Asia: A Look Back
It has been almost a month now since I returned from 4 months of backpacking Southeast Asia. My time abroad passed quickly, but nowhere near as fast as the last 30 days seemed to go. A wise man once said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” But even when you do take the time to stop and look around for a while you can still miss it!
Large companies have trouble innovating because they are so good at doing whatever it is that lead to their growth. The irony is that if the company doesn’t innovate it will eventually go out of business. A good example they use over at Imaginatik is that of a a race car: if your pit crew cares about winning then they’re busy optimizing your entire car for the demands of the day: aerodynamics, gasoline engines, etc. But the “innovation team” believes that the car of the future will be an electric powered, flying, driver-less car. They come to the pit crew and tell them that they want to start changing things based on how they believe the future will turn out. You can see the problem; it’s a Catch-22. Implement the changes based on some possible future innovations and you’ll likely destroy current profitability. Wait too long and someone else will come out with the future while you’re still optimizing the past.
Common innovation literature seems to have come up with the answer, partly due to the way that Lockheed Martin handled things: split them up. That is keep your performance engine cranking because it’s doing many things well: profitability being one of the major ones. But because it’s a large cog that’s slow to change and hard to influence you’re better off putting the smaller, more agile innovation engine in a separate place and disconnecting them. This allows them to learn and fail quickly. Failing quickly is a good thing so long as you’ve structured your experiments properly because this means that you learn quickly. Here’s the problem: if you have a massive gear slowly turning and an extremely fast gear spinning like there’s no tomorrow they’re impossible to link together: you need a clutch.
My daily life had gotten to the point where I was just slowly turning cranking through life; one of the things that I’ve made it my mission to achieve is better insight: and since insights come from intuition and intuition comes from lots of experiences in lots of environments, I decided I needed to spin faster and experience more. Now that I’ve had those experiences I need to make sure that they translate back to my “normal life”. After all, a fat spinning gear off by itself is of no use; it’s only when you’re able to harness that force to propel you forward in life that you recognize it’s true power.
So the first thing to do is to bridge the first few posts I did pre-trip and bring them full circle. I posted a blog about 5 of the things I wanted to figure out, which you can read or reread here if you’d like some background. I thought it only fair to hold myself accountable and answer those questions.
- Could Southeast Asia be home?
- Absolutely! I set out with the intent of exploring Chiang Mai as a potential place to settle down for a while, and I did love my time in that city. That said I also really enjoyed both Saigon and Hanoi and could see living in either of those places quite happily. I knew that the cost of living would be lower, and so what I was really judging is what one gets for that lower cost of living. I would say that the value for what you get is quite high. Answer: Yes, 92% confident.
- Is it possible to be a Winter Bird?
- Possible, yes. Likely…depends on my working situation. Large companies are designed to have full-time employees, and while Steelcase was awesome in terms of accommodating “this thing I wanted to do”, I likely wouldn’t be able to do it again anytime soon and remain employed there. Or at least not in the way I did it last time. I am considered a mobile employee which means I can work anywhere. But there are still expectations around working hours and being 12 hours off is difficult. It’s possible that I could work from abroad for a while, but I’m not sure if I would want to. Answer: If working at Steelcase: N0, 95%. If working for myself: Yes, 100%.
- Are there things I don’t know?
- This was bad question because I already knew the answer. But if I extrapolate and use the context I explained in my original statement of the questions then I’d say that I learned quite a bit about the stuff that I never knew that I never knew. People, in general, are more alike than different. But the differences are usually more fun to talk about, and one of the big differences I noticed is that Americans hardly travel at all compared to many other countries. I met so many people, but most were Dutch, German, Australian, Irish, Canadian, British, or French. Very few were Americans. I’ll expound on my theory behind that in another post. Yes, 100%.
- Can I live on only 50 liters worth of stuff and $50/day?
- This wasn’t as hard as I originally thought, and made me realize just how much stuff I actually have vs. how much I really need. Not having many things seemed to make my life much easier to manage than having so much; there’s less to keep track of and fewer decisions to make. I’ll do another post on what exactly I took with me along with things I wish I had brought as well as things I wish I had left behind. The $50 question depends how I answer it: Can I? Yes, 100%. Did I? No, 60%.
- Can I focus on living life and not work?
- The amount I was able to concentrate on life and not think about work was parabola shaped. That means there was a ramp up period of 3-4 weeks as well as 3-4 weeks coming down before I came back. So that’s a good two months of me not having to consider work….if I define work as my corporate job. However, I was still acting as a general contractor for a duplex I had bought last year which means I did spend time talking with my other contractors, sales reps, management company, and financing groups throughout. I may have been living on around $50/day, but most days I was spending a few times that for people working in the west and expecting to be paid western salaries. Try arranging a Skype call using a conference number with a loan officer on the west coast while you’re in a remote hostel in Central Laos with slow internet speeds. It worked…but it was a challenge. Yes, 98%.
I was able to learn a few more than 5 things during my four months, but I’d like to go into greater depth in future posts.