Sunday, October 23, 2011

In Search of Team USA

Occupy Wall Street: Day 14 -
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by Long Island Rose
Occupy Wall Street. The Tea Party. The Jobs bill. Job-killing regulation. The flat tax. The millionaire tax.

At work I'm part of a team of about a dozen people. We're a true team. Sometimes a team is just a group of people who sit near each other and have the same manager. My team isn't like that. We share a purpose and core values. And we look out for each other.

Because we're a real team, we want each other to succeed—up, down, and sideways. All of us want to see our manager get promoted, and we tackle our projects knowing that our results reflect on him. For his part, he gives us more responsibility each time we prove ourselves; he rewards us with bonuses; and he spreads the word about our accomplishments and capabilities.

Those of us who are managers do the same for our employees. We build their skills through trainings and increasingly complex activities. We assign projects to match their interests. And we give them credit for the work they do, making sure other teams know what they're capable of.

It works sideways as well. We work together to complete projects for the good of the team and our business partners. We warn each other if a business partner is unhappy with someone's work. And we tell each other—and our business partners—when someone on the team has done a great job.

All of this leaves me wondering—what happened to team USA?

My manager gets paid a lot more than I do, but I want him to succeed anyway. It's not a zero-sum game. Why can't Occupy Wall Street or the Democrats or whomever be in favor of the top 1% being successful at their business endeavors?

The temporary employee who works for me gets paid much less than I do, but I want her to be successful anyway. It's not a zero-sum game. Why can't the Tea Party or the Republicans or whomever be in favor of those on the bottom rungs being successful at finding work and supporting their families?

Maybe it comes down to vision. My manager, his VP, and our CEO have set a vision of growing a company, helping our customers succeed, and doing the right thing for employees. Building a team of 12 takes work, creating a team from a company of 70,000 takes a lot of work, so turning a country of 300 million into a team is...hard. Really hard. But not impossible.

Team USA can solve the unemployment catastrophe and the debt crisis. We need leaders with vision. Leaders who focus on our country's common purpose and core values, not petty differences. I'd like to see our President and leaders of Congress come together as a team that wants each other to succeed. For the good of the Nation. Only through vision, trust, and common purpose—starting at the top—will we see a true Team USA.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Language Hacking Success - Brazil

I'm back from Brazil now, and I have to say that Language Hacking really worked well for me. Kudos to Benny the Irish Polyglot. After two months of studying, I was able to have simple conversations and get complimented on how good my Portuguese was. In particular I was able to:

  • Order and pay at restaurants - including asking about an incorrect bill
  • Buy baked goods and other items at grocery stores
  • Ask for directions
  • Check into a hotel
  • Get help shopping for gifts
  • Ask people about themselves and their families
  • Ask to have my flight changed to the same itinerary as my wife's
  • Joke around
Brazilians make it very easy to practice Portuguese. They aren't uptight about the language and they love it if you smile and joke around. When I went into stores, very few people spoke English, which is really helpful. It avoids the situations where they feel the need to put you out of your language misery by speaking your native tongue. Instead, we would just smile and laugh while I used filler comments called connectors until I figured out another way to say what I wanted.

I was amused by the number of people who asked me if I used Rosetta Stone to learn Portuguese. They're definitely doing their marketing well - I even saw a kiosk in the airport.

Here are the learning techniques I used to prepare before the trip - mostly taken from Fluent in Three Months:
  • Studied a Lonely Planet phrasebook for Brazilian Portuguese
  • Found a co-worker who speaks Portuguese and had three conversation sessions with him
  • Practiced greetings and pronunciations with a Brazilian vendor at the local farmers market
  • Learned numbers, colors, food, phrases, and pronunciation from a language CD by Euro Talk Now
  • Watched Brazilian movies from Netflix, first with English subtitles, then with Portuguese subtitles
  • Used Anki Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) flashcard program and iPhone app to study connectors, phrasebook vocabulary, and finance-specific terms
  • Wrote emails in Portuguese to co-workers in Brazil using Google Translate as a supplement
  • Changed my iPhone, iTunes, and Facebook language settings to Portuguese
Once I arrived, I just kept in mind that I had to go out and speak in order to improve. And I had to replace the anxious look I get when I can't find the words or understand everything. Instead I focused on smiling, nodding, and using filler comments.

As an aside, some of my favorite words are "otimo" (o-chimo), meaning "great"; "legal" (lay-gow), meaning "cool", and "moleza" (mo-lay-zah), meaning "piece of cake". I also like that futebol (soccer) is pronounced "fu-tchy-bol" and PowerPoint is "powerpoin-tchy".

I can't write about a trip without a section on food, so here goes. I had amazing pizza there (who knew there was such a huge Italian influence?). I ate delicious cuts of meat at the Fogo de Chao churrascaria (Brazilian barbecue). Every lunch buffet was full of deliciously savory sauces and spreads. We went to a great sushi restaurant (who knew there was such a huge Japanese influence?).

The draft beers ("choppe") were heavenly smooth - with Devassa's Negra as my favorite. But the best was the Pao de Queijo - cheese bread. Not just lower-case cheese bread. More like a glorious merger of light francese rolls and melted longhorn cheddar cheese at perfect nacho consistency so that it pulls away in a long string and falls all the way down past your chin when it finally snaps. Good thing I have a ten-year visa, because I may have to buy another ticket soon.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning Portuguese, but it was even more fun to learn so many tips to learn any language. I plan to shift my focus from Portuguese, which means it will join my ever-fading traveler's knowledge of Italian. We're traveling to Zambia in two months, so I'm going to apply all the techniques I just learned to my study of Bemba. I want to see if I can accelerate my learning pace. At the same time, I'm going to start brushing up on Spanish, with a goal of being conversational by next summer.

What language would you like to learn?