Dragons and Fragrances

I’m in Hong Kong, working with a client bringing together their China and Japan teams. We’re in Mongkok, a corner of Kowloon. “Mongkok” literally means ‘bustling corner’ and for years this was the activity hub of Kowloon. “Kowloon” means 9 Dragons. A visiting young Emperor or Prince (these are abundant in Asian lore!) noticed there were eight mountains here and hypothesized that there would be a dragon living on each one.  Someone in his retinue suggested that the young Emperor because of his royal lineage too was ‘a Dragon’ and therefore it should be ‘Nine Dragons’. And so the name “Kowloon” was born. Kowloon affords a stunning view of the amazing Hong Kong (Island) skyline. As long as we’re digging into names, “Hong Kong” means essentially ‘Fragrant Harbor’.  It may have been so named because of its export of fragrant incense, or possibly because early travellers picked up a very distinctive scent as they came into the Harbor that may have come from frangipani trees. Today it is is still ‘fragrant’ though arguably for less savory reasons.

In the midst of stating a vision, identifying key sponsoring goals, agreeing on their most critical daily focus areas, re-imagining ways of working to enable that, these delegates have built the beginnings of a real community. They’re thrilled to meet each other, to feel connected as part of a larger region. They’ve gone Dragon Boat Racing together, and as I write, are out on a discovery adventure of Kowloon.

During the Dragon Boat races, watching from the beach it was clear to us who would win. One team was working in unison, utterly disciplined and wonderfully driven. The others were splashing and thrashing about, out of synch, and arrived over 13 seconds later. However, as both teams were galvanized again for the second race and the results were shared unromantically with clear feedback given, a marvelous transformation took place. This lagging team rallied and coordinated their efforts, had a clear renewed objective, and put everything into it. What happened was a virtual photo finish, and while the other team still won, this time it was by a mere .07 of a second! The rate of improvement of this second team had been amazing, and virtually immediate.

There was much gentle ribbing of each other, celebrations, high fives, self-deprecating humor. It was a healthy, inclusive culture…but one where performance had , in the case of one team been strongly sustained, and in the case of the other team, significantly improved.

People coming together, pulling together, focused together…there’s real power there. This is a team with both talent and a hunger to win in the marketplace too. If they take the will they’ve generated while overlooking the Fragrant Harbor, and build on the relationships forged in the shadow of the dragons, I believe they’ll pull it off.

The waters of Hong Kong have witnessed over their history, one of the greatest examples of entrepreneurial success and initiative the world has seen. There is certainly much here to take inspiration from.

PS. Our hotel for the event, Langham Place in Mongkok, while not from a globally recognized brand, is run with real heart and often great style. Their distinctiveness is reflected in the whimsy and yet utter appropriateness of some of their art and sculptures.

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