Corporate Tourism

It occurred to me the other day that when one starts working with a large corporation, say over 10,000 people, it’s like being a tourist. You drop into a corner of their world and start feeling your way around, learning the lingo and the lay of the land. After a while you start to get comfortable, but perhaps make the mistake of thinking that every other part of this “nation” looks and acts and talks the same. Don’t forget that you are just a “corporate tourist” and you’ve just begun to scratch the surface of the culture.

Particularly for really large companies that have been around for a long time, getting to know them takes as long as getting to know a new country - years. The jargon, the TLA’s, are always one of the first and most obvious hurdles to get over. But as you spend more time in it, more nuances and subtleties unfold and present themselves. It takes a great deal of time to really feel, act and be seen as native. For a long time there will be a bit of distance, a thin veil, between you and “the natives”, and it takes deep, intensive and prolonged exposure and interaction to remove those.

I’ll give you an example: I recently learned that a corporate client has a very specific interpretation of the word “test” - they see it as a black and white, pass/fail procedure. Therefore talking about customer testing of designs, which are looked at partially subjectively, was setting ourselves up for problems. Simply substituting the word “evaluation” made everything OK again. This was never something that came up in conversation explicitly with the client - for them they were embedded in this way of thinking, and it was only after a chance conversation that it came to light.

It would be great if there were bus tours and cruises that gave quick overviews for corporate tourists, or a “Lonely Planet Guide to Megacorp”, or a Berlitz book of acronyms for Global Industries, Inc. Unfortunately we have to do it the old fashioned way: shoe leather, notebook, camera, facetime, and learn-by-oops translation.