“Why are you travelling by train?” I was asked by the expat project manager as I planned a site visit to a factory being built by our company on the outskirts of Bangkok.
For me, that two hour third class train trip was an opportunity to get out of the pampered bubble that is life as an expat in a country like Thailand and get a brief, if incomplete, picture of daily life in a rapidly changing nation.
Business Class Syndrome — a view of the world seen through the prism privileged lifestyle that isn’t shared by most people — is a phenomenon that afflicts many of our business and political leaders who are insulated from the real world.
Over the past three days I’ve been dipping in and out of various economic forums as the B20 and the Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance conference being held in Sydney this week ahead of the G20 Heads of Government meeting being held in Cairns next October.
Both events illustrate Business Class Syndrome as global experts travel the world discussing issues like youth unemployment, third world growth and startup businesses that are beyond their experience.
None of this is to say the speakers at these events were wrong or dishonest, just their ideas — however well informed and intentioned — are developed through a selective view of the world.
That selective view has to be kept in mind when reading the recommendations of such experts. White, middle aged, western men don’t have a monopoly on the planet’s good ideas.
In the case to the Bangkok project managers the expats didn’t really care about what was going on; their job was to build and move on, which they (and I) did.
However I hope those hard seat journeys left me a little more understanding about Thailand than those who wouldn’t leave an airconditioned site hut.