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Letters from Vietnam (10): A lesson from the orphanage

Dr. Thomas Rose visits an orphanage in Kon Tum, Vietnam

Letters from Vietnam – Part 10

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

And here is my final Letter from Vietnam, which I am actually writing while having a stop-over in buzzing Bangkok. But the thoughts I want to share with you still originate from Vietnam. All happened in a town called Kon Tum, where I visited an orphanage.

The orphanage is home to about 200 children. Not all are actual orphans, some have been placed here by families who are not able to support them. Some families are too poor to shelter and feed an additional child, some families are in severe trouble because of drug and alcohol abuse.

As I was walking through the individual rooms I was several times “raided” by kids who were looking for some attention. Many of them liked to cuddle, which is nice but not unproblematic at the same time. We have to be very aware of the emotional impact on the children if these kind of encounters become the typical interaction with foreigners.

When I was hanging around there with kids sticking to my legs like wax it slowly dawned upon me that many of these children must have experienced a significant amount of misuse. And I was not even thinking of the most horrific kind of abuse – you can imagine what I am talking about – no, I was thinking about a specific kind of abuse that happens even in the best families and that is much more subtle to detect than the horror behind closed doors.

The number one kind of child abuse is denying them a healthy environment. In my opinion a healthy environment has three crucial ingredients. Stick with me for a while and you’ll see what these ingredients have to do with your business. The ingredients are:

  1. safety
  2. value
  3. predictability

Let’s have a look at each of them.


A safe environment means that you can always go home and independent of what you have done you will not have to fear any harm. Even if you have done something stupid you can go home and you can be sure that you will not suffer any punishment or damage. There might be some disciplinary consequences like a temporary withdrawal of some privileges but you can be sure that nothing will happen that you have to be afraid of.


A valuing environment means that you and your thoughts are always taken seriously. Nobody will ever make fun of you because you opened your mouth or come up with a new idea. People will laugh with you but never laugh at you. If at all they will smile at you and carefully listen to what you want to say. Your ideas and actions will be esteemed and the worst that will happen to you is the question: “Who sold you on that plan?”


A predictable environment is a place where you know what to expect. No (unpleasant) surprises. I wrote about predictability in my third Letter from Vietnam. It explains that under certain conditions it is crucial to be predictable. And if you buy that idea you will understand the value of a predictable environment. It means that you find shelter when you come back and you’ll never have to ask yourself: “I wonder what will happen…”

Lesson learnt

Since we have to be the change we’d like to see in this world it is our duty to create environments that are safe, valuing, and predictable.

  • We want to be a safe place for others to pitch camp. This will create an attractive force field around us both for our children and our customers. Always be a soft landing place for others who are reaching for your help or advise.
  • We will value the ideas of others without pre-judgement. When somebody says or does something that is not compliant with our personal philosophy we will actively listen and observe and not jump to conclusions immediately. Too often we judge something to be wrong only because it is different than the way we think or act. The world is a diverse place and only because somebody else is taking another road like you it doesn’t automatically mean they are lost. As Stephen R. Covey in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote: “First seek to understand, and then to be understood.”
  • And finally we will make sure that people know what to expect when they approach us. When somebody asks you to do something and you accept the task you will never want them to worry whether they can rely on your promise. Imagine and create a clear picture of the person you want to be and radiate it into this world. The only surprise we impose on others is to under-promise and over-deliver.

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

Every person in a corporation is responsible for creating a healthy work environment. It doesn’t matter whether you are flipping burgers, answering the phone or make million dollar decisions from your corner office. Each of us is responsible to create a place where both customers and employees are happy to be. Here are a few final thoughts.

  • Create safety by encouraging your staff to make errors. Though be very proactive when it comes to mistakes. Make sure that your staff can approach you without fear when they’ve done something that didn’t work out. Failure is a necessary part of growth. If people are too afraid to make mistakes chances are that they will try to sweep their mistakes under the rug. If so, mistakes quickly develop into damages. It is your responsibility to avoid that by creating a safe environment.
  • Value and appreciate achievements always. Let other people know when somebody did something extraordinaire and encourage others to do the very same. Too many of us are trying to catch others with their pants down. To few are willing to publicly praise a good performance of somebody else. If you don’t create a valuing and appreciative environment your employees (and your customers) might be willing to find it somewhere else.
  • Finally make sure that people know what to expect when they call you or enter your office. Always show one and the same face to all. You don’t have to be available at all times but when somebody is asking for your help, advise or support always make sure that they didn’t come in vain. It’s all up to you: If you want to be a jerk, act like a jerk. If you want to be a paragon, act like a paragon.

And now go and BE the change you want to see in this world. For the children of Kon Tum I wish that they will soon enter a better place.

Children from the orphanage in Kon Tum, Vietnam

Children from the orphanage in Kon Tum, Vietnam

It was my pleasure to share with you some of my thoughts that were inspired by my trip through Vietnam with you, most valued reader. I thank all who replied and wrote personal notes to me. You kept me going and I am very much looking forward to meeting you face-to-face in due course.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

Letters from Vietnam (9): Be a “WOW” person

Junk Boat in Halong Bay

Letters from Vietnam – Part 9

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

As my trip through Vietnam draws to an end now I have still two ideas I want to share with you here – and many more once we meet face-to-face again in due course. This post is about “How to be a ‘WOW’ person” and I would very much like you to apply the lesson learnt to your business.

I am just back from a boat trip in Halong Bay followed by a few days of mountain trekking through the North of Vietnam. If I had to describe my experiences with just one word it would be “WOW”! I’ve seen a world of wonders and I feel deeply grateful for all the beauty that crossed my way.

However, such trips are not hassle-free. There are delays, traffic jams, street hawkers, scams, power cuts, dirt, air pollution and too much litter lying around everywhere. And if you invest a bit of effort and hike to a local village off the beaten tracks you can have a glimps of an understanding what it means to feed and shelter a family with just two or three dollars of income per day. Not everything I saw is for the faint-hearted. But still, wherever I went there was beauty.

Interesting enough not everybody sees that beauty. I shared experiences with co-travelers and although we were in the same place at the same time the descriptions and reflections on what we saw couldn’t have been more diverse. Let me give you just one example.

There is beauty everywhere – If you decide so

I stayed overnight on a junk boat in Halong Bay. The cabins on the boat were surprisingly comfy but the main lights under the ceiling did not shine very brightly. There where two married couples with whom I had dinner after we had taken over our cabins. One couple agreed on the “fact” that the light in the cabins was rather dull. The other couple added with a smile that they think the light was pretty romantic. I am sure that you have experienced something similar as well: Two people (or couples) meet one setting and one says “It’s awful!” while the other one says “It’s awesome!” To no surprise it turned out during the evening that the first couple was rather dull, while the second couple was pretty romantic. Realisations like this always make my day because they manifest one of my core convictions: The recognition of our environment is a mere reflection of what we are insight. If we look at the world through dull goggles we see a dull world. If we look through romantic goggles we see a romantic world. And it is us and only us who select our goggles.

In conclusion, on this trip not everybody was as “wowed” as I was. This is probably because I am convinced that I am a “WOW” person. I assume that the word that springs to mind when those other people think of themselves is not necessarily “WOW”. Guess who’s having a better time? And what do you think of yourself when you think of yourself?

Are you a “WOW” person?

Do you think “WOW” when your name comes up?

Lesson learnt

The outer world has nothing to do with our inner feelings. People who blame others to make them feel miserable only lie to themselves. They hand over the responsibility of their own life’s quality to other people. They stop being in charge, they refuse to control their lives, and ultimately they see themselves as victims. It is important to understand that this is a choice. People chose to hand over the quality and outcome of their lives to others who very often couldn’t care less.

I implore you: Don’t chose to be a victim. Instead be the “WOW” person. Be the “WOW” person that others want to hire or want to do business with. It’s a choice. Always chose “WOW”.

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

There is a very easy way to be the “WOW” person everybody is looking for.

Always under-promise and over-deliver.

The unions would argue over that, wouldn’t they? But guess who has more happy clients, returning customers, loyal employees, or promoting bosses? The one who says: “Sorry, it’s 5PM. I have to head home to watch American Idol!” or the one who says: “If you have a problem, hand it over to me. I will take care of it. And I will not only do my job. When you receive the solution by me you will not only be content with my delivery, you will say ‘WOW! – that’s far more and way better than I was hoping for.’ Because I have decided to be a ‘WOW’ person.”

And now go back to your business and WOW somebody. Is your boss expecting that report tomorrow? Try to hand it in today. Do you have to make ten calls today? Stretch a little bit and make eleven. Don’t be afraid that your boss (or your clients) will put pressure on you and expect even more of you tomorrow. If you are a “WOW” person you’ll soon have “WOW” clients, “WOW” colleagues, and even a “WOW” boss.

Because only “WOW” people understand the true meaning of win-win situations.

And now go, and “WOW” somebody.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

Letters from Vietnam (8): Stay away from the elephants

Stay away from the elephants (if you are not stronger than they are)

Letters from Vietnam – Part 8

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

Are you stronger than an elephant? Or stronger than a heavy truck? If not I suggest you follow the Vietnamese philosophy of easy traffic.

A common occurrence on an ordinary day

An old woman uses a crosswalk in order to get from one side of the road to the other. Before she has even set one foot on the zebra crossing a 30 ton heavy truck breaks and comes to halt in a safe distance. From the other direction a bus had approached and this bus comes to a standstill, too, so the old lady can now safely cross the road. The truck is laden with groceries that are urgently expected in a supermarket a few kilometres away. The bus is full with people who are on the way to their next appointments. Behind the truck as well as behind the bus all traffic comes to halt. Dozens of vehicles and people freeze in order to let one little lady cross a street. The vehicles and the cargo must be worth millions and the time is ticking away for all the busy people.

All for one little lady.

Have a guess in what country such scenarios usually happen. Here’s a hint: It is NOT Vietnam. This description sounds rather like what we experience in the Western world – in the so called civilised or developed countries. In my homeland, which is Germany, you can observe scenarios like that everyday and everywhere.

With which single word would you describe the above scenario? In Germany we call it “Rücksichtnahme” which in English (according to my favourite online dictionary translates to consideration, thoughtfulness, attention or considerateness.

I think all these translations don’t hit the bull’s eye and are somehow misleading. Keep on reading and I’ll tell you why.

To my opinion, what really happens here is that the drivers are taking care or looking after someone who is smaller or weaker than they are. That is a beautiful task to do. For the kids among you: In the hilarious movie Hook this thought has been augustly uttered by Peter Banning when he took out his sword and tried to figure out who would be the new Pan:

Now I want you to take care of everything that’s smaller than you.

To me, this is one of the noblest things one can do. In my list of values looking after the small has a high ranking in priority.

And now let us take a leap to Vietnam

Crossing a street in Vietnam is an adventure for the timid and a piece of cake for the brave. If you want to cross a street in Vietnam and keep standing at the sidewalk waiting for the traffic to come to halt you will die. Literally! I mean it. You will die. One day you will die of starvation. Because nobody will stop for you to cross the road except if you are willing to boldly take action. Not even traffic lights will guarantee that the traffic comes to halt for you.

And as every journey starts with the first step crossing a street in Vietnam is no difference. You start crossing a street by setting foot on the very same. Then slowly but continuously move forward – in short, be predictable. And as by a miracle the traffic will flow around you. Lots of honking still, but not the slightest physical encounter with the millions of motorbikes dashing along.

Does this mean that “Rücksichtnahme” is not a virtue in Vietnam? I wouldn’t say so. In fact, Vietnamese people are very considerate and caring, helpful and generous. But when it comes to traffic “Rücksichtnahme” simply doesn’t rank high in the commuters’ list of priorities.

And here is the difference between German and Vietnamese traffic philosophy.

In Germany we care for the weaker. In Vietnam they beware of the stronger.

Personally I would still rank the German way higher than the Vietnamese way – but that is just me. If I tell Vietnamese people about this thought – especially when it comes to traffic – they usually shake their head and reply that the German behaviour doesn’t make sense, it is inacceptable and causes too much of trouble. “Nobody would ever get to work on time!”

Staying away from the stronger is a good way to stay out of uncontrollable trouble. And interestingly you do this by applying consideration, thoughtfulness, attention and considerateness.

Does this ring a bell?

Truck on muddy Ho Chi Minh Trail

A safe distance from the bigger ones is a good idea to stay out of uncontrollable trouble when riding along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Lesson learnt

It doesn’t matter whether you are timid or brave. You need to pay attention and be considerate in both ways of life.

Here’s a tip for the timid: Get rid of your timidity without losing your softness. Timidity gets you nowhere. And for the brave: Always be considerate when you take these bold steps in your life. A bold elephant can easily crash a mouse, even if it didn’t mean to.

And just before I enter my flight from Da Nang to the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, let me give you the …

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

Firstly, understand the difference between controllable and uncontrollable trouble. I’ve written about the joy of finding controllable trouble in my last post. Uncontrollable trouble is something you want to avoid.

Secondly, make it a virtue for your business always to look after someone who is smaller than you. You can only win. At the same time stay away from the elephants (as beautiful as they are).

It is a wonderful thing when you look after someone weaker or smaller than you. But never blindly expect this behaviour from the people around you. Some are so obsessed with their way that they have only little understanding for the agenda of other people.

In short:

If you want to dance with an elephant, expect it to lead.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

Letters from Vietnam (7): When I travel…

Rice Cutting in the Central Highlands of Vietnam

Letters from Vietnam – Part 7

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

Travel teaches toleration

Somebody once said “Life is a book. And if you don’t travel you only read one page.”

This is wonderfully true.

Travelling is not about getting from point A to point B. It is about being on the way. It is about sucking the marrow out of life. It is about finding the balance between experiencing and learning as much as you possibly can and letting go. Travelling is not holiday. It’s a journey. And if you do it right it has many destinations.

Let me share some of my travel experiences that may seem as a flipside of a pleasant journey.

When I travel …

When I travel

  • I get dirty.
  • I get an upset tummy.
  • I catch a cold.
  • I get a sunburn.
  • I get eaten by insects.
  • I get ants in my pants.
  • I get lost in the alleys.
  • I get stalked by street hawkers.
  • I fall for scams.
  • I’m asked for my name a million times.
  • I find hairs in the bathroom that don’t belong to me.
  • My eyes hurt from the air pollution.
  • And – as everybody else – I suffer from the three undeniable truths about travelling.

Am I looking for those experiences? Definitely NOT! I am not striving for such experiences, but I am tolerating them. Such experiences are ultimately the only way to make the most of my journeys. Only by tolerating a list of negatives I can create a list of positives, that btw. is much longer than the one above.

Lesson learnt

It’s an old cliche that we can’t have light without shadow, that there is no mountain high with out a valley low, and that we can’t enjoy a jungle without being carried away by tiny nasty creatures.

I feel a bit sorry for this cliche. It has been beaten up and misused by many motivational speakers. But still, there is an undeniable and deep truth in it:

You can’t have one without the other.

My personal favourite of this cliche is the following: It doesn’t matter what decisions you make, you will always have to pay a price. If you don’t want to pay, you’re not getting anything. So many people try to cheat their way through life. But I am convinced, in the end, it doesn’t work. Nothing is for free. And even if your decision is to spend the rest of your life on the sofa – you will have to pay the price.

I have a personal theory about the prices we have to pay in life. I strongly believe that the sum of the prices we have to pay in life is a constant. It is one given quantity that is pre-defined for each our lives.

There are two ways to pay your debts

One way is to make many payments during the course of life. The other way is to pay everything at once, usually at the end of your life. Which one do you prefer?

Let me shorty explain the difference between these two kinds of payments. The iterative payments I call toleration, the one payment in the end I call regret. Which one do you prefer?

If we opt for the first way of paying we make a lot of decisions and take bold action towards life. We take responsibility for what we do and what happens to us, we act accordingly, we pay the price (like learning a lesson, taking a course, overcoming fear, trying something new, …) and we move on. In other words we accept the flipsides of life as the currency to create a good one.

If we prefer the second way of payment, i.e. if we pay one big price at the end, then we were obviously too afraid to have made some keen decisions when we still had the time to do so. This is regret. You know that regret shows its ugly face to you when you ask yourself questions like: “I only wish I had…”

I don’t think that this is a state of life that we should ever experience. It’s the toughest and saddest thing of all to realise that time is running out and that it is now to late to get dirty.

So, once again: Which one do you prefer?

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

Don’t waste an opportunity.

Life is full of opportunities. If you waste an opportunity you are effectively wasting life.

Same with your business. There are hundreds of opportunities. They usually come disguised as problems. And this is exactly what you should looking for: Problems. Most of all look for problems of your clients. If they have a problem you can be the problem solver. Customers are willing to pay huge amounts of money for someone who takes care of their problems. If you are an employee then become a trouble-shooter and don’t be a trouble-maker.

When companies hire they have only one question in mind: “Is the candidate sitting in front of me solving my problems or adding to my problems?” All other questions circle around exactly this one. Assessment centres, questionnaires, interviews, evaluations, checking your profile on Facebook – the only question why hiring companies are doing this is to find out to which group you belong: Creator of problems or solver of problems.

Which one do you prefer?

And now go and find some trouble. Look out for problems. If you find a problem don’t complain but act on it. It is the ultimate way of living a better life and creating a better business. And if you are a good problem solver clients will be more than happy to come back to you over and over again (and hand you heaps of money).

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

If you want something do be done quickly give it to a busy man.

Letters from Vietnam (6): “That’s the best thing that happened to me” is usually a lie

Letters from Vietnam – Part 6

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

We all lie. Most of the time to ourselves

You must have made the following observation as well.

You are talking to somebody and he tells you his story. He recently went through some hardship. Be it that he lost his job, got through a divorce or had to cancel his holiday. When he gives us the details of the course of this experience then there is usually a twist and something completely unexpected but gratifying turned out to happen. If he lost his job he might have found a better one and he concludes that he didn’t like his old job anyway. After the divorce he met somebody far more attractive and the cancelled holiday gave him the opportunity to engage in a highly interesting project at work. What ever happened, all those stories end with the same phrase:

“This is the best that ever happened to me!”

This is usually a lie.

The last time when I lied to myself

Before I explain why we lie to ourselves let me tell when I last lied to myself. It only happened yesterday.

I am currently in Cambodia and yesterday, after visiting the breathtaking site of Angkor Wat in Siem Riep, I was travelling by bus back to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. During this trip we had a forced break due to a flat tire. The tire was fixed for 3US$ and the passengers could stretch their legs. So far, nothing extraordinaire. It happens all the time.

Most bus drivers usually make some extra money by picking up locals and giving them a lift. After the mentioned break I came back to my seat and it was occupied by an old Cambodian lady who the driver had allowed to embark. I tried to tell the lady that this was my place and that I would like to have it back. After all, it was a good seat.

My seat was a front seat and I booked early to make sure that I will have a seat that gives me the best opportunity to observe the flying by nature. Front seats are not only better because of the view. The further you sit in the back the more unpleasant the ride over these bumpy roads will become. If you sit in the back of a vehicle, especially behind the rear axis, you will find yourself most of the time under the ceiling. Far from my understanding of a pleasant journey. There was only one disadvantage about my front seat, and this was the air condition that I couldn’t regulate and it was freaking cold their.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make myself clear to the lady, she didn’t understand what I wanted. And I didn’t want to make a big fuzz about it so I took a seat further in the back. The ride was bumpier there and the view was not as good. However, the regulation of the aircon worked and I could shelter myself from the freezing breeze.

Then I concluded: “This is the best thing that happened to me on this journey!”


This was not the best thing that happened to me. I only changed my priorities. After all, picking a front seat was the consequence of some thoughtful reasoning. How can something that was out of my control and that happened by pure accident suddenly be a more favourable situation for me?

The lesson learnt: Why we lie to ourselves

We lie to ourselves because it eases our minds. We give up and conclude, that what we wanted is not that important anymore. We came in second and now we rationalise why that is such a great thing.

Now, don’t take me wrong.

I am a keen supporter of the idea to always look for the best even when things get rough. I am strongly convinced that there’s good in everything. And we should never stop searching for exactly this. But we shall not fool ourselves in convincing us that missing the target is something that we should have aimed at in the first place.

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

The application of the lesson learnt to your business is pretty easy though it may come as a surprise. Here it is:

Don’t be an easy quitter.

When we convince ourselves that it was a good thing not to reach our initial goals, than we abandon our plans, we hand control over to others and we give up. Rationalising is natures way to ease our pain when we don’t hit the target. Let’s not get fooled by that. It’s fine to have your Plan B ready, but you shouldn’t quit Plan A all too easy. If your business idea doesn’t work in the beginning then you should at least give it another ten tries. You’ll become better with every shot. And only when you have failed at least ten times you are entitled to accept that it’s not going to work.

And by the way, the number of attempts “ten” and the word “failing” are highly debatable. After Thomas Edison’s seven-hundredth unsuccessful attempt to invent electric light, he was asked by a New York Times reporter, “How does it feel to have failed seven hundred times?” The genius responded,

“I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Thomas Edison.

And now go, and try once more. Failure is an attitude, not a result.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

Letters from Vietnam (5): Plan as you like – life will tweak your nose

Anti-theft system to secure my belongings when I travel.

Letters from Vietnam – Part 5

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

Plan for the worst, expect the best

Or as Benjamin Frankling once put it:

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

When you go on a journey to Indochina you need to prepare. Be it vaccination, travel documents like flight tickets and visas, or planing your route and making a list of the places and things you want to see. One major concern of travel preparation is all the stuff that goes into your backpack. Over the course of my trips I managed to travel more and more lightly, and still I feel that I am carrying too much. Many things that I carry with me I have never worn or used. Especially my first-aid kit is literally untouched and unchanged since my trip to India in 2009. I need a plaster once in a while or some iodine, but thanks to my guardian angel nothing serious has ever happened to me. Well, I broke a rip once when I was thrown off by a camel. But even this misfortune could have ended much worse. So you won’t hear me complaining.

I daresay that there is a parallel between my first-aid kit and our lives: The things that we dread the most rarely happen in real life. They only happen in our imagination. We often expect the worst and prepare for the best, i.e. we worry too much and we prepare too little. I suggest we turn that around: Let’s prepare for the worst and expect the best. The worst that can happen to us is that we are over-prepared. In business that is rarely a bad thing and when you travel you simply add a little weight to you load.

Prepare as you like, however, there will be situations that you didn’t have in mind when you planned your journey. Life will come and tweak your nose because for the open-minded it is full of surprises and wonders. After all, isn’t life what happens when you are planning something else?

How I secure my backpack when I am not in the hotel

When my luggage is in the hotel while I am running around exploring the area, then I want my belongings to be safe from theft. One thing is for sure though: I will hardly be able to fully protect my belongings against the determined burglar. The only thing I can provide for is that it takes as long as possible for the snatcher to get hold of my possessions. At least I make sure that he will have to use some tools to seize my property.

The way I do it when I travel is by use of a Kensington security slot. I am always carrying a small netbook on my journeys and before I attach the Kensington lock to my computer I first fix the lock to something heavy or something fixed on a wall. I then thread the cable through a couple of loops of my backpack. Next I store the netbook deep in my backpack and close the backpack as tight as possible. And if I don’t forget I even check my zippers! 😉

And then life tweaked my nose

I did so when I was in Duong Dong the other day. I had checked into a hotel but the room we agreed on wasn’t ready, so the owner assigned me another room. When I was ready to explore the island of Phu Quoc the next morning I secured my backpack using the technique described above before I left. Since I couldn’t attach the sling to something fixedly mounted on the wall I threaded the cable through a heavy chair standing nearby. At the reception the owner told me that she is going to prepare the other room and that I shouldn’t worry. Everything would be fine.

When I was coming back a couple of hours later I opened the door to my new hotel room and was very much surprised to see my backpack standing next to the bed – still tightly fixed to that heavy chair. The lady of the house, who weighs hardly more than 45kg, had carried both pieces over a tiny staircase from the fourth to the first floor. When my surprise settled I had to laugh: My well planned and crafty security measures have been completely futile.

Lesson of the day

Life happens when you’re planning something else, right?

We can plan as much as we like, life will tweak our noses. There will always be happenings and occurrences that we couldn’t have thought of in our wildest dreams. Does this mean we should prepare less? I don’t think so. Instead draw your lessons from what happened. After all, school’s never out.

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

There are three keys to a successful business:

  1. Preparation
  2. Preparation
  3. Preparation

Prepare for your next meeting, prepare for your customer, and prepare for your employees, colleagues and associates. Prepare your speech, your presentation, your document and your spreadsheet.

But most of all: Prepare for the unexpected. That sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t. More often than not you should have a “Plan B”. Ask yourself: What is the worst thing that can happen? And then be surprised that most of the things we fear never come to life at all.

And finally: If Plan B fails, I suggest you run through the alphabet.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

Letters from Vietnam (4): Know thy zippers!

Letters from Vietnam – Part 4

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

Know thyself

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”
Franklin, Benjamin

How true that is. Since we are so close to ourselves we have great difficulty to unbiasedly observe our true “me”. It’s like biting your own teeth, or like describing your glasses without taking them off. Everything that we perceive we perceive through our own filters, i.e. our experience, education and upbringing. Since we are usually not aware of our filters, we find that what we think of ourself equals reality. Other people, who don’t have our filters, observe something completely different when they look at us. This is reason enough for a good debate between two people, like husband and wife, or boss and employee.

This is especially true when it comes to our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. And we will focus on those two elements in this post.

Know your weaknesses and vulnerabilities

So far I have seen a lot of places here in Vietnam and I am enjoying myself very much, even though I miss the people I love and who couldn’t come with me. I have moved hotels within one city, I have stayed in different cities and I always carried my belongings in my backpack. To be precise, I have two backpacks. A small one for day travels and excursions and a bigger one for everything else I need here. When I am hiking the larger backpack accommodates the smaller one, so that I have my hands free to make wild gestures at barking dogs.

These backpacks hold a vast number of pockets. Together with the pockets in my trousers they add up to around twenty, a big deal of them protected by zippers. Every pocket has a specific assignment that I have chosen. There is a pocket for a knife and a lock, one for sanitary tissues (if I accidentally touched something scruffy), one for ATM receipts, tickets and paper mementos I want to keep, one for shoes, one for slippers, one for chargers and adapters, one for the Leatherman, one for small money, one for big money – and if I tell you more I will have to kill you.

My responsibility as a self-reliant traveller is to organise and to keep an overview of the pocket’s content. When I pack my possessions I make sure, that everything gets where it belongs to. Only by doing so I have everything quickly available that I might need.

But to be honest: I am a terrible organiser. The analysis of my personal motivations show me clearly, that organising is one of my weaknesses (On the plus side I’m at my best when flexibility is a demand).

This weakness turns into a vulnerability when I’m in a hurry. Sometimes I have to pack quickly (yes, I’m always late, too) and it has happened more than once that I carried my backpack with a zipper widely open, making my stuff an easy target for any pickpocket.

Hence my…

Lesson learnt

Know thy zippers!

Not only do I run around with my zippers open (not THAT zipper!) I do inapt things when I fumble with my pocket’s content, too. I had bystanders pointing to bank notes that I dropped, credit cards lying under the table, mobile phones in taxis and on chairs, sunglasses falling of my accelerating bike, and only two days ago I left my camera on the dinner table. And mind you, did I mention that I even forgot my passport in my last hotel in Saigon – Gosh! If my bottom wasn’t fixed to my back, it would still be sitting on the motorbike.

Fortunately I haven’t had any loss so far. But note, I am free from loss not because I am such a smart traveller. I owe my luck exclusively to the Vietnamese people who are extremely helpful, friendly and honest. I imagine that in many other countries people would have taken advantage of my stupidity. I feel blessed and I feel grateful.

So, what do my zippers have to do with your business? I’d say quite a lot.

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

The blemish of my organisational skills makes me blind to the details that ultimately secure my safety. Organisation in it self is a weakness of mine, and when certain circumstances join my weakness turns into a vulnerability. If I am vulnerable I can be attacked and even worse, I can lose.

And the same is true for your business. There might be certain areas of your business that – for what ever reason – you have not paid sufficient attention to. Like knowing everything about yourself is tough, knowing everything about your business is tough, too. We are simply too close to ourselves and our business. What helps is an external view or tools that help you reflect on your business and circumvent your personal filters. Tools that will help might be SWAT analysis and/or a change analysis. Contact me, if you need more information.

For now let me close with a thought for the still fresh and young 2013: Don’t get overstressed with your weaknesses. Just make sure you know them and get help. In short:

Count your blessings, not your blemishes.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

Letters from Vietnam (3): You are a nuisance

Traffic Madness in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

Letters from Vietnam – Part 3

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

How to be a part of where you are

Today I will head back from the Island Phú Quốc to Hồ Chí Minh City (Saigon); from the serenity of calm and untouched beaches right into the centre of traffic madness. Saigon currently has approximately 7 – 10 million inhabitants and at least 3 million motorbikes. Since cars are mostly unaffordable for the locals and because it is said that Saigon’s streets are too narrow for cars, Saigon is rightly called ‘City of the Motorbikes’.

In most of the travel literature you are advised not to take part in the traffic driving a scooter yourself. If you want a close motorbike experience at all you should hire a motorbike taxi, put on one of the helmets provided (which are nothing more than mere eggshells) and let the taxi driver do the work.

I highly contradict. Driving a motorbike yourself through these jam-packed streets is the ultimate experience of being part of Saigon (and every where else in Vietnam). In my humble opinion you haven’t been in Saigon if you haven’t been in its traffic as an active driver. If you are there, be there. Be a part of your surroundings, do what works for the locals, don’t do stupid things. And, no, self-driving in Saigon is not stupid. As my friend Carsten at amberwiz always uses to say:

If it is stupid and it works, it ain’t stupid.

There are a lot of things to say about this traffic madness, a lot of things we can learn from it, and hence a lot of insights we can apply for our business. I will frequently come back to the traffic in Saigon to give you a hopefully useful perspective for your business.

Let’s start with an experience that I made myself when I first started driving around on my own. I got honked at quite a lot in the beginning. For a reason. Because in that crazy jumble I was the nuisance.

But since this letter from Vietnam is addressed to you this means…

You are a nuisance

Most people say that traffic in Saigon is chaos. Wrong. Very wrong. Here’s your first lesson:

Only because a system is different it’s not necessarily chaotic.

There is a system in Saigon’s traffic, but it is highly different from what we know from the West. When the traffic lights turn red nobody stops immediately. They keep on driving until the traffic density in the center of the crossing forbids to inject more motorists into it. When the traffic lights turn green, on the other hand, it is very wise not to speed into the crossing blindly. The traffic will still be dripping in for quite a while from the side roads.

After I observed the traffic at major street crossings for quite a while I associated the traffic with two or more fluids flowing into and through each other. Although there are heavy accidents on the highways in Vietnam (full speed frontal collisions) I have rarely seen two motorbikes touching each other here. And if it happens, drivers apology and don’t make a big fuzz about it.

Now it was time for me to be one of the droplets and to jump right into it. Got a bike, put on the eggshell, started driving, and became THE nuisance of Saigon immediately.

If we start doing something we disturb others

As soon we start doing something that interacts with this world we run into the danger of being a disturbance for others. That’s just the way it is. Unless you are sitting on a lonely beach (and even there you’ll squeeze and annoy jiggers) you are always interacting with your environment, i.e. other people.

The reason why I was such a fault in an otherwise perfectly running system was, that I wasn’t used to it. I was an inexperienced tourist trying to survive traffic. I braked where I shouldn’t and I accelerated when I mustn’t. In short: due to my inexperience and lack of certainty I was unpredictable for the system.

So here is the…

Lesson learnt

Be predictable.

Unless you want to surprise your surroundings (which obviously can be a good thing under certain circumstances) be predictable. If you want others to follow you instead of being confused by you, always let them know what you are going to do.

This becomes very evident when you try to make a left turn on a major intersection here in Vietnam. Don’t stop. Don’t try to speed through a gap. Instead slowly, but continuously forward into the direction you want to go. The others will know where you’re heading and find a way around you. But this only works if they exactly know where you are in the next second.

A good ice hockey player doesn’t shoot the puck to the place you are, but to the place you will be in the next second. Same with the traffic here. The “enemy” (i.e. the other drivers) don’t drive to where you are, they are driving towards the spot you will not be in the next second. This often gave me the feeling that they were aiming at me. But they don’t. They don’t aim at me, they aim at the position where I am currently in because it will be empty in the next second.

Uncomfortable as it feels, it’s kinda smart, right?

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

If you are part of a team and if you want to work with the team, let them know what you’re doing. Tell others about your plans so that they can support you and are not accidentally blocking your way. If you tell others what you are doing you are not blocking their development, too.

But be aware that you can be a nuisance when you first start doing things you are not used to so far. It doesn’t matter whether you try to run a marathon, start your new business, or give your first public speech – you will always feel uncomfortable. You will often have the feeling that others are shooting at you. But usually they don’t. They are simply following their own idea of a worthy course.

Time for me to get packed, move on and leave Phú Quốc behind me. I will drive to the Dương Đông airport by motorbike taxi, me and my backpack sitting behind the driver (much cheaper and faster than a regular taxi).

And when I am back in Saigon, driving a motorbike myself again, I will try to ease at the insight, that from the 3 million motorbikes in Saigon one million is right behind me, wondering where this weirdo’s heading.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

Letters from Vietnam (2, continued): Three disturbing travel truths

One of the many bustling markets in Vietnam.

Letters from Vietnam – Part 2 (continued)

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

Previously on ‘Letters from Vietnam’

In my last post I told you about the three unpleasant truths about your journey. If you haven’t read them do so now. You will enjoy the current post much more. Because today I am going to tell you what those unpleasant truths mean for your business.

But first…

The lessons learnt

  1. The first lesson is not that you are always too late, but that no matter how successful you are, there will always be someone who will try everything to degrate you accomplishments.
  2. The second lesson is not that you are always in the wrong place, but that there will always be someone who gives you unwanted advise. Beware of that. In a minute I’ll tell you why.
  3. The third lesson is not that you always paid to much, but that getting the best value for money doesn’t necessarily mean to catch the cheapest deal.

And now let’s dive into the application of these lessons to your business.

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

Application No 1: Your success will be assaulted. Take that as a reward

When you start doing things that others are afraid to do, and when you – much to their regret – succeed, than you will be bombarded with criticism: “What you do is stupid, it won’t work, nobody will buy it, and you are wasting your time and money.”

“Don’t pay attention to your critics, don’t even ignore them,” as somebody ironically once said. The whale gets harpooned when it blows. If you want to be a big fish in your pond expect that you become shot at once you become more visible to the public.

It seems that many people don’t like others to become successful. This is because they feel mediocre in the shadow of other’s accomplishments. Instead of overcoming their own fears they prefer to ridicule you and what you are doing.

Many want to fly with the eagles, but only a few are willing to pay the price. The rest scratches with the chickens. If they look up to you than their neck hurt and they don’t like that. Instead of rejoicing with you they rather try to rip off your wings.

So if you and what you do gets heavily bombarded (and you are sure you are not doing something stupid) understand that the cackling of the chickens is hidden applause and admiration that they are simply too shallow to show.

Application No 2: If you get unwanted advice there is a very good chance that it is completely wrong

Do you remember the story from my last post where I was enjoying the floating market on the Mekong river (Vietnam) and somebody approached to tell me about the much better markets in Thailand?

Why would anybody say that? Why would I need such information? Does he think he makes me feel better afterwards? Does he recon to improve my travel experience?

Definitely NOT! The only reason why this man told me this unwanted facts is because by that he can make himself stand out of the crowd. And the same is true for many advise that you receive in your business. It is not given to improve your business but to promote the advice giver’s own reputation.

When people criticise you because you are doing something different then they be careful. Always ask yourself for the reason why they are advising what they advise. Always scrutinise the motivation of your advisors. Very often their counselling is not to improve your situation but simply to beat the drum for their own decisions. Especially when people give career advise they are often merely promoting their own life course.

My mother always used to say: “Never take advise from somebody who stands where you don’t want to stand.” A remarkably clever word of advise from a remarkably clever woman. Though I didn’t ask for it – Thanks Mom!

Application No 3: Don’t over-estimate the value of money if time is short

As a tourist you always pay too much. Fact. End of discussion. You can bargain as much as you want, you will always end up paying more than a local. And to a certain extend that’s fine by me.

When you travel through South East Asia you start thinking like a South East Asian – at least moneywise. Only this morning I caught myself worrying about the fact that I had to pay 10’000 for an iced coffee instead of the 8’000 that I paid yesterday at the same place. Only realising after a couple of seconds that the difference is a ridiculous 8€ct.

As much as you think like an Asian it is smart not to lose your basic business acumen. Why would anybody spend two minutes arguing over such a tiny amount of money?

And still, people do. I know people who run around two weeks checking prices of flatscreen TV sets and finally saving 100€. Wow!

Here’s my word of advise (even though they didn’t ask for it):

“Doing the research took twenty hours off your time budget – which equals life time, by the way. Let’s see: That is a saving of 5€ per hour. How much do you earn on your job? 50€ per hour? Well, then I recon that your research was a terrible misinvestment. If you had spent this time not on research but on your job you would have made 1’000€. If you had spent the 100€ on the more expensive telly you would have a surplus of 900€ in your pocket and you would have had the opportunity to enjoy the telly for two weeks already.”

Sounds smart, right? But, well, you didn’t ask for it… And you always get what you ask for, remember?

And here I end my second Letter from Vietnam which I hope was a series of valuable Lessons from Vietnam for you.

For me it’s time to jump into another adventurous day. I think I’ll go back to that coffee stall. I should be able to get that damn drink for 8’000, shouldn’t I?

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

Letters from Vietnam (2): Three disturbing travel truths

Letters from Vietnam – Part 2

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

Three unpleasant truths about your journey and what they mean for your business

Welcome to the second Letter from Vietnam that we will use to draw a second Lesson from Vietnam – and most of all what the findings of this lesson imply for your own business.

Let’s right jump into it.

When you travel through a foreign country and try to stay off the beaten tracks you will detect things, find views, and explore corners that amaze and fascinate you. You feel sorry for the package tourist who will have a rather mainstream experience and who withholds himself from such intriguing experiences. Finally you want to share your excitement with a fellow traveller next to you. And this is the moment where your zest gets smashed to pieces. Because…

Travel truth No 1: You are always too late

No matter how extraordinary your experience is and how proud you are that you made it on your own, there will be someone next to you who has been here years before. And he will let you know, what you are enjoying right now is nothing compared to what he underwent when this place was pristine and untouched. Even though you notice that the faces around you are mainly indigenous, your sour neighbour will tell you that this place is rotten by the ubiquitous and excessive tourism.

“Years ago we had no water, no electricity, no hotels, …” – “Yes, and no douchebags like you!” I always like to reply. “Times, when no one was here to spoil the experiences of others.”

No matter what treasures you find, there’s always a smart-aleck co-traveller who has found more in the past.

If you can’t avoid it you will be compelled to have a further conversation with this co-traveller. These guys are hard to avoid and they follow you more obstinate than most of the street merchants. They will try everything to continue bombarding you with their unwanted travel advise. And after a while they (or somebody else) will confront you with the second hard fact that you didn’t ask for.

Travel truth No 2: You are always in the wrong place

Yesterday I was visiting the floating markets near Can Tho on the Mekong river in Vietnam. An absolutely thrilling experience of mongering intercourse. I was sucking in the atmosphere, was thrilled by the hawkers who piratically entered our boat without asking for permission, and I had a big grin on my face. This was obviously the invitation for another traveller who didn’t hesitate to explain, that this is so different from the floating markets in Thailand.

There are three ways to answer such a comment.

  1. “Yes, I know. I’ve been there myself.”
  2. “Yes, may be. I’ll check it out later.”
    Or finally:
  3. “So what?! I am not here by accident. I came here for a reason and on purpose. I am here because I wanted to see exactly that. Why on Earth should I care about a different market in a different country. Why don’t you disembark right now and share your stories with the crocodiles? They’ll love it!”

No matter what treasures you find, there’s always a smart-aleck co-traveller who has found something better somewhere else.

Let’s come to the third undeniable truth. When you hang around in foreign countries you buy stuff. Be it food, fruit or fancy fabrics. As soon as you turn around to carry away you booty you look right into the face of the unwanted travel consultant. He will open his mouth and with a sardonic smirk he will ask you this one dreadful question:

“How much did you pay?”

Travel truth No 3: You always paid too much

“What? How much?”, he will yell. And he will let you know that he bought the same stuff for a fraction of what you just paid. And by the way, “it had a better quality, too.”

Thank you for trying to degrade my experience once again, wiseacre. But I can’t remember asking you for your opinion.

As much as I am a friend of the idea that tourists shouldn’t overpay simply for the reason of not disturbing the local micro economy, I couldn’t care less if I paid 10ct too much. My usual reply here is: “It doesn’t kill me and it feeds a family.”

I could explain to my co-traveller, that there are at least two things to trade from my side, and that is money as well as time. Both are commodities that a traveller need to keep a keen eye on.

But since I have to catch a ferry to the island Phu Quoc I can neither tell the co-traveller to bugger off nor can I give to you, dear valued reader, the conclusions from this letter to your business.

I will continue this post in due course. First I have to continue my journey while trying to avoid the you-know-who.

Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose

To be continued…