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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…

Letters from Vietnam (1): You will always get what you asked for!

Letters from Vietnam – Part 1

Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?

Observe, don’t judge

I am currently on a trip through Vietnam. Obviously the people here live very different lives from us westerners – be it behaviour, beliefs, lifestyle, traffic, philosophy… you name it! Although I travel to Asia quite a lot, many of my observations are new to me. Observing without judging is an ongoing challenge for everyone who is interested in personal growth, leadership skills, and self-responsibility. If you are willing to watch first and draw your conclusions second you will never be short of opportunities to become a better ‘you’.

Letters and Lessons from Vietnam

In the next couple of weeks I’ll write some articles about occurrences that happened to me or next to me. In each post I will tell you a little story and I will then draw one ore more conclusions that you can hopefully apply in your everyday business. May be you want to share your conclusions and learnings, too. Feel free to comment on this blog.

Be precise, don’t assume

And here is my first story for you.

I arrived in Ho-Chi-Minh-City (Saigon) a couple of days ago. I had made a two-night online reservation for a hotel from Germany already, because after a long flight I don’t like to run around for room-hunting with my backpack in a city that is unknown to me. The hotel was ok, but the rooms didn’t have individual safes and the hotel was not very clean. You can find pictures of the bedlinen on facebook. During my city strolls through Saigon I past the hotel Tuong Hung. I asked the owner to show me a room and I was very pleased to see, that the wardrobes had safes in them. We agreed on the price and the next day I moved in.

After I had taken over the room I was rather bewildered that in this room the wardrobe was not equipped with a safe – to have a safe of my own was one of the reasons why I moved to this hotel!

So I went to the owner and asked for clarification. She was very understanding and apologised and said I should go for a walk and when I will have returned everything would be to my full satisfaction.

So I went to visit the Palace of Reunification and came back after a couple of hours. In the lobby the owner’s daughter cheerfully smiled at me and nodded to let me know that everything was taken care of. She said to me: “You wanted a locker?” – “Yes, please.” I replied. Then she jumped behind the counter and reappeared with a safe in her hands, that she affectionately handed over to me.

I kid you not. It was a safe that is usually fixed to a wall inside a wardrobe now unrigged in my baffled hands. After my first confusion I had to laugh because the staff had perfectly fulfilled my demands.

Who’s stupid?

Lesson learnt: You will always get what you asked for!

They had perfectly fulfilled my request. I asked for a safe, they gave me a safe. What I really wanted – obviously! obviously? – was a room equipped with a fixed safe that can not be carried away by a hamster (or a drunken tourist for that matter, who is looking for sponsorship of his travel funds). But I didn’t say that and hence I have no right to complain.

Application of the lesson learnt to your business

Be very clear in your communication. If what you want is important for you, then make sure that everyone who is engaged with the delivery has an exact understanding of the demands. If you don’t get what you (thought you) asked for, then consult your service providers, suppliers or employees and let them explain what they understood. Their understanding certainly differed from yours.

As you see, once again, to be a good communicator you need to be a good thinker and a good listener, too.

Tạm biệt,
Herzlichst,  Ihr Dr. Thomas Rose