Blog – 2 – Loneliness – Come book your ticket and travel with me to Mongolia! How can living in lonely open spaces effect your corporate culture? Mongolia, the country of wide open spaces
Have you ever been to a country where there are amazing open spaces and it takes hours and days to travel to the next city or inhabited place? There are many places like this across the world and I would like to take you on a trip with me and write about an amazing country with wide open spaces, Mongolia. I was fortunate enough to go and do consultancy in Mongolia to help setup a new business sector called Global Custody. I was asked to go to a country that had the status of being an emerging market. A country where there is not suppose to be much modernization and a culture of nomadic people. How did I deal and cope with this cultural difference? I was lucky enough in the late 1980’s to travel to Portugal and play basketball professionally there for 10 months and if you compare the USA to Portugal, it was like going back 30 years in time, and by the way, I loved it! So I have pictured a country that was 30 years behind everyone. Well, I was wrong! What an amazing place and such progressive people. It was a fantastic experience and I truly believe that the Mongolians have a lot to give with regards to corporate culture and how we can work better together and not be so cut throat and competitive.
Mongolia, the country of Nomads and a life of being secluded. Loneliness can be a way of life so survival and being able to come together quickly and help each other is a key aspect of life. The temperatures are extreme and the country is stark and vast. When I have arrived in Ulaanbaatar, I have flow over empty rolling mountains and prairies. Amazing red, brown and yellow colors in the month of October. I have arrived at a basic airport around 1200 meters above sea level. To compare, half way up the Alps. I was picked up at the airport and knew that I would be driven to my hotel otherwise I had no clue what to expect. I had two drivers and we had fun speaking to each other but not knowing each others language. I always find it an experience when first taking a taxi or being driven to the hotel by local people. You really get a feel for the country. What I have seen is construction everywhere and a new 3 ish, 2 ish lane road connecting the airport to Ulaanbaatar. It is just like every other city and also like the middle of the USA. Ha, Ha! I have realized, there are no road rules, at crossings there are no lights and if there are lights they are not used……It did remind me of Portugal from the time I have lived there. So my first impression was that there is a infrastructure being built. Plus when looking at the buildings, I could see reminders of the soviet time when Mongolia was a satellite country in the Soviet Union. Many buildings looked like buildings in Belarus and Poland. Sports are important since I have seen an new sport facility but in the streets they need traffic lights, what a mess and the cars are huge like in the USA. Big Mega SUV’s so normally the biggest car wins. I have asked why everyone has such large cars like in America, they have told me that they need the big cars to go into the countryside.
So now I am checked into my hotel and ready to start my adventure! What amazing people I have met! Now lets look at loneliness, Mongolia is a country of nomadic life. The people are connected amazingly to nature. I have done some sample coaching sessions and after getting them to connect to their emotions and feelings, boom, they are able to more forward with their ideas and actions. Its very different from coaching westerners who are quite often stuck in their heads and can not connect to their feelings.
At the end of my 2nd week, I was asked to go with the regulators to meet with the 2 top Mongolian banks to see how they are doing with setting up their business. If you like to prepare for meetings, this is not the place to practice planning. The people in Mongolia are used to calling people together at short notice and go into meetings using their curiosity and intuition. Trust and building relationships is very important to them and to me. So I went into the meetings discussing their objectives on the walk over to the banks and we had great meetings. It was about building relationships and sharing ideas. I have felt that I have gone into a tribal meeting to see how everyone can be successful in setting up their business models.
Where I was really surprised, is when the top manager of the bank, and this manager is a woman, has asked me a very serious question. “What is your opinion with regards to every bank installing the same custody system? It would create scale-ability, decrease costs and help smaller banks come into the market.” Ironically, they wanted to help the smaller banks who would normally become their competitor, a threat to their livelihood, have a chance to enter the market! Threat! how can you help your competitor? This is quite often what the western world thinks. I have thought about the question and have replied that what she is suggesting is very progressive and it will help them build the local business structure without relying on foreign companies or banks to enter the market and take over market share. This was an interesting conversation which could only be considered an innovative idea from an intelligent businesswoman. Well I was wrong, we went into another bank where the top business manager was also a woman and she asked me the same question. I was surprised and really became curious. In all of my years working in the banking sector, I not come across this kind of thinking. Of course banks design systems/software and then resell the system/software to other banks at a heavy cost. But it is not the first thought when setting up a business. ie lets pool our money together and help our potential competitors.
I became curious and my thoughts started to go to looking at their culture, environment and mentality have really gone back to this nomadic culture and loneliness. When at first glance, you would think nomadic, tribal people would be very lonely living in the middle of nowhere, but when you really think about it, the nomadic people have their families around them all the times, and they are able to trust and watch out for each other. They are a unit and when coming together with other tribes, the unit becomes bigger. Plus the environment really promotes teamwork. When the temperatures are -35 C, you would never leave your friends alone but always be sure that they have gotten home and in their homes safely.
I had an interesting situation, I have left the office and was walking down the street, a man wearing a suit was sleeping on sidewalk. I wanted to help, but I could not communicate with the man so I have looked around and have seen many people around so I was sure another person would walk by and help. I had many fears pop up and I was also afraid to open my heart and my intuition told me to walk on. The next day I have asked my attendees at my training course about the situation and their reply was that he was probably drunk. There are drinking issues in the city but if it was the winter, they would never let a friend pass out due to drinking because they could die due to the extreme cold. I would say the same thing coming from Minnesota. I would always wait to be sure my friends enter their houses before leaving to be sure they are safe. if they are locked out in -35 C degrees, they would die.
So how can traveling to Mongolia and sharing insights and ideas help your corporate culture and your personal development? Are we in the western world actually creating loneliness and isolating ourselves from the opportunities of learning how to survive in new environments? I believe the corporate culture in Luxembourg has a lot of commonalities to Mongolian corporate culture which is why I was lucky enough to go and share my expertise and in turn have the opportunity to learn about Mongolian Culture. I want to connect and create a sharing environment, sit around the yurt or campfire and share stories under the stars. Let’s eliminate loneliness and start to create our nomadic tribe of experiential knowledge sharing Leaders.
Will you book a ticket and help me?
Picture taken by Virginia Anderson in Mongolia