Therese Duplessis works in the jungle of Brazil. She is a registered nurse who has volunteered to work at an aids clinic for two years; her clinic services 3 villages very hard hit by aids.
The patients line up starts at 7am, and she hands out the cocktail of pills in the strangest of ways until 9am, at which time she takes a break until blood testing hours begin, from 930 am till 1100 am.
During her first month on the job, Therese would take a stroll during her morning break, coffee in hand, and walk on the paths that surround the clinic. To her surprise, she noticed that all the pills she had dispensed, except the red ones, had been thrown out.
Astute as they come, Therese learnt that the locals were ok with any medicine, as long as it was red. And to add a log to the fire, no medicine could be blue, because blue signified death. Two of the pills she had been dispensing were blue.
Within a week, Therese was handing out the pills stuffed into a meatball which had been soaked in tomato sauce. Each patient received one red meatball, and downed the meatball in her presence.
Therese noted in an email to her family that “we sure did not learn that in school”.
It’s 2000. I am in Thailand sitting in an executive sales meeting as a facilitator with Javier, who is Head of Far Eastern Revenue Generation for an Israeli software company. Javier is a Cuban-born Canadian with an Israeli wife.
Javier has just asked for sales forecasts for the next quarter from his area VPs. Liang, VP of Key Accounts in South China, told Javier that the next quarter looks great! Then, in a coffee break, Liang told Javier that he would not meet his numbers and sales were way below target. Javier was furious. “Allon, Liang is blowing smoke up my ass”.
Javier told me to give a short talk about the importance of transparency and open communication about “early warning” signals when bad news is possible. I did so, since openness is such a core value in OD.
Liang came up to me at lunch and asked me to have supper with him. After a few (many) drinks, Liang (and Wu who had joined us) told me that he did not understand Javier. “I cannot give Javier bad news in public-that would be so rude; how I can I MAKE HIM LOOK BAD”. Wu added that he did not think that “Mr Javier has a thick face”. (He pronounced Javier as Ah-Wu-ya).
That was it-from that point on, I realized that I need to find my own road, far from the beaten path of traditional OD, to make OD relevant in a global setting.
Like Therese, I started cooking my own sort of meatball. Taste one.
Do you need to cook meatballs? Check here.