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why I do this crazy international stuff

Monday 30 March, 2009

My dad gave me a subscription to National Geographic Traveler magazine last year. In a recent issue, editor/VP Keith Bellows interviewed online “Trip Lit’ editor Don George. Keith asked Don, “You’ve visited 75 countries. Why do you travel?” Don responded, “Because I’m still trying to understand the world. The world is this incredibly huge picture puzzle, and I’m trying to figure out what the picture on the box is so that I know what the puzzle looks like. And I’m trying to figure out how many pieces of the puzzle I can absorb inside myself. It’s been fascinating to go out & find all the differences in the world. It’s just endlessly fascinating, the differences in people, language, cultures, customs, beliefs. And I feel like we are put on this planet to understand as much of that as we can in a nonjudgmental way. With that as a goal, every trip is passionate because there’s always new things to discover, new people, new adventures.”

This is very much the way I feel about international business, as a global business explorer.  I find it endlessly fascinating to discover how differently business is conducted in different parts of the world.  I prefer to learn these things in a non-superficial way by really digging in & getting to know different people, cultures, & languages.  Having lived & worked for a few years abroad, I learned how different a demographically similar place, Germany, can be.  Despite all the economic & financial similarities, my 1st few months there were some of the most difficult months of my life.  Having lived through that, spending extended periods of time in Poland & Sweden & traveling to 30+ countries were much more enjoyable.  Despite the fact that many American business people try to minimize the differences between foreign businesspeople & themselves, they miss many subtle but important differences which make & break deals.  Different decision-making processes driven by different business values all over the world mean you have to be somewhat of a chameleon to be able to learn & adapt in different places.  To be nonjudgmental is really difficult because it goes against a lot of what we’ve been taught our whole lives.  Experiencing new cultures breaks that down.  Domestic business mostly revolves around expertise in industry& function, i.e success is determined by being the best software salesman, etc.  Place doesn’t matter that much because it’s all the same across most of America.  Expanding that internationally exposes business to lots more variables which make it infinitely more interesting to me.  To be a successful software salesman outside of America, you have to learn other languages, what other buying points are, how decisions are made in other places, etc.  In some ways, business stays the same, but in other ways, everything changes.  I find that to be unbelievably intellectually stimulating.

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