What Can Carnaval Tell Us About Brazilian Business Skills?

In Brazil, each Escola de Samba, or Samba school, works all year long to develop their portion of the Carnaval parade. The people who put together these elaborate affairs are not the wealthy of Brazil. In fact, some of the schools are located in favelas. This portion of the Brazilian population is able to implement productions that put Broadway to shame. Yet, we can’t get a stadium ready to safely hold patrons for the biggest futebol event in the world.

The people who clean houses, service cars and ring up groceries participate in, execute on and somehow fund annual plans for a contest that involves choreography, musical scores, costume design and three dimensional art.

What do we learn about Brazilians business skills looking at carnaval? Brazilians…

1. …are very creative.

From concept to colors, the creativity that goes into these events is remarkable.

2. …can design and execute a one-year plan.

It takes a heck of a lot of planning to pull off this type of production. Plans that must include both short and longer term strategies, as well as action plans with detailed tactics and designated tasks.

3. … can lead the masses.

Somebody at each school has to be directing the process. That means organizing hundreds of people over the course of a year, at various points, to all achieve one objective. That means decisions are being made in advance.

4. … can take direction.

Based on the results, participants are ready and willing to follow orders, orders that have got to be direct and specific.  Not only are they being led, but they are working together. This kind of result doesn’t come from each doing their own individual thing.

5. … have a sense of humor.

União’s put on a gorgeous “Toy Story” themed event full of gigantic, beautiful characters with dancing rubix cubes and dolls, etc. It was a wonderful and exotic display of childhood happiness.

toy story float

Courtesy of Globo.

However, did anyone else catch that there was a huge, knife wielding, Chucky doll on the back of one of the floats?


Courtesy of Globo.

Now that’s funny.

Let’s face it, business leaders and politicians in Brazil most often come from wealthy families. Nepotism runs deep in this country. Everybody who is anybody has got an uncle who can make things happen for them. Yet, what do we learn about Brazilian business skills when we examine the actual business or environment? Brazilians…

1. … struggle with project management.

It’s not that Brazil businesses don’t get things done. They do. But they most often get things don’t at the last minute at twice the cost.

2. … avoid formal and efficient processes and procedures. 

Anyone who has opened a business in Brazil or has tried to implement procedures within a corporation knows what I’m talking about. It can be very difficult to get commitments to move forward in the same direction.

3. … sidestep deadlines and deliverables.

It seems that Brazilian business people always assume your deadline is padded. If that is not the case, then it must be a complete disregard for your deadline – but I choose to believe the former. Again, it is a commitment issue.

So why can’t businesses have the same strategies as the carnaval crowds? Could it be that we have the wrong people running things around here?

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8 Responses to What Can Carnaval Tell Us About Brazilian Business Skills?

  1. jrevpul says:

    Very interesting idea! I really found it intriguing to compare businesses to people and each’s results. I haven’t been in Brasil long enough to really make a comment, but it was a great post.

  2. Dominik says:

    Interesting idea indeed, thanks. But what does “the wrong people” mean to you? Is there no corruption and neptism in the samba schools and if so, how do they keep it out??

  3. sccirihal says:

    Right on the money. I participated this year in the samba parade here in Sao Paulo, and I too am amazed at the capacity of Brazilians to put on such an amazing show (although MY school was shockingly disorganized AND we did poorly). I have learned that Brazilians CAN be on time when they have to be! So the other times, as you say, it is a commitment issue…..

  4. Sean says:

    Organizing a parade has been done successfully before. They know they can do it. And it will be fun, high probability of sex and/or alcohol. A public works project has never been completed in Brazil, however, in anything resembling an organized, successful and (for all but a few) profitable manner. Very low possibility of sex and/or alcohol as well unless you are high up. There really isn’t incentive to do anything well so the country’s expectations (and resulting effort) on the whole are very low.

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