Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Driving in Ghana - Ménage a beaucoup

Photo courtesy:
It never ceases to amaze me each time I visit Ghana, how intimate an activity as driving can be. With each visit I notice how badly the roads are deteriorating and how much closer is the dance between vehicles, pedestrians and animals as they pirouette around potholes and around each other.

I wince, grimace and squirm on occasion as vehicles skirt literally three inches around pedestrians in a way that would be considered an extreme invasion of personal space at the least, but more likely ‘reckless endangerment’ in other cultures. I watch incredulously as people sashay nonchalantly, three abreast, in the middle of the street, their arms swinging widely, yet languidly, around their ample hips, as drivers operate around them, totally nonplussed. But probably most terrifying are the disabled mendicants, without the use of their lower limbs, who zip and zap between cars on skateboards-turned-wheelchairs with jaw-dropping speed and dexterity. It would be very easy for a driver to miss one of these people, who typically weave between cars below eye level. It is as much a miracle of The Most High as it is a testament of their dexterity that these ‘dodging dervishes’ stay barely half an inch away from being run over by vehicles.

With each year that goes by, the roads in some parts of the city have eroded from dual-carriage lanes to single-carriage lanes riddled with potholes of varying sizes and depths, to slivers of asphalt holding on for dear life. On some stretches, the paved road seems to have completely disappeared; leaving in its wake swaths of ubiquitous red dirt that frequently give rise to mini sandstorms. Ones driving lane is determined not by a centerline, not by a dividing island, but by staking a claim to the less pockmarked side of the street and an impudent refusal to cower in the face of oncoming traffic.

As a driver, the top three priorities are: avoiding potholes and lost portions of road, avoiding other vehicles and finally avoiding pedestrians ­– in that order. As a pedestrian, one needs only concern oneself with picking one’s way through a minor obstacle course – the cars will maneuver around the human traffic. Or not. As an animal…well, all the world’s your living room: fait comme chez toi, as the French would say.

Also fascinating is the incessant, almost orchestral blaring of horns, which, to all intents and purposes, could almost qualify as a codified language in its own right. It is easy to pick out the various distinct messages that go something like this: One short tone followed by one long tone: “Get out of my way”, one long tone would be: “Don’t event think about crossing me, bitch!”. Several staccato bursts means: “I’m in your immediate surroundings – no fast moves, buster!”. A continuous string of staccato one-eighth notes says: “Taxi, anyone?” Two short bursts then a long one would mean: “Whatthafuckyoudothatfor?” Sometimes the horn message is “I just like the way this sounds to me – gotta problem with it?” and the sound of that is only limited by the creativity of the driver, but it’s like porn – you’ll recognize it when you hear it.

Now, while driving (or being driven) here in the land of Africa’s friendliest people might seem like dancing on a tightrope in a straightjacket while balancing an egg on your head, the intimacy almost ensures a lower rate of fatalities because the speed rates are much slower. That said, it doesn’t abate the terror of feeling like a deer in headlights when the car you’re in is in the lane of oncoming traffic hurtling down with all vim and alacrity towards what seems like a perfect head-on collision with an 18-wheeler. And it doesn’t lessen the relief you feel when you gasp because you feel like you just missed your death by the skin of your teeth and nearly pissed your pants.

As the Ghanaians are good at saying, “don’t worry, by happy”, as you feel the steam coming out of your ears. Life’s good.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Negotiating Your Way to Success

We are all involved in negotiations many times a day in our relationships, at work, at school, in traffic and with ourselves. What is fascinating is that much of the time we do not realize we are negotiating unless the stakes are major. Then negotiating appears to be this ferocious monster that gets our pulse racing, palms sweating and emotions frayed.

I was speaking with my very good friend Dennis Johnson - a television and film producing executive who has worked with NBC, ABC and Showtime - and the subject turned to negotiation. Dennis told me of a situation he had to deal with while he was the President and General Manager of a startup network. This company was going through the process for approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to become a publicly traded company and had been assigned an officer who seemed to be unsupportive. This proved to be a challenge when this officer exhibited a negative attitude and was inconsistent and could be unavailable for weeks at a time.

Negotiating experts would tell you to separate the people from the problem. Dennis took care of the problem of the person to make room for the original problem to be resolved: he approached the officer on a personal level, expressing his concerns and frustrations with the process, but in a non-confrontational way. He established a relationship for mutual gain. Using his usual charm, he won the officer over and the approval process continued smoothly after that. Allowing the emotional expressions of frustration and anger would only have made the situation worse.

In carrying out the day-to-day functions of his job, Mr. Johnson didn't only have to negotiate with people outside his company and you most likely have to negotiate on a daily basis with your co-workers as well, even though you might be on the same side. My friend told me about how he had to negotiate with his business manager who would, in turn, be negotiating with the manager or agent of a talent he wanted to use, who would subsequently be negotiating with their client the talent. In all of these negotiations, it is important to be aware of, and recognize your counterpart's status, as well as the roles they play, since these can determine their interests and positions. Understanding people's interests and positions makes it easier to determine common grounds and issues and helps in creating new options to explore.

Dennis explained how he came to appreciate the role of his business manager once he understood that their job was, to an extent, to protect him from his own creative passions. In the end, he said, "The bottom line is not who wins, but which decision benefits the company the most". Acknowledging this made is easy for him to give more autonomy to his business manager, which, ironically, created a greater sense of affiliation.

I asked him for advice in my own negotiations. His response was: "Be aware of others' perceptions of your power, - leverage it to your advantage, and know when to walk away".

Invaluable advice, if you ask me. Feel free to use it.....Tell them Dennis sent you.

Here's a link to more information on effective negotiating.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Inspiring From The Inside Out

 I always think about why I do what I do, why I am The Lifestyle Maven. I don't particularly like writing - though I do a lot of it, I don't care for the way I look on TV and I really wish I could interact with each and every one of you on a personal basis, to see, touch and feel you.

So what motivates me to do what I do? I've always believed in doing what I love to do, especially when it comes to work. But I love to experience everything that life has to offer and it saddens me to see people who don't. My life is full of such rich and wonderful experiences and I enjoy inspiring people to do the same because I believe everyone should have it too.

How I do that is through my blog, e-newspaper, videos and personal appearances. They are the means to an end. I want you to enjoy every bit of your life. In the process, I enjoy life as well and am able to share even more experiences with you. It always fills my heart with joy when I get emails and comments from you. It doesn't matter if it is a critique, a question, or a compliment. All it says to me is that someone is reading, watching, listening somewhere in the world and I have been able to touch someone in some way.

Here is a TED talk by Simon Sinek I stumbled upon which really resonated with me. I hope it inspires you as well.

Warmest wishes,
The Lifestyle Maven