hanging on, just balancing – years of experience. She has her head buried behind the drivers back, looking down at her cell phone -texting someone. Oblivious to us or the cows her driver is snaking through on the tiny village road.

India is a study of beauty. And that beauty is found right next to or between the filth. Focus on the stench, the garbage everywhere, the cacophony of noisy car horns blaring and you will have great distaste. But make eye contact with people, see their beauty, see the smiles, see through the dirty exterior and you will find the beauty of the human condition. And then it is gone.

India is a feast for the eyes and paying attention is the only requirement.

Mergers Fail when Cultures Clash

William Wallace, a 13th century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence yelled, “Freedom!” just before he was beheaded for treason. The attempted “merger” of Scotland with England was less than successful because the cultural differences were large enough to cause a war.

I have been involved in acquiring four companies over the past five years and while no wars have erupted, I can attest to the fact that cultural integration is the most nebulous and the most challenging. When cultures clash the hoped for synergies of an acquisition or merger disappear very quickly.

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Who Drives Company Culture?

I have worked at Softchoice for more than 18 years and one of the things that has proven to be most elusive is to define the company culture.  Who creates company culture? Where does it come from? I recently had Myrna Ain at AchieveBlue debrief me on my impact on Softchoice Company culture using the Management Impact survey from Human Synergistics.

I was blown away by how useful the tool was. Unlike many 360 tools, this put everything in the context of how I was impacting my direct reports and how they experienced the culture of Softchoice as a result. For the first time, I could clearly see the impact I was having on the culture of Softchoice. The debrief also helped me to connect that to some of my underlying beliefs and values that drive my actions.

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How the 2004 Tsunami changed the Softchoice Brand

Paul Asseff, Nick Foster, Edwin Jansen and Scott Harper volunteering in Tangalle

The day after Christmas 2004 many of us watched in horror as pictures of the Tsunami in South East Asia filled the press. For Softchoice, it was the beginning of a different kind of wave that changed our Brand.  Softchoice today is known for its corporate giving but it wasn’t always this way.

As a company we had not been involved in any kind of organized corporate giving. But, the employees of Softchoice decided that they could do more. They decided to raise money so that we could be involved in providing help. Grass roots fundraising started, garage sales were organized, bake sales were held, hats were passed at customer golf tournaments. I can’t tell you how many other events were run – some of them raising only hundreds of dollars – however the sum total of these activities raised $85,000 to be put to use in helping those that had lost so much. [Read more…]

A Healthy Culture Breeds Competitive Advantage

“I have never experienced a company quite like Softchoice when it came to company culture. No other company has ever so clearly expressed the values that it was all about.  I thought that it might be fun to profile / highlight Softchoice for the article, which is what brings me to you. :-)”

This appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago from an old Softchoice colleague  Lisa Sperow.  It made me a little nostalgic for “the old days” but it also made me think…. We believe that culture is something that sets Softchoice apart and Lisa – who is now a writer and small business coach – wanted me to boil it down for her to share with the readers of her blog. [Read more…]

A Quote with Meaning

As we make our way home it is good to bear this in mind:

“Inability to compete with technological competence will compel billions of people into a survival stride of long hours and degrading work, sometimes far from their homes, driven to exhaustion, dropped to their knees to beg on behalf of spouses and children for shelter, medical care and rations.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame World Technology Summit 16 July 2009