Leadership #5 – How facebook manages multicultural teams

This week we had a lecture from an engineer that works at Facebook, Ming Dung Mi.

He came from Vietnan and explained how it was to leave a country after the war to come to Japan to study.

In his words, it was like advancing 100 years into the future. In japan, he graduated and entered a japanese media company, later leaving for facebook.

He talked about some of the training facebook provides to the new employees and which tools the company uses to manage multicultural teams. Mi said it is important to know your strengths and to share your strength to others so they know how you can help. Also, strengths are not static and you should periodically review them.

One of the most interesting topic was the software tools used by technology companies to manage their team work. In the software, it is possible to see previous projects of your team members, code they wrote and other relevant information. Knowing this information in advance, the team can prepare to deal with the strengths and limitations of each member.

Leadership #3 – Work in group experience

One of the occasions when I was proud to be in a team was when we organized a Festival called Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival) in Brazil.

Every year in São Paulo the Association of Brazilian students in Japan (Associação de ex-bolsistas – Asebex) organizes a course for the the students who are going to come to Japan. The course lasts for about one month and in the course we learn the basic of the language, culture and manners. Many of the students who go to Japan are Nikkei, that is, of Japanese origin, so maybe the main purpose of the course is so that all the students who are going to Japan in that year know each other and connect by the activities. The name of this course is Koshukai and usually 100~150 students join every year.

Usually the the last activity of the Koushokai training is to organize a festival. Because it occured during summer in Brazil. it was called Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival). Usually this Festival is organized so people at Koshukai can work in group and to collect money for the students who are going to Japan. Usually this money is reserved for the students who suffer accidents. For example, once it was used to pay for the expenses of a Brazilian student who was run over by a car. But, if the money is not used after a year, we use it for a trip with everyone in Japan.

However, on that Koshukai, the president of Asebex, Martino Musumeci, told us that in the two previous years the organization of the event caused serious (unfriendly ) disagreements between the students because of the pressure to organize such a big event. This invalidates the main point of Koshukai, which is the students to meet each other. Because of that, Martino asked us if instead of organizing the festival we would not prefer to organize a charity effort to one of the Japanese charities in São Paulo.

  • Ikoi no sono (the garden of rest)
    • In 1911 a Japanese girl with 11 years old from the South of Japan  decided to immigrate alone to Brazil to work and bring money to her father, who went bankrupt. She changed her name to Margarida and started to work and send money to back home. Then, the war emerged and many Japanese were arrested, deported and had their money confiscated. Then, she started to work to help those who had lost everything because of the war and founded Ikoi no sono. With time, the charity started to focus on debilitated elderly people.
  • Kodomo no sono (the garden for children)
    • In the 60’s, a buddhist monk named Ryoshin Hasegawa came to São Paulo to found a temple called Nippakuji. When he met the Nikkei community, he was disheartened at how the children with mental disorders and intelectual limitations were treated and how much the family of these children suffered. Then, in the japanese language school inside the temple, he started to take care of 13 children and founded Kodomo no sono.
  • Kibo no ie (the house of hope)
    • Koko Ichikawa was a nurse who helped her father in a store in a the post-war Japan. Then, in 1954 she got a job to work at an institution in Japan that treated people with intelectual limitations, Fujjikura Gakuen. After four years, she was invited to join the temple Jodo Shinshu in Brazil, where people work working in rehabilitation. But then she was transfered to Nippakuji, where they were building a department for children with intelctual limitations. This would become Kodomo no sono. After four years, Koko decided she wanted to make her own foundation and started to host children at her own house.
At this point I never had heard of these institutions, a fact I regret. But at that moment, when he briefly presented the alternative to the Natsu Matsuri, to my surprise, everyone said they wanted to do both: the Summer festival AND the charity activities. It seemed overwhelming, but I remained silent with my surprise. Martino told us to talk and decide, since his advise was precisely that the organization of the Summer Festival was enough pressure to put people apart instead of bringing them together.

But the opinion of the group was the same, they wanted to do both. Then, the older students of Asebex presented the departments required to organize the event (Finance, entertainment, marketing, etc.) and this year we had the department “Social activities”. I volunteered as the person responsible for this department. But in fact, the groups were small and there were no clear leaders.

We, from the “Social activities” department were responsible for organizing the trip to visit the entities. At this point Martino has already asked the institutions how we could help. Some of them just said the patients would like our visit and company, while others gave very specific directions of what they would like to do and how we could help. So the first dilemma is: if with have limited time and resources, how to choose which one to help?

We decided we would visit all of them and the “Social activities” group organized the visits and entertainment session presentations for the patients of the charities.

It was incredible. On all the visits we were received by the workers and volunteers of the charities and had a day of activities and explanations which I felt were more crafted for our learning than anything else. There are two clear moments that I remember from the visits:

  • The quality of the ceramics at Kodomo no sono
    • One of them was in Kodomo no sono. They showed us their ceramic therapy. This was started when a japanese artist visited the institution and taught the patients how to do ceramics. Then, they received the equipment to ceramic manufacture and started a therapeutic classes to do ceramics. When I saw the ceramics they did, I had no words and I felt mostly anger (for reasons I will explain). I would remember Kodomo no sono many years later when I was in Japan. Here, I visited the capital of ceramics, a city called Mashiko, which has more than 300 potteries and I observed the quality and beauty of the Japanese ceramics. Japan is famous for a style of art  which is called wabi sabi, which is an aesthetics based in intransience and imperfection. In wabi sabi ceramics, for example, the objects are not made to be perfect and they are all different from each other. And, despite looking easy, when I visited Mashiko I was told that when they learn to make ceramics, it takes 3 years only to learn how to prepare the clay, before even starting to model it. When I was in Mashiko, I remember of Kodomo no sono because the most precious pieces of wabi sabi ceramics with extravagant prices were only to match the ones I had seen at Kodomo no sono. The Kodomo no sono ceramics were in their essence wabi sabi. And even when I saw the Kodomo no sono ceramics at the first time I had a sentiment of how unfair it was that they were sold below the market price and that not many people had seen them. And even today I didn’t find pictures in the internet to put here. I believe that is because the ceramics are only produced during their therapeutic sessions, so there are not so many of them.
  • The Margarida museum at Ikoi no sono
    • At Ikoi no sono we had to give a walk with the patients pushing their wheelchairs around the place. When it ended, we had some time. There was this place they didn’t show to us which was a room with memories and pictures of Margarida. I was impressed on how brave and determined she was from such a young age.
So, the visits were successful, but they were not to that hard to organize and we still didn’t translate that into any actual benefit for the institutions.

Then, we decided that in the event, we would do a bingo game and reserve part of the money to the charities and split it equally so they could decide how to use it. Also, we would reserve spaces in the event so that the institutions could sell things if they wanted.

On the day of the event, we all cleaned, cooked, entertained and a few hundred people came to our event. After all the work to organize it, it was a huge success. And we didn’t fight with each other. We got more money than we expected and we could contribute to the charities. We also showed a video of our visited to the charities and explained bout our visits.

One thing that saddened me is that the charities that brought things to sell brought mostly handcraft from the patients and it didn’t sell. Ikoi no sono also brought the ceramics to sell, all the way from their workshop, but it almost didn’t sell also. I bought a cup that I gave to my mother.

Leadership #4 – Unconscious bias

Ways that unconscious and hidden bias / stereotypes impact my behavior as a student

The problem with stereotypes is that they are a weird mixture of information we collect and select without being entirely aware. Also, for the stereotypes it is essential to be a concept of “me” and “the others”.

As a student in an university that is becoming increasingly more international, I believe most stereotypes that have an impact on my life are based on nationality, which is assumed by appearance.

It is hard to pinpoint how these stereotypes affect our lives, since we can only identify those are stereotypes after being confronted by information that shows our thoughts and actions were influences by stereotypes.

For me, stereotypes are models we make in our had based on the attributes of certain characteristics to groups. I believe one of the big problems of stereotypes is that these groups are incredibly flexible and sometimes another person is part of a group identify as mine or as a distinct group. For example, in south america Argentinians and Brazilians have an amicable tension based on competition, but in a foreign country it is likely they will realize they are very similar in a broader context.

Because it is easy to confuse stereotypes, it is hard to tell to which extent our stereotypes affect our lives. It gets worse when we reinforce stereotypes with personal experiences, making it harder for us to really know and understand the person of thing that fits the stereotype we carry.

I think that the stereotype that has been affecting me the most is to try to engage only with people who I believe will understand my western cultural background and who will have no language barriers to speak with me. In this case, this has caused me to try harder to communicate with people and I believe there is a lot I might have missed because of this.

Should I join a hiking club in Japan?

For example, I like hiking and there is a hiking club in Tokyo Tech. For my cultural background, a club should be a fun activity that you are free to join when you have interest and that there should not be a strong compromise. However, I have the stereotype that clubs in the universities in Japan are very strict and that once you join the club you can not miss the meeting and activities. I actually do not know if this is particularly true for the hiking club in Tokyo Tech, but it was strong enough so that I didn’t go to the club members directly and ask.

Leadership #2 – My best leadership experience – USP|Debate

 How eight students brought politicians to debate in a country divided by politics

When I was in my undergrad, I was a student at the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil. At that time, the  great political polarization that there is in the country now (as of 2018) was begging to get worse and that could be seen outside and inside the university. It was hard to find a group where discussion was evidence based and I realized that we, students of the best university in the country, were not prepared to discuss politics and were not aware of the extent of the consequences of the political polarization.

I remember one friend telling me she was walking on the street and she was pushed and spat on because she was wearing a pin of one of the country 35 political parties, mostly divided between left and right. I also watched some discussions of the students about different topics. The discussions lasted up to 7 hours and only the people who stayed until the end could vote. Usually, the discussions were not structured and the diversity of opinion was low. Good ideas usually were not expressed well and were lost, and bad ideas that could capture the mood of the crowd would be carried on. On the other hand, official elections for student representation had low attendance and there was not such a thing as an unison student voice. This was also because of the sheer size of the university, which has more than 94.000 students as of 2018.

And even though I was dissatisfied, I realized that I didn’t have enough information to make decisions about important things that were happening at the university and at the country.  This was extremely worrying, and I saw the others students also lacked a north. Not a political opinion, but a method to gather information from different sources, analyze them and take decisions with sureness enough to question their peers and themselves.

Then, I met a group which was trying to begin a debate group in the university.

In Europe and the USA, these groups are common, but in Brazil they were unknown.  The founder of the group at the university was Henrique Vitta, who had met debate groups from other universities that were recently created. Vitta was an undergrad from Accounting and he had been the president of FEA Junior, one of the few companies in Brazil ran by undergrads that has a yearly profit of more than R$1 mi. The idea of introducing debates in Brazilian universities was originated from the Law school of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and was coordinated by Renato Ribeiro.

In the begging, the debate group at the university was small, many people would come from one of the meetings that interested them but then would not return to the other meetings. Because we were not an official group from the university, we had to pay all of the expenses with our own money, like printing and travelling, and had to do meetings at open spaces, because we couldn’t have a room at the university. A philosophy professor,  Prof. Cícero de Araújo helped us to deal with formalities, so we became an official project of the university. This made it easier to use rooms in the campus, but our resources were still extremely limited.

Resultado de imagem para fau usp

The Faculty of Architecture of the University of São Paulo, where USP|Debate started the meetings. We could not reserve rooms of the university, so we used the open space of the building. The place was open and busy, so the meetings were often disrupted.

For more than a year, we tried to gather more and more people, going to the classrooms and inviting the new students. But they had never heard of competitive debate and this made it much harder. Competitive debate is nonexistent at the schools and it is perceived as a bad thing because of the way debate is carried on by the politics, which is shown at television. Also, we followed a model of debate in which people are stimulated to exercise defending an opinion opposite from what they believe. And this is such a discomfort that most people would be reluctant to try. When I went to the classrooms, people whispered: “God forbid someone hear me defending the policitian XXX” or “How can they decide who wins the debate. It is always subjective!”.

When this kind of thing happened, I tried to explain that we don’t defend ideas that go against ethical principles, and that we only discuss ideas that have reasonable pros and cons and that there are objective ways to judge the quality of a debate. Anyway, we had to fight against the standard the politicians had set of what debate was. This nonsensical standard had direct effects in our lives and at the decisions made at the university. When terrible decisions were made by politicians, people didn’t realize that rejecting a proposal is not enough, but it was necessary to reject a method of thinking to be able to navigate a scenario as complex as the one we were living.

Resultado de imagem para biblioteca brasiliana

After the Faculty of Architecture, the meetings of USP|Debate were hosted by a new building at the campus, the Biblioteca Brasiliana Guita e José Mindlin. Bianca Checon managed to get a room reserved for us in the underground. The building was well equipped and we found a perfect place for our meetings. But people were still not coming.

After the Faculty of Architecture, the meetings of USP|Debate were hosted by a new building at the campus, the Biblioteca Brasiliana Guita e José Mindlin. Bianca Checon managed to get a room reserved for us in the underground. The building was well equipped and we found a perfect place for our meetings. But people were still not coming.

With the years passing, our group was becoming smaller and smaller. We had good people coming, like Bianca Checon, a PhD student that in the future would be the new president of the USP|Debate. Bianca would always bring so much information to the meetings and later she helped Henrique to get a perfect place for our meetings, a room in the new library in the campus, one of the most beautiful and most coveted places to be.

However, before that, there was a feud between the 3 founders of the group.

The main cause of the failure was the stark disappointment: yet so much work was done to promote the group, so few people were coming and staying. After all, the university had 94.000 students and the country obviously needed what we were doing, so where did we fail in bringing people? Accusations began and the founders of USP|Debate split into two.

Henrique Vitta continued to lead one of the groups, but for a long time the project seemed faded to failure. We not only had two groups, but we had two groups that were competing to be called USP|Debate.  As time passed, one of the groups faded and USP|Debate restarted with new people, but we had lost almost all progress we had made up to this point, since many people left because of the conflict rid environment at that time. I remember sometimes we had meetings with 2 or 3 people, but I always considered that as a study session, so I remained, despite being dissapointed of what could have been.  With more divulgation work, we gathered a core of 8 people that always came to the meetings: Henrique Vitta, Bianca Checon, Felipe Bragança, Lucas Silva, Bruno Fochesato, Renato Bispo,  Gabriel Vieira and I (Marcos Masukawa).

One day, out of the blue, Henrique Vitta proposed that we make a debate with the candidates to mayor of São Paulo, the largest city of Latin America.

The idea seemed absurd, we couldn’t even bring students to come to our group! How could we bring candidates that were some of the most important politicians in the country in a time when they are the busiest doing their campaign? Besides, Henrique Vitta, who was leading USP|Debate until this point had to leave for work to the other side of the country. It would be only 7 of us. Still, we believed in the idea, or like a member would say later, “we pretended we believed”. Henrique convinced us by saying: If it failed, it failed, but if it worked it would be a way to get the eyes of the university Dean, so we could get a good space for our meetings, maybe a some money for travelling to compete. And, most importantly, show that the politicians could also have a productive debate if we had set an environment for the conversation.

Bianca Checon and I were the only “original” members of the group. Before Vitta left, the three of us decided that Bianca should be the president of the group and this was the right decision. With the new members, we decided we would call our debate with the candidates “Jornada eleitoral (Electoral journey)”. But the event still seemed completely unfeasible. Then, we had the idea to try a partnership with the university radio, Radio USP.  That way, we could use the fact that Radio USP was an official Institution of the University and could make reservation of spaces, besides, the audio of the debate with the candidates could be professionally recorded and broadcasted, making it more attractive for the candidates to come.

Prof. Cícero helped us to get the meeting with Radio USP. After the meeting, it was decided they would ask the university lawyers if we were doing something legal. We didn’t think about that, but in Brazil the laws about election campaign are extremely rigid and it is illegal to do campaign too early before the elections.

The lawyers told us that what we wanted was possible with a condition.

Our original plan was to bring 4 or 5 candidates for a debate similar to the television, but this was not allowed because it would mean we were using the public resources to favor some of the candidates. But the lawyers also said that if we invited all the candidates it would not be a problem. However, this meant we had to invent a completely new debate format. A debate with such a large number of candidates had never been done in television or radio. And we had to do it in a fair way according to the law… or risk being sued. Then, we decided we would do it. And rushed to a marathon to call all the 11 candidates.

This marathon would last for 2 months. We started calling the candidates and we were mostly ignored at first. Bruno Fochesato , Lucas Silva and Bianca Checon were responsible for calling the Personal Relation (PR) groups of the candidates. The work was exhaustive and they had to make calls and send emails for months without stop until hours before the actual day, so that the largest number of candidates could come. According to the law, if the candidate declined we could still hold the event, but we needed an official document to prove that the candidate was not willing to come and that was also hard to get.

Because of Radio USP, we could reserve the largest and most beautiful auditorium of the University, the  Center for International Diffusion. But that was just one part of the challenge. In the months before the event, we designed flyers, posters, we sent emails, made phone calls, glue posters throughout the campus, planned every step of the big day of the debate in a format that was never ever done in TV or Radio. We were definitely overwhelmed, not to forget we were still students and we had to attend classes and take tests in the meanwhile.

For me, a large part of my hardship came from what should be a simple role. I had to get the coffee break for the candidates. I called about 50 companies that could give us the coffee break for free, because we had no money. However, at this time, the economic crisis was already at a very bad point and I had to hear a NO from all the companies I called and visited. That was frustrating. To worsen our stress,  we also found out that Radio USP was using the name that we created for our event – Jornada eleitoral (Electoral journey) – to other events they were organizing based on our event without consulting us! Our blood boiled a little when credit was due. Still, we had to communicate our discomfort without putting in risk the whole partnership and chose to do it after the event. Afterall, it was only possible because of Radio USP and we were very thankful.

The last preparations for the debate of the candidates to São Paulo city elections.

Would anyone come?

We never in a thousand years thought this would happen because the candidates were very well known and because the week before there was one event at the university with one of the candidates that had thousands of people. Also, we did hundreds of posters and flyers and glued them in all institutes of the campus.

Bruno and I took flyers and went to the cafeteria because that is where we hoped to find more people. We gave flyers and screamed (literally) about the event until we had to go back because the event was about to start.

People arriving to the debate. Picture: Cecília Bastos/USP Imagens.

Then, the event happened.

It was perfect.

Probably not perfect, but I don’t remember of any major failure. We were worried some of the candidates would use harsh words or that the question of the students would be impolite but it didn’t happen. I think that because we treated everyone so fairly, the small and big politicians alike, and made clear again and again that it was a fair game, that everyone was thankful and respectful. The university dean also came with a last minute confirmation and made a speech. At the end of each talk, the candidates received an acrylic paperweight of the USP|Debate that I had handcrafted one by one in the previous night. Then, the event ended and we felt a sense of relief that was unmatched to any other. We were extremely proud.

We had spent our own money in the event and we have done something that would have taken a full company and probably thousands of dollars to do it. And only 8 people did it.  I am still amazed of how we were able to bring the candidates together at this gorgeous building and to broadcast it for the whole state. Yet, we had no money to serve a coffee to the mayor of São Paulo. PS: he was a candidate for a second term and came to the event. PPS: He did ask for a coffee.

The group from USP|Debate that organized the Electoral Journey. Felipe, Gabriel, I, Bianca, Lucas, Renato, Bruno from left to right. Henrique is not in the picture. Picture: Cecília Bastos/USP Imagens

The autograph of the candidates that came to the Debate.

Some days after the high had passed, we realized there was still so much to do. The event didn’t mean USP|Debate would be successful from one day to the other and at the time we were so exhausted by the event that we didn’t use all the lever we had access right after the event. I had to leave Brazil and soon other members were leaving and new ones were coming. USP|Debate still had a lot of work to do to become a household name at the university, but I had the feeling we redefined what a debate group can do. USP|Debate is still smaller than other debates groups in Brazil, but now it has gained new vitality and it is being coordinated by Kleber Henriques.

I hope that in the future debate will be a common activity in the schools and universities in Brazil. And I still hope that USP|Debate  can organize an election event again to show that – even – the politicians can be brought together and find common ground.

Things we did right at first try

  • Make a partnership with established institutions from the university, the USP Radio and USP newspaper that could provide us legal and institutional support
  • Establish a friendly contact with the PR of the politicians
  • Establish strict deadlines and goal oriented meetings
  • Make a consistent visual identity for the event (posters, flyers, backdrops, souvenirs) and make sure our brand USP|Debate is visible
  • Organize the event with ultra-low cost limitations

Things we should improve for a next event

  • Guarantee financial support from the university on an early stage based on the previous successful event
  • Use other approaches of marketing so more people attend the event and that it is reported in other media, not only the radio and newspaper from the university
  • During the event, use any lever possible (without being importunate or persistent) with the dean and other people from the university to secure more resources and space for the USP|Debate project and for the next events


USP|Debate website

Links about the event (Portuguese)

Interviews with the candidates (Youtube)


Leadership #1 – Photo collage – ‘Soft leadership’

This post is an exercise for the Global Leadership practice 

Five pictures that capture leadership practices

When looking for examples of leadership, it is common to look for historical figures of political or military importance. But I  was wary of the fact that those  who have set strong policies and made a dent in history did so because of the magnitude of their disruption and because the consequences – often unplanned –  came to have a positive light in the after event. For example, when Paris was reformed by Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the XIX century, thousands of families and businesses were moved for the construction of new boulevards. The disruption had a positive perduring effect but the unilateral decision to reform a major city today in the same way could be seen as a bad leadership practice.

So, it is a requirement to put leaders as people of their time. That way, we can at least  be partially satisfied to deal with inconsistencies when praising leadership actions, that is, praising a leader for a certain decision and disproving the next for similar decisions at another date. That also happens when leaders of their time were found to be racist, homophobic or to support ideas that make less sense today. Therefore, to study leadership practices, in my opinion, it is necessary to examine specific action of the leaders, instead a praise for their personality.

Another neglected aspect of leadership practices is to admire how much work and effort is needed to carry smooth transitions and reforms. We are seriously biased towards the great events that cause change abrupt change and confrontation, those which are depicted in paintings and highlighted at biographys. But, because of this bias, we loose a large number of references of leaders that made their way to their goals with less friction. So, in this post, l tried to capture some of the leaders that had great impact with calculated disruption. This is a list to address  largely neglected acts of leadership.

To make this list, I came with my definition for five aspects of leadership first . Then, I thought of a leader that represented it and tried to see what they had done that caused me to think they represent this leadership aspect. I did so to avoid a cult of personality and so we can truly learn with their examples. Because this soft leadership has less historical record, these figures are from contemporary history, but I wish historians could collect more examples of soft leadership that spanned back in time.

Model the way

Someone who can gather information, define a guideline and implement it.

Linus Torvalds

Image result for linus torvalds linux

Linus was the creator os Linux, an open source operation system used in computers and servers worldwide.

Linus Torvalds created the basic code for the operation system Linux. The creation of an operation system, which is an impossible task by an individual, could only be achieved  because of management of open source software that could be developed by individuals and by enterprises at the same time.

Inspire a shared vision

Someone who has a plan and can describe it clearly so the end goal is distant enough from the problem presented but yet is doesn’t look utopic and unreachable.

Allain the botton
Image result for alain de botton school of life

Allain de Botton makes a speech at Sidney.

Why: Alain is a philoshopher that makes youtube videos on his channel School of Life about philosophy, sociology, pop cultures and other topics. He uses all the sources of human knowledge to produce  extremely practical content and explores the current resources in technology and media  to reach people.

Challenge the process

Someone that can keep a rebel at heart and have the patience to learn the processes to disrupt it from inside.

Pope Fransisco

Image result for pope francis throne

Pope Fransisco respects the traditions of the church while keeping his ascetic style.

Why: Fransisco brought simplicity and humility to the Vatican and within a few years changed the perception of the catholic church. So far he has gained enough support from within the church to tackle tabu problems such as pedophilia and corruption at the higher ranks of the church.

Enable others to act

Set the environment so people can feel their opinions count and their actions have actual effects on a larger picture.

Peter Drucker

Image result for peter drucker

Peter Drucker helped the leader of Japanese companies to rebuild the country after the war.

Why: Peter Drucker was a manager consultant that wrote a about the human aspect of business. He wrote a book called Managing oneself, which is one of the greatest discussions about how to manage knowledge and to understand  ambitions and abilities of oneself.

Encourage the heart

Someone that can cultivate and channel non-destructive human feelings to a common project.

Oprah Winfrey

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Oprah Winfrey open her leadership academy for girls in South Africa.

Why: Oprah Winfrey is best known for hosting her talk show until 2011. During the show, she brought to the television problems that resonated with the whole country and discussed them in an open and empathetic manner.