Jaywalking Index - your real guide to global business

Ed Marsh | Aug 10, 2011

It's 11pm, you've just finished a late business dinner and are eager to get back to the hotel.  You know you have at least a full hour of work to clean out your email and you have a meeting scheduled for 8am.  You come to a street to cross what do you do?

Hardwired reality

If you are German you turn left or right to the nearest crosswalk and then wait for the walk light even if there is no traffic, and then walk briskly to the hotel.  If you are Indian you look right and step into the street at any point and start to work your way across traffic, jockeying for an propitious looking ric with whom you would vigorously negotiate.

I know.....generalizations.  But guess what?  They are founded in reality and can be key to helping us in global business.  Should we make decisions based on them?  No - at least not exclusively.  But if we are aware of some of the fundamental sociological differences (I'm not talking about the half bow and two handed business card transfer - that's the simple stuff; rather I mean the subconscious, visceral factors) then we can adjust our approach to minimize the risk of nasty surprises.

Scatological Fixation

Vanity Fair's Michael Lewis' most recent piece (It's the Economy, Dummkopf) speaks to the cultural factors that allowed Germans who are predisposed to risk aversion to become thoroughly embroiled in the "sub prime" crisis.

Superficially Lewis' article struggles to draw a tenuous (at best) correlation between what he asserts is a German fascination with filth/feces and their bond traders naivetee.  I'm married to a German national, was born in Germany and have spent substantial time there and done substantial business with Germans - from senior management to factory workers; from old East and old West; from North and South.  I will grant that "Scheiße" is tossed about far more casually in more formal and mixed company settings than our equivalent is here, but I have never encountered the virulent (or even a latent) preoccupation with bodily functions which Lewis identifies.

But perhaps his prurient context will hold one's attention long enough to grasp his thesis - and in this area I completely agree.

Social Blindness

German bankers bought subprime bonds because their mindset simply assumed that, as "I've ticked off all the boxes (data points which needed to be confirmed).  (Therefore) There is no risk."

You can argue (and people will) for generations about the naivetee or ignorance of that position but unchanged will remain the fact that sociological predilections affect business.  We all approach relationships and transactions with a filter which simultaneously enhances and retards our capacity to understand the complex situation we face.  Our global partners, distributors, customers, employees, etc. will have similarly biased perspectives.  And when those clash we will have problems.

The problems are always exacerbated because no one understands what they did wrong...... because they are doing things just the way they are supposed to be done.  Whether waiting for a waiting for a walk signal on an empty street, willfully pillaging IP or presuming that a price is fixed (or that it is naturally inflated by 50%) the potential pitfalls abound.  (Keep your eye out for an upcoming post digesting the McKinsey Quarterly article "Remapping your strategic mind-set" or how your assumptions and biases will get you in a heap of expensive trouble!)

Experienced Guidance

How do people cross the street in your target markets?  Or is your product one which should be targeted at markets which cross the street in a certain way?  Obviously the "Jaywalking Index" is a spoof, but the principle is critical.

That's why you need experienced assistance as you launch or expand your global business program.  You can rail about how the XXXX do business and how unethical it is, or you can work to position your company and product to succeed.  But if you cross that street against the light unwittingly, you could end up adorning the hood of a German driver who would never have imagined that someone might act so irrationally.

Consilium can help - as the little voice whispering in your ear warning you not to cross that German street until you have a walk signal, or to incorporate a component into your distributor training to address pricing strategies (and many more standard and customized areas.)


Although each of his pieces on the affects of the economic crisis in Europe is lengthy and takes some time to read, the articles are very readable and informative.  It's worth downloading pdfs to your kindle for beach or commuter rail reading.

Iceland - April '09 Wall Street on the Tundra

Greece - Oct '10 Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds

Ireland - March '11 When Irish Eyes are Crying