Lillian Too, Feng Shui and your Enterprise

Customer Contact World,
1st December 2001
by James Smith

Your enterprise needs all the help it can get, so we tracked down Lillian Too - Asia's best known advocate and practitioner of feng shui.

Is feng shui mumbo jumbo, or is it a homegrown Asian methodology for using space effectively? Earlier this year we asked readers whether they believed in the claims made for feng shui - and the response came as a surprise: feng shui may well be edging itself onto the corporate agenda of a significant proportion of the region's companies.

Perched on a hill in an affluent suburb of Kuala Lumpur, Lillian Too's home is an Aladdin's Cave of trinkets, ornaments, chrysanthemums, candles and images of the Buddha. As you enter you walk by the mother of all water features, a stream flowing into a pond. When it comes to her lounge it is literally a case of 'a river runs through it'. The splash of water is broken only by the woof-woof of two very pampered Cocker Spaniels which announce the arrival of the first lady of feng shui herself.

Too invented the coffee table feng shui book, which spawned a succession of other books taking on different aspects of feng shui and refashioning them for popular consumption.

"I was aware that feng shui was originally developed in a context very different from the modern world. Look around, the world has changed," says Too with a theatrical flourish, before being buried under two very affectionate dogs. "Feng shui itself has always evolved over the generations. The key is simply to practice feng shui with a thinking mind."

It's a recipe which has clearly gone down well with the punters - she has sold 6 million books and counting, and helped spawn a cottage industry of copycat authors.

"I would like to see feng shui being used not just as a tool for living, but also as a tool for enrichment. I have done a lot of new research, and I am looking to reposition feng shui as a management tool."

Too explains that feng shui is the ultimate relationship management strategy. Moving away from the 'how-to-make-him-love-you' school of feng shui which her imitators seem fixated upon, Too believes strongly that "it's not just about boyfriends and girlfriends, it's about co-workers and customers as well. Feng shui can help build relationships, and I want to share this with a wider audience."

"Journalists like you are a cynical lot," she says as I raise my hands in denial. "Executives, corporate decision makers - you aren't easily hoodwinked. I know because I used to be a corporate banker myself and have an MBA. There's nothing wrong with cynicism. When I read some of the feng shui books out there I say to myself 'Jesus, where did they get that from?"

"Feng shui masters have this tendency to be very vague in their answers - I was determined to get to the bottom of the discipline, but I wanted to demystify it, and take it out of its original spiritual context. Sometimes everything we Chinese do is done in a religious way, but that doesn't make feng shui a religion! It is concerned with the here and now, and has no bearing on the afterlife."

Though traditionalists say that feng shui should be kept close to its Chinese roots to keep the discipline 'pure', as far as Too is concerned the floodgates have been opened wide. "If you want to participate, you have to share your knowledge and debate it openly," she says. Feng shui has gone global.

Profiting from Feng Shui

Much of Too's working life was spent in Hong Kong, where she says businessmen won't even cough without consulting a feng shui master first. For many millions of Asians, and a few Westerners as well, feng shui is already being employed to build better relationships.

"I used it at Harvard, I used it to get a job. I work very hard, but many people work very hard - the world is full of poor geniuses," she says looking at me sympathetically. "We all need a little luck, feng shui has been the source of my luck. Every time I negotiated in business, I would sit facing my most auspicious direction. And if I was feeling very insecure, I would get my counterpart to reveal their birth date in order to position them in their worst position."

Whilst feng shui has exploded onto the world's consciousness over the last five years, it can sometimes seem hard to pin down because though there are certain fixed principles, the superstructure of belief has been orally-transmitted. Worse still, feng shui practitioners have normally learned their craft by rote. Masters would say 'do this' without explaining why.

"Many businesses pick up feng shui masters from the street - sometimes they get it right sometimes they get it wrong. As with all things I believe it is worthwhile to spend time to do serious research into the pedigree of your master."

"I am the only one who has branded the discipline because I am a business woman first, and a feng shui author second. I am currently writing a business management book, which will break fresh ground in taking feng shui to a corporate audience," she reveals.

Art or science?

"The problem with feng shui is that it is very much of an art - there is so much interpretative judgement. But that it also it's greatest strength, because it allows it to stay relevant. All of these interpretative judgements are based on what I would call a scientific foundation however. This is why feng shui can be very technical. You must understand the theoretical part of feng shui, compass formulas and so on. We have the Earth plate, the Heaven plate, and the Mankind plate. Each plate uses a different North."

"Then there are triangles of affinity. Put together a team of people with the same astrological grouping, and they will work more effectively - you're an Ox right? You're all very firm in your belief systems. That means that Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir, Margaret Thatcher and you would make a perfect team."

We pause to digest what she's just said. Somewhere in the distance a dog howls.

Feng shui ('wind water') derives from the Chinese view of the universe, which is underpinned by three major principles: broken and unbroken lines; the five elements; Ying and Yang.

"All of this is not direct feng shui, but they are metaphysical sciences that lie on the periphery of feng shui. That's all there is to it. This is what underpins feng shui. Asians pick up feng shui from what their grandmother told them. It's in their blood."

Bringing conversation back to the task at hand, Too leans forward and says that she realises that everyone has to be in a good mood to do their job to their optimum ability. When it comes to customer-facing staff, their mood directly impacts the public perception of your organization. Feng shui can help, it seems. Here's how.

Corporate Feng Shui

Colours - Always use blended colours. All colours should always have white in them. You should never have a primary colour.

Open floor offices with cubicles - Most of the time cubicles are arranged in one of two ways. Workstations in circular clusters is best because of the distribution of energy. Many workstations are in rectangular groupings however - I refer to these as centipedes. This leads to a very uneven distribution of energy. However, to get around this get a model of a rooster and put it at the 'head' of the centipede - ie. one end of the rectangular grouping of desks.

Stress - The thing about stress is that energies clash. Many of these office arrangements are characterised by very sharp edges. People are getting hit by 'poison arrows' all the time. The way to soften the impact of these 'poison arrows' is to use plants or music to soften energy. These are the tricks of the trade.

Use a singing bowl - Go around the office clockwise to absorb all the negative energy. Made form 7 types of metal by monks in Katmandu. The sound is to die for, it's lovely. You rub the edge, and it cuts into negative energy. If there is aggravation in the office, this will sort it out.

Staff turnover - Call centre environments tend to be youthful environments. Young energy is beautiful energy. If you want your company to grow there is nothing better than young people for achieving that. You should nurture their energy with water. It should be moving water, a small water feature to generate energy. Use a blue/white mixed carpet - that too is very harmonious. You actually nurture the growth energy in young people this way - you'll be surprised at how productive they can be. Using water will kill your staff turnover!

Crystals - They're wonderful. They belong to the earth element. They are the treasures of the earth! They represent earth energy, and are a powerful means of improving relationships. If you want to improve all the relationships in the office - use crystals! I always recommend quartz crystals.

Wind chimes - Use six-rod wind chimes, and don't use the wooden variety that are so beloved of students. They're wonderful for movement. They sound nice as well.

Water features - Yes water symbolises wealth, but don't overdo it. Too much water will drown you! When it comes to water, it will bring you profit. Very important to drive new revenue streams, literally.

Shelving - Get it away, get it out of the office, it will kill you! All the business in the world is not done in libraries for a very good reason. All those shelves send out killing energy, killing chi. If you need to store documents, but them in cupboards. Never have open shelves!

Kitchen areas - Not so important in an office context so make sure that you don't place it in your most auspicious corner. Try not to have a sink in your office because that symbolises money draining away. The same goes for toilets.

Office location - The back of your office should have a tall building behind you rather than in front, that's because it blocks energy. A view of water is good, but cranes are very bad - lots of poisoned arrows. Hong Kong is a real sanctuary for positive energy.

Plants - I love plants, because they grow and produce energy. But make sure you maintain them. If you use real flowers, make sure that you throw them out the minute they turn brown. You have to change the water every day or else the water gets dirty.

Lighting - Your office must be well lit. If it is dark and dingy, the energy doesn't flow. Offices in general must be bright, there must be light. Offices which are dingy won't do well.

Glass walls - Glass is better than a normal wall. Energy flows through glass. It's also better to avoid built up walls. But your front door shouldn't be made of glass, otherwise the tiger jumps out and leaves the office. Your front door especially shouldn't be opposite a lift!

Desk - Tidy up your desk, and remember that the dragon must always prevail over the tiger. What does that mean? It means that the left-hand side of your desk should always be higher than the right-hand side. Actually use a real dragon if you can to ensure this.

Carpet - Never put your name on the carpet, because you're allowing people to walk on your name. Best of all, put your competitors' names on your mat and walk over their names!

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