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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 dict.cc) 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!”

Lie! BIG LIE!

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