Inside looking out

Yesterday was an eye-opener in terms of getting a different vantage point on the same goal.

I spent the day working with my Chinese colleagues — not a new thing, I’ve collaborated with them via email, and in person in North Carolina since the middle of January. But being here, in their offices, watching how they work, and hearing first-hand their perspectives on what it means to be a Chinese company seeking to become a global company is an entirely different thing than making assumptions from North Carolina trying to help them realize that goal.

The entire vibe is one of intense and keen interest in figuring out the best way to build a true global company — not an integration of a Chinese and an American one. Having spent last week in Singapore with colleagues from all of the Asia Pacific region, instant messaging with the United Kingdom, organizing operations in Buenos Aries — this is head spinning to say the least.

While IT is the backbone, what’s more apparent to me is the necessity for the old cliche from the early days of online community, lessons learned on the docks of Sausalito by the first denizens of the W.E.L.L., by the Geeks on the Beach at Reel-Time — that face to face time is the most precious commodity of all. Flat worlds, fiber pipes, IM, SMS, global wireless … all expedite the collaboration, but nothing can ever replace the intense bandwidth of sharing a lunch with a colleague 13 time zones away from one’s home. I blogged early on global governance and management, now I’m living it, and it is apparent we’re on the threshold of something massive coming, the early stages of a new world that will demand new thinking.

The friction is — essentially –airplanes and jet lag. Language is a pain, but even so, seat me next to someone over a bowl of fishhead soup and I’ll gain a better understanding than I would from a 7 am conference calls and a hundred emails.

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