To celebrate the 5th anniversary of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC), The New Global Citizen is publishing a series of pieces about IBM CSC and Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) volunteer consultant Matt Berry, Director of Marketing for IBM Mobile First. As one of the pilot CSC members, Berry transformed both his personal and professional life while on assignment in Tanzania, leading him to his second assignment in Lagos, Nigeria. Below Matt discusses his experience coming back to the United States from on assignment in Nigeria.
Similar to my first trip to Tanzania through IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, and perhaps even more so, I returned from my IBM Smarter Cities Challenge assignment in Nigeria with a deep appreciation for how people from different cultures and mindsets interact, the importance of teaming and leadership, and the ability to solve a very difficult problem with only the resources at hand.
One of the best things I came away with, especially from my time in Tanzania, was a new network of IBM friends. We have all stayed in touch, even five years later. We get together on a video conference twice a year to catch up and share stories. I’ve visited a few of my teammates, and they’ve come to stay with me and my family.
To this very day, I apply many of the lessons I learned during both these assignments to my work, and the skills I developed along the way have definitely helped me advance my career at IBM. I’ve already applied so much of these learnings to my job at IBM and I truly look back at my experience and see it as an intensive global MBA course. That’s how much I was challenged, and that’s how much I got out of it.
I also learned some very basic things that apply to my mobile marketing job. While in a meeting with some local IBM colleagues in Nigeria, someone pulled out 4 mobile phones. The reason? He told me that the network providers aren’t reliable so when one provider goes down (sometimes 24 hours at a time), they pick up their next phone. A light bulb went on over my head—back to the basics, Matt.
At IBM, we’ve been marketing some complex mobile solutions. Little insights like this made me realize that we need to think simpler when marketing in emerging countries like Nigeria. Rather than marketing solutions to build the coolest and newest applications, we need to help the telecommunications providers build and manage reliable networks. The company that can guarantee 24/7 coverage can blow away the competition. Small things like that can have a huge impact.
One of my biggest takeaways from my Lagos assignment that I already apply to my everyday work is the power of combining people with different skills to work on a project. In the past, I would assign a project to the team member who I thought had the most experience with something similar to the task at hand.
I realized, however, it can often be more beneficial to offer those with limited knowledge of the topic or situation an opportunity to solve the problem with their own unique approach. I learned this when the finance person on our team had to create a section of our presentation for the Lagos government. He admitted that he had never done anything like it and wasn’t comfortable. But, he brought a totally fresh perspective to it—something the rest of us would never thought of—and it was great. As a result, I’ve been trying to pair different members of my team on projects to encourage fresh thinking. When you give someone a chance to step out of their daily responsibilities, and provide a new perspective, amazing things can happen.
Both of my assignments to Africa truly changed my mindset and my life. I’ll never look at the world or my work the same way again. I treat people differently, and they respond differently. There are days when I find myself day dreaming about the people I met, the places I’ve seen, and the experiences I’ve had during these two very special assignments.
It’s amazing what can happen in a few weeks in a foreign place, with colleagues you don’t know but come to trust. IBM opens up a world of possibility, empowering its leadership to freely make decisions, try things, fail, try again, and ultimately succeed as a team. It’s an incredible rush.
Matt Berry is the Director of Marketing for IBM MobileFirst. He has worked for IBM for ten years, mostly in media relations and communications. He lives in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, with his wife Monica and two children, Jack and Lyla.