Monday, February 8, 2010

My own Loic Le Meur - Michael Arrington moment, in which I (almost) played the part of Michael Arrington

I have mentioned a few times on my blog that my division was sold by Motorola to another company, but I don't believe that I explicitly mentioned that the acquiring company is a French firm. This resulted in an amusing incident last week which bore some similarities - but, luckily, not a lot of similarities - to a much more publicized incident between two public figures that took place in December 2008.

Perhaps you recall the incident, which occurred at the Le Web conference in Paris. During a panel discussion, invited panelist Michael Arrington made some points which he later recounted on TechCrunch.

The last session at Le Web was a live Gillmor Gang....At about the 14 minute mark a discussion of Europe v. Silicon Valley erupts.

Conference organizer Loic Le Meur (a French entrepreneur who moved to Silicon Valley for his most recent startup Seesmic) says that Silicon Valley moves too fast, and that Europeans enjoy a good two hour lunch just to experience the joy of life.

My response...: the joy of life is great, but all these two hour lunches over a bottle or two of great wine and general unwillingness to do whatever it takes to compete and win is the reason why all the big public Internet companies are U.S. based.

Le Meur subsequently addressed the issue on his blog:

Michael focuses on my "we know how to take quality time in Europe" and my example of a two hour lunch versus five minutes at starbucks if you are lucky. There is a huge difference between being lazy and taking time to know each other. It is one of the main cultural differences I feel everyday as I moved to Silicon Valley: every minute, every coffee, every phone call must have a point....

Don't even think about starting a conversation in Silicon Valley by "how was your week-end" or "how are your kids", they all want you to go straight to the point and no time to lose. I never thought inviting someone I really liked to know better to dinner would get me an email from his assistant "why would you like to invite him to dinner?". I do not think europeans are lazy taking the time to know each other and build deep long term friendships that are not limited to business and I do not think this hurts Europe in any way. On the contrary.

While one cannot claim that all Americans are impatient, or that the desire to get to know someone is solely limited to Europeans, it does appear to be generally true that Europeans will take more time to do things that appear to be inconsequential to Americans. I've noticed this several times, including during my visit to Europe in 2000 and during several visits of Europeans to California, and this point was brought home to me last week.

First, a preface - when I'm working, I normally don't go out to lunch. I brown bag it, and I don't even go down to the office cafeteria - nearly all the time I stay at my desk, at my computer, doing important things like tweeting or playing Starfleet Commander. It should also be noted that I, like some other writers, am not necessarily a really social person. So for me, the whole concept of a two-hour lunch on several different levels.

But I couldn't brown bag it last week, because I was on a business trip to my company's Tacoma office. An office that has a sprinkling of French nationals working in it.

The office is in downtown Tacoma, with a number of places open during the lunch hour, so around lunchtime on Monday I got up, left the office, and headed to one of them to, in American terms, "grab something." I did so and was sitting down to eat it, when one of the French nationals came into the restaurant. He expressed surprise that I had just gone out on my own to grab lunch. I ended up eating with him and two other co-workers, and had an enjoyable lunch.

After that incident (which raised the whole Loic Le Meur-Michael Arrington debate to the top of my brain), I realized that I needed to be more sensitive about such things. So on Tuesday I asked one of my co-workers, who also happens to be a French national, if he wanted to go out to lunch. He replied that he would like to do so, and asked me where I wanted to go. I forget exactly how I replied, but my response did imply my preference for a "hasty" lunch. The co-worker brought up the cultural differences noted above. In the end, we went to a Thai restaurant together and I had another enjoyable lunch, although I'm sure that the lunch was probably a little too "hasty" for my co-worker's liking.

In my head, I side with Loic Le Meur in the Le Meur-Arrington lunch debate. There is obviously a tremendous benefit in getting to know the people that you are working with - especially in the case in which a company is acquired by another company, and the people from the two companies need to learn how to work together. I cannot reveal our lunch conversations in this blog, but the subjects of those conversations, while possibly seeming superficial, were in some respects quite key to the integration of multiple cultures into a single corporate culture. And to those who claim that the long lunches are a sign of laziness, the two French nationals that I named above are two of the hardest-working people that I know.

Yes, in my head I side with Loic Le Meur - but sometimes I don't follow my head. As I mentioned above, this is partially my fault and has nothing to do with my nationality. But it's something of which I need to be aware, to make sure that I do what's best for me.

The one thing that helped me is that I was somewhat aware of the issue before my trip to Tacoma. And for that I can thank Loic Le Meur, as well as several other Europeans, who have served to bring it to my attention.
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