Bill Gates Needs Cultural Training…Not Excuses!April 23rd, 2013 by Dean Foster | Discuss This »
So we have the inevitable culture clash between a formal, hierarchically structured Confucian society, where roles and associated behaviors are rigidly defined, and the uber-informal culture of the Pacific Northwest and the IT business world, where any kind of rank and formality is relegated to ancient history, and informal, breezy individually competitive behaviors is valued. The result? Bill Gates greets the President of South Korea with one hand in his pocket, and the entire country is aghast and insulted. As it should be.
It is one thing to legitimately claim ignorance of cultural differences as a defense when such gaffes are made, when the stakes may not be high. But Bill Gates is a major public figure, as is the President of South Korea. And he should know, as she most definitely does, that what he does and says carries great import. What he was saying when he so casually refused to remove his hand from his pocket was that not only did he not bother to take the time to understand the culture of his host, but that such knowledge was unnecessary. This behavior not only reflects ignorance, it reflects arrogance. Major companies have long ago realized that ignoring cultural differences puts them at a significant disadvantage when attempting to do business with associates abroad: it creates extra cost, time, and puts individuals and projects at great risk. Competitors who do understand this often have a significant advantage: after all, would you rather work with someone who you feel comfortable with, or someone you don’t? In the 21st century, the competitive advantage often does not lie with hard skill expertise, as competing companies often have similar hard skill expertise, and Microsoft understands this competitive challenge all too well today. In the global century, the competitive “tipping point” in fact goes to those organizations who know how to leverage cultural differences to accelerate their cross-border interactions. Bill Gate’s behavior indicates a lack of appreciation for his very bottom-line fact. Individuals, nation-states and companies all exist today in a post-global world where cultural contact is a fact of life. There simply is no wiggle room for cultural ignorance, and no defense for it when it happens.
Jean Halverson, April 24th, 2013 on 12:21 pm
To me this was very surprising. I would have expected him to have done the research necessary to make the interaction a complete success. Attention to detail is a necessity in his field, it’s a shame that attention didn’t encompass what was necessary on a cross-cultural level.
Dean Foster, June 4th, 2013 on 1:01 pm
Agreed, Jean, and thanks for sharing!
Managing Across Cultures, July 23rd, 2013 on 3:43 am
Every Culture of nation has its own taste of community,etiquettes,mannerisms etc , and when representing as an representative of some different nation it becomes very essential on your part to understand what the nation’s culture is all about to maintain good relations with it. Sometimes body language reflects ignorance but also arrogance.Organizations need to realize that ignoring cultural differences puts them at a significant disadvantage when attempting to do business with associates abroad. It can creates extra cost, time and can individuals and projects at great risk. Competitors often take advantage of such situations.
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