Cheif Learning Officer Solutions for Enterprise Productivity

Your Brain on Culture

 -  2/13/12

Organizations can create competitive advantage by developing a global mindset, enhancing leadership development and building global teams.

“Barbie Fails to Charm China Fans.” “Wal-Mart Leaves Korea.” “Lockheed Martin Loses Out on Contract in India.” These headlines chronicling international business missteps in 2011 illustrate why organizations must understand the buying habits, cultural customs and negotiation styles necessary for success in the global marketplace. Without cultural intelligence such headlines will continue. The chief learning officer can play a strategic role in helping an organization better understand why global business failures occur and develop learning interventions to help avoid them.

To understand the important role culture plays in global business, consider how old we are as a species. This is relevant to leaders building successful learning organizations in a global economy. Homo sapiens are approximately 200,000 years old. During those 8,000 generations, we have managed to spread all over the globe. And everywhere we settle, we create different cultures. These cultures are essentially learned survival methods in a given environment.

Since culture provides us with the guide to survival, we naturally feel protected by our own and threatened by other cultures. Aspects of our own culture may include languages, belief systems, values, what we think and hundreds of thousands of other factors we take for granted as “the right way to do things.”

Avoiding the Culture Clash

When people of different cultures come together, it creates culture clashes — a “them vs. us” attitude. These clashes used to be limited by travel, how far one could walk, ride a horse or putter in a motorized vehicle before encountering another culture. Now, due to air travel and the Internet, culture clashes are practically constant.

The proliferation of global communication and virtual relationships requires increased cultural intelligence and skills. Even the availability of state-of-the-art video conferencing hides underlying cultural differences and can cause strain because differences are often harder to detect in a virtual environment.

Further, there are practical aspects of culture that should be part of every business person’s consciousness. For instance, all global business people should immediately know what time it is in Paris, Mumbai, New York and Tokyo or when Ramadan, Diwali or Christmas will be next year. However, the less-conscious aspects of culture are most often responsible for critical cross-cultural misunderstandings in organizations and business. These focus not on the dos and don’ts, but on the how and why.

Article Keywords:   culture  


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