This column comes from Vienna, Austria. On my way to Europe with Ethiopian Airlines, I choose to get off the plane in Vienna for a few days before connecting to Amsterdam. It is winter in this part of the world and I really had to gear up to withstand the snow and the cold wind in my face. Vienna is a beautiful city with many historic buildings, churches and of course the home of Mozart and Freud. It is also Christmas time and the city is graced with Christmas decorations, trees and fairy tale street lights. On traditional Christmas markets, typical Christmas items, food and decorations are sold and people mingle and have a happy time, warming themselves with a hot chocolate drink.
Many of the items sold are homemade or traditional Austrian. Many items, more especially the Christmas tree decorations will undoubtedly have been made in other countries, most likely in Asia. Making Christmas decorations for export is a big business for example in the Philippines and other Asian countries of course. China will also have its fair share of this lucrative market. In fact, this is a multimillion dollar industry. Mary, Joseph and their baby Jesus, angels, the wise men and all that is associated with Christmas is made of wood, glass, paper, plastic, banana leaves and exported to the USA and West Europe throughout most of the year. Are we not missing out here? Couldn’t we produce such items and fill containers with it for export? Why not?
I was lucky to walk into a historic church in the evening, while preparations for a concert were underway. The experience was rich to say the least. The lighting and the acoustics of the church were indescribably beautiful. It was a true Christmas experience. Turning on the news back in the hotel room I heard about the terrorist attack on a similar Christmas Market in Berlin. Twelve people died and many more were injured. For what reason? Too many people die these days because of the wrong reasons.
It is proper during this time of the year to pause a moment and reflect on the things that are happening and also on what we have done ourselves over the year that is behind us. What responsibility did we take to make a difference? Nevertheless, we see the world around us sliding away into more conflict and environmental degradation at the hand of man. What are we doing today to turn some of this around?
Most of us are following the political, social and economical developments in the world at home from a distance, accepting the fact that nothing can be done about it anyway, that the power is in the hands of a few others who play the game at other levels. It is good to realize where you stand and know whether or not you can do something about a certain situation.
It is true that we all have issues that we are concerned about: national and international politics, disasters and emergencies, terrorism, extremism and closer to home the costs of living, the education of our children, crime, our health, our jobs, the business etc. All issues are certainly issues to be concerned about. Not everybody is in a position though to influence them. There are issues within our so called circle of concern and there are issues within our smaller circle of influence. If your circle of concern is big and your circle of influence is small, chances are that your life and business are at the mercy of your external environment. Your situation is dictated by other people, circumstances and factors and you have a lot to worry about. The point is to realize how big your circle of concern and your circle of influence are in relation to each other and ask yourself what to do to enlarge your circle of influence to push towards your circle of concern.
In other words, make up your mind about the issues that you are concerned about, decide whether or not you want to do something about it and subsequently work on enhancing your influence on the issue. If you come to the conclusion that an issue is not for you to have any influence over, it may be better to stop being concerned about it at all. Instead focus on what you can have a (growing) influence over.
Our degrading environment for example and the subsequent loss of natural resources. While we may have little influence over the global climate changes that we observe around us, we are in a position to protect our direct natural environment. Practice can be influenced by policy and in our own business we can make sure that we apply environmental friendly techniques, dispose of waste in a proper manner and don’t pollute the air, ground and rivers we use for production.
Looking at international business there are growing opportunities for upcoming markets to join the global markets. Somehow though, we may have the feeling that we are still missing out and that the largest parts of the pie are taken by producers from other parts of the world, more especially Asia. And that is indeed the case. But what can we do to turn our chances around? For one thing it is a good idea to have a look how business is done in other parts of the world and learn from that. Exposing yourself to other ways of doing business and learning how things can be done differently and perhaps more effectively is probably easier now than a number of years ago with all the opportunities that the internet and increasing competitive international travel offer. We may conclude that we miss opportunities indeed but also that there are opportunities to turn things around.