Hong Kong is a jungle. Which is where fluent Mandarin-speaker Chris Lonsdale is an elephant spotter, and why he is in Tokyo to take a five-day right-brain drawing course.
As he explains: “I work with businesspeople — CEOs, senior management teams, entrepreneurs — and also individuals in transition to identify problems and change things in a positive way. It ties in with the workshop I’m doing with RBR” — the RBR Center for Creative Arts in Moto-Azabu, Tokyo — “to change my perception of the creative process.”
Chris is equally fired up about his hot-off-the press self-published book, “The Third Ear.” Having discovered that an important key to language learning is to re-connect with your own language learning intuition, the book shows a new way of thinking and learning, that will help you pick up a new language quickly and easily.
“Everyone has the ability to learn a language. We do, with our first language. Have you ever met a stupid baby, or for that matter a stupid 10-year-old? Yet as we age, we lose confidence in our facility for language acquisition. The ability remains; you just need to tap into the natural learning process to make learning easy again.”
Chris left New Zealand in 1981. With a degree in psychology and a scholarship to Harvard, he said “screw it,” and went to China instead. “Why China? The flip answer: no available flights into outer space. Best put it down to pioneering spirit.”
In those days, foreigners in China had to be seen to be doing something useful. While studying Chinese martial arts (“wushu”) and picking up more Mandarin outside the classroom than in, he was accepted by the Beijing Institute of Physical Education to study sports psychology and wushu. But training eight hours a day wrecked his knees.
“During the six months it took for treatment and to recuperate, I translated a book of Chinese folk tales about the Shaolin monastery. The whole experience enabled me to connect with Chinese culture on a deep level.”
In 1985 he moved to Hong Kong to be with his girlfriend, now wife and business associate, and worked his way from teaching English to a job on a trade magazine to interpreting for a Texan company exploring for oil in China. He traded chemicals and leather goods for a year, then moved into public relations. “By this time I was increasingly active in Hong Kong’s green movement.”
In 1989 he found himself in the Arctic Circle with two students, one from China and the other Hong Kong, researching ozone depletion as part of Robert Swan’s expedition to the North Pole. He then drew on this experience, together with a month spent in India, to create educational packages for schools in Hong Kong.
Then came Permaculture Asia: “I took time out to train as an ecological designer.” Which led — when it became clear that organizational cultures were not going to change with regard to environmental issues — to consulting. “I accepted that if you batter angrily at corporate doors, they’re never going to let you in. Use a more understanding approach, and you can help them towards transformation and healing.”
Chris starts at the top, with management executives — which is where the elephant spotting comes in. “With people in every organization often unable to understand where their difficulties arise, I look for the big problems that people aren’t perceiving. Some of the changes that need to be made are generic, others specific.”
For example, Chris worked with an investment banker. “He wanted his business to grow, but three people were making most of the money and he was the best of the them. He sponsored a program that I ran to transfer his ‘art’ to the rest of the team. This helped overcome a number of problems, including what I call NIH — the ‘not invented here’ syndrome.”
He also quotes the Abilene Paradox. This sums up what happens when a company fails to manage agreement (often unspoken) and ends up going to a bad place. “It’s when employees worry at the water cooler but fail to speak out at a higher level. Think any business that sinks under the unconscious weight of bad decisions.”
He uses a model for healthy change and growing awareness. “Just as Dr. Betty Edwards created a right-brain-based training program in California for learning how to draw, I’ve created a similar four-step program, DNAm (mental DNA), to use in business. The organizational gains, he says, are enormous. “On the business side: improved communications, reduced costs, increased revenues. For those involved: improved working life, reduced stress, greater happiness and fulfillment.”
In one project, he helped to ensure that a family-run business in Hong Kong has a future. The driven father wanted his son to take over. The son, previously insulated from some of the hard realities of business life by his mother, wasn’t interested. “When I first walked in, no one was speaking to anyone else; there was no platform for happiness or growth. Now the son, having found a depth of resolve he never knew he had, is ready to take over as CEO. They all have such respect for one another.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Chris Lonsdale & Associates Ltd. is working with Coca-Cola in Beijing, in readiness for the Olympics.
In summing up his approach, Chris says: “In opposition, little can be achieved. I remember that all businesses are managed by real people with real problems. Solving those problems creates real potential for meaningful change. It’s a soft, quietly hopeful but powerful approach.”
Put simply, he asks questions to make people wealthy. Wealthy in many ways.