Leading in Asia

One of the biggest mistakes international and regional employees make when working in Asia is acting on assumed values, or what is often referred to as value bias. A country’s culture is a blend of shared history, race and language. Its operating language, however, is its values. Values are those invisible lenses that people view life through. Want to know what a person’s values? Just look at the decision they make.

Given the amount of top-line growth lost through HR inefficiencies, helping executives and managers overcome value-bias is more important then ever.

A leading complaint by local employees about their Western counterparts is they don’t understand how local environments operate. They speak the local language, they have on-the-ground experience, but they don’t…quite….get it.

However, in watching regional managers work throughout the region, it’s shocking how often they make the same mistake. In assuming that all Asian values are the same, regional managers often play into long-held beliefs and biases that permeate throughout the region. This is commonly seen in exchanges between the Confucian cultures of East Asia and Singapore, and the Buddhist cultures of South East Asia.


With the go-go days of unchecked growth in Asia coming to an end, it’s increasingly important that regional and international executives focus on driving growth through increased efficiencies.

How can managers and executives do this?

The best place to start is by understanding that as humans we operate on two types of values: inherited and chosen.

Inherited values tend to drive concepts of culture. They give us our sense of national identity. Inherited values are given to us by our parents, our teachers, our government and other institutions. They are often at to root of sentences like “We’re not like them. We don’t act that way.” or “In this country, we do it this way.”

This is can be tediously difficult part of working abroad. The part that makes people feel isolated and ineffective.

Chosen values often drive cross-cultural efficiencies. They break down the barrier between ‘us and them’ and foster a sense of ‘we’. It’s the shared sense of ‘we’ that drives company culture and efficiencies. Chosen values give a sense of empowerment as they makes people feel like they are part of something special.

While it’s a given that culture is set at the top, when working in an international environment, especially in Asia, it makes sense to take time to derive that culture from the common traits shared by each culture.

How can companies do this?

 Beneath the operating language of the chosen values of countries, cultures and companies, lies a desire for transformation, personal development and a sense that one’s skills will be unlocked. This desire for wellbeing transcends both company and country cultures as it facilitates that shared sense of ‘we’.

Setting this shared sense of ‘we’ as the primary driver of an organization’s culture helps create a sense of intra-organizational dialogue that empowers groups to speak openly about creative ways to work together.





What is Mindfulness……I mean…..really…..what is it?

Mindfulness is very much the “in” thing now. But what is mindfulness? And how can it benefit an entrepreneur or executive?

There is nothing mystical or magical about mindfulness. In many ways it is just like going to the gym, except instead of your body, you are strengthening your mind.

At the end of the day your mind is muscle that controls how you perceive the world. The stronger it is, the less it becomes overwhelmed or distracted. The more out of shape it is, the more you are at the mercy of your emotions.

Think about it

How many times have you been in a situation only to realize later that you completely misinterpreted what was really happening? Maybe you over reacted. Maybe you didn’t hear what was being said. Whatever the reason, you were not present. Your mind was either clouded or it was elsewhere.

Buddhist Monk Ajan Chan describes this to being like a leaf that is carried away by a strong breeze. The undisciplined mind becomes overwhelmed by whatever is happening and gets carried away. Whereas a disciplined mind is able to see the breeze, observe it and allow it to pass by. It is able to perceive things as they are.

At work, we are rarely present. We are either experiencing stress, thinking about a prior meeting, thinking about what needs to get done or reacting to some other external pressure. Our minds become like leaves caught in a strong breeze. We begin to view the situation from the perspective of the breeze, which in turn impacts the quality of our decision making.

For an executive keeping a clear head becomes critical, especially during times of change, disruption, growth or crisis. Having a sharp mind that is able to see things as they are creates a sense of confidence that they are making the right decision. It prevents organizations from getting bogged down by fear driven politics, negative energy and anger.

However, just like going to the gym, mindfulness is a commitment. Whether it’s sitting Zazen, chanting mantras, or practicing vipassana, the point is to find a practice that works for you and then to practice it regularly. Only by regularly practicing a mindfulness practice can you experience the benefits of mindfulness. Just like you wouldn’t expect to run a marathon without months of training, you shouldn’t expect not to be overwhelmed at the next meeting without practice.


Unlocking Flow, Creativity & Your Inner Superman

Are we doomed to living lives of quiet desperation, working jobs we either are ‘not engaged’ in, or ‘actively disengaged’ from? Or will we chose happiness and experience a myriad of health, quality of life and productivity improvements?

Another way to look this age-old question is, will we as a society flourish and reach our full potential? Or are we of doomed to economies of incremental, consumption-driven growth and societies that are continually on the brink of some Malthusian crisis?

According to Steven Kotler, we have much to look forward to. The solution, as presented in Kotler’s recent opus The Rise of Superman, lies in humanity’s ability to access that much sought after state called Flow. Drawing upon the analogy of kayaking Kotler states:

“Without question, paddling fast enough to catch a possibility wave like abundance means we’ll need the most capable versions of ourselves doing the paddling. We’ll need to be better, faster, stronger, smarter. We’ll need intrinsic motivation and incredible cooperation. Our imaginations will have to be deeply engaged; our creative selves operating at their full Picasso. In other words, if we’re interested in forcing a future of abundance, then we’re going to need flow.”

For Kotler, as with Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is what unlocks our ability to tap into our higher selves. It takes us out of our overly analytical, ever doubting, over thinking selves and put’s us into what only can be described as a Zen like state of total connectedness.

The majority of the book focuses on the breakthroughs in the field adventure sports, which have been truly astounding. Kotler does do a phenomenal job of framing the enormity these achievements in a way that drives the possibility of break-throughs in the non-adventure sport arena.

In the making the connection between flow and increased creativity, the Rise of Superman goes from being an incredibly entertaining book to a substantial contribution to helping humanity advance itself. Because if ever there was a time where we need to evolve, now would certainly be it.

In the flow, we are at our resourceful, imaginative, ingenious best. Better still, the changes stick. According to research done by Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, not only are creative insights consistently associated with flow states, but that amplified creativity outlasts the zone. People report feeling extraordinarily creative the day after a flow state, suggesting that time spent in the zone trains the brain to consistently think outside the box.”

Flow, in short, is the ultimate creativity hack.

The Rise of Superman is, if anything else, a call to step into that uncomfortable void of the unknowing, free fall into the existential abyss, unleash a creative spark and discover our best selves, because that is what the world needs more than ever—people who are truly alive.







One of Life’s Simplest Productivity Hacks

One of the simplest ways to increase productivity is through the practice gratitude. Gratitude is not only a way of making yourself feel immediately better regardless of where you are, but it is also one of the easiest ways to facilitate shifts in state and consciousness that leads to increased productivity.

A chief contributor to blocks in productivity are overwhelming emotions–whether it’s anger, lack of motivation, doubt, or just not being that into whatever you are doing. These emotions create a mental state that is akin to having one foot on the clutch and one on the accelerator. No matter how hard you rev the engine, the wheels just don’t engage.

In his groundbreaking book The Brain that Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doige introduced a unique approach to dealing with OCD that can be applied to productivity.

At the time of writing, the conventional way of dealing with potentially crippling compulsive habits associated with OCD was through behavior therapies where patients were forced to directly confront whatever it was they were obsessing over, i.e. patients with a fear of snakes are put in a room filled with snakes.; patients with a fear of heights go parachuting, etc.

Doidge introduces “an effective, plasticity-based treatment” developed by Jeffrey M. Schwartz that helps patients manually shift gears in their thinking. The core foundation of the technique is focusing on something overwhelmingly positive, like a peak experience or their concept of God, whenever the patient experiences OCD like symptoms.

This practice has been shown to effectively rewire the brain.

Gratitude creates the same result. Gratitude pulls us out of our frontal cortex and allows us to access the part of the brain that reside deep in the center called the Caudate Nucleaus, which acts as an automatic gearshift. This in turn facilitates a shift in mental state, which translates to a shift in physical state and correspondingly productivity.

Want three super simple and effective techniques for using gratitude to hack productivity?

Gratitude Breathing

This is a simple exercise that can be practiced anywhere at anytime.

First place your hand on your heart and close your eyes. Breath in and out as quickly as possible through your nose 10 times. Finally, inhale as deeply as you can. As you do, think of one thing you are grateful for.

Hold that breath and allow yourself to connect with that sense of gratitude as deeply as possible. Feel it expand to the point where it fills your body.

As you exhale scan your body so you can feel the gratitude in every part of your body.

Repeat at least 3 times.

Think of 3 things you are grateful for each night before you sleep

Each night before you go to bed, think of three things from that day that you are deeply grateful for. It can be as simple and small as the smile someone gave you when you were crossing the street, or how good your coffee tasted that morning.

This is an amazingly simple practice that will have you waking up happier, more productive and searching out simple ways to be more grateful. According to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, this practice will actually improve your sleep.

Gratitude Lists

Whenever you’re feeling blocked, simply stop what you are doing and start a list of all the things you are grateful for in your life, no matter how big or small. Making a regular practice of this will transform your life and, according to a 2015 paper in the Journal of Religion and Health, make you not only more hopeful, but also healthier!