When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures
Book by Richard D. Lewis
I really wanted to read this book after reading an article by the author about how different cultures around the world perceive time very differently.
Is Time Always Money?
While I was growing up in Toronto, Canada (for most of my adulthood), time was a process that went from the past, the present, and into the future.
As well, because of American capitalism, ‘time is money' – hence using time efficiently and effectively is very important in Canada (at least Toronto).
Yet, unlike American-style business culture which aims to ‘close the deal', Canadian culture adds an element of cultural respectability and curtesy, thus pressuring the other business is not as important.
These various cultural paradigms on time, respect, curtesy, self-worth, etc. are INCREDIBLY diverse among ALL cultures around the world.
Time Is For Relationships?
For example, more Latinized cultures do not perceive being ‘on time' as important.
Rather, you can be late, and a meeting can extend for as long as is needed to establish or continue a personal or business relationship.
In Brazilian and Colombian cultures, a person can be half an hour to an hour late, without seeing this as an problem – while this would completely annoy a Germanic-influenced culture such as Germans, Swiss, or English.
But let's not limit ourselves to time, and just a few cultures…
Life is Different Outside of Your Bubble?
The book has amazing summaries of: time, team management, leadership, curtesy, respect, ego, level of aggression, persuasiveness, agreeableness, and many more elements!
The book also divides the countries into 9 different cultural groups, each with a brief summary of their history.
These cultural categories (which are future sub-divided by country) are: English speaking, Western European, Central and Eastern European, Nordic, Baltic, Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Asian (south, south east, East), Latin American, and Sub-Saharan African.
It's amazing to read about how some English cultures (such as Canadian, Australian and England) use sarcasm and humor effectively in business, while in Japanese cultures – humor can get lost in translation and context.
While in Eastern European cultures, humor can be perceived as a sign of weakness, avoidance, or deceitfulness.
Some Fun Examples?
Time is cyclical in Asian cultures – even if you don't get the deal today, time always repeats itself, so you will have another opportunity in the future – which contrasts against American ‘always be closing' philosophy.
In African and Indian cultures, your status is immediately seen based on your tribe, caste, or level in society, while in Australia and many western societies, your status is based on merit (what you have achieved – not your family history).
Then you have the concept of gifting in Chinese and African cultures, which has businesses and politicians giving gifts to establish deals and relationships, yet, in many western cultures, this is perceived as ‘bribery' and is illegal.
The amount of variability when dealing with people, businesses, and societies among all nations, and cultures around the world is stunning and VERY interesting.
So Should You Read It?
If learning about the current state of business in cultures (as well as some fascinating history), is something you enjoy, then I HIGHLY recommend this.
Yet, this book reads more like a text-book, and can get tenuous, because it is divided into exclusive sections (each country, each culture, time, leadership, etc.).
As such, I started reading this book 2 years ago, and I have yet to finish.
Otherwise, it's a great primer when traveling to another country, and should complement your ‘lonely planet' guides quite nicely.
Quote of the Day
For an Italian, time considerations will usually be subjected to human feelings. “Why are you so angry because I came at 9:30?” he asks his German colleague. “Because it says 9:00 in my diary,” says the German. “Then why don’t you write 9:30 and then we’ll both be happy?” is a logical Italian response. The business we have to do and our close relations are so important that it is irrelevant at what time we meet. The meeting is what counts. Germans and Swiss cannot swallow this, as it offends their sense of order, of tidiness, of planning.
When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures by Richard D. Lewis