LAMPLAIMAT, July 26 – We’re amazed at how well the first day went. Having finished writing everything and testing it yesterday before class, we’re allowing ourselves a slow day that starts later than our usual 8 a.m. We spend our day finishing the agenda and timing the lesson plan, and we plan to meet this afternoon to discuss lessons from last night and the final plan for tonight.
We take to heart last night’s feedback that the lesson was too simple for some, too abstract for others and cross our fingers that tonight’s session, which incorporates two lessons and an even more interactive game, will cater to a broader range of backgrounds. We also update tonight’s game to reflect outcomes of its test, which indicated that we weren’t giving players enough supplies or sample baskets.
Shortly after the session begins, we’re surprised by a banner our hosts have created and, surreptitiously at first, hung in the room (see the new picture at the header of the page). It formally announces our project and serves as yet another tangible symbol of how our creation, merely thoughts just six months ago, has become something larger than the growing contents of our hard drives.
As the students arrive, they greet us with warm, appreciative smiles. They are more talkative and relaxed than they were yesterday. We also notice that Khun Sombat, whose diversified and very successful farm we visited last week and used to adapt several of our stories, is among our students. We’re honored that someone who is already a success, and from whom we stand to learn plenty, would take time to learn more, and from us.
As the last of the students finally enter, again at about 5:20, Khun Tom begins the session with another ice-breaker, this time a song in which participants fill in details of the chorus with different products that can be made with bamboo. We are even invited, through Anita’s translation, to come up with examples that had not yet been used. Despite the language barrier (we didn’t know the villagers’ previous examples) and cultural distance (using bamboo daily in Palo Alto isn’t exactly commonplace), we pass the villagers’ test (Scott’s example: bamboo forks, Katherine’s: bamboo scaffolding).
Khun Prahat welcomes the group and begins the lessons and stories about marketing and production. The students again listen intently, knowing what format to expect and behaving in a way that suggests that, beyond polite respect, they find real value in the lessons we’ve written. As they discuss the lessons, what each participant did and how it improved business decisions and outcomes, they come up with a list of key points that look very familiar because they strikingly resemble the 4P and 3C frameworks we learned in our Core marketing course. (These frameworks are intended to help guide thinking about key factors in making decisions about any product. The 4Ps: Product, Price, Promotion, Placement in market. The 3C’s: Company, Competition, Customer.) Their shorter version contains Promotion, Product, Customer and Company – more than half of our list despite barely an hour, let alone two years, of business school.
Khun Tom introduces the next simulation. This one involves making and selling a product, bamboo baskets from strips of paper cut to mimic bamboo rods. He enthusiastically divides the group into three teams: one group of five customers who each will assume preferences and a budget, and two teams of five who will interview the customers, decide what to make and make it – all in 15 minutes. The production teams then will try to sell each product to the customers, who may buy the product from whoever met their needs. If the product doesn’t meet a particular customer’s needs, he may refuse to buy anything.
We were careful to introduce the exercise as a way of further understanding the details of lessons about successful production and marketing, not a juvenile arts and crafts project. Just as we did when faced with a similar simulation and explanation during pre-term two years ago, our students jump into the task with great effort, a large dose of creativity and broad smiles. They emerge excited and energized, ready to talk, more than they have been to date, not only about the lesson but about what they’ve learned from it.
One team produces in bulk, creating some 50 baskets cut from the paper bamboo. The other team makes more three-dimensional baskets, and consequently fewer total baskets. Their production styles are different, suggesting they are targeting different customers.
When it comes time to sell, the lessons begin to emerge. Two customers’ basket specifications weren’t met, so only two buy baskets. One team sells raw bamboo rods, but only because it markets them better than the other team does. The teams quickly learn to differentiate themselves, not in their products’ prices, a quick way to eliminate any available profit, but in explaining how their products’ features meet their customers’ needs – exactly the combined lesson in production and marketing we had in mind.
In animated Thai, the villagers discuss what worked and what didn’t – as producers, as marketers and as customers. After 10 minutes, their comments fill a two-by-two matrix that, with a few PowerPoint bells and whistles, could pass for one for which consulting firms have become notorious.
Our students are beaming and excited for more. We are too.
We end the lesson with one last round of Q&A, but this time, the tables are turned – on us. They ask about the weather in California (cooler than here), the cost of a plane ticket to Thailand (more than the average annual wage here), what kind of farming we do at home (a houseplant or two?). They wonder why we smile so much. We are too elated to do anything else.
We beam at the expressions of comprehension and gratitude written on the villagers’ faces and can’t help but reflect on how wonderful it is to watch what we’ve created morph from idea into reality. It’s taken a life of own. And they want more.
The first day was too easy, but they understand easy is where things start. They want the other 12 lessons – the ones we’ve put on hold for now. We have information to create them, but our time here is coming to an end.
We spend the holiday weekend reflecting (including writing this blog) and creating a final presentation and materials for PDA so they have at least these three lessons to integrate into their work. Now that we understand what it takes to adapt a lesson successfully to the environment here, our next major task, after we leave Thailand, is finding a way to complete the remaining 12 lessons. We will need to create lesson plans and make sure the new lessons work equally well. We plan to talk through details with Khun Mechai and the PDA staff at our final presentation and then search for resources to help us complete this project as we resume the other commitments in our lives.