Building Common Ground

I had a great experience tonight at the Teradata Apex Awards, sitting at a table with a Canadian and three Koreans, all marketers, and it reminded me of the importance of bridging the gaps between people.

When the Korean folks sat down, I had the feeling they felt a bit intimidated by the whole event, and they probably felt a little out of place, although their English skills were 99% better than my skills in any non-English language. There must have been 500 people, and the tables were primarily full of US business representatives, although there were some people from other countries. As an introvert, I can relate, regardless of whether I can speak the language or not.

We introduced each other and immediately started talking shop, because we’re marketers, right? Customer-centric this, data-driven analysis that, and we used that common ground to rebound into Dennis Rodman’s contraversial trip to North Korea, the sadness of the Malaysian airline crash this weekend, our Canadian buddy’s travels to Kathmandu and the Everest basecamp. We even discussed the customer-centric philosophy of Wells Fargo (where I work).

Still, there wasn’t so much common ground there. Politics is fine and all, but we really didn’t have an emotional connection to much except a common appreciation of the sad separation of North and South Korea.

So, I turned the conversation to Starcraft, because I’m a nerd, and that’s where I go, you know? That’s a bit of a risk… but an educated one. If you don’t know, Starcraft is a popular video game worldwide, and many South Koreans play and watch with a vim and vigor that’s normally reserved for South American football fans. I happen to be a fan of the sport myself, and so was the Hyundai representative. It helped to get us excited about something cool and fun. We also talked about the awesome films Oldboy and Five Fingers of Death, and the tendency of Chinese film production companies to use Korean directors.

We had an animated, fun discussion, and it all came from finding our common ground. Our common games, work, and stories all made that possible in a way that gave us an immediate connection. This is the kind of cultural connection that our world needs more of if we’re to move peacefully into the next century, and it makes me happy to see that it’s possible, and easier than ever with the proliferation of the internet and global cinema and video game distribution.

I believe this is necessary, even if it’s Dennis Rodman and a young dictator. Because in the end, every one of us will find the need in our lives to bridge a gap with some common ground, any common ground, to feel comfortable, and to share our experiences and our needs with other people who have no idea what we want or feel.

You gotta start somewhere, right? So, challenge for the day: get out there and make some connections with other people. Let them know what you love, and learn what they love. You never know. Those connections could last a lifetime, or change the course of history.