Tuesday, 14 December 2010

How many ways can you peel a Banana?

No this blog isn’t a PC version of how many ways can you skin a cat. When I first saw the question “How does a monkey eat a banana?”, I thought it was a joke. But the answer wasn’t because he found it ape-peeling.

What’s more the answer came in a video, the video that’s featured below. After trying the monkey peeling method it got me thinking of a lot of different things.

It is actually easier to peel and the stalk acts like a handle. Equally, you don’t get to chew on the bit on the end that tastes pithy.

What if you just assume you know how to peel a banana and skip the video? One thing I’ve l heard from older business people is that they’ve tried everything once, so it’s not worth trying it again. That might be true to an extent. There are few truly original ideas. However, societies change and opportunities can be missed by not looking at other viewpoints. The hotel that still sends out its direct marketing via the post is adding massively to its costs by not considering electronic messaging and promotion.

The company that ignores social media to connect with its customers can’t engage with them. They then can’t find out what they truly feel towards their products, services and brand.

Learning to eat something like a banana is a meme. We don’t know where we learnt it but it must have been from watching our parents eat bananas. The stalk looks so obviously like a lever that it must be the ring pull of the natural world. Let’s not forget that the fruit was still fairly rare in the UK even up to the 1950s so it is still a relatively new food to these shores.

It’s not just the British. I’ve yet to see any mainstream American or European media featuring upside down banana eating – yet in the countries where bananas are grown, this is not unusual and they’ve developed their own meme for peeling a banana.
There is an assumption that our ‘meme’ is best, that the lessons of our fathers are better than those from other cultures. The problem is that these prejudices are often subconscious and the British way to be understood is to shout louder and more slowly. It is not about understanding the cultural landscape or listening to alternative ways of working.

Take the Greek example. A shake of the head tends to mean yes in that country, and the word Nai means yes. A nod and the word Ochi means no. It is counter intuitive to most of Europe and these differences can lead to mistakes.

In my work life I’ve often had to translate the cultural aspect of a business or news story. Think of a company in the UK that’s made a new product made from recycled plastic. It’s a great selling point on the environmental side of things – right?

Well, it depends where you are selling that item and in which markets. Yes the environment is high on the consumer agenda in most European countries, but is this a key point everywhere in a recession? What about countries where recycled products have an image of inferiority or a potential health risk? The facts may be clear on this area, but a public perception can be damaging even if it is wrong.

We’ve all heard the stories about how American working practices were shoehorned into the UK in the 1960s and 70s or the stories of product names that just don’t translate tastefully.

Another good example of why memes mean different things to different people comes from Andy Green on the Greenblog. His posting pointed out that Cheverolet dislike the term “chevy” to describe their products, despite the shorthand being so common in US culture and beyond. To the company, it cheapens the image of the brand yet they’ve not tried to find a different way for people to associate with the name. The company is trying to raise awareness of their brand in the UK, and I’d have thought people would associate a little more with the term Chevy.

What’s my advice? Try it out for yourself and learn a different way to do something. I’m not talking just about bananas, but the way you do business.

Learning points:

• Remember a meme is just one way to peel a banana.
• Your way may be good, but is there a better way
• Just because you understand something, it doesn’t mean that everyone gets it, or finds it straightforward.

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