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woman in hanoi traffic

Into the Fray in Hanoi

There is no percentage in tentativeness. Success in strategic change belongs only to those who step into the fray. My recent visit to Hanoi reminded me of this, and below I explain why.

The streets of Hanoi are frenetic, the colors are vibrant, and the people make you want to know more about them. Walking around the city has its rewards, but seeing Hanoi on foot is not without its downside. Crossing the road in Hanoi is an ordeal for the uninitiated.

Traffic is a free-for-all, or at least that is how it appears. There are few traffic lights, and even at intersections where there are, the signals appear only optional for scooters and bikes. The flow of traffic is incessant. At one intersection, I waited nearly ten minutes looking for a break in scooters, cars, buses, trucks, and heavily loaded bicycles. The break never came.

Just as I was considering walking further up or down the road to find a better place to cross, an elderly Vietnamese woman walked up from behind me, and without a change in the cadence of her pace, to my horror, she stepped off the curb out into the traffic, barely giving a glance in either direction.

I imagined the worst—that she would be struck and injured, maybe even killed, the same fears holding me back at the curb, but nothing of the sort happened. The drivers of scooters and cars just maneuvered around her, most even without slowing down. She made her way steadily across the road in a straight line without changing her gait until she reached the opposite side—unscathed and unperturbed.

Business leaders considering a bold, strategic change are sometimes like I was, as if standing on the curb of a street in Hanoi. They contemplate the hazards ahead and are daunted by what they imagine might go wrong. They wait for ideal timing—buy-in from staff, approval from superiors, or some kind of assurance of success or at least lack of failure—which like a break in the traffic flow on a street in Hanoi, rarely if ever comes.

One CEO I know who had a bold initiative was worried his business would lose all its customers and be blacklisted in Japan if he made the changes he envisioned. His Japanese staff even warned him so! Another CEO worried all his Japanese staff would quit—at least that is what his Japanese HR director said. Yet another CEO worried his superiors would question his judgment, and he would self-sabotage his career. While each hesitated at first, all of these fears turned out to be unfounded in the end, just as my fears of what would happen stepping into traffic in Hanoi.

When crossing the street in Hanoi, the appearance of hazard is deceiving. You don’t accommodate the traffic. Rather, the traffic accommodates you—as long as you adhere to your objective, progressing in a straight line at a steady, predictable pace. Any rapid movement or sudden change in direction on your part in reaction to oncoming traffic only puts you in danger.

Leading strategic change in your business is much the same. One CEO I mentioned above stepped into the fray. He fired his company’s Japan distribution and implemented a new business model. His company was not blacklisted and customers remained loyal despite what others had warned. Instead, the company tripled its sales. Staff morale in the company saw a dramatic boost, as nothing boosts spirits better than success. Yet had the CEO merely remained on the curb looking for break in the traffic, he would still be there today—assuming the business survived.

The worst imagined hazards in strategic change are often more illusory than real. No need to accommodate your environment. Your environment accommodates you. Like crossing the road in Hanoi, reacting to what appears to be oncoming hazards only puts you at risk. It is uncompromising adherence to your course towards your objective at a steady pace that offers the greatest possibility of success.

It is uncompromising adherence to your course towards your objective at a steady pace that offers the greatest possibility of success. Click To Tweet

Are you contemplating a dramatic change in your business? Are you standing on the curb, looking for a break in the traffic to cross?

Take a page from an elderly woman in Hanoi. Don’t wait. Step into the fray. The environment will accommodate you as long as you make your way with tenacity.

As for me, I finally crossed the road in Hanoi, and all was fine. All will be fine for you too.


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