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new-conversation Regardless of how much time you spend visiting LinkedIn, you’ll notice that your feed is interspersed with various inspirational quotes by business and thought leaders. From Bill Clinton to Steve Jobs to Sheryl Sandberg, the quotes are often excellent distillations of their life work, and meant to provide the nudge we all need to continue striving toward our own dreams. The comments from readers are often positive as well, proving the worth and general acceptance of the quotes.

The resulting motivation is great, but then according to 2013 Gallup research, why are as many as 70% of workers feeling unfulfilled or like they haven’t achieved what they set out to do professionally?

The Situational Formula

In practicality, it is irresponsible to think of the aforementioned quoted leaders and their accomplishments in a vacuum. Leadership is as much about having a good strategy at the right time as it is about having the right skills and experience. That ideal environment is much akin to a Situational Formula, and understanding the formula is the real secret to professional fulfillment.

For example, let’s look at Ron Johnson, the retail and customer experience guru. While at Apple, he led a revolution in the way consumers interact with products, and overhauled the entire shopping experience. Then he moved to J.C. Penney, and nearly destroyed the already tenuous relationship the retailer had with its customers. In theory, Johnson had the same general strategic vision in both situations, just executed in a different place and time. The results were wildly different.

And the reverse is true, too. Think of James Dyson, the iconic creator of effective bagless vacuum systems. Before the great success at his own company, Dyson had a dicey run over more than 10 near-bankrupt years trying to convince retailers and consumers that his bagless idea was a good one. He stuck with his instincts, and started pursuing alternate markets until he built enough consumer support to launch broadly. Once again: Same strategy, different time and place, wildly different results.

The New Conversation

Rather than focusing on the singular thoughts from the inspirational quotes posted on social media, we need to start a new conversation. The reality is that it takes more than just gusto to achieve our dreams. It is as much about having a good personal strategy as it is about finding the environment where you can be most effective. Or, for those who are a little more risk averse, about being able to be a driver of change within your current or future environment.

Think instead of the contributions you bring to the table, and how and in which situations those contributions can be best applied. What is your formula for success?

This idea can be extrapolated across those who are currently employed, those who are seeking jobs, and even those who are retired and looking for new adventures.

The required approach is to stay sharp, adaptable, and be a ready catalyst for disruptive innovation, regardless of your industry or field. The right ingredients for your formula — and your inevitable success — are out there.

 

Perhaps one of the largest challenges in working between countries is understanding and mastering the subtleties of communication when doing business.

For example, I need to talk with my American colleagues using a style that works with them, and then talk with my Japanese colleagues using a different, but equally effective style. If I use an American communication style in a Japanese business environment, it likely won’t be a productive use of time, and will leave many items open for interpretation. (Quite frankly, I could be speaking about using a German style in an Argentinian business meeting and the same situation would arise.) Extrapolate that theory across multiple geographies and it becomes clear that how you’re used to doing business in your home country is not how business gets done on a global scale.

If you’ve ever been in a multi-cultural meeting and it seems like everyone agrees with what’s being said, but then no action is taken afterwards, you know exactly what I mean.

One of the areas this really comes alive is when you see multi-lingual advertising or public service announcements. Here is one from the JR system, reminding everyone to be polite and respect the space of those around them.

JR Public Service Announcement

The Japanese text is a lot softer than the English beneath. And the overall tone, including the graphic elements, is much more direct than you would expect in a public ad. Clearly the JR advertising board isn’t speaking to the Japanese population with this ad, but rather to everyone else.

If they used direct Japanese here, or soft English, the message would be lost.

Daryl DuLong

 

“Invest in China!”

If I were to sum up most of the business literature I see about one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, it is to open your wallets and throw your money into the return-generating machine known as China. And I do not dispute the justification by any means, but rather I offer a twist on the advice.

I just spent a little over a week in China for business and got to see the growth engine at work first-hand: Construction everywhere. Buildings, apartments, roads, bridges, highways… All under development in the rural and well-populated regions of the country alike. What was more striking, however, was the fact that the growth is far outpacing the infrastructure’s ability to keep up with the breakneck speed of growth.

I perceive a growing problem in China, and I have not seen much coverage of it: The country’s infrastructure is not equipped to support the pace of growth.

To be clear, I am defining infrastructure as the support services underpinning the broader economy, such as power utilities, internet connectivity, water and plumbing, access to transportation, etc.

I saw a large number of apartment complexes and buildings under construction like the above, but contrasted with what appeared to be little support for utilities like electricity or gas, or easy access to paved roads or local transportation. We were traveling on a rocky, sandy highway because this particular road to the airport was not yet paved, and there were few other viable routes. While mobile phone prevalence and usage rates are among the highest in the world, the ability to push mobile data and provide reliable phone coverage was hit or miss.

Why is infrastructure an issue? Won’t infrastructure catch up to support the new growth?

As a parallel, consider the issues among some of the high growth markets in Latin America, like Argentina and Brazil. Top line output – measured as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), for example – is growing at a significant rate, but access to services, like health care and efficient transportation, is lagging far behind. It creates a longer-term problem where economic returns and actual on-the-ground growth (with the appropriate infrastructure to support it) start to diverge.

A lack of infrastructure will eventually hinder future growth in China, as the economic system is not able to support further increases. It appears the same issue is happening in Africa and Indonesia as well.

The remedy is for the Chinese government to spend money at a brisk pace equal to that of private industry to try and keep up, pouring billions (or trillions?) of RMB into bridging the gaps. I have seen reports recently of China making such investments as the global economy slows and the country’s reliance on foreign investment growth decreases, forcing the attention to promoting growth within their own borders. Though it is unclear the breadth and depth of that flow of capital.

Bicycle on Hainan Island

Next to the new apartment building being erected above was a person delivering goods to the construction site. You can see a bit of the road we were on, as well as the conditions around the area.

 

Happy new year!

After several weeks of — let’s call them “bustling” — preparations, I am starting my new assignment as an expat living in Tokyo, Japan. It should be quite the adventure, and I look forward to sharing the pictures and stories on this very web site. The language and cultural training have been going well, but I will still maintain a full reserve of Snickers bars in case I have trouble obtaining food.

Until then, be well and have a wonderful start to 2012!