2 Lessons in Business from Montenegro

Spark Me

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In June, I was invited to deliver a keynote speech at one of the best start up conferences I have ever attended. Enter Spark.Me. If you want to learn from a team of hustling, passionate, committed and professional young stars in the Balkans, scope out their website and organizing team for leaders by example.

The point is, I learned a lot. It all started with a visit to Porto Montenegro. As a Canadian with Eastern European roots (Hungarian to be precise), it’s easy for me to think that “we the North Americans are ahead of the curb”. After all, Montenegro has only been independent from Serbia since 2005, Eastern Europe is still arguably emerging from 70 years of communism and dictatorship, and the culture of capitalism is only one generation old. Did I ever learn my lesson. It’s these very sweeping judgements and the arrogance to think that I know better than someone else that leads me to most humbling lessons. Three great lessons in fact.

I went to teach what I knew in Montenegro, to present material from my book. The thing is, I think I learned just as much from Montenegro.Gloria R. McRae

First, Porto Montenegro is a super-yacht marina that attracts travellers and business people from all walks of life. I was there to meet my old friend who manages the PR at Porto, and learn about the amazing community building work done there since its inception in 2007. I was greeted by indescribably beautiful landscapes of a seacoast protected by mountains. As I walked onto the Porto property, the sea breeze, the adorable cafes and the polite greetings of those passing me by sent a rush of familiar joy throughout my body. It was the feeling I always get when I’m on Eastern European soil, something completely visceral and perhaps even baked into my DNA through my ancestry.

I met my friend for a coffee, explained to him my schedule on this trip and agreed to reconnect for dinner to catch up in more detail. As I walked around the Port, and took in the massive development and affordably luxurious lifestyle, I wondered if I was in a bubble. Indeed, Porto is an ecosystem unto itself, but an impressive one at that. This was not the Montenegro I visited last in 2006; the south is gentrifying rapidly and in so many ways is ahead in customer service and impeccable details than what I have grown accustomed to in North America.

#1: Attention to Customer Experience Comes First.

This will surprise and delight your customers. We can all learn a lot from this experience, just as I did. I immediately began brainstorming how I could myself up the impeccability and detail game in my own business, and help my own customers do the same.

Lesson number two came later on in the trip, when I had left Tivat for Budva, a different world from the bubble of Porto. The Spark Me organizers put me up in Hotel Splendid, the alleged hotel that is home to Casino Royal, the inspiration for the last James Bond movie. Only thing is, the scenes in the film were filmed in Czech Republic under the auspices of Montenegro … still the local Montenegrins will be proud to tell you otherwise 🙂 as they should be. The conference was exceptional and I moved on from there to Podgorica to do a workshop for The American Chamber of Commerce in Montenegro.

#2: Cultural Context is More Important than General Knowledge.

Oh boy did I get a healthy reminder of this. I walked into a room of young professionals and graduates to deliver a workshop and totally underestimated the culture context I was in. Sure I’ve lived and worked in this region before, but it’s been a while and I made so many assumptions without cause that I got a nice slap of humble when I was done. I had assumed coming to a region that is extremely strong in coding and web development, that the same would be true for their social media literacy. Not so much. Coming from the “West” to the “East” I was reminded that the legacy of communism and lack of trust in sharing personal information publicly was still strong. And of course that is a key ingredient in why I believe many in the Balkans are behind the social media usage that has exploded in North America. Bottom line: keep cultural context in mind before doing business abroad. Knowledge of a region or of your own subject matter does not trump the importance of the context your audience is coming from.

Still curious? Scope out these two short media interviews I did on the trip.

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