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:: 02 the future of Global Economy
Enculturated Management Models - the Need of a Globalised World
02 the future of Global Economy 3/28/2005 2:06:12 PM

Anthropologist Melville Herskovits' wrote that 'Given the premise, the logic is inescapable', and psychologist Harry Triandis described culturally derived premises as "unstated assumptions, standard operating procedures, ways of doing things that have been internalized to such an extent that people do not argue about them".

So how come the so-called 'international community' so often, in spite of their lead agent's (IMF) failings in the handling of two major economic crises of the 1990s, still make the mistake to believe that the Washington Consensus has universal following? Could the answer not be that this Washington Consensus is in itself a culture, with its own culturally derived "unstated assumptions"?

A string of 'formulas' may help to explain the links between culture as a phenomenon and the action we take in the name of it. Let me here suggest that our everyday logic is heavily influenced by the following interrelated developments:

On the Social Level (LS): Cultural Values (CV) + Environment (E1) = Cultural Application (CA)

On the Empirical Level (LE): + Cultural Application (CA) + Experience (E2) = Cultural Premise (CP)

On the Logical Level (LL): Observations (O1-n) + Cultural Premise (CP) = Cultural Conclusion (CC)

On the Action Level (LA): + Cultural Conclusion (CC) + Resources (R1) + Resolve (R2) = Cultural Behaviour (CBe)

Explained in simple English this means that the application of our cultural values will be shaped by the environment we operate in. For instance, a newly arrived Chinese immigrant to the US may act differently in a given situation in the US, compared to what s/he would have done in China, not necessarily because of an immediate change in his/her cultural values, but because the US environment (in which s/he now operates) is very different from China, making the 'normal' behaviour impractical, or even unrealistic. As s/he gains experience from operating in a 'new' environment, this experience will also start to affect his/her premises (underlying assumptions). This means that instead of assuming a certain type of development based on past experiences, s/he will now begin to assume different types of developments, based on fresh experiences in the new environment, combined with the 'old' references that s/he still retains. Once these new premises start to 'stick' in his/her consciousness, a new type of logic will develop, one that most probably can be said to position itself somewhere between the old logic s/he used to apply, and the prevailing logic in his/her new environment. Armed with this new logic, and given whatever resources and resolve s/he has and/or can muster, s/he will act in whatever way s/he now finds 'logical'. No doubt is this not at all a linear process of development or change, nor one where the different steps always will reveal themselves as individual steps. However, all of them must be passed through before his/her action will change as a direct consequence of the new cultural influences s/he is exposed to.

Having accepted this it soon becomes understandable why it is so difficult to (e.g.) introduce management models developed in one cultural setting into another cultural setting. As any management model constitutes the 'essence' - in fact the distillate - of all the thinking that went into the development of it, the model itself equals the 'cultural conclusion' in the formula outlined above. To simply try to share the observation (such as poor competitiveness or low profitability) and then force the management model (i.e. the conclusion) onto the situation, is bound to fail - no matter how well it worked in the environment where the model was first developed. If the cultural premises (developed from the 'social' and 'empirical' levels preceding the 'logical' level where it is applied) upon which the management model is based, are not in place in the culture in which the model is going to be applied, it is frankly speaking not going to succeed. Let me take just one example: Most management models developed in the West tend to equal 'seniority' with hierarchical positions. But in most Asian societies is this just one aspect of seniority, affecting the authority it carries. Quite obviously is age an important seniority-issue in the East, but so is the issue of relationship. So does for instance social practices in Vietnam (still) request even a small child to treat his or her younger cousin as an older sibling, if his/her parent is younger than the cousins' parent who is the brother or sister of the child's own parent. Complicated? Perhaps to a Westerner, but to a Vietnamese this is a "standard operating procedure". And if one grows up being taught that that is the way to relate to (and as seniority is crucial, also 'treat') family members, it is not strange that one's view on how to relate to and treat future colleagues also becomes different from that of a Westerner.

So what do I want to suggest from all this? In the name of a more even-handed globalisation process, offering also 'the Rest' the equal opportunity that "the West" so often stresses, I suggest a marked effort to enculturate the management models that universities and MBA programs teach, helping local students and professionals alike to actually see the forest for of all the trees. Starting in Asia, the International Centre for Consulting Excellence (ICfCE) is in the process of setting up a network of Think Tanks, particularly targeting societies where Western management models and techniques are regularly taught (and/or exported to through a multitude of bi- and multilateral projects) - in spite of the receiving society's often very obvious differences in culturally derived premises when compared to those upon which the models themselves are based. By actually reversing the process that created the model in the first place, and identifying and replacing the invalid premises, the task of these Think Tanks is to develop enculturated management models - based on that particular culture's uniqueness and strong points, while still making best use of the vast research, experience and know-how that went into the model in the first place.


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