再谈美国印象 / More Impressions of America

再谈美国印象

对我最近关于旅行的系列博客已经感到厌烦的忠实读者们,你们不用太着急,我很快就会切换到一些新的话题。但在此之前,我还有一些旅途中的见闻想和大家分享。

虽然纽约的寒气逼人,但故地重游仍让我感到相当兴奋。纽约的街头生机勃勃,瞬息万变,其节奏之快可以和香港相提并论。这座城市吸引着来自世界各地满怀抱负的精英,竞争异常激烈。无论你选择哪个行业,假如你能在纽约出人头地,那你一定是行业内的高手。

关于美国已经从全球金融危机中反弹一说,数据方面确实呈现出某些向好的迹象,让人有理由保持谨慎的乐观。然而,人们在交谈中仍然流露出相当的忧郁,对经济复苏时间的不确定和恐惧更让这种担心雪上加霜。由于失业率居高不下,出现这种心理在所难免。在失业者当中,有一半以上的人失业时间已超过半年,还有相当一部分人处于准失业状态:既没有找到工作,又没有登记失业福利档案,这部分人群在失业人口统计中其实没有体现。

旅行的妙处之一,就是可以催生有趣的偶遇和新鲜的视角。

我和纽约《财富》杂志编辑们的非正式午餐就是一个例证。我们吃饭的地点是其会议室,当时的嘉宾是一家大型全球酒店管理集团的首席执行官。他和我见过的很多首席执行官相比更年轻,更强健,思维也更国际化。我暂且先不提他的名字或公司,因为以后我还会专门写到他。我们就着外卖的三明治和软饮,相当轻松随意地聊了聊天。

谈话中最让我感到惊讶的是,这位首席执行官说为了提高公司高管全球化的思维及管理意识,他将于今年下半年率公司全体高层——共100多号人马——前往中国。此行的目的不是召开为期三天的中国市场管理会议,因为那早已司空见惯,而是让整个管理团队在中国拉练一个月,以中国作为临时大本营,实施对全球业务的管理。

这真是振聋发聩、极具创新的领导理念,展现出迈向全球化的巨大决心以及对中国市场在公司业务发展中重要地位的清醒认识。我刚才说过,我会怀着极大的兴趣,对这次试验进行追踪。

在纽约的后半程,我步行穿过寒冷的曼哈顿中区街道,去滨州火车站搭乘周六早晨7点37分的过路车,前往新泽西。我的目的地是新泽西的普林斯顿,车程要90分钟。我应邀去那里为有意开拓中国事业的大学生进行演讲。

这些学生大部分都来自我的母校普林斯顿大学,也有一些来自其他大学。会议历时一天,由“全球中国连接”学生组织安排。该组织在普林斯顿和美国其他许多大学,以及中国和其他国家的部分学校都设有分支机构。

这是我阔别母校大约20年之后第一次回到普林斯顿,能再睹校园风采,结识当代学子,让我激动万分。演讲的地点是伍德洛威尔逊学院的大礼堂,这是我第一次站在这座讲台的后面,想一想都觉得够酷的。

普林斯顿“全球中国连接”的联络人在与组委会讨论后,建议我以职业规划为题进行演讲。这个题目很适合我,原因有二。首先,职业规划很重要,而且我对此有很多想法。其次,我在普林斯顿上学的时候,对有关中国的职业信息和建议实在是太少了。

他们要求我演讲40分钟,相当于我日常演讲时长的两倍,剩下20分钟还要回答问题和作点评。因为我是压轴的主旨演讲人,本来我还担心听众会过于疲劳,注意力下降,但事实证明我是多虑了。

我决定不使用幻灯演示稿或借助其他视听设备,因为我觉得我们对这些工具有点儿过于依赖。这些东西的确有它们的用处,但要阐述一个观点,最能打动人心的还是生动的事例或是奇闻逸事——这往往比图表更能让人印象深刻,记忆犹新。机器人都能做幻灯演讲,而公开演讲的独特就在于能够利用人们的互动,有效传达关键信息。而且机器人缺乏幽默感,出色的讲演至少应该具备一些娱乐价值。

(下周待续)

More Impressions of America

Loyal readers getting tired of this series of posts from recent travels won’t have long to wait before I move on to some fresh new topics, but in the meantime I have a few more observations to share from that trip.

It was great to be back in New York, despite the frigid weather. New York has a raw energy level and pace of activity comparable to what you feel on the streets of Hong Kong. It attracts talented, ambitious people from all corners of the globe. It’s a very competitive place. If you can succeed in your chosen field here, you must be very good at whatever that is.

The statistical side of the story of America’s rebound from the global financial crisis shows some improvement, and grounds for cautious optimism. In talking to people, however, there is still a fairly somber mood, underlined by fear and uncertainty about just how long this recovery is going to take. That’s inevitable when unemployment rates remain so high, with half of the unemployed having been that way for 6 months or more, and with another significant part of the population under-employed: ie cannot find work but have not filed for unemployment benefits, so they do not appear within the unemployment numbers.

One great thing about travel is that it can yield interesting new encounters and fresh perspectives.

One example of this was an informal lunch with the editors of FORTUNE Magazine in New York. The venue was their conference room, and the guest of honor was the CEO of a major global hotel group, who is younger, fitter, and much more globally minded than a lot of CEOs I have met. I won’t mention his name or company at this stage because I’ll be writing about them later. This was a relaxed, off the record chat, with sandwiches and soft drinks catered from outside.

What struck me most about the conversation was the CEO describing how, in an effort to make his top management team more globally minded in the way they think and manage, he will bring the whole top layer of the company’s management — more than 100 people — to China later this year. Not for a 3-day management meeting focusing on the China market. There would be nothing unusual about that. Instead, the whole management team will remain in China for one full month, and they will manage the entire global business from their temporary base in China.

Now that is impressive, innovative leadership showing tremendous commitment to going global and recognition of China’s importance to this major company’s business development. As mentioned, I will follow this experiment with great interest.

Later in my New York visit, I walked across the chilly streets of Mid-town Manhattan to Penn Station, and boarded the Saturday morning 7:37 a.m. New Jersey transit train. My destination was Princeton, New Jersey, a 90-minute journey by train, where I had been invited to give a talk on career planning to a group of undergraduate students interested in careers involving China.

Many of the students are undergraduates at my alma mater, Princeton University, but quite a few came from other U.S. universities. The one-day conference was organized by a student group called Global China Connection (GCC), which has chapters at Princeton and many other U.S. universities, as well as some in China and other countries.

This was the first time in something like 20 years that I went back to Princeton, so I was excited to see the campus and meet some of the current student body. My speech’s venue was the Woodrow Wilson School’s main auditorium. It was a kind of cool to imagine being on the other side of the lectern there for the first time.

My contact person at GCC’s Princeton chapter had suggested the topic of career planning after a discussion with the organizing committee. This suited me fine, for two reasons. First, it’s important and I have some fairly strong ideas about it; and second, because when I was an undergraduate at Princeton there were precious few sources of advice and information about careers involving China.

They asked me to speak for about 40 minutes, which is about twice as long as I would normally aim for, and field questions and comments in the remaining 20 minutes. Since I was the closing keynote speaker, I had some slight concern about audience fatigue and attention levels at that stage in the day, which turned out to be misplaced.

I decided not to use a powerpoint or other audio-visual aids, because I think we’ve become too dependent on these tools. They have their place, to be sure, but nothing hits home like a good story or anecdote to illustrate a point — these are often more memorable take-aways from a presentation than a chart showing graphs and boxes. A robot could deliver a powerpoint presentation. The unique opportunity in public speaking is to utilize human interaction to effectively communicate your key message(s). Also, robots lack a sense of humor, and a good presentation should have at least some entertainment value.

(To be continued next week…)


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