Are you ready to go global?
Here's how it might happen: You receive an e-mail from a contact in Germany asking to buy 20,000 of your widgets. Good grief! Now what? You're not set up to handle online transactions--you just finished your website!
It's worth your while to do some soul-searching ahead of time and decide whether you have what it takes to go global, or are willing to cultivate the qualities you'll need to succeed. You're already a successful executive or you wouldn't be reading this article. But going global requires a special way of understanding the world and operating in it, which I like to call global intelligence.
The following personality traits are the fundamentals in securing a high global business IQ. If you see yourself in these descriptions, then you are well on your way to going global.
1. Be Comfortable with Change and Respond at Lightning Speed
Ask yourself this: can you embrace uncertainty and rise to the occasion? The world is shifting fast, and "speed rules," as a recent Fast Company article proclaims. Change is commonplace. You must be able to address any new inquiry and shift your company's resources (namely, you!) to accommodate it.
Peter Drucker, one of the best management minds of our time, declares, "One cannot manage change. One can only be ahead of it.” And as you create worldwide online connections, the need to be comfortable with change will become more acute.
2. Develop an All-Encompassing Perspective
You should be able to function well on both a small and large scale--to hone in on details, yet always comprehend the big picture, and keep pace with that picture as it changes. As Gary Hamel, author of "Leading The Revolution," puts it, "You are trying to find capabilities that transcend the traditional boundaries in an organization.”
One day you'll be trying to pin down just why Japanese women like the color pink and the next day you'll be sorting out how the drop in the peso will affect your latest acquisition in Mexico. You'll need to take in information, see its significance, and act on it.
3. Welcome New Experiences, Even Crises, for They Bring About a Positive Confrontation Between Different Perspectives
Think of a crisis as a surprise. Even a relatively ordinary life will teach you that the world is full of them. When you welcome them, you are light-years ahead of those who have been trained to guard against them. As early as 1986, Lexicon Communication's President Steven Fink was taking the position that "a crisis is a turning point which offers as much opportunity as danger.”
These challenges--or opportunities, depending on how you view them--should be used to map out new directions for your creative energies. For example, as a global trader, you must always seek to improve yourself, your product, your business, and your world.
4. Adapt, Take Risks and Innovate
Adaptability means that, if you don't know how different markets operate, you find out--fast. You stay sensitive to the cultural values of other countries. And if things appear one way today and another tomorrow, you shift gears and work with conditions as you find them. Creating your strategy on your feet is the only way to do global business.
The more you risk, the greater your chances for success or failure, but either way, you're pushing your limits and extending your reach. There comes a point in every initiative when you must recognize the risks and move forward anyway. Remember, you learn the most from failure, so take what chances you can afford.
Keeping the mind fresh, fertile, and open to new perspectives--the prerequisites of innovation--is a must if you want to conduct business effectively worldwide. There are endless ways of opening your mind that you can get to work on right now. View as many web sites as humanly possible.
Beyond surfing the Net, take long walks in unfamiliar neighborhoods. See foreign films. Meet people in other professions. Join social groups that attract members of other nationalities. Don't withdraw when confronted with cultural differences--hang in there and ask yourself why you feel the way you do. This is real learning.
Give yourself a chance to discover your own unexamined values and assumptions, and you will find it a lot easier to accept others' unfamiliar way!
5. Travel to at Least One Foreign Country and Stay for Several Weeks--Preferably with a Native Family--and Desire to Return
Are you prepared to cultivate your international contacts? You better be for you cannot hide behind a great website or e-mail forever. Get on a plane, land yourself somewhere far from home, and teach yourself to adjust. Interact with the locals. Cultivate friendships. Watch, listen and learn. Ask a lot of questions. Live and breathe the environment. Do as the natives do. This is the best possible training for becoming a global businessperson.
6. Learn as Much as Possible About the Culture in Which You Are About to Do Business
Pay attention to etiquette, netiquette and protocol, and behave exactly as interpersonal situations dictate. One day you are a diplomat, the next a leader, and sometimes both. When your every move is subject to scrutiny, it's best to come equipped with the knowledge that will put you ahead of the game.
You can start by thinking about what makes you different from your next door neighbor. Then form the habit of doing the same thing on a citywide, nationwide, and worldwide scale. Try to understand how and why people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds think and behave the way they do.
Assuming you don't have time for an extended foreign language course, visit a good brick-and-mortar or online store that specializes in cultural nuances. Two are Savvy Traveler and Rand McNally. Here, you can buy books and audio cassette tapes to help you learn about the economy, dress, language, cuisine, etiquette, and other vital statistics of just about any country in the world.
7. Maintain Passion, Enthusiasm, Playfulness and Curiosity
Show your business associates that you value every negotiation as if it is a matter of life or death. Let your e-mails communicate how intensely you care. Let them see that you are passionate about what you are building together, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm. These traits are contagious and irresistible--they draw people to you no matter where in the world you are.
Want to fill yourself with passion and enthusiasm? Remember what it was like to be a kid? Spontaneous, free, not a care in the world? Want to bring it on now? Visit happypuppy or Hotwired's Animation Express.
In your day-to-day dealings, let some of that powerful playfulness show. Use it carefully--there's obviously a time for play and a time for seriousness. Bringing a judicious helping of childlike joy and high good humor to your business communications can sometimes make or break an international deal.
Finally, show your eagerness to discover more, to do more, to push the limits of the known. You need curiosity to drive you in search of "more." Your passion, enthusiasm and playfulness need somewhere to go.
Take the next step, go the extra mile, and wonder what if, what's next, what's possible. Curiosity didn't kill the cat, and it won't kill you, either. It can only give you a bigger and better life.
8. Know Yourself Well Before You Present Yourself in the International Arena
In the article "All the Right Moves" (Fast Company, Issue 24, page 192), Anna Luoio talks about how chess is a game of thinking ahead, quickly and under pressure. Luoio proposes that the most important forms of intelligence--in chess and in life--are the ability to read other people and the ability to understand oneself.
Getting ready to undertake an online global business is a very similar game. You must know yourself well enough to anticipate how you will react in new and difficult circumstances. You must be able to exercise self-control. You must develop inner security by counting yourself as valuable apart from your successes or failures.
When you know yourself well, you are able to build connections with others by listening, empathizing and understanding. The people skills that are so essential for cultivating relationships in the global e-marketplace start with the positive relationship you cultivate with yourself.
9. Store Enormous Reserves of Energy Along with Patience and stick-to-it-Iveness
It's great to be an aggressive, energetic mover-and-shaker, but just as important to know when to slow down and let a negotiation take its own course. Real business breakthroughs don't come easily or quickly on the domestic front, and in the global market it's a thousand times more difficult. You must deliver long-term value in terms of product quality and customer service while building and maintaining the alliances a global market demands, and you must expect it to take a lot of time.
Stick-to-it-iveness is vital if you are going to maintain the committed effort needed to make things work. Don't quit before you have to just because you lack the nerve to keep up your efforts when there's no payoff in sight. Persevering through the discouraging, nerve-racking times will give you strength and confidence to carry you through even bolder efforts in the future.
10. Own Courage--Because Freedom in This World Is Born from Courage.
Going forward with anything about which you have even the smallest doubt takes courage. Responding to that German customer who wants 20,000 widgets when you don't know how you are going to serve them takes courage. Putting your reputation on the line and making up your mind to deal with the consequences takes courage. Staying true to your vision and your mission--in this case, going global--in the face of criticism and opposition takes courage. But if you can somehow call it up when you need it, your rewards will be extraordinary.