So I am sitting here in a bar in Tokyo. Not just any bar though – the lobbybar on the 41st floor at the Park Hyatt. For those of you that don’t know it, this is the bar used in the movie Lost in Translation. And, just like Bill Murray, I am having a scotch and a cigar (yes - something that is now illegal in most of the US so it is just that much more fun). As a rule, I stay in pretty ordinary hotels but the Park Hyatt is my exception. It is far and away my favorite business hotel in the world. It sits in the middle of Tokyo but has a way of making you feel completely at peace and relaxed.
For those that I have talked to that have seen the movie – there are two reactions. Folks either had a full understanding of the point of the plot or said “I just don’t get it.” I figure the correlation just about coincides with those that travel often globally and those that don’t. The movie is kind of an “inside joke” if you will.
My favorite scene is where Bill Murray is taking direction for a commercial facilitated though a Japanese translator. The director (speaking Japanese) would go on for 30 seconds talking in Japanese and the translator would translate the long oratory to something like “please lift your head up.” Bill becomes obsessed that he is not getting the all of the translation – but the question is – is he getting the key information?
I was here to give the keynote at our customer forum and talk to a number of customers. If you have ever given a speech where there is going to be translation, especially into Japanese, you need to plan. All of those catch phrases, jokes, and many of the analogies have to go. You have to speak slowly (or the translator freaks out), and choose your words carefully (although I don’t think I could cause a diplomatic incident with a mistake here). If you’re not careful, a 30 minute speech can go an hour.
If you fail, your message will get “lost in translation” so to speak. What I find interesting is how much you need to clarify and simply your message and value proposition if you are going to be successful. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. What I have found today after numerous customer meetings and speeches is that, if your message and value proposition to a customer is compelling through translation – then you really have something.
This is a great test of a company’s value proposition. If it gets “lost in translation” and needs too much explanation – then maybe it isn’t really that compelling after all. I am happy to report that, based on the customer response, we passed the translation test.