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should you go local?

Friday 17 July, 2009

I read this article in the Chicago Tribune by Rick Steves a while ago Become a Temporary European & it brought back a lot of memories.  When I lived & worked in Germany, I tried to experience the old world in the way he describes & it was wonderful.  But as I think about it, a lot of what he talks about applies to international business as well.

His basic message is engagement & immersion.  Get outside of your own personal box & go native.  Let go of your American inhibitions & encumbrances & participate as a local.  The 1st step is to willingly express interest in how things are done somewhere else.  Many times we unknowingly assume that we know the best way to do everything & lose out on opportunities to learn & fit in better with local business methods, customs, & practices.  Get off that American “Bigger is better” mentality & consider other options.

To take part, you need to be able to communicate, which means learning at least a few of the niceties of the language of the country (ies) you’ll be visiting.  I wouldn’t expect that many would be able to conduct a detailed negotiation in a foreign language during a short trip, but when I was in Poland, I learned Polish well -enough to occasionally correct my translators when they misspoke for me  If you’re traveling on a multi-country trip over a short time span, it’s more difficult, but it really helps to be able to deal with others on their own basis & gains you lots of goowill.

Abiding by some of the author’s suggestions, don’t travel abroad to hang out with other American businesspeople where they hang out, say @ an American Chamber of Commerce.  Rather seek out local businesspeople @ the local chamber of commerce.  At foreign trade shows, don’t seek out Americans just because we’re the easiest to converse with.  Get involved in discussions with exhibitors @ booths from other countries who do things differently from how you do so that you can learn a different approach to your business.  Even if they’re not direct prospects, talk with people up & down your supply chain in different countries to see how they work.

I’d love to be able to relate some of my personal experiences the article conjures up, but that’s another topic altogether.  To much of the rest of the world, life is not just business.  We’d do well to learn about those other parts of life to help us in our businesses.

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