Exporters are kooky

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Tim Harrap columnist“Someone who is kooky is slightly strange or eccentric, but often in a way which makes you like them”, says the internet.

Export managers, export administrators, international trade logistics suppliers and many more will all have to be a bit kooky to get the job done. You build a reputation for being able to manage complications in international trade.

How often have international trade people struggled with the entrepreneurs and managers of businesses, not to mention politicians, who cannot imagine the needs and requirements of dealing with global markets.

Brexit is a fine case in point.

The need to have cross cultural antenna switched on to pick up the cultural signals elsewhere on the planet is paramount.

It was good to come across another form of “kooky” which neatly sums up the “lost in translation” aspect of dealing with export staff within a business.

Boyé Lafayette De Mente published a book in 2004 called Japan’s Cultural Code Words – 233 Key Terms that explain the attitudes and behaviour of the Japanese, and this book is highly recommended.

This book is such a mine of information, not only on Japanese behaviour, but also by way of contrast he shows how a Westerner’s world view can be so diametrically opposite to what is encountered in Japan.

They have a word: kuuki 空気to describe the “atmosphere” that you find in Japanese companies, they look different and feel different in so many apparent but also subtle ways. De Mente makes it very plain that visitors from the West need to spend some time acclimatising to this atmosphere.

He generously suggests we should arrive in country a week or two before meetings to get ourselves embedded within the kuuki of the country!

My advice and what I tried to achieve is to ensure to travel to East Asia on a Friday afternoon, at a minimum, the weekend before the start of meetings. Arriving Saturday afternoon, you can find your hotel, hunker down for a night’s sleep (yet wake at 3am).

The Sunday can be a day to orientate yourself in the “atmosphere” of the country, usually a city, before you head off to first meetings on Monday morning.

You owe it to yourself and your business to have this time to breathe. So, my takeaway from De Mente is, you are allowed to be kuuki as an exporter in fact it is a necessity.

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