An Emerging Market for StoryCrafters & Opportunity for Business Leaders


Right under our noses, I believe that a market has been growing and coming of age which may not yet have become aware of itself…

  • Amazon: July 5, 1994 22 years
  • eBay: September 3, 1995 21 years
  • Google: September 4, 1998 18 years
  • Paypal: December 1998 18 years
  • Salesforce: February 1999 17 years
  • LinkedIn: December 14, 2002 14 years
  • Facebook: February 4, 2004 12 years
  • Twitter: March 21, 2006 10 years

and the grandfathers:

  • Microsoft: April 4, 1975 41 years
  • Apple: April 1, 1976 40 years
  • Oracle: June 16, 1977 39 years

For those of us who expend our talents in creating experiences that yield emotional connection to mission, product, institutions of legacy and the revivifying of corporate culture in the context of convention, meeting and corporate theatre; I see an opportunity herein to craft new approaches to finding or creating in-house emotional connection between the employee body and the company.

These are different companies than the DuPonts and the Pfizers, the General Mills, the Procter & Gambles, the Coca-Colas and the Fords… These companies burst from a new gate; immediately setting themselves apart from companies and corporations of the past not only with the iProducts and platforms they represent but with an ethos and ethic based on an inherent iconoclasm and a new business world.

The Pride in and connection with these companies shared by employees and builders was based in the newness of the business oeuvre, itself. Whereas, historically, employee bodies found exhilaration and pride in joining a Legacy; now it became the newness of the culture of these corporations – the breaking away from how it was, before – at the core of the connection. These teams could, should, did and do take great pride in doing and building something not seen before in ways not done before for markets being created, daily.

Heady times of the New Gold Rush.

Though, here’s the Thing. These companies that have been being perceived as “new” are now more than a decade old…some more than two decades. Viewed through the lens of Moore’s Law, these eCorporate Cultures are well into their Legacy Phase.

How to tell that story and keep the connection between employee teams and company vivid, compelling, inspirationally alive?

Compounded with that is the way millennials, millennial-adjacents and millennial-friendly’s (that’s we silver-foxes who have managed to remain in touch with our inner nerd and able to mix freely within this New Order…) consider and hold their connection to the companies that pay them.

I say, “companies that pay them” as this New Order doesn’t look at “working for” a company in the same way as people did, generations ago. There is an ethos of partnership, of independence and choice, of personal value and, frankly, an expected level of individual and even self-respect that is new in the workplace. Not only would today’s under-35 workforce not succeed and likely be miserable in the corporate environments of a few decades ago; they would not be interested in participating in those environments in any way, at all.

So, good on ‘em.

Now that these corporate cultures and environments are not new, anymore, and are rather a set of constants in a universe of constant change; these corporate cultures and the language and experiences used to communicate said cultures must evolve into new forms and messages in order to remain relevant and compelling to these New Minds. These philosophical, introspective, semi-cynical aspirants.

We all must evolve.

Business leaders must embrace the fact that irrespective of corporate philosophy and the current histories of “rah-rah” annual inspiration meetings and conferences aren’t resonating with their employees as they may have, decades ago. (To be fair, some do get this…Oracle comes to mind.)

New Era Business leaders have the opportunity to embrace a Moment of Evolution for their own approaches to employee inspiration. The entire paradigm (omg: did I just use that word?!), the entire approach to employee connection and commitment stands to be reexamined and retooled for a new world of business.

The new Legacies are of ongoing invention, successive innovation, successful evolution. There is no room for complacency or status quo; it’s all about forward movement.

What is the Opportunity? 

I believe this is a Moment for the Business Leaders of today and tomorrow to partner with we Story and Experience Crafters from theatre, themed entertainment and gaming to collaborate on the form and format of the periodic, quarterly, annual meetings and completely deconstruct, examine, build and reinvigorate the formats to appeal to and inspire a new breed of thinkers and doers.

These two populations ought to reach out to one another to collaborate on revivifying the Sales Meeting, the Conference, the Annual Anything Your Company Does. Bring in the Creatives, the Writers, the Creators of Compelling Experience who can build you forums in formats that connect with your most valuable resource and increase their energy, inspiration and value.

Take it out of the executive suites and bring in the explorers. We can all kick some ass, together.


As luck would have it, “IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” the eBook is still a free download from iTunes for Mac OS and iOS. So, some of the best things in life actually are free!

When Asked: Do Tell


People know when they are hearing a Lie.

They know.

They may not know that what they are hearing is a Lie, but they know something’s amiss. At a subliminal, virtually pheromonal level, something just doesn’t seem to fit.

The longer the Lie remains told…the longer the absence of Truth extends and the more woven into the teller’s tale that Lie becomes, the more undermined becomes the credibility of the teller.

Thus, now is a good time to eradicate a fundamental Lie for which I am responsible.

The Real Reason I Left Dubai.

In 2014, when the company under whose auspices I was consulting for Meraas in Dubai parted ways with Meraas, I was offered an excellent, Executive Position at Meraas in order that I might continue with the project. And by “excellent,” I mean pretty darn good.

I declined the job.

In the face of the resultant chagrin, consternation, confusion (and ultimately rancorous burned bridge) of the Powers that Be at Meraas, the reason I gave them – that I’d love to do the job, but remain as a consultant to the company rather than become an employee – just didn’t make sense.

It didn’t make sense; because it wasn’t true.

More money, health insurance, living and travel allowance, all the benefits of working for one of the biggest companies in the UAE were offered me and I declined; saying I wanted the “freedom of consultancy” and the “security” of position and reporting structure inherent in a consulting  contract.

(I know: that sounds like bullshit…because it is bullshit. Yet that is the story I attempted to sell.)

Ultimately, my sense (since confirmed) was that the declination was taken personally and I was dismissed as any sort of viable option; subsequently and repeatedly rejected for subcontracting opportunities for having taken action that was nonsensical and offensive.

I remained in Dubai for another 18 months or so, seeking to build a freelance business with Show and Event agencies; a few of which opened conversations with me in exploration of full-time positions.

Again, my response was that I’d rather remain freelance and only take on projects for which I am especially qualified; therefore circumventing the perceived need to do work I didn’t particularly like in order to justify my part of the overhead.

Again with the bullshit.

The fact is that; in order to work for a company based in the UAE, one must apply for and receive a Resident Visa. Part of that process is a blood test.

It is illegal to be HIV+ in the UAE.

Not only would I not be granted said Visa; I would have immediately been deported due to the status of my blood, once the results were in.

Having HIV is a Very Big Deal in Dubai, and flying under the radar on successive 30-day tourist visas is not only illegal in and of itself; but exerts an insidiously powerful stress on an individual. Knowing that a visit to a doctor could result in deportation – thus fearing everything from car wrecks to kitchen accidents – offers a deep-seated unease and distressing absence of simple security that can be profoundly draining and affect simple day-to-day activities and relationships…and attitudes.


That’s another thing. One cannot share this extremely important and personal fact with one’s closest friends, with people who care for one and for whom one cares, as the knowledge begets responsibility to report said fact. Far too much unfair pressure to put on a friend or on a friendship.

Ergo, one carries all this secretive pressure inside. Alone. Fearing even to email or SMS to anyone anything that could possibly alert Any Conceivable Censors (not that emails are scanned or anything, over there) to the fact of one’s illegality.

Then, there is the problem of obtaining one’s meds. Once my contract with the US-based company for which I was working was gone, so were my quarterly trips to the US; rendering me unable to pick up my quarterly supply of the critical drugs that had kept my status at Undetectable for so many years.

These drugs can’t be mailed or shipped and are technically illegal to bring into the country; they can only be smuggled. (Fortunately, middle-aged white guys don’t find their bags being searched, so often.)

As it unfolded, I had to go without my meds for the final six months I was in Dubai. I could not monitor my blood, of course, and had no idea what the effect of ceasing the protocol might be on my own health.

You want stress? I’ll give you Stress…

So, I came home.

[Note: Fortunately, within six weeks of returning to San Francisco and access to medicine, I am again completely undetectable; a testament to a foundation of years of rigorous attention to the protocol.]

So now, the previously-unasked “…how come everyone who goes to Dubai makes a ton of money except for you” question has an answer.

This is why I came home; for access to full health care and to work from here. Still working everywhere but necessarily selective about where I can work and to where I can travel while so much of the world still operates under archaic if not draconian laws – based in fear and ignorance.

Whither a solution?

This anecdote, though personal to me, is of importance to our entire industry.

I dare say that there are scores if not more expat employees faced with similar dilemma throughout the world.

This is an issue that I believe the officers of our industry – operating as Global Business Citizens – are beholden to employees to address.

Recently, I was offered a dream job. A massive spectrum of responsibility for a set of IP’s that I heartily embrace – work that speaks to my barely post-adolescent fanboy id as well as my type-A Creative Producer / Project Manager self.

I wanted this job; but…it represented 18 months in Malaysia.

While the rules in that part of the world aren’t as severe as those of the UAE in this respect; the fact is that the laws on the books provide for rejection of HIV+ individuals for residential visas. To be sure; these laws are selectively applied – with White and Western Privilege holding great sway. But, the laws remain in place.

It is apparently quite easy for Western Professionals to remain under the radar in Malaysia, as long as doctors are selected carefully; but it is still against the law. With such laws on the books, any change in local or international political relationships could alter the level of enforcement.

Again; absence of security begets absence of freakin’ security.

So there’s that: and the legal / logistical obstacles and hurdles inherent in actually, dependably obtaining meds in Malaysia.

I was completely open with the Director for whom I’d be working, who was offering me this job; candid about my experience in Dubai and the concern I had for security of job, residence and medication. He was aggressively supportive and bent over backward to make this work.

The problem being that ultimately, despite all conceivable workarounds, it is technically illegal.

And babe, “technically illegal” remains illegal. I simply do not want to “go there.”

Further, were I to have taken the job, I would have had to:

  • Carry an additional (to the company policy in Malaysia) insurance policy in the US in order to cover and obtain my meds in the US. My protocol are not even yet available in Malaysia. This could cost me as much as an additional $600 or $700 a month.
  • Get myself to the US at least every three months, if not every 2 – depending on what my insurance would support – in order to get the meds. This is not something for which my employer would (or should have to) pay.
  • OR
  • Have a friend pick up my meds, get those meds to someone who works for my employer and is traveling to Malaysia to carry and smuggle through customs. Illegal.

See where we’re going, here?

The hiring company, the LGBTQ organizations in Malaysia and HIV communities in that country all were encouraging to me in that there are ways to “make it work.” None of them are entirely legal.

This, IMHO, is a conversation to be had at Corporate / Government levels. This is not a problem for individual employees, prospective employees and the informal local networks of hiring officers, managers and co-workers to manage via some sort of Underground Railroad.

It’s a big deal. There’s no telling how many employees or prospective employees throughout Asia, Arabia and beyond are working with, through or under this anxiety-producing dilemma…or are simply not taking the jobs due to the risk.

Money talks. 

As business is growing exponentially in these parts of the world, we call upon our business leaders to not only be aware of this but to address it in negotiating contracts with foreign governments; right there on the list with taxes, sanctions, land and water rights, and all the other little legislative favors that are effected at city, state, regional and national levels.

There is plenty of research, plenty of data and there are plenty of doctors available to accompany your accountants and lawyers and executives to these meetings. Take some along with ya. Get this cleared up.

So. That’s why I came home. Certainly willing and still seeking to continue to work all over the world; just not willing to flout local laws in order to do it.


[As it happens, “IMHO : Creating Compelling Experience” is still a free download from the Apple bookstore and iTunes. Free. Read it. ]


Ethics, Ethos…and the Business of Global Citizenship


There was a time when one could do business in pretty much any part of the world and just… “do business.”

Paying virtually no attention to the politics or culture of the contextual nation or region, a company could build a Thing, offer a Service, Consult and Advise, all with little to no attention being given to what might be going on outside the walls (or berm) of whatever Project was being undertaken.

Business was Business.

It ain’t just business, anymore.

Business, anymore, is Geopolitical, and rapidly becomes Personal to anyone who may take issue with where virtually any Company chooses to do Business.

The world is smaller than ever and growing even smaller: while the power of the web seems to continue to be vastly under-appreciated by a significant majority of Executives-over-50; who may embrace the power of marketing and advertising via social media while not seeming to fully grasp the two-way dynamic that is now at play and growing ever stronger.

As powerful as social media can be in promoting a project; that same dynamic can just as quickly and effectively blow fatal holes in it.

No amount of enthusiastic, positive advance publicity from a Marketing Department can prevent the entire world from knowing the actual realities of a project or installation once the doors open and the smartphone brigade sees and experiences the truth. If the experience is fantastic; the world will know that. If, on the other hand, what is presented is sub-par, incomplete or oversold…the world is going to know that, too, in a matter of hours.

If it isn’t well-realized, fully articulated, complete; they simply will not come.


It is critical that we be educated; aware of every context into which we delve. For anymore, our customers, audiences, target demographics and even ambivalent bystanders can rapidly and exponentially mobilize either in support of or rally against an issue or operation that catches attention.

The culture of the world is evolving; more and more people have become aware and embrace the interconnectedness of all global cultures. National and international borders begin to become socially irrelevant as our eyes and ears are everywhere. Issues that businesses and corporations used to be able to ignore – seen only in back pages of newspapers in brief notes accompanied by grainy photographs of tiny bands of activists going up against a Goliath; these can and do become international causes célèbre in a matter of days…or even hours.


As the world becomes smaller, too, and more inured to the presence of Westerners; less and less leeway is granted to the myopia of the WEC (Western Executive Consultant). Irrespective of the decades of knowledge such a person might carry when parachuting into another culture to advise or manage a project; awareness of the nuances of the culture into which one is parachuting is imperative to that person’s effectiveness.

A massive body of subjective experience can be as much an obstacle to success as it might otherwise be of value…simply due to a concomitant failure to study, listen, observe and ask long before exercising authority or issuing edicts and orders. We all must become trusted members of the teams we join or lead before we can be effective. The way it’s done in Orlando/NYC/Paris/London may well simply not work in Dubai/Shanghai/Mombasa/Delhi.

Frustration with this is irrelevant. This is fact. Embrace it or fail…publicly. Countless accomplished professionals are handicapped or simply fail from not having taken the time (and by that, we mean something measured in weeks and even months in situ) to learn the lay of the proverbial land; falling victim to aforementioned subjective experience.


Almost every place in the world that has allure for business development and tourism also has its dark secrets. Factors that association therewith can undermine the support a company might otherwise assume; suddenly finding itself the target of negative press simply for doing business in a country that at some level violates global, public trust.

SeaWorld learned a profound lesson in the mishandling of the “Blackfish” / Shamu debacle. Ultimately, it would seem that the global iVoice was heard; sparking an evolution in the mission and programs of this iconic destination and company. It’s certainly ironic that a company that was founded in no small part on the basis of conservation and protection came, decades later, under fire for some of these same, related things.

The world has evolved. In this case, so has SeaWorld.

SeaWorld, however, is not an anomaly. Rather, it is a harbinger of what is coming. Candidly, IMHO, Zoos are of the next institutions in line for global scrutiny. Anecdotally, we’re aware of growing numbers of people who don’t go to zoos anymore, because, “…they depress me.”

Many zoos and rescue organizations are ahead of this curve and are undertaking evolutionary courses; many more are not. We might offer that it is not out of the question for international movements to grow, calling for the return to native habitat for any animal larger than a meerkat.

Just sayin’.

These are things to which it might be worth paying attention. Publicly. The world is watching us all, seeking transparency; whether we think that is appropriate or not, this iWatchdogging is a fact, a phenomenon that stands only to grow in power and acuity of scrutiny.

Best be aware and prepared.


On Preparation.

Businesses now must be aware of myriad cultural practices and legalities that may not otherwise be on the radar. This may or may not affect the business decisions a company might be facing; it can, though, have positive impact on policies and procedures and prepare marketing and public relations departments for dealing with such things as they eventually fall under public scrutiny.

It is not up to any of us to dictate to others how and where to do business. These are situations to be evaluated and decisions to be made, case by case, business by business. The point is that it behooves each and every one who does business abroad to simply be aware of the context; then make one’s own decisions.

There was a time when Business could be willfully ignorant of social and cultural contexts. That time is now past.

Of powerfully encouraging note is what just took place in our own country.

After North Carolina passed one of the most hateful pieces of legislation in history, removing protection against discrimination – indeed, codifying such discrimination – from LGBT people in their state; several high-profile companies took profound and swift business action.

Disney, Paramount, The Weinstein Company, PayPal, Fox, Miramax, Lionsgate…and by the time this is printed, probably many more will have pulled their projects and products from North Carolina.

Even “Wicked” can no longer be staged in that state. Nope; not even on a University Campus.

Business have taken political action in support of What’s Right.

Too, this is for us an issue entirely within our nation’s borders; thus these are stands that have been taken “in-house.” International is, while another issue, not entirely unrelated.

Best, then, not to be blindsided. A blind eye will not serve one.

Global warming; Sustainability; Women’s Rights; Minority Rights; Worker’s Rights; LGBT Rights; Basic Human Rights; Animal Rights; Capital Punishments; Beheadings; Inhumane Punishments; Stonings; Crucifixions; Throwing people off buildings; forced female circumcision… Some of these subjects are extremely difficult to accept as even happening; but they are happening.

For instance:

  • Saudi Arabia continues to behead and even crucify adolescents, non-violent protesters who are rounded up, tortured and killed by the government without a word to their families. It is not unheard-of for the families to learn the fate of their children after the bodies have been dumped into a mass grave.
  • Women adulterers can be and are sentenced to death by stoning in Abu Dhabi, while the men are subject to lashing. Khaleej Times
  • After the contracts had been signed and work was well underway for the infrastructure and site of the Olympic Games in Sochi, President Putin’s government-sanctioned thugs began kidnapping LGBT kids, torturing them on video and posting those videos online.
  • The UAE has a policy of deporting HIV-positive expatriates. This can put any number of employees at risk; likely sending them into that closet in order to keep their job and maintain the confidentiality of that personal information.
  • China asks arriving passengers to attest to HIV status before the flight even lands. What might this portend for your HIV-positive CFO if s/he has answered that question candidly?
  • Honor Killings: Women in India who decline a proposal of marriage can risk death or disfigurement through acid attack.
  • …and then, there’s Guantanamo.

Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. Be aware. Be aware of the audience you have. Protect your teams and their welfare.

Being aware is our responsibility.

Business is Personal.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Boycott Knot



Boycott the Oscars.

Don’t go.

Tell your friends not to go.

Tell everyone to ignore the show.

Have an “AntiOscar” Party and black out the broadcast.

That’ll show ‘em.

That’ll fix their wagons, dammit.

Lower the Ratings!

Cost them Money!

Hurt ‘em. HURT ‘em. HURT ‘EM!


Perhaps, you could do something with powerful, positive impact.

There is a Higher Road.

You could use the broadcast to make an indelible, irrevocable point.

You would go.

You would wear White.

You would support your friends and colleagues who are nominated. Show them support, wish them well, applaud and acknowledge their accomplishments and contribute to the specialness of their night as they would applaud you were your name called.

In doing so, you would co-opt the Oscar Broadcast and have your point seen by millions watching the broadcast from around the world.

You would carry white flowers, wear a white tux, a fabulous white gown, drag around a fierce, white boa.

And every image of the Oscar broadcast would be a Sea of White.

Every shot of the audience, every on-camera interview, every Presenter, every One To Whom The Oscar Goes would be wearing white.

The White Oscars.

“Mommy; why is everyone wearing white…?”


Boycotting the Oscars is not the answer.

Now. Especially now; is the time to show up.

While your absence might be felt, your seat would be filled.

Your presence, however, will be seen and felt and documented and last for as long as digital memory exists.

I offer that this is an opportunity to support the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in ramping up the evolution that has been far too long in coming.

Rather than damage and destroy, perhaps have a powerful and positive, immediate impact.



Two parallels from our recent history come immediately to mind:

  • The 1980 Summer Olympic Boycott
  • The introduction of the AIDS ribbon

The US boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow made a very big point. It also punished an entire Olympic Generation of athletes who had focused their entire lives on that one moment.

America’s absence was certainly felt. No gold medal winner could truly know that s/he was the best in the world, because we weren’t there to compete. The laying down of arms to compete as comrades on the level field of play that is the foundation of the Olympics was absent. The wins were not complete; and for most of the worldwide athletes in 1980, that was their only shot.

The full glory and experience of victory was taken from them.

When the red AIDS ribbon first showed up on the lapel of Jeremy Irons at the 1991 Tony Awards, it launched a far bigger conversation. By Oscar time in ’92, the number of presenters and recipients on television was substantially greater and it made a huge difference in national and international awareness of the problem…frankly, it made the problem acceptable to discuss in contexts and forums that had been silent, before.

This quiet and undeniable activism on that carpet and stage by those who were stepping up, those who were concerned about what our government was not doing, those who were losing friends, partners, family to the plague…

…rendered that act Immortal.




Or home on your sofa?


Or truly making a powerful, compelling, irrevocable and indelible statement, en masse, that moves this institution along?

Support your friends and colleagues, support the Academy in the necessary evolution.

Look fabulous, be powerful, step up.

That’s the way to go.




“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Evolving Business Practices in the Desert

by night...

From an RFP issued by the Dubai government:

“1.10 Rights of the Department

Without limiting its rights at law or otherwise, the Department may:…

…(i) allow or not allow a related body corporate to take over a proposal in substitution of the original service provider.”


What these words mean, in RealSpeak and in practice, is that in Dubai the “Client” can legally accept a full proposal (Intellectual Property) from Company, Agenda or Principal “A” then simply hand that proposal, concept or even a full show to Company “B” for delivery as though it were an original IP of Company “B”…virtually bestowing ersatz authorship and ownership through politics, prejudice, or whatever private reasons the Client may have.

This can be, and is quite knowingly, done with neither the knowledge or agreement of the creator of the IP (“A”) and with absolutely no remuneration to said IP creator.

This is neither acceptable nor ethical business practice.

Moreover, in the eyes of the rest of the world, this unethical business practice is subject to severe legal action, fines and penalties.

In the UAE, the vast majority of agencies and production houses have for years found themselves held hostage to these practices; practices that pervade the culture at every level.

Ongoingly discussed behind closed doors, over coffees and dinners and throughout virtually every gathering of professionals in these industries; these practices are rarely if ever called-out for the unethical practices they are for fear of blacklists and worse. Professionally, this is reprehensible.

It would behoove these agencies (and freelancers) to support one another in not participating in such bid-competitions; to eschew even the possibility of their work being co-opted through some sort to favoritism and given to another without appropriate compensation.

It is not inconceivable, with a transparent system and process, for the “Client” to gather one or more vendors to collaborate ad hoc for a production that might benefit from the strengths of such a consortium.

It is also not inconceivable for “Clients” to nurture relationships with a small number of agencies; using each for the products and productions for which their body(ies) of work best suit.

It is further not inconceivable that agencies be hired based on their history, principals and body of work rather than subjecting numbers of them to invest vast sums of money in pitching in a vacuum.

There are myriad ways that this process can be evolved; all of them with integrity.

While there are some cultures, and parts of some cultures, in the world that still ask for pitches and proposals for creative and design work; be it entertainment, architecture or most anything in between, the best work is done, the most resonant and compelling experiences created, through the contracting of an individual or agency to collaborate with the client in developing concept, project, show or spectacle.

That’s how the Big Boys do it.

The development of a creative concept is expensive; both in terms of hard costs and human resources, costs can run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands and beyond, depending on the scope. The professionals who build these presentations put their hearts, sweat, and long hours into crafting a presentation to communicate a concept, show or idea. To then hand that work to another vendor to deliver is, quite frankly, theft.

It may be legal, it is unethical.

If, perhaps, concerns exist as to delivery on concept, perhaps an examination of the body of work behind the contributing principals of the most desired concept. If the client believes a partnership or consortium of vendors might better deliver a given show, building or product; ask for that partnership. There are myriad solutions to Doubt that do not embrace dismissing the creatives of the original work.


It is imperative that any client respect those who have been asked to offer solutions. Ethically, any idea, show, drawing or concept presented by an individual or agency belongs to that person or agency until the client has paid for it. The entire system must be respectful of all participants in it, else the authors of that system cannot expect to be respected, themselves.


In the unique context of this part of the world, a place where thousands of years of culture are embracing the opportunity to evolve quite rapidly not only into participating membership in the modern world but, in fact, into a position of leadership…of iconic leadership, in the vision of Sheik Mohammed; there are bound to be roiling and obstructive currents as the confluences of custom, culture, philosophy and – in this particular conversation – business practice crash into one another.

It makes sense that there would be missteps as anachronism moves toward making reality of grand vision. It will take assiduous acuity, focus and humility to bring deeply-ingrained practices into alignment with the rest of the world; especially if the idea is to lead.


In four years of working and living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, what has been most striking has been the startling undercurrent of cynicism expressed by professionals across the ExPatriot spectrum toward the manner in which business is done.

“Well, that’s Dubai…” can often be heard in the above context. Corporations, institutions and agencies of every size and specialty regularly encounter (or participate in) concept theft; it’s almost part of the Cost of Doing Business…a regular risk.

One comes to know which agencies are most prone to accept IP created by others and can begin to decline to participate in bid processes that include such companies. If the field ain’t level, few want to play.

Until recently, the general population of Creative Individuals and Agencies in this part of the world have been hesitant to call-out the perpetrators of and participants in such under-the-table practices. To be the whistleblower is rarely the most secure position; and in a country where so many contracts and projects originate from so few places, such calling-out can result in significant drying-up of work.

The doors must remain open in order to pay employees and keep families fed.

This, though, is changing… In order for this part of the world to be Respected by the rest of the world – beyond grand curiosity and opportunism – the UAE must deliver. And, in that delivery must conduct business as the global leader to which Leadership aspires for Dubai to be.

There are many businesses and business leaders in Dubai and the UAE who are committed to conducting business respectfully and responsibly.

Most notably, the International Live Events Association (ILEA), has been working diligently in this area in espousing and advocating a strong code of ethics in the context of respect for creative work, creativity and, most critically, the intrinsic and necessary value of respect for ownership of Intellectual Property (IP) in the bidding and development processes. This organization advises, nurtures and strives to set examples of globally-accepted business practice; as they know that in order to be respected, an individual or agency must be respectful.


Sheik Mohammed has a beautiful, well-articulated, clear-sighted vision for Dubai. Brilliant professionals from all over the world come – beckoned by glistening towers and tales of visionary projects that will make the UAE a worldwide destination for decades to come. What many of them have found on closer inspection is the visionary dream is often undermined by dissonant agendas, founded in self-interest or borne of ancient custom of taking advantage and “winning” over collaboration to best result, that can ultimately obstruct the vision of His Highness and deplete the patience and creativity that abounds here.

Many of those who have come here to create and help build, to help realize the vision, end up devolving into cynical business people who’s primary interest is just to make big money and get out “…before the next crash.” This tragic dynamic is borne of what seems almost a purposeful absence of integrity in business practice and lack of commitment to quality in delivery of projects, spectacle, architectural iconography or essential destination experience.

While Dubai is known for massive projects of great vision; the sad (and rarely acknowledged) fact remains that not one of these projects has ever been completed as originally announced, on time or on budget. Many do finally open, still incomplete. Some simply never open. Yet, there is no acknowledgment of these failures.

To fail to acknowledge failure is to fail to learn from it.

This is the Humility Part. Whether it is Pride or some other thing that stands in the way of Learning, there seems a cultural resistance to acknowledgement of lack of practical experience and the need to address and embrace that lack on the part of intelligent and aspirational principals new to these industries: not as a failing, simply as opportunity to learn without losing face.

This would make for far more successful consultancies, were the advice of experienced professionals not resisted when said advice doesn’t seem to align with predisposition.

Reality rocks.

It seems as though an executive force of such truly bright though inexperienced new professionals may stand between Sheik Mohammed and his vision; people who are inexperienced in the responsibilities they hold, yet too proud to be seen to seek advice, too proud to be seen as “learning,” too proud.

Time and again, the word of the Creative or Production professional is dismissed because – despite foundation in study, experience and fact – the “budget” was created in an unrealistically dictated vacuum.

One cannot buy gold for the price of sand…no matter what one wishes to pay, the object or project will cost what it costs.

Very public projects on the ground in Dubai, right now, are being cut to virtual ribbons as money has dried up. What the experts, early-on, asserted that these projects would cost is what they are turning out to be costing; but the money is not there. And, the money is not there due to budgets being shaved and cut with numbers designed to please a client, not to build a project.

This is a pronounced lack of respect for the actual thing being built and the people who have committed their professional lives to the Creation of Experience or the Making of Place in any of these contexts…and to the audiences who will be coming to Tweet and Instagram and Snapchat and Facebook and Blog about their experiences at the very moment they are having them.

The best leaders in the history of the world have led best by knowing and acknowledging their own weaknesses, by gathering knowledge and surrounding themselves with people with relevant experience…and then heeding those who know more about what needs to be known.

Taking Picasso’s paints from him and handing them to another is not going to yield a Picasso. If the best is what’s wanted; the best needs to be paid for, planned for, organized and the source must be respected.

The best athlete in the world isn’t going to quibble about the cost of her equipment; she’s going to find a way to pay for the best, then expect that equipment to support her.

Asking for a bespoke suit, made on the cheap and in a hurry, is going to yield a cheap suit.



So, what happens to the vision?

Addressing and eliminating these obfuscatory dynamics can smooth the way for Dubai to fully rise well above the level of a new place of curiosity and financial opportunity and truly become the New, World Power and Destination that is envisioned.

Dubai and the UAE currently enjoy being the glamorous debutante on the world stage. Pretty, sparkling, shiny, new and led by a visionary father-figure; businesses, professional consultants and short-term residents flock to the country to participate in building this.

Yet the ultimate manifestation of this vision, the results of this gold rush, stands to be overshadowed and is being risked in a very real sense by what might be seen as centuries of “Barter Mentality” that marries Pride to Getting the Best Price; leaving the quality of Guest Experience – in the case of the industries of show, event, theme park & Expo 2020 destination experience building and place-making – as potentially dismissible, expendable and often not even a part of the conversation.

Unless and until what may be considered unethical business practices in the rest of the world are removed from the codes and conduct of Dubai and the UAE, the rest of the world will see this place as a place to make money – as an opportunity for gaining and taking advantage; of playing an ancient bartering game with little regard for quality of product…

…but there will be no Respect for Dubai in that equation.

If Respect is sought; the Act must be cleaned-up. There is a beautiful future to be built. Let us make it so.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Pearl Harbor Day 1991 – 24 Years Very Sober


L’s and G’s: today, a personal, extremely compelling experience…

Late at night on December 6, 1991 (actually, early on the morning of December 7), I was driving home from a wrap party for the film on which I had just finished working.  I was very unhappy about my situation in Los Angeles and very drunk.  Though not in the habit of driving under the influence, I was “just going home.”  At approximately 40 – 45 m.p.h., I ran straight-on into a utility pole.  My face went through the windshield (I also wasn’t wearing my seatbelt — major evidence that I was greatly inebriated), my right knee was broken and my right hip was dislocated.

I have only the briefest of memories of being cut out of the car, and no memory of the actual impact, nor of the trip to the hospital and entering the Emergency Room.

I do have memory of about five or ten minutes in the Emergency room; my lacerated face was bleeding all over the place, and an intern was having me remove my contact lenses as I was lying on a metal gurney.  They popped-out into my own blood, and I never saw them again.

I awoke the next morning, all bandaged-up and, for the following week, continued to spit-up blood — lots of it — and was unable to keep anything else down, even water would come back up.  I continued to complain, all week, that I was having trouble breathing.

I was uninsured at the time, and the hospital was reticent to do anything for which they might not get paid.

Someone, I still do not know who, had telephoned mom (from whom I’d been estranged for years; since coming out) in Sacramento and told her I was in the hospital.  She did not even know who it was that telephoned.  She called me early in the evening, saying that she would be down on Saturday.  I told her that, if she was coming, she had better come right down, for I was not sure that I was going to make it until Saturday, the way I was feeling . . .

That evening, my breathing became so belabored that the doctors finally — begrudgingly, as I was uninsured and all liability — sent me back downstairs for another round of tests and X-Rays.  Stretched painfully on a cold slab, having inhaled some concoction of radioactive isotopes or some such, I heard the technician gasp, “OH…’

I said that didn’t sound so good; he said he’d let my doctors tell me. They wheeled me back to my room where I was met by three anxious surgeons…

Lo and behold, with this test they discovered severe internal damages: the impact of the wreck caused my stomach and large intestine to rip a 9.5-inch gash through my diaphragm, folding my esophagus and collapsing my left lung.  They broke this news to me immediately, with looks of panic on their faces: and informed me that they could not even wait until morning to operate — it had to be done immediately.

So, at one a.m., they operated.

Prior to that, as I was outside the O.R. awaiting surgery; I sat in the bed feeling somehow calm and centered, and very terrified.  The doctors were at various points of the room, contacting the surgical team and having them come-in for the Emergency surgery.

In my mind, I spoke to Terry – my partner who had died of AIDS a year earlier – as I sat there, wondering to him if I was about to see him again.  I realized that all the things in my life left un-done and unsaid were immediately moot; my life could very easily end over this night.

Asking for a piece of paper from an attendant nurse, I wrote down who would be responsible for my funeral, what I wanted done with my ashes, stuff like that.  Then, as the surgeon passed-by me, I asked him to take the paper and — if I didn’t survive — to give it to my friend, Chris.  If I did survive, then I asked that he just give it back to me.

I expected him to say something like, “Oh, don’t you worry, you are going to be O.K.; we’re going to fix you right up!”  What he said, instead, looking me steadily in the eye was, “All right.”

ALL RIGHT!!!?  Needless to say, I was at that moment profoundly impressed with the seriousness of the situation.

They wheeled me into the O.R., and I noticed that one of the surgeons had Santa Claus pants on, and was very cheerful.  The anesthesiologist has a big-ol needle ready for me.  I looked at the team and said something like, “Well, good luck, guys . . .”  The surgeon looked at me, funny; I said, “…well, you’re doing the work!”

I was thinking as I went under, “what if this is my last conscious thought?”

I survived.  I was in intensive care for ten days following surgery, and was released from the hospital on the 23rd of December.  Mom was there the entire time, from around 8 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night.  We had some pretty good discussions during that time; and I no longer had this burning need to make her understand me or my life.  It was all pretty-much beyond her, anyway.

[She died in 1995.]

I had a cast on my leg and crutches for about eight more weeks.  I lost about 50 pounds by the end of January, though have managed to replace them since then.  I went to court for the transgression on the 24th of January, went to jail from January 31st to the 4th of February.

Briefly, jail was another experience in absolutes.  (“The Slammer” The Good Men Project)

I was sequestered in a room with 60 beds and 90 men.  Slept on the floor for the first two days, in an upper bunk for the rest of the time.  One of my crutches was stolen.  There were three gangs; two black and one Chicano.  Much violence.  The guards had taken my painkillers, letting me know that the doctor would replace them.

Unfortunately, the doctor wasn’t available until the 3rd of February, so I was taking over 30 Tylenol each day to dull the pain.  I was one of only 6 or 7 White guys there.  There was an attempted murder on one night; they were throwing this guy so hard against the cinder block wall that I could feel the vibrations, 20 yards away.

I had nightmares about it for a long time, afterward…

I was released from custody on the 4th at 7:30 a.m., and flew to San Francisco on the same day at 2:00 p.m. to begin consulting work for The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.  I spent the next five months in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. assisting in the re-creation of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the International Display that took place on October 9, 10 and 11 of that year.

During the time I was down, and especially when in the hospital, I was overwhelmed by the number of people from whom I’d become disconnected and for whom it was important enough to come to see me.  Scores of emotional meetings, people from San Francisco, calls and flowers from all over the country.  The outpouring of love was stunning.  Mom kept asking, “Who are all these people?”

As I recovered, I was most deeply moved by the love I was receiving.  “If all these people love me this much,” I thought to myself, “why don’t I?”

My life and the way in which I live it has changed much.

With that experience, I took a lot of pressure off of myself to succeed in any pre-set time period.  I returned to doing more of the live Experience Creation production for which I was already known.

Since, then, I daily recommit to saying what I think, adhering to integrity, telling people for whom I care that I do care for them each time we part company; for one never knows when the Last Time might be.

There is rarely a doubt among peers, friends and colleagues as to what I believe is true. I pretty much communicate it all.

If I leave a mark on this planet; it will have been my inability to remain silent in the face of wrongdoing, deceit, dishonesty. There is always a price to pay for speaking out – truth to power – and I have often paid it; though with that comes the inner peace borne of knowing one’s integrity is intact.

If that’s all I have when I die, that’s enough.


“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.

Does Your Word Have a Price?

At the 20th Anniversary of Dubai's Global Village, new permanent façades have risen in the desert

At the 20th Anniversary of Dubai’s Global Village, new permanent façades have risen in the desert.

A Woman Walks Into a Bar…

It’s a nice place, akin to The Algonquin or Sardi’s in NYC. Lighting is soft but not dim, piano playing in the background, dark wood details and an atmosphere of history and good living.

She sits at the bar and orders a martini. Quietly thoughtful, she listens to the music and sips…

A man approaches.

“May I sit here…?”

With a smile, she says, “…it’s a free country…”


“I’m Alice.”

They chat a bit. He makes her laugh. The place is about half full and their conversation is private; looks convivial. They are clearly comfortable with one another.

“So, Alice…” says John, “…you are enchanting. If I gave you a million dollars right now, would you spend the night with me?”

“Why John,” she quietly gasps; a little shocked, a little flattered, even a little excited. She looks down at her drink and plays with the olive for a moment. Her eyes rise to meet his and she says, demurely, “…yes.”

“Good.” He smiles.

A few moments pass in comfortable silence as they look each other in the eye and take a sip of their drinks.

John: “How about a blow job for a hundred bucks?”

She slams her drink onto the bar, “Just what do you think I am, John?!”

“That has already been established,” he replies, “Now, we’re just haggling over price and deliverables.”


Does your word have a price?

Business is personal. One’s personal integrity and reliability are essential components of Reputation: especially in theatre and show, destination entertainment, theme park contracting, creation of spectacle…frankly, pretty much any business where deals are made between one individual and another, between an individual and a company or group, between groups, between companies.

We spoke of this in the context of Leadership, just two posts ago…

Once your word is given, can s/he to whom you have given it depend on the commitment you have made? Will you meet that deadline, deliver that production, carry that weight as promised? Word given and hand shaken: are you stalwartly reliable such that concomitant decisions can be made with the concrete knowledge that you will see to it that the job to which you have committed will be done to spec and on budget or better…handling any and all eventualities with confidence and professionalism?



Good: as in fields where bespoke teams are built for specific projects and productions, one ultimately has only one’s reputation for dependability, for integrity and honor to keep one known as reliable.

When I know and recommend such people to other producers and directors; I describe the individual as, “…s/he will hold onto the rope, as would a mountaineer…if s/he says s/he’ll see to it, s/he’ll see to it. You can depend on that.”

Of course: there are certainly sudden, unique and extreme times where one finds one must relinquish the responsibilities one has accepted. These occasions generally involve death, deportation, incarceration or some physical damage rendering one incapable of delivering.

There is a way to handle that, and the way is this:

  • Replace Yourself… before you alert the client. Responsibility for the duties taken-on, weeks or months before, cannot with integrity be handed back to the client for resolution when these are responsibilities you have embraced.
  • When you inform your client, have your qualified and vetted replacement briefed and ready; your responsibility is smooth transition and seeing that your position is covered.

This is a function of Professionalism.

There are other, less unique times when A Better Offer Comes Along.

Now, it’s another question and context, entirely.

  • Are you one who will bail on the job to which you’ve guaranteed yourself, or
  • Do you keep your agreement and refer the new gig to someone else?
  • Do you hold onto the rope or do you bail?

This is a function of Integrity; of the value of your word.

At the end of the day, one must be complete with the reputation built for oneself by one’s own actions.

  • Do you want to be known as excellent at what you do, a solid leader and team member, reliable and honest?


  • Are you good with being known as good at what you do, but you might not see a project through if something better comes along?

There are plenty out there who have made careers without always seeing projects through. I believe there are more, better thought of, for whom their word is their bond.

Is short term financial gain more important than a reputation for reliability?

Your call. At the end of the day, it’s you and the mirror.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link. .

IMHO – Sharing What I’ve Learned is my regular blog; you’ll find plenty more opinions, there…!

SPECIAL EDITION: Networking @ IAAPA or in ANY Industry

Recently compiled by the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) this extemporaneous-esque advice-on-networking video is applicable to anyone of any age seeking to network effectively.

“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link. .

Some of the Worst Leadership Advice…Ever

Ganesha Army

I came across this bit of ridiculousness in a LinkedIn post, a few weeks back…

Confidence: Fake it till you make it! Nobody wants an insecure leader or employee. If you don’t know what you are doing, act like you know what you’re doing until you know what you are doing. Preparation is key because when you prepare, you feel genuinely confident and others trust that you know what you are doing because…well, you do. Attitude is everything, and the mind achieves what the mind believes.”

“Fake it till you make it!” What a load of bunk.

This is what got Wall Street into trouble; this is a gung-ho “Sales Team of the ’70’s” attitude that undermines credibility and depletes integrity from any environment. A leader who “fakes” knowledge and experience – in any industry and specifically in production, show and entertainment – is not a Leader at all.

S/he is a Fake: and that fakery will show up in the quality of the Product and be reflected in the attitude of the Team.

The second sentence is true, actually; nobody wants an insecure leader…ironically in this case, an exceptionally pithy example of insecurity is a manager or ostensible leader who is “faking it.”

As a leader, one is much better off being secure in what one does not know; knowing where to find and learning how to apply such knowledge sought and found. Learning alongside one’s team engenders an authentic, profound respect from one’s colleagues and teammates.

A secure leader doesn’t have to actually know everything; a leader who isn’t afraid to learn will earn a far more solid position among peers, superiors and subordinates.

A leader who can learn teaches humility and learning ability. A leader who “fakes it” teaches his team to lie. (…and probably laugh behind his back at his delusion that anyone is being fooled…)

In my business, there are Producers who are known for acting as though they know everything about Production. These guys get in the face of Lighting Designers, Production Coodinators, Choreographers, Composers, Riggers and Stagecraft Professionals and attempt to second-guess the work and process of others who’ve spent years focused on the area(s) of theatre to which they are committed…committed to being the best at what they do.

Those are Producers who give Producers a bad name.

Then, there are the Real Producers.

A Real Producer knows to stand back; to inspire his experts and let these experts do their best work…knowing when good work is being done and supporting the team in doing it. A Leader Inspires; embraces learning, learns from the people on her team and keeps the team moving in the right direction; eyes focused on the ultimate vision of the show.

Nobody knows Everything About Production. Everyone brings experience, knowledge and passion to their jobs. A leader learns of that experience and seeks to benefit from it; a leader appreciates the knowledge his team members bring to the table and embraces the passion with which that knowledge is applied.

This doesn’t mean “don’t talk to your technicians” or anything like that. Not at all. Clear communication of vision, goals and objectives is key to success. Further, asking one’s professionals how they are accomplishing the work is often appreciated by those pros…when the question is based in seeking knowledge (rather than seeking some sort of “advantage”).

Collaboration alleviates obfuscation, nurtures and incites creativity and strengthens relationships.

Likely, everyone on the team appreciates being asked about what they do and sharing their own knowledge and experience. Asking them is acknowledging their expertise. It shows appreciation for the work and focus one’s team member has put in to being the best at what s/he does.

Learn from your team; the decisions you make, your artistic, logistical and even dramaturgical choices will be the better for it.

So. Rather than “fake it till you make it…”

How about…

“Learn It and You’ll Earn It”?  

Just sayin’.


In closing, a note on Integrity. This is a word often thrown around by the self-righteous when things aren’t going their way. Integrity is not a casual thing, and one cannot be selective in meaning what one says and keeping one’s word.

Integrity is a constant discipline.

One must be committed to doing what one says; committed to one’s word being always dependable. Should that which makes the keeping of a given agreement change, Integrity calls for immediate acknowledgement of that change.

There is no “play” in this: the keeping of one’s word is paramount. Acknowledging one’s mistakes and taking responsibility for resolution is an act of Integrity. Realizing one cannot keep one’s word and taking steps to acknowledge and rectify that is Integrity. There is no escaping daily opportunities for embracing Integrity. Not always easy, actions of Integrity often result in stronger personal and professional relationships, healthier reputations, respect and credibility granted from one’s peers.

Once one begins to evaluate where one’s word has been given and whether or not one’s word is worth keeping after the fact; one has departed the realm of Integrity and crossed into another.

IMHO – Keep Your Word.


“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link. .

Field Work: Designing Experience for an International Audience

Global Village - One Month Out

Global Village Dubai – One Month Out

A short while ago, my Esteemed Colleague, Disney Imagineer, Professor, Thought Shaper of the Future and Iconic Experience Design Chick, MK Haley, posed some questions to a few of us about designing for an international audience. Her purpose is the building of a new module for her Experience Design class, and if you are lucky enough to be one of her students you are in for a boffo semester.

(“Boffo” is a sophisticated design term.)

In case you are not one of her lucky few, I’m sharing my own responses for consideration and discussion amongst yourselves (or amongst yourself, if you live and work alone: in which case, keep it down. If others hear you discussing with yourself, it could make for awkwardness and possibly end badly).

Herewith, then; the Professor’s Questions and IMHO…

  1. … on the value of working with different countries, cultures, and for an extended period of time.

I’d say the value of this as part of one’s immediate postgraduate curriculum is integral to success in the field; especially in art and experience design.

First and foremost; until one has actually done design work in the field, seen one’s work built or installed and participated in the practical process, one’s work is likely to be myopically academic.

No matter where the work is done; once you’ve seen the design in physical dimension, seen how people interact with or pass through (or past) it, seen the effect of rain, wind, snow, dust, children…the physics of physicality. Only then does one have a true sense of how the thing will manifest in reality.

So, field work is essential to one’s professional development.

International field work takes things quite a bit further.

  • It offers the opportunity to fully appreciate one’s effect on other people.
  • If offers the opportunity to be aware of how one is communicating; to be more clear about choice of words, tone of voice, manner of collaboration, leadership across cultures, teamwork in that same context.
  • It can truly hone listening skills.
  • It will contribute to one’s objectivity. Other cultures don’t always react or respond to color, light, sound, physical storytelling, music or any sort of input or stimulus in the same way as do Westerners, for instance.

So, Looking and Listening are the first things to do a lot of when parachuting into another culture.

Remember: what you have from being educated at <insert name of amazing design school or university> or have been trained at <insert name of coveted design company or theme park brand> still, are simply Tools and Philosophies.

You don’t have experience. To gain experience, one must work in the field. So, go.

And when you get there, pay attention. Even experienced professionals make the mistake of thinking their position or previous experience in other companies or contexts qualifies them to make judgements and give immediate direction. It does not. Get to know the culture and the people who live that culture before depending entirely on previous experience. Context is everything.

2) Is it fun?

  • Yes.
  • If you embrace hard work, walking on a highwire, making mistakes, copping to those mistakes and learning from them.
  • Being open to learning from other cultures begets being embraced by the people of said cultures, and that offers fantastic opportunities for one’s own breadth of experience, perspective and worldview.

3) Is it hard?

  • Yes.
  • One must be on one’s toes.
  • It can get quite lonely.
  • A lot of places can be deceptively welcoming; seem western but are not. This can lead to trouble.
  • Assume nothing.
  • Personal Note: Obviously, Dubai and the UAE “look” and feel western-ish while we all know they are not. It is a muslim-based society; a benevolent monarchy. One knows to respect the culture or suffer severe repercussions: Get drunk and go to jail. On the other hand, Australia looks and feels “just like the states.” It isn’t. I spent a year there and had a great time; but was caught up short more than once in assuming things to which I would never have given a second thought in the US; causing great-though-inadvertent-offense. Lessons learned the hard way.
  • Nuance is Key.
  • Assume nothing.
  • Ask everything.

4) How are you different or better from having had the opportunity to work across cultures?

  • Far more patient.
  • Far more observant of the people around me.
  • Far more aware of the inordinate Privilege that White Westerners enjoy and share just from the color of our skin and the passport we carry.
  • This Privilege is immense. Do not forget that.
  • …And be careful of taking advantage of it.
  • I listen more intently and with acuity. When working with people whose native language is not English, it is critical to listen for what is actually being said beyond the words that are being used. Even the most adept English-speaker can misuse a word and change the entire message s/he is attempting to deliver. This is especially crucial in email.
  • To that, the appreciation of working with people of myriad other cultures who use English as the common denominator, professionally. We all should appreciate that: when others apologize for their “poor English,” that’s the opportunity to thank them for speaking English at all. I doubt many of us would fare particularly well were we to be made to conduct business in Farsi or Arabic or Turkish or Chinese…
  • I slow down and pay attention. Sometimes I have to catch myself; slow my pace from Western City Dweller to wherever I now am.

So, especially, I appreciate the freedom of movement I have as a Western White Guy, and I keep that at the forefront of my mind as I move through any culture or context, whether it be professional, recreational or just shopping for groceries.

5) What unique challenges are there?

  • Racism. There are many cultures on this planet that view anyone not of their race as Less. Be careful of falling into that trap. The simple fact that a person is smaller, has browner skin, is exceedingly polite and deferential to you and speaks poor English does not mean that person is less intelligent than you. Sometimes, actually, when it may seem that way, that person may be playing a “role” in order to survive in a given society. Watch for and see through that. Often, they are smarter… The quality of work, collaboration and cooperation realized will be significantly higher than otherwise.
  • Just treat everyone as equal. Remember, but for the geographical randomness of where you were born, that bathroom attendant, tea boy, car washer could be you.
  • Also watch for being the victim or target of racism. Though your national hosts may treat you well, it isn’t always because you are liked. It could be simply that you have something that is wanted. Actual friendship takes a lot longer in most cultures than it does in Los Angeles. Just sayin’. Give it time before you trust it as Friendship.
  • Assumption. Everywhere and in Everything. Yours and Theirs. Daily, hourly, moment-to-moment. Watch out for it. It will cut you!

6) How has it been on your family?

  • What family?
  • I can’t speak to that, as I have no family. I can say that it is extremely tough on any relationship and, while I know a few couples who have managed to work together or move families from country to country (arguably good for the kids to grow up, multiculturally), most people I know spend quite a significant time away from family, 70 – 80% of the time or more.
  • If family is a priority; that should be kept in mind when seeking or accepting a gig, project or full-time employment. If you are told that there is a lot of travel involved; that will mean there is a LOT of travel involved.

So, them’s my responses and ancillary thoughts on today’s topic. Field work is imperative. Foreign field work can make one a better artist and a better person. I say seek it out. Get out there and test your design ideas along with your preconceptions about Life.

Learn, Do, Grow.



“IMHO: Creating Compelling Experience” is a free downloadable eBook on the tenets and methodologies we use to…create compelling experience. Find it in the iBooks app on any Apple device or in iTunes at this link.