The Law of Reversed Effort

Updated 28/05/2012 – When I originally posted this entry, I was a bit naive about the potential ramifications of the statements regarding Vietnam’s business environment that I attributed to a conversation with Andrew at VIP.  I’ve decided to delete this point lest it cause harm to other him or his organization.  Any opinions below are entirely my own – namely, that doing business in Vietnam can be tough – especially if you try to strictly stick to western values/ethics and international commercial law.

According to Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Vietnam ranks 112 out of 183 countries.

It’s hard to hold to your ideals when systems grind your business down and nearly always necessitate a compromise.  A lot of foreigners enter the system and try to bulldoze their way through citing superior western morals (where we lobby politicians with oodles of money, subsidize inefficiency, export surpluses to depress foreign markets, and so forth).  These people don’t tend to last too long.

I chalk it up to the law of reversed effort, summed up nicely by Alan Watts:

“When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink you float.  Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it.” – from “The Wisdom of Insecurity”

Stay calm, listen, ride the ups and downs, and lead by example.  The more you fight, the stronger the reaction and the less likely you’ll reach an amiable solution.  In Asia and many other areas of the world, it’s about building relationships.  It’s about we, not me.

It’s a different system and has developed over thousands of years for a reason.  You won’t change it in a day.  In fact, maybe you’ll figure out a way to flourish within it while holding to your ideals.  Maybe, you’ll see some positives aspects of it.

I don’t mean to encourage apathy.  Quite the opposite.

Some might say that the expression “That’s the way it is” is just a cop out.  I disagree.  It’s a cop out only when followed by inaction.  If followed by complaining, well that’s just annoying.

Here are a few comments I’ve heard in just the past week:

“Everyone quits their job after Tet.”

“Vietnamese people are stubborn.”

“They don’t understand service.”

“They always steal and want more money.”

With those kinds of internal conversations influencing your everyday interactions and management, how can you ever expect not to create a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Why not turn those harsh generalizations on their head and ask what steps can I take to achieve the outcome I am looking for?  Most importantly, do I even adhere to the values I demand that others display (namely tolerance)?

Yes, hold on to your values and mission – but there is an art in recognizing if, when and how to influence and affect change around you.  Words ring hallow; creating an air of superiority just distracts you from getting the real work done.

“…and they’re able to look into the face of some pretty awful political corrupt machinations or what have you that would get me frothing with righteous indignation and they smile and shrug and say, ‘What do you expect?’ and then they go and do what needs to be done.” – Joanna Macy from “A Wild Love for the World” (On Being APM Podcast)


~ by responsiblenomad on January 21, 2011.

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