Thursday, November 29, 2012

Brazilian Laptop Project

This week my technical editing class covered cross-cultural communication. It seemed appropriate to share a professional international success story, especially one that sounds so much better here than the one-liner version on my résumé.

My last corporate project launched the first mobile product delivered to a Brazil local market for Compaq Computer Corporation (now Hewlett-Packard) in 2000. Pulling together a team comprised of third-party Taiwanese suppliers, ego-centric American product developers, proud Brazilian engineers and factory planners, a patriarchal Brazilian sales force and reporting to a Mexican national executive, we began the arduous task of building the first branded laptop in the country.
Brazil has one of the most complicated taxing structures in the world, raising the street price on laptops by more than US $1000. All components were historically manufactured and assembled into finished products by a third-party vendor in Taiwan, a role they were invested in retaining in full. The goal was to buy unassembled components and ship to our local factory for build; a role the Brazilians felt was their overdue right. Spanning twelve-hour time differences, four primary languages, and three continents, together we succeed in bringing a Brazilian-built laptop to the retail market on schedule.
I am largely missing from the story above, yet the project would not have happened without me.  Pregnant at 29, I certainly was not doing the heavy lifting to make this project a success. However, I had invested years into the relationships with all of the key players and was instrumental in keeping the team communicating and moving forward.
The on-schedule project delivered incremental revenue of US $6.4m and gross margin dollars over US $1.8m (39% GM) in the first quarter. The proud Taiwanese crew sent a smiling photo of them wearing the team shirts emblazoned with the Brazilian flag. I was on maternity leave before market share figures were published. The day my son was born ten positions were added to our three-person department.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Yearbook Queen

For three years I produced the yearbook for my daughter’s middle school as a parent volunteer. Still in its infancy, the school was beginning its third year with nineteen students when we joined the community. The traditional first day of school takes place on the rolling fields of Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center in Parkton, Maryland. The nervous smiles, the fearful faces as they looked at the 40-foot tower they were expected to climb and the pride in their accomplishments as they rang the bell at the top were all captured in digital images. I reviewed the hundreds of photos I took that night and knew the school needed a way to capture the special role it played in each of these families’ lives.
As a parent, I attended the majority of school events with a camera around my neck. As photographer, I took over 75% of the images submitted. Then as parent volunteer, I facilitated student activities to get the kids involved in recording their memories with funny stories and interviews. As publisher I identified production options and reviewed publishers. As editor-in-chief, I culled through on average 3,000 images each year to select 450-750 for print. Then the fun began with hours of page layouts, captions, colors and titles. By the time I distributed the first books, I pronounced myself “Yearbook Queen.”

The yearbook captures the memories of each year, marks the physical and intellectual growth of its students, and provides prospective parents a glimpse of why they should consider the school for their children. When my daughter graduated, the underfunded school offered me a position in order to retain my yearbook services.

The Albatross at
Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fearless, Reckless, & Feckless

“Art is a personal act of courage, 
something one human does that 
creates change in another.” 
― Seth Godin

Visit Seth Godin's site to learn more.
As assigned reading in a graduate writing class, Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? speaks directly to his readers and puts the responsibility for their future, their careers, and their interactions squarely on their shoulders. His motivational book is a plea for the artist inside each one of us to stand up and shine.

One brief section, “Fearless, Reckless, Feckless,” immediately reminded me of my class of 8th graders. A tight-knit group of 9 students, they were preparing to graduate from middle school and spread out to various high schools.

Instead of launching into the planned yearbook activities, I assigned an essay entitled the Technology –Less Essay: Fearless, Reckless and Feckless. I first posed the question, “What use is technology if you can’t use what you find?”

The assignment required research at multiple websites and included the following components:
  • To define each term;
  • To provide an example of each term;
  • To provide a quotation representing at least one term; and
  • To indicate which quality they admired or aspired to be and why.
Their essay had specific formatting guidelines and required them to apply new word processor skills. Unaccustomed to essays in computer tech class, the students responded with either blank or incredulous stares.

One student, indeed the first one I thought of when reading this section of Linchpin, submitted a two-sentence essay: “I think that recklessness is manly and correct. I am very reckless and aspire to be even more reckless.” The head of school personally delivered the formal Teacher Note regarding his incomplete essay with my attached observation that he “certainly understands one term from the assignment.”

Students submitted essays with their interpretation of fearless, reckless and feckless. The class discussions about the true meaning of these words and their aspirations sparked a animated debate. One student struggled with writing, yet made an amazing conclusion. She found that we each represent all of these terms at different times. She aspired to learn from her recklessness, face her fears, and find her way back to responsibility from fecklessness.

After they presented their papers to the class, the group collaborated to select the strongest parts of each individual essay and build a collection of all components. Each student contributed a sentence or two to the group compilation, remastering a class representation of the assignment. The students each read their contribution, while we recorded an audio version of the class compilation. From defiant stares to total engagement, the students proved they are learning to be indispensable. 

Overall, I enjoyed Godin's easy-to-digest approach to challenging readers to find their gifts and figure out what to do rather than waiting for instructions. It preaches a heavy dose of enthusiasm to pump up the reader, but one that works well in the context of Godin's motivational message.