Learning from APCAC 2012

Learning from APCAC 2012

“What did you learn or re-learn today?” That’s how Professor Loren I. Moore ended every class. He taught both Oganizational Behavior (0B) and Organization Development (OD) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.  The last five minutes of calls, he’d go around the room calling on every student to contribute a brief answer.  Two semesters.  You knew what was coming. The same question, over and over.  Only the answers changed, and for most of us, they got better.  Some of the best learning I took away was hearing what others had learned.

Ask anyone who attended the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (APCAC) about their experience March 1 and 2, and with very few if any exceptions, you’ll hear that it was great.   Ask what they learned, or  re-learned, and you will learn even more.

“You live, you learn.”

I quote Alanis Morissette at the start of chapter 4 of Get a G.R.I.P., and suggest her video for the chapter’s exercises, for a reason. Watch the video and if you are alive, you will be inspired.  And the video itself is a testament to everyone who worked so hard on making APCAC the success that it was.  Let’s look at a few more of the song’s lyrics and apply them to the conference. My aim is to share with you some of my learning as well as to give those of you who missed the event one more perspective.

“I recommend biting off more than you can chew, to anyone. ”

Lest there be any doubt, APCAC was a full-course event.  Clark Griffith of GE Capital, who, like me, joined the Chamber in 1993, said, “This is not the same Chamber we joined.”  Nine U.S. ambassadors in a third location (not in the U.S nor in their assigned country), sharing the same stage doesn’t happen very often.  It’s a major endeavor.  Nor do you, as a regular ACCJ member get a chance to schedule one-on-one sessions with Senior Commercial officers from over a dozen countries, in one two-day period.  Nor do you get a chance to ask questions directly to the Undersecretary of State, the founder of Rakuten, or a vice chairman of one of the world’s largest and most successful American multinational corporations.  How often to you see the Japanese Prime Minister in person, let alone hear him make a newsworthy statement about an upcoming visit to the USA?  APCAC offered star power.

Sure, over the course of a year, ACCJ membership does afford you that kind of access–but not all at once.  Everyone who attended learned something, and every ACCJ leader will take away something they can use as they go back to “normal” events.

“Wait until the dust settles.”

As I write this, the dust is still swirling from the event, and it may have settled only by the time of publication.  Let me reflect both on the dust as it was swirling as well some of what ACCJ leaders and members can learn from the event itself.

The swirling dust included differing opinions on the role of government in PPS (which are either Public Private Partnerships or Private Public Partnerships, depending on who you speak with).  Many found that discussion fascinating, while one person told me he thought of the Japanese English pronunciation of PPP  (“Three P” can come out sounding like “sleepy”).  Like most panel discussions anywhere at anytime, how much you enjoy it often depends on your area of interest.   Every panel discussion offered something of value to everyone, and the networking that followed the Q & A sessions in such company was truly energizing.

The moderator plays a key part in the success of a panel. We saw competence personified from many (several women played that role with aplomb) as well as one moderator who may have confused “moderate” with “dominate.” A super successful panel discussion depends on three human elements:  the panel, the moderator and the audience. If two of the three are excellent, you’ll get at least a very good session.  That was certainly the case at APCAC.

“You choke, you learn.”

In Morisette’s video, there’s a scene where she enters a gym on borseback. She dismounts a white stallion and saunters up and through a group of tough-looking inner city-type men playing a heated game of basketball.  She takes the ball, eyes the hoop and sinks a swish.

ACCJ President Mike Alfant wanted to visually demonstrate Hillary Clinton’s APEC proclamation that the U.S. is making a pivot in its foreign policy, with the focus now on Asia.  He asked me to toss him a basketball. For the audience, wondering why he was suddenly talking about basketball, it looked like Mike was the typical software geek.  He bobbled away a pass that hit him right in the chest.  After his able demonstration of the pivot, Mike then went off plan and decided to pass the ball back to me.

To my my surprise and horror, Mike sailed his pass a good three feet over my head, and had it not been for David Wouters’ (ACCJ member since 1969!) reaching up and hauling in the errant pass, 50 journalists present would have been scribbling headlines like “ACCJ President Injures 2 Japanese to Open U.S.-Asia Business Summit.”

So what was the learning there?  You might think it was, “No more props,”  You might think “No more off script.”  Or maybe you learned that Mike has never played basketball.  And surely you would think we learned that “You’ve got to practice every part of a presentation.” All those would be incorrect.

First, the facts:  the bright lights shining on the stage meant that Mike (a former competitive basketball player who might have played with some of the guys in Morisette’s video) could not see the ball as it came toward him.   So even if we had practiced, unless we had done so with the stage lights on (rarely a possibility), he was not going to catch that pass.  You plan, you practice, and the only thing you can count on is that something will not go according to your plan.

Practicing the return pass would have made sense though.  Mike would then have been able to compensate for the one meter high stage that, along with the distance, gave Mr. Wouters his chance to save the show.  But think about this:  if he had practiced, surely one of the organizers would have advised against the stunt.   One of the key take-aways from the event, and one of Ambassador Roos’s long-standing aims while here, is to encourage more entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurs takes risks.  They don’t always work out.  “You win, you learn. You lose you learn.  You live, you learn.”

ACCJ Governor Darren McKellin, acting as official scorer, gave Mike two turnovers and credited me with an assist.  At first glance, that seems odd. Because in basketball, you only get an assist if the player you pass to scores. But Darren was right.  Mike may have dropped the ball but scored his point.  The mood was set for an informative and engaging two days.  This was a much more welcoming and interactive ACCJ than the one Clark and I joined almost 20 years ago. Our current ACCJ has something for everyone.

Looking back at all the presentations, all my interactions, my real learning boils down to this:  Real Relationships.

Real Relationships

Many of the speakers referred to the warm relationship between the U.S. and Japan.  One of the best speeches was delivered by Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan’s ambassador to the US. He spoke from the heart, in fluent English, without notes.  I re-learned how much better a speech sounds when delivered as he delivered his.  He spoke authentically about the relationship, echoing and amplifying feelings expressed in the 8-minute video that participants watched on APCAC’s first day.

APCAC 2012 allowed for the creation of new friendships and strengthening of existing friendships. That might sound like a cliché, and again, every ACCJ event  offers that kind of opportunity. But when you blend the organizational skills, participants, speakers and an excellent venue, you get what I believe we all got:  exceptional opportunities to learn.



In Googling Dr. Moore for this article, I learned with sadness that he passed away last November 27.  I also learned that he had dropped out of high school to join the navy and enter WWII; that he had served our country in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam; that he rose through the ranks to become a captain; that he earned three master’s degrees and a doctorate.  Most of my fellow students knew him as “Loren” one of the most personable and accessible professors you could imagine.  With continuing gratitude for all he taught so many of us, I’d like to dedicate this Andrew’s Ax to his memory.