Thursday, May 27, 2010

Business. Silence in the boardroom

Imagine, you telling a really really funny joke in front of everyone [comedic drum rim shot] ... then no one laughs. The room is filled with awkward silence and wide-eyes are starring right back at ya, with "What the hell is she on about?" written all over their faces.

Example of a bad joke from Kochie (Australian Anchorman):

Awkward, right?? This is what I feel like sometimes in the boardroom. In the creative field, we often come together to brainstorm ideas for marketing campaigns, TV commercials and etc. So what we need is people coming in full of ideas and just simply blurting it out and bouncing ideas off each other. Great ideas come from good brainstorming sessions and people working together to fine-tune. This has proven to be very difficult in Vietnam.

Why the silence?

It is frustrating, however the local Vietnamese are quite reserved in nature and therefore is often difficult to get them to openly share ideas. Why? They are afraid that their ideas are not good, and being embarrassed. It's very hierarchal here, whereby as a child the locals were taught never to disrespect your mother, father and elders. Throughout school, never question or talk back to the teachers and so even when at work (in Vietnamese companies) the boss is... THE BOSS. Shut up and do what he says or else you'll be fired.

Sometimes it's difficult to get a simple yes or no response. For example, "Do you like the idea?" And no one responds. Arrghh.... it drives me crazy!

What am I doing about it?

No idea is a bad idea. Understanding why this is a case, I and our management team encourages everyone to express their ideas, no matter how bad you think your idea is, just raise it. No idea is ever discounted, it's written on the whiteboard for consideration.

Involve people. I often make simple jokes or uses the people in the boardroom as examples, whilst explaining ideas in order to get them involved. Get them to laugh and feel a little more relaxed.

Food & Drinks. Sometimes we order food & drinks to inspire us. It always works because who doesn't like food, right?

Building a team culture. This is really important. We must break away from the hierarchal structure, because true greatness comes from team-effort, not a lone-effort. I was inspired by old my manager, Mr Pete (No exotic alias names this time) years ago. Mr Pete was a good team leader, by bonding the team and actually showed that he cared about the team. As a result, we felt comfortable to tell him our issues which led to changes to better the team. He introduces a thing called "That week that was." It was a weekly e-newsletter sent to the team reflecting on the week in a humorous way. Brilliant I thought.

I now have introduced "The month that was" and present it to the team every month at our company update. It includes funny photos of the teams captured during that month, people's birthdays, funny stories (some are true, some I make up). Everyone has a good laugh, we laugh at each other and it creates a friendly and family environment. It's been running for almost a year now and it works!

Today, we held a brainstorm and I can really see our team shooting off ideas and sharing their thoughts on things. Vietnamese or no Vietnamese, we all have good ideas to achieve greatness! I'm so proud of my team and now so pumped to pitch our ideas!!

I'll leave you with this great Heineken commercial. A result from a good creative brainstorm:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vietnam. A Night Out

What's it like to go out in Ho Chi Minh City on a Saturday? I don't know, ask someone else!
The sad truth is I don't really go out all that often and if someone asked where should I go to explore the city, I would be stumped after I say... "Ben Thanh Market."

My old friend Stephan Georganis from Melbourne, who I mentioned in my Dealing with clients post, arrived to HCMC this Saturday with his wife and another couple. All were very excited to explore Vietnam and eager to learn about the culture... were unfortunately stuck with me for the night as the worst Vietnamese tour guide. "Have you eaten street food?" Err... nope. "What street are we on?" Err... I don't know... "Are you even Vietnamese?" Hmm... trick question? It's most likely that they'll go home seeing and learning more about Vietnam than I have this last year and a half.

The truth is I have been working since setting foot in Vietnam. I arrived on a Saturday and started work on the Monday and haven't stopped since. This is my weekly routine:

Monday - Friday
Wake Up - Work - Lunch - Work - Dinner - Work - Sleep - Repeat until Friday

Wake Up - work - lunch - work - go somewhere nice for dinner - Whoo hoo DVD night - sleep

Wake Up late - breaky - watch tv - work - gym - maybe not gym and work - sleep.

I just get so buggered after work that some lone time to relax at home is nice. So as you can see, this is why I made a new years resolution to get out more. The trouble is, I haven't been keeping it up. So this Saturday, I had friends in town, my sister J was also in town and we all went out the night. It ruined my usual DVD night, but this Saturday was totally WILD:

- Dinner at a nice Vietnamese restaurant at "We" on Nguyen Dinh Chieu St, District 3
- Crepes at "Fannys" on Ton Tat Thiep St, District 1
- Finished off with drinks and listening to a live Spanish band on Ly Tu Trong St, District 1.
- Made it home by 10:30PM
Food at We



Okay, Okay... it wasn't too wild. But it was a night out neither-less ... and with great company and family, it was a fantastic night in the end. No street food, but that's not my style... I'll game up next time!!

Typical Vietnamese Clubs, Bars & Beer-Hug Cafes 

If you like smoke, loud techno and girls in skimpy outfits, then you'll love the typical Vietnamese cafes. I personally, absolutely hate it. In particular, there's a really popular cafe called Windows. Now... nice surroundings but the loud techno music pumping and old men with staring problems, is not exactly the most comfortable place to catch up with friends. But the Vietnamese love it.

Beer Hug Cafes is a unique place. A Beer Hug Cafe, is designed to have girls hugging men whilst they have a drink. I'm not sure how could that possible turn men on? A brothel I understand, because at least they're getting something. But a hug? Come on, don't you get enough love from your mother? I've never been into a Beer Hug Cafe, but I can tell you this... You'll know when at a Beer Hug Cafe, when there are ferns outside the front of the dodgy cafe.

That's one too many secret the Vietnamese men didn't want me to share.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vietnam. The Fat creep

"You live in Vietnam, how can you possibly get fat?" my friend asked me when I complained to him about gaining weight. Trust me, you can! It's called "The Fat Creep"

Have you ever heard of scope creep? Scope creep occurs when you take on a project with "yay-big" requirements and along the way the client requests to add a little more things to do. And you say ok, I'll do it for you, and next week they'll ask for little more, and you say ok I'll do it for you...and it goes on and on. Until before you know it, you'll wake up and you've got yourself a project bigger than Ben Hur, and not making any more mula on top of that. That's scope creep in a nutshell. 

This is my before shot. Wasn't I Gorgeous?

The Fat Creep

My theory is the same concept applies for The Fat Creep! My housemate, let's call him "Marcos De Rossi, " (I always use exotic alias names, don't I?) warned me about this when I first arrived to Vietnam. He told me that if don't get in some exercise, that I'll start to put on weight. 

Puh-lease, I thought to myself. How can I possibly get fat with all the healthy Vietnamese cuisine that's available here. Pho  - That's not fattening. Goi Cuon (Rice paper rolls) - couldn't possibly be fattening, Bun (Vermicelli dishses) - Now how can rice noodles and vegetables be fattening. And with that mindset and a year later, and now my jeans are as tight as pressed-on leather vinyls. 

Just this morning, I needed some help zipping up my dress. Marcos told me it's a sign to start hitting the gym, and he's right! It's THE FAT CREEP, I'm telling ya. Look left, look right, and boom... your're FAT. 

The truth is when I first arrived, for about the first 6 months I lost a lot of weight and so with that safety net, I thought what why not snack on chips and burgers and all that. After all, I do work hard and the gym takes out so much of my time.  Yes - all the cheesy and fatty western meals like pizza and pasta are readily available in Vietnam.

This is my after shot. The Fat Creep Victim:

So the moral of the story is... you can get fat in this country.

Don't let the skinny Vietnamese people and the healthy foods that surrounds you fool you. The Fat Creep is just what it is.... It's creepy! 

Eat well and exercise well - In any country. I'm hitting the gym now (or maybe not).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Business. Dealing with clients

Firstly, welcome to my new followers and I'll keep my blogs updated weekly with entertaining insights from Vietnam. I know some of you have joined after a bit of bribery or blackmail, but hey, that's how we do business here!

I realized I haven't posted anything about the business, so today the post is about the frustrations of dealing with a client (in particular, Vietnamese clients), and I'll let you in on a technique I learnt years ago on how to deal with your frustrations.

The" F*ck off and F*ck off now" technique

If your working in a client-facing environment, I'm sure you've been in situations where the client or even your internal clients make unreasonable demands. In particular, in the creative or advertising industry we have many "prima-donna" clients.

"It's not pink... It's fuchsia." or "It's not blue... It's sky blue." You know the type... Clients who think they are semi-hollywood movie stars. That type! So when the days are stretched and you're going far and beyond what you're supposed to do, just to support their prima-donna needs, and they still make demands. What do you do? Just tell them to F*ck Off... and F*ck Off now.

Okay, realistically it's not going to always work in your favour, but it's sure going to make you feel a lot better. And don't exactly use those words, but a tone-down approach such as, "George, I'd love to keep designing for you, but you need to pay me for the last job first". Translation = "F*ck Off and F*ck Off now!" So in your mind it's "F*ck Off until you pay me biatch," but you deliver the message it in a more tasteful way. It seriously makes you feel better... try it!

Origins of "F*ck off and F*ck off now"

This technique was brewed up years ago by a team that I highly respect. They were mentors to me during my first few years of management. I used to be nice and accommodating, and was stressed all the time until I saw a shining light when my mentors... let's call them "Marios Perella" and "Stephan Georganis" said to me, "You know what VQinVietnam (btw, that's not my real name), just tell them to F*ck off and F*ck off now!" And that's exactly what I did. And many of times, we actually used those exact words to our internal clients. It changed my way of thinking and until this day I still use this technique to make the day go by easier. So thank you guys and I hope this technique will live strong and passed on to generations of managers to come.

Vietnamese Clients

The Vietnamese are known to be quite fickle creatures. The want one thing one day and the next day the want something else. So when I get an approval to design something in a certain direction, I can guarantee you that they'll make about 5 more direction changes after that. In Australia, we can request them to pay for the additional hours spent on their "prima donna" changes, but here they want everything for free. It's the culture and that's the way it is over here, unless you're one of the large organizations who can really truly afford to say ""F*ck Off and f*ck off now" without caring about the repercussions.

It's also very hierarchical here. They use and abuse their authority and so in Vietnam, you will experience those who sit on their high horses and just say things for the sake of it. I once had a client asked me to design for him flash banners that would follow the user up and down the page as the person scrolled down the page (who does that in this time and age?). I advised them if we do that, it would cheapen your website and downgrade the preimiumness of your brand. You know what his answer was? "I am the General Director, and I said... I want scrolling flash banner, so you give me scrolling flash banners'" What do you say to that? So we gave him the damn scrolling flash banners.

Even the Vietnamese don't like working with the Vietnamese in a service-client environment. My team kind of shiver when working with Vietnamese clients because they know what to expect.

That's it for today! I'll leave you with this.... F*ck Off and F*ck Off now!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thank you. 6-man wolf pack

I'm currently sitting here in one of our client's boardroom, waiting for the meeting to begin (who btw, is 20 min late!), and I thought why should i sit here and twiddle my thumbs... I have a blog now - so I can update it.

This is a message to my 5 followers, thank you for clicking on the "follow" button and reading my posts. Even though I practically forced all of you to do it, it still means a lot to me. So I would like to dedicate this post to you all and make a speech via video:

If you haven't yet seen "The Hangover," I suggest you go see it. It's surprisingly funny! Anyhow, if you didn't know, I'm the "re-tard" guy with the beard, expressing my appreciation for you.

"I once was a loner, in my 1-man wolf pack... now I have extended my wolf pack to you 5. We are now a 6-man wolf pack (including me!) " - VQinVietnam

So this post has nothing to do with Vietnam, just a random thank you. And those who are reading my blog, please feel free to "follow" me.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Vietnam. Superstar Status

Let me tell you a little secret that other expats and Viet Qs may not want to admit.
They may tell you "I'm here to experience culture, people, natural landscape..," Bullsh*t. They're here because it makes them feel good. It's called the:


Allow me to explain. There are about 3 times in your life when you can typically reinvent yourself. And by that, I mean if you don't like who you are, there are approx. 3 significant life chapters where you can change or update your identity.

So let's paint a scenario: You're are a complete dork, you're short, your mother makes you wear ugly outfits to school because it was on sale at K-mart, the kids call you pizza face everyday when you show up for school. And let's face it, the chicks ain't digging you much (Sorry, I'm using a guy in this scenario). So what do you do? You wait until that significant life chapter comes... then what? Reinvent yourself.

That's right, you update your wardrobe, you grow a few inches, get a funky new hairstyle, start face washing with Proactive (cos that sh*t works) and the chicks now only know of you by your supercool sexy nick-name, such as Javier San Diego Jose Alonso.
What are these life chapters?

1. High-school. {if you go to a high-school where none of your primary school friends go to}
2. University or College {Where most of us reinvent ourselves}
3. Entering the workforce {Where you'd try to reinvent yourself again if it didn't work at Uni}

Now, if all three life chapters doesn't work for you, there's a 4th, and that's Vietnam. You still don't know what I mean? The Superstar Status is like the Peter Parker turns cool scene in Spiderman 3.

Now that's what foreigners and VQs feel like, when they've lived here for a while.

When foreigners or VQs live here, they are treated with a little more respect compared to back home. Many of the general Vietnamese look up to foreigners and VQs, seeing that we had the opportunity of good education, wealth and better lifestyle. Now that may not be true, but it's the general perception. In particular, for the men who come here and pretend that they're cool to hook up with the girls. And the American-VQs are the most guilty of them all (Not all... but some). Arrogant.

Not to say that all Vietnamese perceive foreigners that way. The more affluent Vietnamese don't really rate the foreigners or Viet Qs as better than them at all, and there is a rise in affluence in Vietnam. Long gone are the days where Vietnamese girls would get an arranged married to have the opportunity to live in a western nation. Because it's all happening here in Vietnam.

And yes... I do walk down the streets like the cool Peter Parker.

Vietnam. The long weekend

Today, was a long weekend for us in Vietnam. Friday 30th April Reunification Day and 1st May was International Workers' Day.
But I’m not really here it give you a history lesson, because I’m sure you can find that out on wikipedia or other travel blog sites. In fact, who really cares about what happened years ago, only the fact that we now have a long weekend – Whoo hoo! I know I sound ignorant and I do recognise that it was a very significant 2 days for Vietnam but seriously, does anyone in this generation care why we have public holidays? Sadly No. I mean for all you Australians, do you really care about why we celebrate the Queen’s Birthday? Nope. You’re just glad that you’ve got a day off and that we should also celebrate Prince Charles, Williams and the harry-pot-head’s birthday; the more the merrier! Just admit it.

So let me run down what the 2 public holidays meant to me:
- Less traffic mayhem
- Shopping
- Eating
- The ultimate hair treatment
- Catching up on work

Saigon is the place to be when there's a long weekend because all the Vietnamese usually go to the provinces to visit their families. The streets are empty and many local shops are closed because most of them are in the province. That's when I come out. This weekend, I went to all the markets, shopping centres and did a lottt.... of eating.

So the highlight of my weekend may sound a little sad to you, however for shoe-lovers it's fantastic. So the highlight is... wait for it...
"I bought 3 pairs of shoes, 1 Miss Sixty short shorts, 1 pair of chloe sunglasses - All for the price of 1,440,000 VND"

Yeh, that's right boys and girls, all for about AU$80. I would like thank Saigon Square 2 (the market) for making this happen, the taxi drivers for taking me there and back, and my loving boyfriend who encouraged me to buy those items.

I'm sure I got ripped off... but what the hell... 80 bucks is a bargain for me.

Okay, so you may think that's not really exciting, but when you think about it, 80 bucks can barely buy you a pair of shoes back at home. And my shoes are so so... ruined by all the rubble and uneven concreted pathways, so I was in desperate need for new work shoes - I totally deserve them! It's a rare for me to find good quality items here and I'm pretty sure those brand items aren't real, but hey, must I say "80 bucks" again??

Good weekend? Yes. Sad highlight? Maybe - It really depends who you are.