I learned to pronounce São Paulo and found it on the map. I got my first passport and packed my blue business suit. I ignored those who said that a woman project manager would be resisted in a Latin American country. Book learned but naïve, I embarked on an adventure that would challenge my assumptions about perfectionism…and many other things!
Ordem e Progresso arches across the Brazilian flag. However, upon arriving, I couldn’t see order or progress at immigration or in the traffic. Most business meetings were chaotic. Simultaneous conversations were common. Talk about yesterday’s soccer goals outweighed talk about tomorrow’s business goals.
The success of our project depended upon the contribution of the Brazilians. I tried in vain to control their discussions and set deadlines. When I saw nothing on paper, panic set in.
When I expressed my frustration to my Brazilian client, my customer assured me that confusion was good. “My men (they were all men) are engaged. You have given them your guidance. Now for question and debate. We do not need a schoolteacher telling us what to do. Just let them work.” My face flushed and I swallowed hard. I was an unwelcome disciplinarian, a schoolmarm instead of a facilitator. I stepped back and crossed my fingers.
Despite my trepidation, the outcome was happy. From the tumultuous discussions came excellent recommendations. Going with the flow was more important that going by the book.
This is one of the many experiences that inspired my novel, Until Brazil. Set in the economic turbulence of the late 80s, the novel portrays a complex country of contradictions. At that time, Brazil had not yet become a star on the world stage. However, those chaotic meetings fostered business success. Messiness, rather than textbook neatness, was the condition for creativity. The openness to diverse ideas and mixing them into an unexpected stew created ownership and excitement.
In Brazil, I learned the limitations of the rigid and predictable methods espoused by my firm in its training manuals. I did not abandon them, but I learned to loosen the reins. I also came to appreciate jogo de cintura. Cintura means waist and jogo means game. Jogo de cintura is the talent of a soccer player to monitor the action, anticipate the competition, control the ball, and out maneuver his opponent.
During my years in Brazil, I never mastered the waist game, but I eased up on being perfect. Meanwhile, Brazil’s shares are rising – in business, in sports, in cultural contributions. If you ask me, jogo de cintura is part of their secret.
© Copyright 2013 by Bethe Lee Moulton