South Africa’s beauty and vastness can make you forget to breathe, almost. The people are friendly, open and interesting. This culture mash-up of a country has 11 official languages. And I only speak one of them so my linguistics chops got busted.
And they mostly talk like Elon Musk. Dreamy.
WiFi is not ubiquitous. Or consistent.
To order a coffee or food to go, it’s “take away.”
Never ever ever ever … feed the baboons.
Driving in South Africa
They drive on the left side of the road. That means the cars going in the opposite direction come to you on the right, the same side of the car where you’re in the driver’s seat. It feels like the cars coming toward you on the right are actually heading right for you. In a word, terrifying. My son and I drove over 2000 miles, from Johannesburg to Lesotho, down to East London, west to Mossel Bay and then on to Cape Town. Total sensory overload and spectacular weather.
Trucks and cars actually pull over to the shoulder to help you pass. And you pass only on the right.
To thank a driver after you have passed him or her, you blink your lights, meaning your hazard lights. And a blink back means “you’re welcome.” Having a process in place to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” makes driving through the country a nice experience…except for the part of the cars coming to you from the right.
I only wish I had a signal to say “I’m sorry” for the times I drove in the right lane as the slow lane (is it too late to say sorry?)
Living where the use of turning signals when making a turn is considered a purely personal and private decision, I was impressed with South Africa’s driving structure, the rural roads and their rules of the road.
How James Bond is involved.
James Bond is only involved because of my ridiculous obsession with this franchise and writer Ian Fleming. And the fact I was shifting gears with my left hand just like James Bond does in his fancy cars. Have you ever done that? Exactly.
I actually felt blue lights in my brain as these new neural pathways formed in my process of learning to drive on the other side of the road.
My son developed a post-mom-driving-stress syndrome during that same time. Somehow he found my occasional mistake of 3rd gear for 5th disturbing.
How this relates to better communication.
1. Getting out of your culture, whether you’re traveling to South Dakota, South America or South Africa is the best way I know to help you see path dependence in your work.
(Path Dependence is like a paradigm, your past success keeps you using the same processes for new problems, for which they are inadequate.)
Who knew you could thank someone for courteous driving by flashing your blinkers?
What else is possible and what other resources are there to solve your problem?
2. You really don’t know what you don’t know.
Yes, it’s trite and oft repeated but for good reason.
In the Kingdom of Lesotho I sat down to a lovely barbecue and mashed-up corn lunch with my son and his Peace Corps buddies. Surprise. No silverware, no napkins. Who knew millions of people eat with their hands? And that instead of napkins, people clean their hands with a wet cloth after the meal? Lack of convenient access to water has all kinds of effects you can’t imagine.
So be massively paranoid about assuming why people do or say things. When you need to assume intent or motivation, look for the most helpful interpretation for you. Take the high road. Always.
3. Whatever problem you’re solving or goal you’re approaching, fine-tuning the way you speak, listen and interpret (aka “communicate”) can move you forward faster, or not.
Making a change in the way you discuss an issue can ripple through to an innovative solution.
Whatever is on your plate that’s bugging you, ask yourself, your team, “How can I” or put as “We can if….” and come up with some creative ideas to try.
A few companies in South Africa have reached the world stage through innovation in design (Indaba), farming technique (South Africa Breweries) and even questioning the business of banking (First National Bank of South Africa, often the world’s most innovative bank.)
Here in South Carolina, there in South Africa, or South Detroit, words are there for you to ask the questions to solve the problems, to grow the profits, to get it done and make it better.