“If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people.”
— Chinese Proverb
After spending early childhood in Brussels, Belgium, completing secondary school at an American international school in Pakistan, surfing through university and my early career in Los Angeles, and now living in London - when people ask me where I'm from, I don't quite know what to say. The most natural response is that "I'm a global citizen" with allegiances not necessarily to a country but more to values and causes that are important to me personally. It may sound a bit nebulous, but I don't think I'm alone in my views on global citizenship. I'm convinced there is a growing base of youngish entrepreneurs in major metropolitan cities like London who'll give you an equally enigmatic response.
My belief system is a mesh of the web of beliefs I was exposed to while growing up. My close friends at the international school were American, Korean, Kuwaiti, Canadian, French, Pakistani, Indian, Israeli, British, Nigerian, Swedish, and the list goes on. It felt a bit like a model United Nations, and I can't help but think the exposure to so many cultures at such an impressionable age has developed in me a deeply rooted international outlook (in personal and business life) as well as a curiosity for global business customs.
Fundamentally, we are all the same. Yet people from different places have developed profoundly different cultures, practices and ways of life. These cultural nuances (birthed from a variety of environmental and historical circumstances over several centuries) has forced pockets of people to develop unique skills sets, character traits, and customs which people from other regions had no necessity to develop.
In Eastern societies, there is a clear emphasis on self-analysis. In contrast, the western world is focused on outwardly analysis of the surrounding world and a deep interest in sociology. Each region has its own "cultural treasure chest." The globally minded entrepreneur must act a bit like a pirate, stealing slivers of wisdom from different treasure chests, forging them together, and making them his own.
In a global economy - and with China increasing its business reach at an alarmingly fast rate, those best positioned to succeed will transcend different cultural boundaries and contexts.
“Each region has its own “cultural treasure chest.” The globally minded entrepreneur must act a bit like a pirate, stealing slivers of wisdom from different treasure chests, forging them together, and making them his own.”
— Faisal Butt
Western society largely fails to recognise the inspiring thought leadership coming out of other Asian business hubs such as Japan and India - who have thriving business cultures derived from their own cultural nuances.
Inspired by my personal experiences and my cultural curiosity, in my first installment of The Global Entrepreneur blog, I share with you snippets of business wisdom from different parts of the world:
Japan: Seek Zen in Business
For generations, Zenist philosophy has taught the importance of finding tranquility inside yourself instead of foolishly seeking it in the world around you. One of the most profound teachings from this philosophy, and probably one that is most relevant to the entrepreneur, is that of ignoring doctrine and listening to your gut instinct.
In business, there are many manuals, theories and so-called experts who will try to teach you rigid, unbending sets of rules which will do nothing to improve your raw instincts and commercial savvy. Such a robotic approach does not translate well to the modern world, in which nimbleness and the ability to pivot to a rapidly evolving environment is a prized business skill.
One must acutely tune into and follow their gut instincts in business. Known in Zen Buddhism as Prajña Ditthi (translation: seeing reality unfiltered, and as it actually exists), this outlook will lead to a more mindful approach and will accelerate your development as you become acutely aware of your business’s faults and more conscientious about your own growth.
India: Knowledge is Power
Reverence of knowledge is a worldwide phenomenon, but nowhere is knowledge held in greater esteem than in India. In fact, this reverential treatment is deep rooted in India’s history. Nalanda University near Bihar is widely thought to be the first modern university having been opened in the 5th century AD by the Gupta Dynasty. The Gupta’s education system during the Golden Age of India is attributed to some of the earliest discoveries in areas as diverse as astronomy, science, technology and philosophy. This sacrality on the power of knowledge was matched with incredible work ethic and can be adopted by people of all cultural backgrounds. The importance of knowledge and the power of the mind was most eloquently articulated by Ghandi who famously said:
"A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.”
In India, it is culturally recognised that negative thought processes will soon become an inherent part of your personality if you are not mindful to control and direct your thought patterns. Although we are not made solely of our thoughts, they often can become a part of our character. By controlling our thoughts, we control our destiny.
We are all fundamentally the same. We all desire to create, grow, progress, barter, buy, sell and exchange. However, we are not "whole" until we have stolen from the cultural treasure chests from the remote corners of the world. If we take the ancient Chinese proverb to heart, to enjoy a hundred years of prosperity, we need to grow people. Growing our people must start with opening up their minds to the outside world, where great reservoirs of business wisdom are theirs to exploit.