Sunday, September 2, 2007

Good or Great?

We just returned from two weeks in Asia. Our business in Hong Kong and Singapore was designed to help professionals communicate powerfully with their clients. Prior to our trip we spoke with experts about Asia; how people learn in Asia, how they use interaction in a training session, etc. We learned that the mindset is very different in Hong Kong and Singapore. No one likes to stand out because it might mean that another loses "face." Now, the concept of "face" that most of us westerners have is one of pride. However, the Asian concept of face is not necessarily pride for the individual, but pride for the group. Sure they do not want to be put down in front of a group. (Who does?) But they don't want to be highlighted. If they are praised then that means that others in the group did not do very well. Either praise or correction has to be given to the group as a whole, or in private.

But what struck us as more interesting is the expert on Asia told us the Greatness Project would not fly over there. He was right. We learned very quickly that individuals are not seeking greatness for themselves but for the whole group (whatever group they identify with). And more importantly, they don't like using any labels they consider extreme. Let me clarify that last statement. In a private session one of the professionals told me that the words "great" "fantastic" "wonderful" sound like a lie to him. "I don't believe you" he told me "when you use these words because nothing is perfect. There is always more that can be learned. To the Asian ear, we can't hear these words. Just say "good" or "bad".

So, are we just typically western because everything has to be grandiose? Do we use larger than life words to feel better about ourselves, or could we be honest and say we were "okay"? Speaking with friends when we returned we all agreed that in corporate America, no one just wants to be rated "good" as an employee. That's not good enough. We have to be rated higher. When some companies attempted to get correct rating scales for their employees it was challenging because as Americans we see good as average.

We still believe greatness, as a goal and concept, has universal applicability. What is more intriguing is that the word and concept can mean so many different things to so many different people. Maybe it means different things to every one of us. If we continue talking about it, perhaps we will come up with a better, broader concept. That would be... good.