About the Wiser Next Week Series: These entries will involve posting my book, Wiser Next Week, chapter by chapter, freely available to the public. Additionally, I’ll be recounting a story about something I’ve learned based on the chapter’s topic since the months that have past when the book was published in December 2018.
I remember last April the traffic in Vietnam was crazy. I was on a bus traveling from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city. Looking out the window was a sight to beholden.
Motorbikes, bumper to bumper jammed in close proximity closer then you could imagine. Not just that, some of these guys were balancing cargo with one arm, had a bunch of other stuff sticking out of the moped on all sides, and were still navigating this insanely packed urban density like a champ. Some were even driving on the wrong side of the road.
The other western tourists were staring outside the window too, on one hand awed by the expert maneuvering and on the other wondering if we were going to get run over.
Keep in mind we had just come from Phnom Pen, Cambodia which had hectic traffic that was no pushover. And at this point I’ve already visited/lived in East Asian mega cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok. I thought I knew what I was doing.
Until I was told off. After enjoying my time exploring the rich military history (I love history) of Saigon, I headed north to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.
I made it there in one piece and was never run over by any motorbikes. I thought I had this Vietnamese traffic in hand when I got to Hanoi.
While in the capital city, I was a bit disappointed about the lack of military history compared to it’s southern counterpart. Nonetheless there were free walking tours offered up by local uni students looking to practice their English. I love free so I jumped on it.
One such tour was nighttime food tour and I was assigned a college girl, Rose, to show me around her city. During one of our street crossings with oncoming mopeds, I crossed at a brisk manner making the on the spot calculation that based on my walking pace and the speed of the incoming motorbike, I could make it.
I was mildly surprised when I saw Rose didn’t cross with me. After we had both made it across safely. She told me in a stern voice that I shouldn’t have crossed like that.
I was surprised, I’ve been doing this in Vietnam this whole time. Plus I had picked up expert J-Walking skills from my mother growing up in San Francisco.
How to Survive Vietnamese Traffic
Without being too lengthy, the way Vietnamese traffic worked was that you
- make eye contact with drivers when crossing,
- you cross slowly,
- you make frequent stops between lanes (basically you would be standing in the middle of the road with cars/motorbikes zipping in front and behind you)
- and if you were leading a large group of bumbling tourists like myself, you raise your hand to further assert your desire to cross.
In my sweet innocence I had been blissfully unaware of this and had been asking for death. I made a mistake, one of many after inserting myself in so many different cultures. I never felt I was going to get run over as I have young legs and can bolt if there was sudden danger.
How to Fail Forward
As I’m clueless so many times in these foreign countries, I have a tendency to just do what I think is right and figure it out along the way. Which falls in line with the finding right method described by Edward Burger & Michael Starbird in The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking:
- Create the mistake.
- Exploit the mistake:
- Making the error overt makes the needed corrections overt as well. Think of it as a first draft; you must put something on paper first before you can make corrections. Each draft makes the next attempt closer to right.
- Understand that you may not know how to do things right, but you can certainly do them wrong.
- Generating useful mistakes involves tackling the issue at hand and quickly constructing the best solution you can.
3. After making the mistake:
- Ask whether the mistake is a correct answer to a different question.
- Let the mistake lead you to a better attempt.
Besides the reckless endangerment part, I more or less implemented this method during my d̶o̶d̶g̶e̶b̶a̶l̶l̶ dodgecar games in Vietnam.
- I needed to cross alot of streets, so I just went for it.
- I sometimes ran/fast walked across, which made it obvious I didn’t know what I was doing.
- Whenever I’m with or talking with locals, I ask if I’m doing it right.
From border crossings in Thailand, to crossing the streets in Vietnam and riding the bus in Mexico, I take Nike’s philosophy of “Just Do It” and implement it into my own life with the faith that everything is “figureoutable.” And the only way to cut an angle to get what you want is to get your hands dirty by making mistakes.
Here is the “On Mistakes and Failures” chapter of Wiser Next Week. Take it and implement it into your own life.