Global Business Basics -- The Business of Luck

Pacific Rim philosophies can make your work environment more productive and help turn a profit.

Imagine you are making your first visit to a prospective business partner in the Pacific Rim. You ride the elevator to the 13th floor. You exit the elevator by walking under the legs of a large ladder. You enter the office, which is decorated in a motif of skulls and black cats. You are ushered into the CEO's office by a secretary dressed as a witch, who announces your arrival with the words, "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes." The CEO greets you warmly and celebrates your arrival by smashing a large mirror. Even if you weren't the slightest bit superstitious, wouldn't you have doubts about doing business with this company? This example is extreme, of course. But similar scenarios happen every day when executives from the Pacific Rim visit Europe and the Americas. They encounter situations that, from their cultural viewpoint, presage bad luck. The Energy Of Luck The most common belief system of good and bad luck in the Pacific Rim is known as feng shui. The precepts of feng shui have existed for thousands of years and were set down in the ancient Chinese text known as the I Ching, or Book of Changes. Many of the world's 1.2 billion ethnic Chinese, as well as many non-Chinese cultures, respect the rules of feng shui. Feng shui is particularly popular in Taiwan and Singapore, and, despite the opposition of the government, it is still practiced in the People's Republic of China. Consequently, Western companies that host visitors from these countries should consider consulting a feng shui expert about the layout of their offices. We all know how important first impressions are -- why risk giving a bad first impression to an Asian visitor? Feng shui adherents believe in the existence of a type of natural energy called chi (pronounced chee; it can also be spelled Qi). This chi flows through all things animate and inanimate. When buildings and their furnishings are harmoniously aligned with the flow of Chi, good things tend to happen. When the Chi is blocked (or worse, allowed to drain out of a building), the result is discord, bad luck, and ill health. But Does It Work? Aside from pleasing your Pacific Rim visitors, is there any other reason to bother having your office done by a feng shui expert? Actually, there are many non-Chinese who believe that it has improved their quality of life. Even in the U.S., it isn't hard to find executives who are satisfied customers of feng shui consultants. Net Optics Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., hired feng shui consultant Linda Lenore to improve business in 1999. Her diagnosis included cleaning up clutter, adding green and purple to the color scheme, and shifting most desks 180 degrees. After following her advice (which included spending about $500 on new paint), the company's fortunes turned around. Despite the collapse of many high-tech companies, Net Optics is still going strong. Separation Of Church And State (Or Business) Feng shui may be accepted in cosmopolitan areas like San Francisco and New York City, but how does it play in more conservative areas? And doesn't anyone object to the introduction of feng shui principles on religious grounds? In fact, feng shui often escapes the religious objection because it is not an organized religion. Feng shui is most closely related to Confucianism. Confucianism is generally considered a philosophy, not a religion. Similarly, observers of feng shui generally call it a system of folk beliefs rather than a religion. Certainly, any workplace could ban the practice of feng shui on religious grounds. But under the same rationale, it could be called upon to prohibit such popular traditions as Christmas trees or wearing green on St. Patrick's Day. Of course, no one forces a business in the U.S. or Canada to undergo the ministrations of a feng shui practitioner. Such experts are hired by the owners, who should take the sensitivities of their employees into account. Many employers first have a feng shui expert do their homes. Only then do they decide to extend the benefits of feng shui to the workplace. What Will Feng Shui Do To My Office? Thankfully, the precepts of feng shui are not antithetical to Western business practices. . .or even to common sense. For example, clutter makes for bad feng shui. "I compare clutter to a clogged artery," says feng shui consultant and author Lenore. "Clutter stops the flow of mental and creative energies." Another precept of feng shui is to put the cash register in a retail establishment near the front door. Feng shui maintains that "like attracts like," so the cash box should be near the entrance to attract money inside. This is exactly where most Western businesses put their cash registers so that the person attending the register can watch who comes in and out. Good feng shui behavior does not usually clash with Western practices. The final objection to feng shui is that it doesn't have a rational, cause-and-effect explanation acceptable to Western science. Even Linda Lenore admits to not knowing why feng shui is so successful. "Seventeen years ago, I started out trying to disprove feng shui," she recalls. "I still can't explain it. But it works." Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway are co-authors of Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries, Dun & Bradstreet's Guide to Doing Business Around the World (revised 2000), The International Traveler's Guide to Doing Business in Latin America, The International Traveler's Guide to Doing Business in the European Union, and The World Holiday and Time Zone Guide 2001. For further information on their seminars, online database, and books, phone (610) 725-1040, fax 800-529-8167, or email [email protected]

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