Monday, December 6, 2010

The Etiquette of the Future

I was fortunate enough recently to attend the 2nd 21 inc Ideas Festival. This conference was hosted in partnership with the Public Policy Forum and followed on the success of the first such event held two years ago. The focus of the forum was to examine how tomorrow's leaders will evolve from today's global economic climate and how their priorities will differ. The etiquette of tomorrow will need to be flexible, yet play a key role in how we as a province succeed on the international front.

The depth of quality of speakers and presenters that Tim Coates and his associates assembled was even greater than the first conference and I was privileged to listen to and meet some of Canada's greatest minds. From Roots of Empathy author Mary Gordon to Roger Jackson, the olympic gold medal winning oarsman and CEO of Own The Podium to newly elected Premier David Alward, the guests were treated to wonderful discussions on the visions these people and others have for the future of business in New Brunswick.

There appears to be a shift from focusing primarily on making as much money as possible to being as happy as possible. This is a large generational leap and one which, in my opinion, will result in a more civil business climate as well as a more successful one. I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that civility in the workplace is the key to improved productivity and innovative thinking. The effect that simply being a little nicer to those people with whom we work and do
business, i.e. our co-workers and our clients, has the potential to change the face of how we do business throughout the world.

I was somewhat surprised at the casual interchangeability of the words "Chinese" and "Asian". As time goes on, it will be increasingly important to be aware that Asia today is comprised of as many as 17 different countries, each with its own distinct culture and way of doing business. To compete and be a real player internationally, companies must not only be aware of these sometimes not-so- subtle differences, but take steps to understand and respect them as well. Asian history predates Western history by millennia and therefore their patterns and habits of intercultural discourse are even more deeply seated than we can imagine.

This is not to say that respect for our fellow man is going to change in any fundamental way. It does mean however that there will need to be a more sensitive and fuller awareness in understanding and respecting other people. Much of the political posturing in the world today smacks of bullying and is based in greed and distrust. The "millennial" generation is already becoming aware of this necessity, but is often lacking the diplomatic skills which would make this
new way of interacting, both socially and in business, easier and more genuine.

Taking the time to study the people from whatever country we plan to do business with and to understand what really makes them tick is time well spent. This is an exciting time in world history (not unlike most times), and a chance for us to become global citizens in character and responsibility. The old adage, "people like doing business with people they like and trust", has never rung more true than it does today. What a privilege it is to meet and befriend people from all over the world! We all want to live in a world where peace reigns supreme. In order to this we must conduct ourselves in ways which demonstrate a real respect for other cultures. We would do ourselves a favor by dropping the notion that we are in some ways superior to others and that our ways of doing things is the best way for everyone. This is simply not true and evident in light of recent international financial hardships and failures.

As humans we all have frailties. It is our nature. With these frailties also comes a need for compassion and respect. If today's leaders cannot show us how to do this by example, we must be prepared to raise the bar ourselves. The greatest message for me which came from the conference was a line from Mr. Jackson where he stated that "hope is not a strategy". We must take action and we must take it now, much the way he did by devising the system whereby Canada had the best winter Olympics, in terms of medals won, ever! Canada is a great country and the Atlantic provinces are well positioned to be leaders on the world stage. By acting with greater civility and having more respect and compassion for all of mankind, we're well on our way!