He knows what people do when all is dark

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 November, 2008, 12:00am

He can guide where people cannot see and might be able to tell you something unexpected about your boss.

'Hello, this is Julian. Do you hear my voice? Would you please come towards my voice?'

Those are usually the first sentences Julian Zhu Min says to his visitors in the dark; visitors who have included Middle Eastern princes, American astronauts and chief executives from Fortune 500 companies.

Speaking with the British accent he learned from the BBC, Mr Zhu is the only Chinese among the blind guides of Dialogue in the Dark, an exhibition designed to help people understand the world of the blind through a reversal of roles.

Created in Germany in 1988, Dialogue in the Dark has been organised at different leadership summits, like World Economic Forums in Mexico and China. Leaders from different countries joined in by completing various set tasks in the dark, followed by a debriefing.

They might be considered leaders at work, but they might not be the same in the dark.

'Even if they are told that the floor is flat and there are no pools of water, most of them are very careful and nervous,' Mr Zhu said. 'Hearing from their voices, I can tell they kept on looking at the floor even though they could not see anything.

'Some just can't stand the dark and rush out immediately.'

Gender also plays a role in leadership during darkness, with Mr Zhu saying 'women usually become natural leaders when a group of people has to finish a task in the dark'.

Subtle personality shifts also happen. 'I remember one participant was really outrageous and commanding. He was able to lead everyone in the group to complete the task successfully, in high spirits,' Mr Zhu said.

'When we got back to the light session [debriefing], he just became a quiet man. He was an Indian, the boss of an Indian company. He behaved nearly opposite to what he did in the dark.'

Trust was another challenge in the dark, Mr Zhu said.

'Most visitors are strong people during work, but in the dark, they have to learn how to trust others as they need help at the end of the day,' he said.

While some treated the experience like going into a haunted house, Mr Zhu said it was still a good chance to widen everyone's eyes.

A series of management workshops using the methodology of Dialogue in the Dark will be held in early January and Mr Zhu, who went to Israel for training, is in Hong Kong to help train the blind guides.

Patrick Cheung, from the Hong Kong Social Entrepreneurship Forum, hopes the introduction of the idea to Hong Kong can offer more working opportunities for the blind.

'The Hong Kong government has actually spent a lot of resources on education of the visually impaired in Hong Kong,' he said. 'However, they do not have many working opportunities. Most of them can only choose to become either a telephone operator or a massage practitioner.'