How to stay Zen, doing business in China?


Jan Heemskerk, business advisor Agriterra, wrote a blog about doing business in China.

When I was a high school student I had an inspiring teacher, who stimulated me to read thé cult-book from the seventies Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This book is about two different types of personalities: those who are viewing life from a romantic viewpoint, just driving their bike and focusing on living "in the moment" (like Zen), and those with a mainly classic viewpoint, who wants to know all the details, understand the inner workings, and master the mechanics of their bike, based on a rational analysis.
Although I am left-handed twice, I loved this book. It’s a strange combination of technics and philosophy. I grew up, forgot about the book, but since I visit China as a business advisor for Agriterra, this book sometimes strikes my mind again. Good education is worth a fortune.
Doing business in China is rather challenging. You only can succeed in this country, combining these 2 viewpoints. If you compare the Chinese and Dutch cultures, according the cultural analysis of Geert Hofstede, you will find out that there are no two cultures more different. In China you have to deal with a hierarchic, masculine, uncertainty avoiding, collective and long term focused culture. Just the opposite of our Dutch culture. Oh, and that’s apart from the language and the meddling of the government.
So to stay Zen, while coping with all the differences, the Art is to enjoy the moments of joy. Fortunately you can be sure that every day in China will contain at least 3 moments of joy; the meals. Business deals are done during an official dinner and it's a great experience. It starts with the seating arrangement. The host will sit on the chair of the round turntable opposite the door, the most important guest on the left hand side, the second important guest on the right hand side, and so on. Dinner is started with an official short speech and a toast of the host. The table starts turning with all these delicious dishes, you pick the best ones with your chopsticks and the guest is expected to speech and toast per tablemate. Since the Chinese believe you learn to know the inner soul of somebody faster, while he or she is drinking alcohol, you might better not be a member of the Anonymous Alcoholics. By the way; you are not allowed to take a sip on your own; you only may drink after toasting and making contact with one of your tablemates!
Next weeks we will visit and negotiate with different clients and provincial governments in China. Will keep you updated about the “mechanics” of the negotiations and our new lessons learnt in this mysterious country…
Jan Heemskerk
business advisor China

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