I had lunch with Dominique Gibert earlier this week at one of my favorite Parisian haunts, the Brasserie Lipp, Boulevard Saint-Germain.
Dominique is the founder of Diateino, the French publisher of Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start and Reality Check as well as of Seth Godin’s Tribes, three books that I translated for her. She had asked Guy to help her find the “best translator” for The Art of the Start. Guy having known me for a long time (we co-founded ACIUS – now 4D – in 1987), I was to be the designee. Writing books had been my favorite occupation until I started 4D in France, but sometimes Friendship oblige, and although I had the hectic schedule of running a company in full swing (Brixlogic), I agreed to undertake my first translation as a night-and-week-end activity.
What you “lose in translation” is made up for by what you actually gain: Dominique’s style on the phone (I only met her in person after the book was actually published) was a big part in my decision. She loved the book for the right reasons. She had attended the Stanford Professional Publishing Course and Guy Kawasaki had presented The Art of the Start. Of course, this was a “wow” experience for her, and when I asked her what impressed her the most about Guy, she responded that it was the ability of “a unique personality to deliver a truly universal message.” She was speaking of a dear friend in terms that resonated with me. She was not telling me “Guy is Guy,” a tautological statement that I have sometimes heard from clueless groupies or self-declared thought-leaders. Instead, she was positioning in just a few words Guy’s “competitive advantage” against the dozens of regular Joe’s who go at great lengths to be special and only end up spinning their personal idiosyncrasies. On top of that, I liked the fact that immediately after the speech, she had bought the book, read it and was advocating for its translation for a valid reason. She told me something around the following lines: “I understand English reasonably well. I believe I can say that I understood everything, except, maybe, for a few idioms or jokes here and there, but I also believe that even if many French entrepreneurs understand English, they can’t own the message as well in a foreign language as they would if they could read it in French. There is a difference between ‘understanding’ the words and being able to really ‘feel’ what they mean.” She was so right! We are so accustomed to think that many things are “lost in translation” that we often forget what we may also miss when reading a text in a foreign language: we don’t memorize quite as much or as easily as in our native tongue; it takes us more time to extrapolate from what we read, connect the dots, adapt the message to our daily environment and eventually act upon that message. Yes, understanding a message is one thing, being able to live it is a whole different story.
Entrepreneurship, a business and a cause: Making the decision to acquire the rights of The Art of the Start was an entrepreneurial act in itself. Dominique had been a legal analyst and consultant for twenty years, as well as the CEO of a legal publishing company when she decided to create a company to publish the books that she wanted to read. She already had a few titles in her catalogue, including a bestseller, Les Techniques du Succès (available in China and India), but “it so happened,” she said, “that The Art of the Start was something I needed as an entrepreneur myself. And I couldn’t possibly be the only person with such a need. Sure, there were a lot of books ‘made in France’ about creating a company, but there was nothing, similar to The Art of the Start– or to Reality Check. We have good books here, but somehow the entrepreneurship spirit is often missing or all the reasons why you can be enthusiastic about starting a business seem to be crushed by piles of warnings and explanations about French regulations, and tons academic recommendations.” Guy’s books are straightforward and uplifting. Dominique was well aware that she might face some challenge promoting an American book in a country inclined to wonder if words from the Silicon Valley could truly be heard in Marseille, Lille, Bordeaux or Brest – in short, in a country that invented the word “entrepreneur” in the 18th century, yet also fathered Chauvin, a soldier in the Napoleon’s “Grande Armée,” whose existence is associated to the word “chauvinism.”
Dominique did win her fight and Kawasaki’s books have become the vademecums of thousands and thousands of French entrepreneurs who realize that they have the same dreams and the same needs as any entrepreneur anywhere in the world. Entrepreneurship is Dominique’s cause and helping others her goal – and because of her, I end up looking at translating a few great books as a way to give back to the country where I was born.
If you read French, take a look at Diateino’s interesting catalogue: http://www.diateino.com. If you do not read French, are a francophile or want to make a lovely gift, Diateino published a book in English Say Chic to Say it in French (published in the United States by Simon and Schuster).