The Accidental Business Nomad: A book review by Bob Morris

The Accidental Business Nomad: A Survival Guide for Working Across a Shrinking Planet
Kyle D. Hegarty
Nicholas Brealey Publishing (June 2020)

A primer for “strangers doing business in a strange land”

Some people aspire to become an international “business nomad,” others such as Kyle Hagerty became one “by accident.” He observes, “Working globally can be wildly frustrating and overwhelming, but it is often these very moments that, if handled correctly, can turn into great opportunities and unexpected bursts of innovation and creativity. We’re all business nomads now, so let’s figure this out together.”

Hegarty uses several dozen stories about his adventures and misadventures while working globally in order to share with his reader the lessons he has learned about the the most important dos and don’ts.  For example, in Chapter 5, he discusses DISC, an acronym for four different behavioral types:

DOMINANT: Competitive and decisive. They take risks and make decisions on gut instinct. “They love competition. They love winning. They love concise statements.” They tend to be control freaks. Often wrong, perhaps, but never in doubt. I completed several consulting assignments for AMR (the holding company for American Airlines) and still recall Bob Crandall during a meeting. The consummate Dominant as was Jack Welch of GE.

INFLUENCER:  These people are “the social butterflies, eager to talk with strangers at an event or in a bar.” Very accessible. They love talking about ideas as well as themselves.” Great raconteurs. Gregarious. Enthusiastic. Accessible. Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey are definitely classic Influencers.

STEADY: “These are people whose traits include being calm and patient.  “They seek consensus and don’t like to rock the boat.” This description reminds me of U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson.

CAUTIOUS: High Cs are, as indicated, cautious but also logical, precise, and formal. They are often engineers and accountants. They tend to be well-informed, highly reliable, analytical, prudent, and thorough.  “They are the kind of people who read instructions [and legal documents as well as proposals] and who actually know what they are talking about when it comes to topics that interest them.” Hegarty cites Dr. Spock from Star Trek, Roger Federer, Angela Merkel, and Albert Einstein as examples.

When interacting with each type, especially when for the first time, it is imperative to forget about “The Golden Rule” and treat each person [begin italics] the way they wish to be treated [end italics], based on the defining characteristics of their profile.

Hegarty also suggests that there are four phases of learning how to — and how NOT to — do business in a foreign country, no matter which type(s) may be the point of contact locally.

1. “You have no idea what is going on and you don’t realize it — so you do things the way you’ve always done them.”
2. “You realize you have no idea what is going on because what you’re doing isn’t working.”
3. “You begin to learn how to handle situations in new ways. You practice, you screw up, you try again.”
4. “You figure it out [or succeed by following some else’s advice] and can navigate any global situation.”

Most mergers as well as change initiatives either fail or fall far short of expectations. Reasons vary but probably the most common one is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

When doing business globally, Hagerty suggests, cultural differences often result in cultural misunderstandings. For example, “one of the most common problems that arises in global work situations occurs when direct communicators and indirect communicators misunderstand one another. The word ‘yes’ can mean ‘no’ and anything in between.” It is imperative to understand the local dos and don’ts. This applies both to what is or isn’t said as well as to what is or isn’t done.

Kyle Hegarty concludes his book with provision of what he characterizes as “The Global Survival Kit” (Pages 183-187). He focuses on five key points:

1. Know yourself (i.e. who you are and who you aren’t)
2. Cross-cultural data sets (i.e. key differences between and among foreign cultures)
3. Learn to adjust in a moment of panic (Pause, Actively listen, Use cross-cultural data, See things from the other person’s perspective, and Elaborate/review)
4. Communicate contracts (confirm communication terms and conditions with team members)
5. Share stories with friends (brainstorm and disseminate)

“Sharing stories and building connections are among the most powerful tools out there. So, tell your stories and learn from others! Good luck and enjoy the trip!”

Long ago, my maternal grandmother offered this advice when I was about to begin my first full-time salaried job: “You got two eyes and two ears, only one mouth, so spend most of your time watching and listening.” Since then, her advice has helped me numerous times to get off to a good start when I was “a stranger in a strange land.”

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