Market leaders, young dogs and global challenges

This morning, I read an interesting article by Prof. Dr. Désirée van Gorp about how large tech companies dominate across sectors but other ‘young dogs’ can also play. Although about tech, the article is relevant to any international business. It echoes Simon Sinek‘s point (and I like that because it means knowledgeable people are saying the same thing, which I trust more than one individual’s opinion). It links nicely with stake (not share) holders analysis (see work by my colleague Andrea Werner).

It also refers to deeply ingrained paradigms, which links to values and how we do things (which is what I teach). From what some of my MBA and MA students describe, a HQ may be located in one country (eg USA) but it tries to adapt to local markets/subsidiaries and if you’re a global business this isn’t easy. At a time when the outside world is uncertain too, clear guidelines on the organisational strategy (and the ‘why’) can help. Linked to this our study that showed that in countries where there’s instability and uncertainty, organisations may ‘buffer’ this when they have clear rules and policies, which can foster innovative and collaborative behaviour.

In the brief article in Dutch, Prof. van Gorp from Nyenrode Business University gives a few insights and examples and so I took these words and translated them with the help of Google Translate.

It seems that companies exist by the grace of rapid changes. Especially international tech giants compete in different sectors and many still underestimate the strength of these global challengers. They think that the ‘Seven Sisters’ – including companies like Apple, Amazon and Google – are in control.

“Lesson one is: think big and different. The sales area of ​​these tech giants, but also of other new challengers such as Tesla, is by definition the world. In addition, their mission is often based on ideals, which is important for attracting and retaining talent. For example, Google has the mission to organize all information worldwide and to make it universally accessible and usable. The engine of growth for these companies consists of innovation, attracting young talent and quickly responding to changes. That is crucial, because it is the only way to be future-proof.”

Appealing story

“Communication gets a new dimension: the big challengers tell their story with verve, so that their customers also feel part of the meaningful ecosystem. Consumers are also merciless when the ambitions are experienced as insincere, as Facebook has recently experienced. The concrete actions and policies of companies must fit one-on-one with the message. When this is applied in perfection, this way of adding value brings success. Companies thus form a magnet for young talent. This is essential to be close to the market and to respond quickly to changes.”

Thoughtfully digital

“Mammoths like Apple and Alibaba are sailing smart applications of digital innovations. Not only do the tech giants benefit from this. Look, for example, at Burberry and its seamless alignment of off-line and online offerings, resulting in a total customer experience. It turned out to be the salvation of the ailing fashion company.

“Moving along and daring to let go of deeply ingrained paradigms if necessary is the only motto.”

The platform in general offers innovation opportunities for smaller players. They can collaborate with public and private parties to create more value for different stakeholders. A water sports company, for example, has an interest in clean water that is not full of plastic waste. Clean water can contribute to a better customer experience. In order to achieve this, the company can seek cooperation with other partners who have the same interest, and with whom they can create an ecosystem together.”


“Finally, big challengers stick out their necks when they discover sector-alien directions. They do that amazingly well. Many think of fintechs, the young dogs, among competitors in the banking industry. But outsiders like Amazon seem to have the best cards. Innovation is important to be and remain relevant in the future. In this way DSM has innovated from being a mining company through bulk chemicals manufacturer to producer of high-quality ingredients and raw materials for the food sector, pharmaceutical manufacturers and the automotive industry. The condition is that such a company dares to invest heavily in new markets that do not immediately generate money. The big challengers represent the new reality of business management. It is a fatal misconception to think that it is a far-from-my-bed show, i.e., it’s not relevant to you. Moving along and daring to let go of deeply ingrained paradigms if necessary is the only motto.”

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The UNHCR made a statement on the second anniversary of little Alan (known as Aylan) Kurdi’s death. For many people the idea that others want to come to their shores is a frightening prospect. This issue is enormously complex and taking up the drawbridge is not a solution nor is it morally justifiable.

One of the main reasons why it is not a solution is the misunderstanding that people cross deserts and seas on their own volition. There is a business and profit oriented aspect to immigration that needs the input from scholars, experts and individuals with their voting power. First, the security industry has no interest in reducing the fear of people regarding immigration. They make a lot of money. They do not take Corporate Social Responsibility into account.

Second, a photographer with an exhibition that won the Carmignac Photojournalism Award at the Saatchi gallery in London was able to dismiss his own hypothesis of the ‘romantic’ (his words) notion that people would cross land to find freedom and security. It turned out that immigration is actually modern slavery. Groups of people are sorted and ‘stored’ until shipped to Europe. Who are the buyers? The stakeholders?

These are international issues that touch upon the murky (I refuse to use ‘dark’) side of globalization. During the teaching of our Undergraduate, MBAs and MAs course on International Management & Ethics and Management Perspectives we challenge students to see the wider implications, consider all stakeholders and develop critical, culturally intelligent skills. I’m proud of that work but as academics, we need to stop working in silos and multidisciplinary work, research, output needs to be better rewarded and published in open access journals. Fools are us for our own murky publications business model.

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It’s fine. (No, it’s not)

It’s been over 20 years but I still don’t seem to ‘get’ how the British communicate. Funny how when you’re busy and exhausted, physically and mentally, you go back to your MO – Hofstede did call culture ‘the software of the mind’.
I’m Dutch: Direct, pragmatic, trusting the mantra what-you-see/hear-is-what-you-get/mean. We are the worst immigrants the British can wish upon themselves…
Dutch person: Are you sure you don’t mind?
British person: No, it’s fine.
Dutch person: I’m sorry that X happened/I didn’t manage Y but I can do/have/sort/organise A, happy to do so (see how they have integrated? Apology, offers solution).
British person: No it’s fine.
Two days later – British person is cold and/or not answering emails/texts/messages/smoke signals
Dutch person rings or sees them in person: Is everything OK?
British person: No, you’re rude. X happened/you didn’t manage Y.
Dutch person: WHAT?! But i tried! And i offered! I even used the word ‘sorry’!
Upset, writes post on FB.
Every British friend: I saw you wrote that about me on FB?
Dutch person: I’ve not spoken to you in weeks/you’re not the only one British person I know/it was the customer service operator, see my twitter feed.

Thank goddess I live with a Yorkshireman.

Jokes aside, the psychology behind this interest me – so the Brit assesses the behaviour through their own cultural lenses and judges it to be inappropriate. But for the other that is their best – they too act from what they deem was appropriate conduct. Yet it was seen as malicious, uncaring, rude. I think that that is one of the biggest challenges for integration in a multicultural society. Forget the British nationalisation test and questions about Corronation Street…

It’s about taking perspective and pause to reflect if the behaviour is representative of the person. Maybe we should all start conversations with “my aim/intention/feeling is this…” and then the behaviour that follows can be interpreted in the correct light. It breaks my heart that in a multicultural society people judge one another thinking disrespect and malice is at the core of it, when it is the opposite: A man not shaking a woman’s hand out of respect, a person showing up late so not to inconvenience the host, a person talking through plans/progress to be consultative not to push their own agenda, someone who is silent to show calm, not disinterest etc. Tolerance is not the way forward; it is indicitive of a power-imbalance (“I tolerate you”), nor should we slap the wrist of anyone who is deemed to do wrong from our perspective before we know intent (yes, that includes crimes of cultural appropriation, political incorrectness and sex/race/ism). It’s hard work but indicitive of a growth vs fixed mindset.

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Wellbeing in times of anxiety

The world is in flux, it seems. It may not be worse than 20 years ago but for those staring at the ceiling at night, worrying about the US elections, Brexit, Syria, Yemen, immigration, Calais, the environment, Russia, inflation, etc. it can affect daily functioning and general happiness. It may also be that you suffer from anxiety or depression in general.

There are many sources that can help and I hope that there is a community around you that gives support. Having friendly support is wonderful but sometimes we’re on our own and then what can we do?

Some links that may help:

Breathing gif – good webaddress to save in your bookmarks on your computer or smart phone:

The science behind well being: Ed Diener came to talk to a big group of Cross Cultural Psychologists over the summer. He heads the Happiness Project. Their main aim is to figure out what makes people happy. It’s a non-profit and one of the key things they explore is the cultural variability when it comes to what makes us happy. A lot of this has to do with the values and norms that are prevalent in the society within which we live. If it’s a match – great. If it’s a mis-match, then a migrant, for example, may experience great anxiety (my area of research is Person-Nation Fit and I did a talk for the Brighton anti-fascist group some time ago, which was very interesting because they don’t like the idea of a ‘nation’ but we talked about belonging to a community and how important that can be for some people.). More on Ed Diener’s project here:

Listening to podcasts when you’re awake at night can help. There are so many podcasts – from guided meditations to topics that’ll send you off to sleep. It is another tool to be ‘in the moment’ as when someone’s reading you a story, your thoughts aren’t distracting you (as much). I really like:

Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.
The Reith Lectures. if you have a podcast app on your tablet/phone then you can search for ‘Reith lectures’ and you don’t have to go via the BBC website
Stuff you should know. Two American lads discuss random topics.

Exercise – if it’s too cold for some to do excercise outside, then these videos can help doing, for example, yoga indoors. Yin yoga is a form that is very ‘quiet’. There are morning versions and versions before bed.
meditative yoga:
Learn how to use and apply a breath meditation within these long holding restorative postures. Experience a deep release and as you breathe let stress and tension …

Self care yoga in two parts. This is Part 1
Good for working on core stability & stretching
Core Strength and Stretch with Melissa McLeod Yoga offers many benefits for our health, daily yoga practice to get the best health! The effects of yoga on anxiety and …

Evening yoga short:
Evening yin yoga long and this is also good for the spine after a day behind a computer: 60 minutes Yin Yoga for the Spine. This free online yoga class is a perfect and sometimes necessary complement to the dynamic and muscular …
Simple and gentle asana, to prepare the body and mind for a deep and beautiful sleep. :: If you wish to stay in touch and get updates on my yoga classes, and my …

Free short meditations by Brighton-based Anxiety author Charlotte Watts
Guided meditation by Tara Brach

Finally, I’ve written on mental health and linked individuals’ plight to community responsibility.

I hope some of it is useful.
Guided meditations are offered freely by Tara Brach, Ph.D, psychologist, author and teacher of meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening.
Free audio meditations including a short meditation on acceptance, a calming meditation and a body scan. Listen now to soothe your mind and body.
hsw shows, show, podcast, video, stuff you should know, podcasts
Country — Kwame Anthony Appiah: Mistaken Identities. Tuesday. Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against a mythical and romantic view of nationhood
Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Co-hosted …
The Story of the Pursuit of Happiness Project : Psychology meets Philosophy


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Person-Nation (Mis)Fit


It hurts and can be shocking when your (extended) community isn’t thinking the way you do. We surround ourselves with like-minded friends, including on social media, and so we develop what is called the ‘False Consensus Effect‘. It means that we wrongly assume that most people agree with what we think.

Additionally, once we realise the others think differently than we do it is tempting to try and convince them to see the situation from our perspective, preferably with evidence or good arguments. But we should not try to just impose views, no matter how evidence based, as the other would simply reject it due to confirmation bias, which is when we prefer, seek out, interpret and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. In other words, your evidence based proof will fall onto deaf ears. The key here is to find out why the ears are deaf.


It is now very confusing what is “American” just like since June after the referendum it is unclear what is “British” as it seems the country is 50/50 in terms of their values.

BUT effective conflict management, albeit hard work, can be possible by looking at what is really the matter, not by condescending viewpoints. First, a government must try to separate the espoused values from what people really need and how this can be supplied. For example, is it a sense of security? Or a need for freedom from elitist governing? Michael Moore warned people that this vote wasn’t all about racism, it was about demoralised middle class voted realising that their $ may not be worth the same as the 1%, but their vote does count the same.

Furthermore, if you are genuinely curious as a politician, try to find out what the nation needs in terms of skills and which government leadership team has the abilities to deliver an effective, happy workforce. For example, what does a region require in terms of industry innovation and how can this be supplied and what kind of training needs to be put in place? In management research this is called Person-Environment Fit, made up of a match between values, demands-abilities and needs-supplies, which has a strong correlation with wellbeing.

Much of such leadership also requires the skill (and guts) to find out the ‘hidden issue’ – people say it’s about immigration. Is it? Or is it about companies not adhering to fair (living) wages, by underpaying immigrants in the construction and hospitality industry? Or they don’t like how national culture is changing. Well, in Brighton the Migrant English Project offers free English lessons and a lunch to immigrants in a welcoming way. Perhaps the kind side of integration policies needs to be reviewed, in order to address the multicultural tensions (See Scheffer on the situation in The Netherlands).

The issue of Washington/Westminster/Euro bureaucrats – is it that? Or a sense of unequal regional investment and neglect – with Wallstreet and the City being bailed out but also a focus of an unsustainable system of economic growth in an era where consumerism is having a lasting impact on our environment (see also Luyendijk’s Swimming with Sharks).

The alternatives are there but this requires enormous innovative, creative and (culturally) intelligent leadership. Before Republican supporters celebrate – an imposed approach could cause further civil unrest within a split nation. Similarly, the Leave campaign claim they ‘won’ and everyone now needs to get on board. But that ‘win’ wasn’t a majority and people won’t be able to just change their views. They may have to accept the result but they won’t (want to) understand it. At this stage, it’s raw. Eventually, all that people can probably muster is to see the issue from the other’s perspective (provided it isn’t blatant hate, racism and ignorance or arrogance and elitism) but they won’t embrace it as their own viewpoint. In conflict management research, the ‘compromise’ solution isn’t ideal. It’s up to the leadership to engage in integrative governance, which will be hard work.


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Cultural Intelligence Paradox

Have you ever been abroad and asked for directions? Did the
person sometimes give directions that you KNEW were wrong or did they try to give directions eventhough it was evident they knew less than you did? This is because in their culture, it is more important to be helpful than to be accurate.
Vice versa, in London or New York, if you ask for directions, a person would think nothing of it to shake their heads and walk on or wave ‘no’, which can come across as being unwilling to assist. This is because they are from an individualistic context, where being factual and accurate is valued more than harmony. Although frustrating at the time, in a travel scenario like this we’re a little more atuned to others’ different way of doing things. In a professional or social environment at home, where we are required to work and live together for longer periods of time, interactions can be more challenging because things aren’t so black and white.

In an article for the, then, Commission for Racial Equality (now Commission fo Equality and Human Rights), I highlighted the likelihood of mixed race becoming more and more common but also that race is a social construct we created to categorise the world. In the biological sense, it’s become a redundant thing – people are shades of pinky-brown, blue-black, olivy-pink, etc. As a social construct it is still very powerful –for example, the impact of Obama’s election. Nonetheless, governments and Human Resources are finding it increasingly difficult to use that information sensibly – as more and more people will tick the box ‘other’… (van Meurs, 2007). Similarly, people nowadays may have dual nationality, or have lived somewhere outside their country of birth for a substantial time. It is almost bizarre that governments are increasingly obsessed with immigration because this mixing, for love or money, can’t be stopped.

That said, we learn how to do certain things (like eating with knife and fork) and take that with us on journeys. We may learn to eat different things in different ways, but, on average, we have a preference to which we stick. We’re taught how things are done from an early age and through a process of enculturation (formal and informal education) learn more to the point where it becomes a ‘truthful way’ and we are blind to alternatives.

In class, a group of Chinese students shared that they eat Europen food but with chop sticks. Then one day, I had to call them in as there was an overlap issue with their course work and I needed to know who wrote the original piece and who had copied. They replied that they tended to work together a lot as a group and didn’t care much about individual merit (collectivism) and the bravest of them told me shyly that they could never admit who in their team copy/pasted something (plagiarism). I explained that this meant they’d all risk getting a fail. I could tell from their expressions that they didn’t understand how I’d value the factual truth over maintaining face. I made what’s called a ‘rule based’ decision and their ‘why’ didn’t matter. Perhaps I should have considered a ‘consequence based’ decision if I wanted my teaching in cross cultural awareness to be effective and convincing.

We only see and hear the top of the ‘cultural iceberg’ – we don’t know what
drives behaviour unless we’ve learned through experience (bicultural individuals will be more naturally aware of this). The same goes for non-verbal behaviour such as dress, hand movements and personal distance and verbal behaviour such as communication style, laughter and use of silence. Again, it is impossible to know all of the detail, especially in a multicultural environment. Much misunderstanding can be avoided by just considering how what we communicate could be perceived.

In this time of fast-paced social communication, it pays to pause and be aware that the other will use their values as guiding principles in terms of how they interpret your behaviour. If we don’t want to be categorised and judged, we must consider that the same applies to others and, as confusing as this may seem, we’ll sometimes see them wanting to be part of a multi-cultural mix and sometimes identify themselves as part of a distinct group. We are multitudes.

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Negotiating styles across cultures: why and what next?

One of Harvard Business Review’s most popular articles for 2015 was one authored by Erin Meyer, who wrote an interesting piece on the different styles people use when negotiating with a visual that went viral on Twitter. Her work resonates because our world is increasingly connected and, as much as technology helps us to connect faster, our brain cannot necessarily keep up when we deal with people across the world.

We understand that there are cultural differences and that we should be tolerant and understanding of this but internally we may get frustrated and struggle with the (well of course obviously but let’s not say it aloud) incompetent, wrong way that other party is handling the negotiation.

Meyer’s blog features an example of an interaction between  a Saudi customer and an American negotiator. The argument here is that the American should’ve known better when he tried to close the deal – when negotiating with Saudis, you focus on the relationship, not the hard facts. But, isn’t trust important to all of us? And, secondly, what if that Saudi had studied in London and had picked up an aversion to direct communication because in Britain they prefer a more indirect communication style?Cultural relativism

For decades scholars have worked on these challenges, from the famous ‘Getting to Yes’ by Fisher & Ury to the excellent work of Jeanne Brett summarised in now the 3rd edition of ‘Negotiating Globally’.

It helps to understand the ‘why’ behind people’s communication and negotiation styles. Culture, communication and conflict are a Bermuda triangle within which we can get easily caught. Meyer’s book is insightful, as does of course the work by Brett and, for example, the work of Gelfand and Dyer, which explains the complexity of how messages are sent and received in an intercultural negotiation context. Gelfand negotiation There are entire communities devoted to the issue of intercultural conflict and communication, from the practically oriented Dialogin to the training and education focused SIETAR (which has sites tailored to regions, here’s the EU version but there’s one for Australia, Japan, USA etc.) to the more academic International Association for Conflict Management (where you’ll see Brett, Gelfand and others in the ‘wild’). But there are so many more organisations that deal with this topic of understanding cultural differences during conflict management and negotiations.

Once you’ve established the underlying drivers (e.g.,  Hofstede’s dimensions) and understand that when in Rome the Romans do things differently, there is still the challenge of how to behave. Brett, Gelfand and Meyer all have published widely on the subject in terms of advice, such as what strategies to adopt. If it doesn’t work out and coaching is required, there are a multitude of cross cultural management consultancies that can help.

The problem in the future (if it isn’t already the case) is that the learning of how they do it in Rome isn’t very useful if these Romans have studied in America and lived half their life in Thailand on an expat assignment. The next generation is mostly bi- or even tri-cultural. What’s more, the meetings conducted within the international arena will be attended by a diverse group of individuals. It will be impossible to learn the do’s and don’ts for each associate or colleague.

We may then be taught to adopt a strategy of ‘tolerance’ and simply accept that they are differences. But tolerance, ‘I tolerate you’, hints of a power imbalance and a tension that cannot be sustained for long. The key is to turn around the focus of attention away from the other and take perspective.

By developing our cultural intelligence, through taking a pause, suspending judgement, being mindful, asking questions and being able to put oneself in the other’s shoes, i.e., have empathy. It’s a recent concept, developed by P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang and is like emotional intelligence but with the difference that EQ helps us in a room with people of similar background but CQ (or CI) helps us when we’re dealing with diversity. The key is to understand that no culture is ‘neutral’ or better than the other. Harry Triandis wrote about this in 2006 and since then, the field of cross cultural conflict management and intercultural negotiation has looked at this topic closely, for example in the Financial Times. The challenge within academia, however, is that there isn’t a reliable and quick measure for CQ/CI as, for now, it’s measured through self assessment. Perhaps whether someone has high CQ is a matter of asking how they’d solve dilemmas (see also Trompenaars) or observe them in group situations.

Managing with cultural intelligence takes time, something we seem to have less of in a world that is increasingly faster, facilitated by technology. When we recruit, merge, interact, negotiate and communicate, we need to suspend judgement and be aware with which lenses we’re viewing the world. What guiding principles guide our behaviour?

That means we cannot use culture as an excuse; we’ll need to go through a (sometimes literally) pain barrier to arrive at a solution that is mutually satisfactory. It’s cognitively tasking to be effective in a globalised environment but once you’ve gone over the perspective threshold, you might find yourself to be future fit.

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Not one, or none, but all.

The column below was first published in De Psycholoog – Dutch magazine for Psychology December 2015 under the title: Niet een of geen maar allemaal. A PDF of the Dutch version can be found here: PSY1512_WisselColumn.

You do not come across it often as a specific direction within a faculty and the annual congress is small. In 1972, a group of academics in social psychology and anthropology established the international association for cross-cultural psychology. Cross-cultural psychologists are mainly concerned with whether psychological findings have universal validity.


For example: if a psychologist used the Christmas story to measure a child’s thinking level through his or her ability to recount details, is it unfair to apply this in a country where Christmas isn’t celebrated? Or are we comparing apples and oranges when we measure the spatial understanding of two groups and one group, as Marshall H. Segall and colleagues describe so beautifully, grew up in a ‘carpented world’, and the other group only knows the plains and round huts in the Kalahari Desert?
Our findings are time and context bound. Much of our thinking and doing is uncharted territory and this is what makes psychology an exciting science. A recent meta-analysis shows that the balance of ‘nature versus nurture’ is about 50/50, but this relationship may change with the development of better and more culturally intelligent research methods.

For, how ‘Western’ is the diagnosis that people outside of Europe and America are more prone to go with the opinion of a group that deliberately gives the wrong answer (i.e., they don’t think for themselves) of Simon Ash’s famous
experiment on conformity? As Bond and Smith suggested: maybe this concerns a different phenomenon and collectivists find loss of face more important than being right
“Gestalt psychology is THE psychology, according to supporters (Duijker, 1959, p.191) and is a matter of identity and distinction. But why? Psychology has to do with communication within all views; not just about what we measure, but also how we share our knowledge with the world. And we can do better if we try to explain the chaos together. We should perhaps reconsider why Japanese students are deemed to be superior at mathematics since they only need to learn ten words (43 four-ten-three and 14 is ten-four versus the Dutch three-and-forty and fourteen)? What psychology do we use to explain a phenomenon – communication, social, neuro,
or …?

That’s the lesson, according to cross-cultural psychologists; if we diagnose, we must be aware of our own perspective. The lenses with which we observe are not neutral. As Ramses Shaffy sang: “Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire, not without us.” But in the world of Psychology nobody escapes the chaotic context. In this we are one.
Bond, R. & Smith, P.B. (1996). Culture and conformity: a meta-analysis of studies using Asch’s (1952b
1956) line judgement task. Psychological Bulletin, 119(1), 111-137.

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No analysis needed

Every day I’m thankful where I was born and where I live now, especially when winter is kicking in.
“Jennifer Wilson, a teacher from Harare who has been volunteering for more than a month, is sorting through the clothes, discarding useless fake fox scarves and ripped, dirty castoffs. During the week she has been teaching English in a new schoolroom on site. “In my class I’ve had doctors, teachers, engineers and architects. They are educated people. I would like people to know that, that they are not just coming to milk the state,” she says.”
If you want to donate the right stuff, people need trainers and walking boots (particularly sizes 41 and 42 – 7 and 8 in UK sizes), sleeping bags, and small men’s trousers (waist sizes 26-32).
If you want to help through a donation, Doctors of the World is the only large charity stationed in Calais long term
I am enormously in awe of the volunteers who work in Calais, on Greek islands, on Malta, in Italy, on the Med sea and everywhere else to help refugees. Finally, I am so sorry. I am to apologise to those who thought that once they’d brave a sea, cross a land, climb a barrier and escape corruption, no job, violence and no hope that they’d be helped by leaders of this world, anno 2015. I’m so so sorry that this isn’t happening purely because you have the wrong passport or the wrong kind of bank balance.
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