“Culture”. One of those intangible, poorly understood, annoying aspects of international business, that is an unwelcome distraction to hard-nosed, hyper-competitive business executives and entrepreneurs looking to conquer global markets. We all know, what matters are the numbers: sales figures, market share data and financial results, and soft-skill elements like cultural considerations detract from focus on financial matters…
At this point, some of you are in vigorous agreement, and others are about to stop reading and post a scathing response.
If you agree with the views in the first paragraph, you are not alone – there are many in the business of global business who might express similar views and, in the end, you, and they, are missing a critical aspect of international commerce – and perhaps one of the great opportunities for personal enrichment that is part of the experience of international trade.
There is, however, truth in the title to this post – a truth that is perhaps not the one that might be expected.
The culture that is (potentially) an obstacle to success in global markets is not the “culture” of foreign lands, but rather, your own – no matter where you are as you read this entry.
Cultural considerations are an unavoidable element of the dynamics of international business, and while much has been written about intercultural effectives, and the importance of effectively navigating unfamiliar cultures, I’d like to start the discussion about culture from a different perspective.
Every individual on the planet has their own personal cultural context and reference points – some conscious and deliberately chosen, others unconscious and often unaccounted for.
Your own assumptions, perceptions and biases – which are inescapable – can be absolute obstacles to success in international markets, particularly if you ignore the influences of your own points of reference, and fail to adjust or mitigate these, as you look to interact with business partners across the globe.
Understanding the influence and implications of our own cultural contexts and reference points is, in my view, the first step in appreciating the importance – and very practical impacts – of culture in international business. Ultimately, these realizations translate directly into success or failure in global markets.
Does this all sound academic and theoretical?
Not at all.
GlobeThoughts is meant to be a practical forum for ideas and observations around international trade and global business. Cultural considerations connect directly to numerous aspects of the way in which a business approaches international markets. Everything from feasibility analysis to market entry strategies, to contracting and dispute resolution, even expectations related to product customization and after-sales support, can be influenced by cultural considerations.
As a first step though, please consider how your own lense on the world impacts your approach to international business. Awareness is the first step to adopting a more effective perspective on the cultural dimensions of international business.