The Battle Against Perception

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When actress Kerry Washington told Oprah [in a Supersoul Sessions interview] that expectations are disappointments waiting to happen, it initially stomped me. I wasn’t sure if I agreed or disagreed with the perspective, but it sounded like the undertone that often colours our perceptions, about cultures and people, where they come from, how they dress, speak, look etc.

The notion reminded me of a comment a colleague made in the early 2000’s about the Caribbean festival in Vancouver, BC. She said it was “hokey but her family liked to pass through. It was something cultural for the kids.” Her unspoken expectation was that it would be disappointing.

As a Caribbean national, I was embarrassed by the comment. It bordered on patronizing and mockery, but in all truthfulness the substantiating evidence gave me no ammunition to make a defence.

And it’s the way I often feel when we enter discussions about the landscape of Caribbean owned micro enterprises here in Canada.

While some are thriving, the landscape in general is fleeting. Many are here today but gone tomorrow. There’s a perception that we are ‘mom and pop’ enterprises with little finesse and sophistication. Sadly, one time too many, our clients’ experiences don’t do much to alter those perceptions.

I’ve often wondered for example; why do I smell like the fried chicken or curry goat of the day’s menu when I leave most Caribbean restaurants even after just popping in for takeout? Yet I have not had the same long lingering scent of food (even seafood) when I leave other eateries. Why do our events customarily begin long past the officially posted start time? Why do we seem to struggle with consistency in quality? Why is there not more growth and innovation among those longer surviving Caribbean owned small enterprises?

Don’t misunderstand, this is not a rant against our people. These seem to be lingering issues that plague our businesses, tarnish our image and stifle our growth. The answers no doubt are quite complex. There is no one-size-fits-all, but it begs the question, how well are we adapting to our marketplace to put our best foot forward?

The world loves our laidback lifestyle and easy going nature in the Caribbean. That’s when they are on vacation. In fact, of late, more ‘foreigners’ are retiring in the Caribbean to enjoy that enviable lifestyle, but in the North American culture it’s a different ball game. Some things considered exotic and admirable in the native Caribbean environment becomes ‘hokey’ and even substandard in North America.

To thrive in business here, you have to up the ante and condition yourself to your environment. Align with or seek to surpass the established standards for success and professionalism.

We have to determine which aspects of our native Caribbean culture will advance us and work for us here. How will our traditional norms affect our business’ viability, credibility and sustainability? If you wish to remain and grow in business then profits are to reinvest and grow the business, not spend lavishly elsewhere. Think long-term versus ‘eat a food’. Punctuality is akin to integrity. These are some of the mindsets we have to embrace to propel us forward.

We are creative, hardworking people but we’ve also got to work doubly hard on how we portray ourselves to change the negative and often engrained perceptions others have of us.  For perceptions colour expectations that more often than not become additional hurdles or stumbling blocks to our personal and business success. It is the nature of the beast that we deal with.

Before we get offended or defensive, let’s strike back with excellence. Let’s align with or better yet supersede the professional standards of our environment and raise the bar to shatter all inferior expectations of us. Let’s transcend the fleeting existence and ‘mom and pop’ perceptions of our enterprises.


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