Ed Marsh | Aug 14, 2011

Living in a ME-Centric world

I remember walking through an airport in the Soviet Union in 1986.  Adorning a wall as I passed was a huge map of the the Soviets wanted everyone to know it.

Not only was the CCCP in the center, but the distortion of relative size and location of many other countries, particularly the US, was remarkable.  The US was depicted as a Rhode Island (OK maybe Connecticut) sized outlier.  Obviously that was an intentional misrepresentation....but it may not be unusual.

Perception is Reality

The hardest part of cultural differences in business is that our default attitude is that "ours" is normal and "theirs" is different.  We can be respectful and fascinated to learn about it, but it is always the "different" one that we strive to understand.  And of course the person who you are trying to decipher is viewing you with the same perplexity.  And you are both right.  Is your sky blue????

Being culturally adaptive in business is only partly being able to conform to the explicit customs which are part of a business relationship.  A deeper, more valuable (and rather rare) skill is to intuit where differences in perception and interpretation will cause problems in a transaction, negotiation or relationship.

Walk in Your Shoes

On all levels it is helpful to be able to empathize with the perspective of those with whom you are doing business.  They may still be wrong, indeed completely screwed up according to your frame of reference and context, but at least you can imagine how the situation looks to them - and adapt your approach accordingly.

But here's an important question.  Do you "look" at situations, "feel them out" or "keep your ears tuned?"  Are you primarily visual, kinesthetic or auditory?  (If you aren't sure you can learn more here and take a quick self test.)  You will process data differently, and different tools can be helpful to your understanding other situations.

Reality = Distorted Perception

It may be that to really understand how a situation looks to others you must intentionally distort your reality.  And overcoming your confirmation bias can be very challenging.  "Rooted Maps" may be the perfect tool for executives who are visual or struggling to understand macro market perspective differences.  In an Aug '11 McKinsey Quarterly article Re-mapping your strategic mindset, Pankaj Ghemawat presents a distillation of his extensive work on how executives can comprehend the time/distance/culture challenges their global enterprises face.

Ghemawat writes "Rooted maps correct a misperception reinforced by conventional ones: that the world looks the same regardless of the viewer’s vantage point or purpose. In the real world, though, geographic distance and differences in culture and policy matter. To better reflect this reality, rooted maps depict the world from a specific perspective and with a particular purpose in mind."

What a great tool to use as you consider target markets and approaches.

Consilium can help you adapt this technique and others to develop a comprehensive and profitable global business development program.