7 Things The Fijians Accidentally Taught Me About Business (and Life In General)
Have you ever had one of those experiences that made you look at everything in your world differently?
This week, I’m very fortunate to be vacationing in Fiji – and I can tell you that my eyes have been opened to many new ideas, insights, and possibilities as a result of this trip.
By the way - research has shown us that a higher level of creativity occurs when we force ourselves outside our comfort zones. That fact is well documented in one of my favorite books of all time: The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. It’s a must read for anyone creative or anyone in business.
When you open yourself up to new ideas, different experiences, and new cultures, all of your previous experiences intersect with all the new stuff and some brilliant new ideas and angles occur at the point where those two worlds collide. Seriously. Read the book.
A Quick Fijian Primer
I’ll write much more about the Fijian natives as time goes on. They've made quite an impression on me. But for now, let me just share with you that these are the kindest, most accepting, most sincere, and friendliest people I have ever had the pleasure of coming in contact with.
Accidental Business Advice
If there was ever a country not made for business, it would be Fiji. It’s a literal unspoiled paradise – and they know it. No one here has any intention of missing one tiny moment of savoring their surroundings to be bothered with anything as uninteresting as business.
So while I won’t be recruiting any of my future sales managers from The Fijian Islands, I have gleaned some interesting business and life tips from my new, very mellow friends.
Whether they know it or not, their attitudes toward life and human relations have very real value in business.
The 7 Accidental Fijian Business Tips
1: Fiji Time
On any given day in Fiji, you’ll hear talk of Fiji Time. The phrase doesn't refer to a time zone, but rather to a state of being. When you hear someone speak of Fiji Time, it means slow as hell by non-Fijian standards. If you go to a market, plan on standing in line for a while… even if there are only a few people there. If you go to a restaurant… go well before you’re actually hungry.
It’s not the kind of slow service you may be used to that comes with a liberal dose of bad attitude. Far from it. In Fiji your service will be friendly, enthusiastic, sincere, and slow as hell. It’s just part of their culture.
They’ll even warn you about it. You might hear, “We’ll be stopping the bus here for 15 minutes… but remember, that’s Fiji Time.” So you can at least double it to 30 minutes. After a while it becomes charming. You wouldn't think so, but it really does.
While I struggle to understand taking life that slowly all the time, there is something to be said for occasionally slowing down, stepping back from a project, and approaching it from a different angle. There are even times when it would be wise to walk away all together - and try again another day.
2: Roll Out The Red Carpet
I’m not exaggerating one bit when I tell you the staff at our Fijian resort made me and my fellow Americans look rude by comparison. I’m also not exaggerating when I tell you that the native villagers far away from the resort almost made the resort employees look rude. (And they’re not rude. They’re wonderful.)
As my tour bus drove 2.5 hours inland to a Fijian village of 140 people, almost everyone we passed along the way stopped what they were doing, waved both hands high over their heads while smiling and yelling “Bula!” at us.
“Bula” is Fijian for welcome, hello, good health, cheers, and pretty much any other warm, friendly, welcoming sentiment.
Men working on the roofs of their shacks, mothers holding their babies, farmers out in their fields, and even fisherman waist deep in the ocean so far away from the road that you could barely make them out – all stopped, smiled, waved, and yelled, “Bula!” at us. It was incredible.
Why are they all so friendly? These people know that every penny that a tourist spends in their country brings them one penny closer to a better life for themselves, their family, and their country. They sincerely appreciate it.
In one single day in Fiji, I was waved at, smiled at, and thanked more than I have ever been in any given month of my life. And for what? For buying food when I was hungry, drink when I was thirsty, and maybe a souvenir here or there.
What if you went to one fifth of that effort to welcome and thank those who patronize you? Imagine the impact that could have.
3: Get Gratuitous
Fijians are grateful for everything. On rainy days, they’re grateful that the rain will continue to make their pristine country green and beautiful. On hot, sunny days they’re grateful for the sunshine that allows them to work their fields and helps the vegetation grow. When visitors come, they are grateful not only for the money those visitors spend in their country – but also for the opportunity to meet those visitors and share with them.
Take time every day to find the gratitude in whatever circumstances present themselves to you that day. The Fijians would tell you that even in seemingly negative events, there are positive elements to be grateful for.
4: We Are Fam-i-ly
Please don’t say, “I got all my sisters with me.” Seriously.
Our guide this week, Ronnie, repeatedly called me (us) “family” as if it were a first name. “What can I do for you, Family?” “Take a look at this, Family.” “Are you having a good time, Family?”
When Ronnie says “family” it still has three syllables. Fam-i-ly… not “fam-lee” as we often lazily say.
To the Fijians, we are all family – and unless you do something bad to someone else, you will be treated as such. We were literally welcomed into the homes and hearts of the villagers we visited.
What impact would it have if starting today you began treating everyone you serve as if they were family? What type of effect might that have?
5: You Don’t Need As Much As You Think To Make A Difference
At the end of the day, you don’t need the biggest house. You don’t need the Mercedes or the speed boat in order to be happy or to make a significant difference in the lives of others.
Many of the Fijians we met live in shacks. Literal shacks. No air conditioning and very little furniture. Actual, literal shacks… and they are the happiest group of people I have ever met.
Your business takeaway: maybe you don’t need to get filthy rich. Maybe you don’t need all those fancy tools. What if all you need is an attitude of gratitude and servitude? And those are both free.
6: Never Forget Or Apologize For Who You Really Are
The Fijians have good memories. They remember and often speak of the fact that our American grandparents saved Fiji from Japan back in World War II. I was thanked for that this week as if I personally had something to do with it.
They know their own history and their own heritage. They honor the good and learn from the bad.
They don’t hide the fact that they used to be cannibals in the old days. They embrace it, learn from it, and use it as a springboard for the positive future direction of their nation.
We could all benefit by not hiding or ignoring our past mistakes. Instead we should examine and discuss them out in broad daylight so we can learn from them. We should also make a consistent effort to remember where we came from, remember those who came before us, and those who have helped us out along the way.
7: Share and Share Alike
In business, we often get stuck in acquisition mode. We focus on getting as much as possible before someone else does. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “get, earn, acquire” mode. Acquiring is an important thing… but it’s not the only thing. In reality, long term success rarely comes unless we give before we receive.
The Fijians are experts at sharing. Our guide Ronnie told a long but fascinating story about his grandfather as we drove to the village we visited. For brevity, I will skip right to the moral of the story. It is something that has stuck with Ronnie his entire life – and will stay with me for the rest of mine as well. His grandfather taught him…“Nothing is really yours until you have shared it.”
The Fijians do that with their food, their time, their possessions, and their culture.
Can you imagine if the business world stopped spinning even occasionally to employ the same sentiment?
If you’re like me, your business probably will not allow you to operate on Fiji Time and take life as easily or as slowly as the Fijians do.
But I think there are lessons to be learned here about the human side of business. After all, at the end of the day we are all just people dealing with other people. There is no rule that says that we can’t incorporate more warmth, respect, and kindness into our efficient and faster-paced work.
Remember that genius often occurs at the intersection where two different disciplines collide.
I, for one, have taken note from the Fijians and will purposefully integrate these 7 accidental lessons into my work life.
What about you? What impact do you think applying some of these principles would have on your life?