Five Tips for Working in Asia, advice from Tropical MBA

In Episode 225 of Tropical MBA, Dan Andrews is joined by Jon Myers for a “jam session” of ideas about living and working in Asia.  The episode is a different limb than what Dan and Ian typically discuss, but it has some solid stuff, especially toward the end of the episode.

The beginning includes some stories about Asia including the crazy motorbike traffic, the kindergarten education (9:40), and that being close – but not in – China is important. (12:30)   The key part of the episode is when Andrews and Myers jump into their five success tips for working in Asia.

Tip 1: “Thou shall not do local business.”

Andrews and Myers talk about why you don’t want to just jump into an area  you know nothing about and try to fix things.  “Don’t think you’re clever and do Groupon for Vietnam” Andrews says (16:00) – often our ideas need deeper thought.  Pat Flynn has a technique he calls 777 brainstorming to help him find businesses in areas he cares about.  Flynn notes that “By targeting a market that involves a passion, problem and/or fear that I or someone I know has, I can be sure I’ll be interested in it enough to put forth the extra effort needed for it to become a potentially high profit site.”  Pat’s personal connection is important, if you try to jump in to something you don’t understand at all you miss the currents.  Dan warns, “You tend to underestimate the inherent intelligence of a place.” (17:15)

Early in the episode the guys talk about how there’s no Whole Foods and no formal gyms (7:30) and while these things would be nice, they don’t get started because the existing ethos of the place has adapted to not needing those things.  It reminds me that McDonalds has 10 million pounds of chicken wings in unused inventory. McDonalds thought that adding chicken wings to a menu that already featured chicken would work. It apparently didn’t.

Tip 2: You need a purpose and a vision.

Dan and Jon both have personal and professional reasons to be in Asia.  It’s not just the cost of living perks, like maid services.  If they didn’t need to be there for work, they probably wouldn’t be there at all.  Later in the episode Jon remarks that you could probably be doing the same thing in Detroit.

You hear about this dichotomy of perception time and again from entrepreneurs who have left their traditional jobs for new ones.  Working for yourself might look nice from the outside, but so does a snow covered landscape.  Once you get out in the metaphorical snow, things are different.  Out there includes long hours, doubts, and fears.  The irregular paychecks, the sometimes huge self-insurance deductibles, and the need to maintain a razor sharp focus are all inherent challenges that have to be aligned with your purpose and vision.

Tip 3: You must have an insatiable curiosity for where you’re going. & Tip 4: Get connected and get inspired.

These tips both stem from – I think – Dan’s environment.  He often talks on the podcast about connecting to entrepreneurs, expats mostly, who are moving and shaking in the region.  He loves living and breathing both the culture and the business that is Asia – but not the air –  and while he would probably be successful in doing these things elsewhere, doing them in Asia really appeals to him.  He says, “you’re writing the story,” and for him, Asia is a great place to do it.

Working in Asia means that there is a fluidity to what can happen and this appeals to Dan and Jon.  Deal making is more fluid, it happens with only a handshake (28:10), but to survive and thrive you gotta be tough.  At 25:30 Dan says:

You gotta have that grit and that long-term view that I’m going to hang for 24 months, and I’m gonna make it happen, and I’m not gonna demand that everything is the same as it was back home.

Tip 5: You must be mindful and have an attitude of gratitude

Dan says, “It feels exciting that I’m doing something different.” (27:00)  and you need to be ready for things, when they’re ready to happen.  During this exchange, Jon gives my favorite quote of the episode:

You have to be the engineer of your own serendipity.

How does being ready to seize that happen?  In Manage Your Day-To-Day, Scott Belsky – CEO of Behance before its acquisition by Adobe – wrote that he gets his ideas by unplugging. He tells a story about a camping trip where at first he was bored, but on the second day, “my brain suddenly reactivated.  My creativity and imagination reached a new velocity as soon as I unplugged.”  In the same article Belsky suggests you, “open yourself up to serendipity.”

Belsky isn’t the only one, Cal Newport blogged about trying to make a deeper connection between two ideas he was mentally wrangling.  Newport writes, “In my experience, this type of connection making is well-served by three ingredients: quiet, movement, and time. So I left my building and hiked onto a network of trails that abuts the Georgetown campus.”  Walking seems to be a common way to bring inspiration – serendipitously or not.  In Daily Rituals many writers went for walks after a morning work session.  Beethoven even walked with a pencil and music sheets to “record chance musical thoughts.”

In the episode Dan and Jon don’t mention unplugging but throughout they are talking about the spirit of unplugging.  They’ve unplugged from certain culture things. They don’t have CNN in front of a treadmill, they have a public track with a basketball court.  They don’t have TV to watch, they have cheap flights to Shanghai.

I enjoyed the episode, especially the part about Asia.  It’s an area that I can’t see myself in but their discussion included lessons that I can myself needing.

2 thoughts on “Five Tips for Working in Asia, advice from Tropical MBA

    1. MIKE Post author

      Thanks for the kind words Dan. It was a good show, a nice mix of anecdotes about working in Asia but also some larger lessons hidden in there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s