Riding the Waves of Culture | Charles Hampden-Turner

Summary of: Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business
By: Charles Hampden-Turner


Embark on a journey to explore the intricacies of culture and its impact on global business with Charles Hampden-Turner’s ‘Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business.’ This book summary offers insights into cultural orientations such as universalism, particularism, individualism, and communitarianism, and how they shape human behavior and decision-making. You’ll discover how these cultural aspects impact international business interactions and negotiations, as well as the importance of personal relationships in various cultural contexts. Get ready to dive into captivating real-life examples, scenarios, and survey findings that will broaden your understanding of the role of culture in the world of business.

Understanding Culture for Better Relationships

Culture is the foundation of human interactions and organizations. It shapes the values, beliefs, and behaviors of individuals and groups. Cultural orientations influence how individuals interact, with some being complementary, while others are in direct opposition. For example, universalists view rules as absolute, whereas particularists believe rules are made to be broken. Cultural orientations have practical significance in real-life situations, such as when faced with a moral dilemma. Understanding these orientations can help build better relationships and navigate cultural differences. By appreciating that culture is like gravity, always present but not always perceived, we can learn to appreciate the role that it plays in our lives.

Cultural Differences in Morality

An international survey reveals that different cultures have different moral standards. Some cultures adhere to universalism, where they prioritize the rule of law and truthfulness, while others lean towards particularism, where they prioritize personal relationships and context. For instance, North Americans, most northern Europeans, and other Western countries prioritize universalism, whereas countries like Venezuela, Nepal, South Korea, and Russia prioritize particularism. This difference in morality has implications in various aspects of life, including business negotiations and decisions regarding personal relationships. It is important to understand and respect cultural differences in morality to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.

Individualism vs. Communitarianism in Business

An assessment of individualism and communitarianism in the workplace can be conducted through hypothetical scenarios like a nuclear power plant accident. A survey showed that there is little certainty on issues of fault, with Cubans and Russians having a virtual tie in assigning fault to the individual at a 69% rate, while Indonesians strongly felt that the group must share the blame at an 84% rate. Americans, British, and Danes were divided on the matter. The scenario raises questions on management strategy and how the workforce reacts to it. The book explores the consequences of these two contrasting cultural value systems in a business setting.

Cultural Orientations

The book highlights cultural subtleties that complicate human interactions. It explains how people from different cultural backgrounds approach life and work differently. Cultures are categorized as communitarian, achievement, or ascriptive. Communitarian cultures value teamwork and social interdependence, while achievement cultures value individualism and personal success. Ascriptive cultures are based on ascribed characteristics such as family background or social status. The book also discusses affectivity and neutrality, which refers to how cultures express emotions. Some cultures express emotions freely, while others are more reserved. The book provides examples of how people from different cultures can unintentionally insult each other by their behavior. For instance, telling a joke to an Ethiopian may be embarrassing because laughter is considered impolite in that culture. The book concludes by showing that cultural differences exist and must be understood to avoid misunderstandings.

Diffuse vs Specific Relationships

Relationships can be categorized into two types, diffuse and specific. In a diffuse relationship, the authority of a superior goes beyond the workplace, while in a specific relationship, a manager becomes one of the gang after work. These relationships can be defined in terms of life spaces. The problem with diffuse people is their tendency to make private things public, causing the specific personality to lose face. As markets globalize, the need for standardization in organizational design, systems, and procedures increases. The orientation of a person, whether diffuse or specific, can have far-reaching consequences. A specific partner makes a decision he thinks is right and moves on, while a diffuse partner disagrees with the decision and is forever troubled by it. This may lead to a break-up of the partnership.

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