I spent Monday and Tuesday with colleagues from six countries – Gabriela from Argentina, Dalton from Brasil, Karina from Chile, Gerardo from México, Marietta and Valerie from Barbados, and Debbie from Israel. I’d never met them before, and we all flew to Cleveland to plan Americas-wide integration of our knowledge management groups.

The event was hosted by The Three Daves – Dave C from Atlanta (our knowledge training expert), Dave W from New York (our knowledge community expert) and me, with able assistance from our multilingual Cleveland hostess Krista. The sessions were entirely in English.

Estuve este Lunes y Martes con colegas provenientes de seis países — Gabriela de Argentina, Dalton de Brasil, Karina de Chile, Gerardo de México, Marietta y Valerie de Barbados, y Debbie de Israel. No los conocía de antes, y todos volamos hasta Cleveland para planificar la integración de toda América en nuestro grupo de Knowledge Management.

El evento fue organizado por Los Tres Daves — Dave C., de Atlanta (nuestro experto de entrenamiento en knowledge), Dave W., de Nueva York (nuestro experto en comunidades de knowledge) y yo, con la asistencia del nuestra multilingue anfitriona de Cleveland, Krista. Las sesiones fueron completamente en ingles.

la2 The amount of energy, knowledge and collaborative skill of our guests was amazing. Never in my life have I seen a group of strangers coalesce into a team, and develop a warm and trusting friendship, so quickly. I was, and remain, in awe of this remarkable septet.

Some things I learned during these two short days:

  • Every country in the Americas has a truly unique and distinctive culture. All generalizations about ‘Latin America’ are outrageous falsehoods.
  • In some ways the long history of high-tech in North America is a disadvantage; several small countries in Central and South America have made some amazing advances in computer technology and communication because they did not make major investments in now-obsolete older technology in the past.
  • We have more to learn from countries that have had to make businesses work without our assistance and our heavy investment in infrastructure, than they have to learn from us.
  • There are other people in the world who find it as natural as I do to start work later and end work later than the average North American.
  • Some Mexicans have a strange taste in cars.

La cantidad de energía, conocimiento y habilidades colaborativas de nuestros invitados fueron sorprendentes. Nunca en mi vida había visto un grupo de extraños fundirse en un equipo, y desarrollar una cálida y sincera amistad tan rápidamente. Estaba, y aún lo estoy, de este notable sexteto.
Algunas cosas que aprendí durante estos cortos dos días:

  • Cada país en América tiene una cultura realmente única y distintiva. Todas las generalizaciones acerca de “América Latina” son de una falsedad escandalosa.
  • De cierta manera la larga historia de alta-tecnología de Norte América es una desventaja, muchos países pequeños en Centro y Sur América han hecho increíbles avances en tecnología computacional y comunicaciones, gracias a que no han hecho grandes inversiones en las ahora obsoletas tecnologías del pasado.
  • Nosotros tenemos mucho más que aprender de los países que han tenido que hacer trabajo de negocios sin nuestra asistencia y nuestra pesada inversión en infraestructura, que lo que ellos tienen que aprender de nosotros.
  • Hay otras personas en el mundo que encuentran, al igual que yo, que es normal comenzar a trabajar más tarde y terminar después que el promedio de los norteamericanos.
  • Algunos mexicanos tienen un gusto un tanto extraño respecto de los autos.

And there are a few things I don’t understand, which maybe I’ll learn as I spend more time with my new colleagues:

  • Why so many Central and South American countries have such a long history of political violence and economic instability.
  • Why there are not more bloggers in the Americas south of the US.
  • Why the thriving and high-quality arts and entertainment industries of Latin America haven’t permeated the North American market much more strongly .

I have made a pledge to learn Spanish, not because I need to in order to communicate with my fluent counterparts, but to deepen my appreciation of the cultures of all the Americas. Salutations and thank you, my colleagues and new friends!

Y hay algunas cosas que no comprendo, y las que probablemente aprenderé pasando más tiempo con mis nuevos colegas:

Por qué tantos países de Centro y Sud América tienen una historia tan larga de violencia política e inestabilidad económica.

Por qué nos hay más bloggers en el sur de las América de Estados Unidos?

Por qué el arte de América Latina, próspero y  de alta calidad, así como su industria del entretenimiento no ha penetrado más fuertemente en el mercado norteamericano.

He hecho la promesa de aprender español, no por que lo necesite para comunicarme con mis fluidas contrapartes, pero si para profundizar mi apreciación por las culturas de toda América. Saludos y muchas gracias a ustedes, mis colegas y nuevos amigos

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  1. ed nixon says:

    What a wonderful experience it must have been! It’s so good to hear about teamwork, trust and (the consequent) success.Regarding the things you don’t understand:1. History: one factor may be the meddling of imperial powers starting with the Spanish, continuing with the British and French and then by the United States. A vivid example that comes to mind is Chile, Allende and the CIA. Another might be what passes for the “War on Drugs” in present day Columbia. But I’m sure there are numerous other situations, less well documented, more pacific and more insidious. Venezuela, where I lived for 18 months in the early 80’s comes to mind.2. Blogging: I think blogging is an “American” phenomenon in the sense of the personality characteristics de Tocqville documented so long ago — of a gregarious nation of joiners. It would be interesting to do statistical research on the home, demographics and other characteristics such as content profile, e.g., personal, political, philosophical, etc., of the blogging population. (I’m sure someone is working that up as I type out of decidedly non-academic interest.) Other national personalities exist and they are not so inclined to live either their personal, professional or mental lives in public. Again, my Latin American experience as old as it is, would tend to bear this out.3. Arts and entertainment industries? Two points: a) Living in Canada we have first hand knowledge of the cultural baulkanization of the two major linguistic groups, French and English. It’s not difficult to see similar phenomena across national borders. Combine that with a cronic case of xenophobia in the US ranging back and forth from mild to acute and I think you have a viable hypothesis, b) it may actually be a good thing that Latin American cultural industries are ignored given the behaviours of groups such as the motion picture and recording industry interests so highly active in American politics today. We, in (English) Canada, have ourown experiences with this sort of thing too and suffer in many ways — culturally, economically — for the proximity and relative linguistic homogeneity with our sourhern neighbour.

  2. Michael says:

    Dave,The notable exception to the popularity of blogging would be Brasil. There are tons of Brasilian blogs out there. What’s surprising to me is that the rest of the Americas aven’t joined in. If you haven’t been there yet, you should check out Blogalization. Their mission is “to make worldwide in scope or application by means of cross-language blogging.” Blogalization is an open community of bloggers who post in one or more languages about material discovered in one or more other languages”

  3. Charly Z says:

    Re: Why the thriving and high-quality arts and entertainment industries of Latin America haven’t permeated the North American market much more strongly?I would blame language first (is it still true that gringos hate subtitles?). Latin American imports mostly play on Univision and Telemundo in the US of A. Beyond language, it must be a protective attitude from the Hollywood industry. They already export a lot of their own product throught the globe, what need do they have to make room for something they haven’t made?Re: Some Mexicans have a strange taste in cars.Cierto. Muy cierto.

  4. O RLY YA RLY says:

    Re: In some ways the long history of high-tech in North America is a disadvantage;This is what we call “de wet van de remmende voorsprong”, the law of restraining lead.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Ed: Thanks for your perspectives on this. I’ll let you know if your views are borne out by my Latin American colleagues when I next speak to them.Mike: Who are the notable Brasilian bloggers? Charly: Apparently the Argentina/Chile film & TV studios make less-mainstream productions than what we see on Univision/Telemundo. While Hollywood may be antithetical, Canada has shown that where you have skilled filmmakers there are great opportunities to make bilingual films (English and local language at the same time) inexpensively for a large international market. I’m also unclear why IFC and Sundance have so little South American fare.Harald: What a wonderful expression! But doesn’t it contradict Shirky’s Power Law?

  6. carlos says:

    It’s always been my feeling that Latin America’s problems stem from the unfortunate character of Spanish imperialism. Spain did not, as the Brits did in the colonies that became the US, for instance, establish or allow any semblance of participatory democracy and its institutions. The Spanish colonies were ruled(and their resources monopolized) either directly by the Crown or by Aristocratic despots from the 16th C on, and today’s successor states seem unable, despite the introduction of every shade of reformist ideology, to shake that legacy off. In fact, most of the upper classes holding sway down there are to this day predominantly of unmixed European descent, and today the largest foreign investor nation in many LA countries is, once again, Spain. Two hundred years after Bolivar (himself the scion of a powerful Spanish family), it seems the mantle of imperialism has yet to be shed.

  7. mrG says:

    Bucky was fond of pointing out how Brazil could jump into the 20th century because they started out with shipping based on airports instead of the whopping legacy albatross of the railways and seaports. In recent times I’ve seen similar growth there in Internet, but I’m not sure what legacy network held us back so long.In 1991, Linton and I participated in a WorldGame.org event, and one of the more shocking lessons of that day was discovering how North America may not need much from globalization (need, not want) but disturbingly, the rest of the planet does not need much from us either. Nothing except our cash. Let’s overlook for the moment how all that cold hard cash got here, but suffice it to say that it is kinda peculiar how we raped the Third World for 300 years and yet today, we claim they owe us money.Even back ten years ago, the UN stats used to fuel the game clearly illustrated that Brazil and other S.American nations can offer everything we can offer, but with their greater population density, dire economic motivations and linguistic advantages, they can do it all faster, cheaper and better.It was one of the most frightening days of my life, I’m still not completely recovered from the shock, but it does help me understand the desperate smoke-and-mirrors cash-grab at-all-costs events such as the Bush Wars, Enron’s slight-of-accounts magic and other high-risk attempts to keep owning all the cash — it’s the only way we can blackmail the world into allow the cream 5% of our total 12% to command, control and consume 80% of the planet’s resources.

  8. Michael says:

    Dave, Here’s another Brasilian blog. This one is actually #45 in Technorati’s top 100 – http://www.interney.net/

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Mike: Wow, thanks, what a treasure chest. Now I’m not sure whether to learn Spanish or Portuguese (though I’m told they’re not that different, for a learner I’m sure it would be tough to learn both at once). Amazing sense of aesthetics in these blogs — they have a flow to them missing from English blogs, and a preference for beauty over reality in the pictures. The expats writing in Portuguese all seem homesick — the word I see over & over is ‘perdido’. Not surprisingly the most popular one is about technology — seems to be true in every language. Where did you learn Portuguese?

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Carlos: Don’t know whether you saw my review of Zakaria’s book or not, but it sounds like you believe what he does: that it takes a long time for any country to establish constitutional freedoms, including learning from failure and getting government to agree to put in institutions that limit its own power, before the country can hope to function as a working liberal democracy. Zakaria gives special mention to Chile, but he doesn’t talk much about Latin America at all. Any recommended reading on this subject?

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Gary: It’s even more frightening than that. There’s some evidence that the diseases that we Europeans brought to the new world decimated as much as 80% of the population of those that first settled the Americas — the First Nations. There is a grim irony in the fact that the Europeans in the North (including us North Americans) are now attempting to control and command the Europeans in the South, the conquistadores. No question that more harm than good has been done by international interference that will soon have Latin Americans plowing under their corn crops because North American corn, produced with superior technology and subtler subsidies is ‘cheaper’ than their domestic product. When will we learn that self-sufficiency is the key to both economic and political success?

  12. carlos says:

    Dave:On reading.. my own views are based on a broad background in Spanish history, esp. the medieval period, where I think much precedent can be located for the colonial rule of Latin America, and its predicament following independence. The Spanish colonial impulse was preceded by centuries of war against the Moors, in which a prolonged Frontier ethos gave rise to a powerful warrior aristocracy with considerable local authority, land and power unmatched in European neighbor countries where democratic institutions were to develop earlier. I haven’t read Zakaria but, yes, I’m sympathetic to his thesis as you represent it. Spain itself, it must be said, has only experienced true liberal democracy going on 25 years now, although it is today fashionable to bury this dark past, as in Germany. While not exactly a scholarly work, I’d recommend Carlos Fuentes’ The Buried Mirror as an excellent introduction to the region’s complex relationship with the mother country. Fuentes is critical of Spain’s administrative legacy and the sad fate of indigenous peoples, but also stresses mutually beneficial aspects of the relationship. Also, I’d add that Chile and Argentina, with their significantly greater ethnic diversity and “European” character, may represent special problems above & beyond any model that approaches the region as a whole.

  13. Michael says:

    Dave,Unless you’re planning on frequenting Brasil, I recommend learning Spanish. It seems to be more practical in North America. You can pick up Portuguese pretty easily if you know Spanish. Most of the verbs are the same or similar, as are many of the nouns. Pronunciation is a bit different though… Portuguese pronunciation is actually closer to English.I had a few years of Spanish in school. I can understand it well, but am not fluent by any stretch of the imagination. I picked up Portuguese through self study (books & CDs) in preparation for my first trip to Brasil 3 years ago. You’re so right about the aesthetics in those blogs. I think that just fits with their culture. Art and music play a much larger role in life in Brasil than here. Brasil is a truly amazing place. I highly recommend visiting the Bahia region. It’s no wonder why the expats are homesick. You’ll also see the word ‘saudade’, which mean ‘homesickness’ or ‘nostalgia’. Mike.P.S. This site is a good Portuguese learning reference – http://www.sonia-portuguese.com/index.htm

  14. Dave Pollard says:

    Carlos, gracias. Michael, obrigado.

  15. ed nixon says:

    Following up on my first comment to your post, today’s (5 July 2003) Globe and Mail Book Review section contains an article about Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. The book under review is titled “The Americas: A Hemespheric History”. The article is a review in name only, but the book might be useful.Here are some links by way of background:http://www.history.qmul.ac.uk/staff/biography/fernandez-armesto.htmhttp://markov.utstat.toronto.edu/fulford/FernandezArmesto.htmlhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,791966,00.html

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