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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Mexican Ambassador, rubber stamps, and money: Creative solutions at work

Javier Barrio Terrazas, Mexico's Ambassador to Canada (sitting in front of the whiteboard) addresses Bill Caswell's Discovery Conference in Ottawa yesterday. In case you are wondering what this presentation has to do with Construction Marketing, you should review Chaos Theory.

Yesterday, I attended the first day of Bill Caswell's Discovery 2009 conference. The event, an eclectic gathering of individuals and ideas, has proven to be the perfect environment for creative ideas cross fertilization and generation.

Whenever you put a bunch of bright people from different backgrounds in a room with some structure but much opportunity for individual dialogue and communication, things happen. Trouble is, you don't always know exactly where these "things" lead -- and I may not appreciate the benefits of this conference for months, if not years.

In the midst of the business sessions, Caswell introduced Fracisco Javier Barrio Terrazas, Mexico's ambassador to Canada.

In his presentation, and in the question and answer session that followed,Ambassador Barrrio Terrazas reminded us that the democratic principals and freedoms we take for granted in the U.S. and Canada are not common elsewhere in the world, including Mexico, until recently.

The Mexican envoy said as he grew up and reached adulthood, and in his early years in business, things like freedom of expression, association, the right to belong or not belong to groups, speech, press, and other basics of democracy were things that Mexicans could only dream about.

Then, he said, out of an economic crisis and hyperinflation fuelled by corruption and mismanagement, a popular movement arose to change the Mexican system. Gradually the groundswell built, but how could the opposition party communicate with the public when the Government controlled the media and restrained all dissent?

The surprisingly creative answer: The opposition party devised 20 simple messages and purchased rubber stamps. Then activists to cheques to banks and collected bank notes, and stamped each note with one of the messages.

The opposition leaders redeposited the stamped banknotes and then drew out more money, in a continuing loop.

You can imagine Government's consternation. It couldn't really ban circulating cash. It passed a law banning "money stamping" but how would you enforce this type of legislation? The Opposition began winning some local elections despite rigging and controls, and eventually the government fell to the popular will.

Of course the Ambassador is painting a specific picture of his country, but it is much different than the one I know from the tourist experience and media coverage. And his story has nothing to do with construction marketing, or does it?

We sometimes are constrained by our thinking within our universe of perceptions and forget how little things in one place can have big effects in others. Most of us at some point make decisions which transform our lives, and many times the decisions seem unrelated to anything important.

Certainly, yesterday I had many reasons to miss the conference -- in fact I needed (with advance notice of course) to walk out on the Ambassador's presentation to call into my company's regular Monday staff meeting. But I'm glad I could attend the sessions.

Consider these unofficial "chaos theory" marketing principals:
  • You may wish to set aside 20 per cent of your time and resources for off the wall and different activities and engagements. Consider trying something different each week; maybe taking a random book out of a section of the library you rarely visit (or visiting the library if you never go there, going to a movie you wouldn't otherwise watch, or speaking to a stranger, in a safe environment. Better, see if you can find yourself in a small group with different people from different backgrounds.
  • When you are searching for a bigger answer (maybe looking for a job), don't be afraid to call on people who may be able to guide you to where you want to go, even if they are not directly related to your final destination. Just listen and learn.
  • Don't sweat the little things and setbacks. In fact, enjoy them. You never know where they may be creating future opportunities.
I can't be sure how (or even if) yesterday's session will change my life, but I know the chances of it happening are much greater than not because of the diverse group of individuals,relationships and experiences. You need to break out of your space, sometimes, even -- maybe especially -- if conditions are stressful and you sense you don't have time and money to escape the grindstone.

When I think of hard conditions and seemingly insolvable problems, I now think of the Mexican political activists, struggling to get their message across, and finding the solution the help of rubber stamps and circulating banknotes.

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