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Yale University Press
Building Cross-Cultural Competence: How to Create Wealth from Conflicting Values

Building Cross-Cultural Competence: How to Create Wealth from Conflicting Values

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Cross-cultural competence is a skill that has become increasingly essential for the managers in multinational companies. For other business people, this kind of competence may spell the difference between surviving and perishing in the new global economy. This book focuses on the dilemmas of these managers and offers constructive advice on dealing with culture shock and turning it to business advantage. Opposing values can be understood as complementary and reconcilable, say Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars. A manager who concentrates on integrating rather than polarizing values will make much better business decisions. Furthermore, the authors show, wealth is actually created by reconciling values-in-conflict.

Based on fourteen years of research involving nearly 50,000 managerial respondents and on the authors’ extensive experience in international business, the book compares American cultural values to those of more than forty other nations. It explores six culture-defining dimensions and their reverse images (universalism-particularism, individualism-communitarianism, specificity-diffusion, achieved status–ascribed status, inner direction–outer direction, and sequential time–synchronous time) and discusses them as alternative ways of coping with life’s—and business’s—exigencies. With humor, cartoons, and an array of business examples, the authors demonstrate how the reconciliation of cultural differences can cause whole organizations to grow healthier, wealthier, and wiser.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300084979
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/11/2000
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

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Building Cross-Cultural Competence

By Charles M. Hampden-Turner Fons Trompenaars


Copyright © 2000 Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-08497-8

Chapter One



The view taken here is that all values take the form of dilemmas. We would not even know what a universal rule was unless we could contrast it with an exception, a "not-rule." Evaluative terms are differences on a (usually) tacit continuum. When we say this object is "the same" as others, we are insisting that it is "not different."

Why do values such as Universalism-Particularism constitute a dilemma? Because we have a difficult choice. We can search for those many respects in which two or more objects/people are the same. Or we can search for the many respects in which these are different. We can, for example, insist that men and women are both human and should be treated the same, thereby upholding the universal rights of both genders. Alternatively we can insist that men and women are different and should be treated differently. Each approach has advantages, but also serious disadvantages. Some cultures, in the United States especially, stress sameness regarding gender. Others cry "Vive la difference."

How the Dilemma Is Defined

Universalism Particularism (rules, codes, laws, (exceptions, circumstances, and generalizations) relations)

Should we apply to this situation the most appropriate rule, even if the fit is inexact, or do special circumstances and unique occurrences raise questions about the rule itself?

Consider the contrast between two eggs shown in Figure 1.1. On the left are "universal hens' eggs," a popular commodity. On the right is a Faberge egg, a unique and decorated work of art.

Universalism searches for sameness Particularism searches for differences, and similarity and tries to for unique and exceptional impose on all members of a class forms of distinction that render or universe the laws of their commonality phenomena incomparable and monality. of matchless quality.

Since every situation we encounter is in some respects similar to earlier situations and in some respects different, whether we apply "customary rules" or "new circumstances" is a dilemma that keeps recurring.

Take the following corporate rule: "All employees with one year of service may buy X number of company shares at a 5 percent discount." This applies equally to all members of the universe, and no exceptions should be made. If the CEO's nephew is an employee, for example, he should have the same entitlement, with the same limits, as any other employee. To extend special favors to him-say, a 10 percent discount-is nepotism and favoritism.

Universalism is important in both legal and scientific spheres. "Common" law requires that every citizen be treated "in common" and that nothing be done to obstruct the course of justice. However, courts take into consideration mitigating circumstances, that is, the exceptional characteristics of a case.

Scientific laws must also be tested, so that if there are exceptions to the scope of any law this will be discovered. Strictly speaking, scientific laws cannot be proved. They can only be refuted, so we generally extend laws, principles, and technologies until such time as exceptions multiply, in which case the law is either wrong or has reached the limits of its "universe." Newtonian physics, for example, cannot be applied to subatomic phenomena. These are beyond the range of its applicability.

Particularism refers to the claim that a particular event or phenomenon is outside the scope of any rules and is sui generis, "of its own particular kind." The nephew of the CEO could receive shares at a 10 percent discount if his uncle made him a present of the difference. But he is doing this as an uncle for a particular relative and not as a CEO handing out a universal employee entitlement. In practice, it can be difficult to separate the two roles and keep the benefits of kinship and friendship apart from the fair administration of rights and entitlements. It is for this reason that we measure Universalism-Particularism by telling stories in which both values clash.

How We Measure Universalism-Particularism

We measure the extent to which different cultures are universalist or particularist by presenting a dilemma and forcing a choice upon respondents. One of our questions poses the following dilemma.

You are riding in a car driven by a close friend. He hits a pedestrian. You know he was going at least thirty-five miles per hour in an area of the city where the maximum allowed speed is twenty miles per hour. There are no witnesses other than you. His lawyer says that if you testify under oath that he was driving only twenty miles per hour, you will save him from serious consequences.

What right has your friend to expect you to protect him?

1a. My friend has a definite right as a friend to expect me to testify to the lower speed.

1b. He has some right as a friend to expect me to testify to the lower speed.

1c. He has no right as a friend to expect me to testify to the lower speed.

What do you think you would do in view of the obligations of a sworn witness and the obligation to your friend?

1d. Testify that he was going twenty miles per hour.

1e. Not testify that he was going twenty miles per hour.

The results of this research are interesting (Figure 1.2). Seven out of eight of the most universalist countries are Protestant and stable democracies: Switzerland, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Ireland is the exception, but this country was under British rule until 1921 and shares a common law tradition. Catholics are, on the whole, less universalist: see the scores for Brazil, Spain, Poland, France, Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela. Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, and Shinto countries are more particularist still: see South Korea, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Japan, and Singapore.

Another variable would seem to be "trust in the legal system." This is known to be low in Venezuela, Nepal, South Korea, Russia, and China. Without acceptance of national regulations it is difficult to universalize the duty to uphold the legal system. Because people can usually trust their friends, however bad the legal system, in turbulent times citizens tend to count only on friends and family.

Why Is American Culture Universalist?

We ask this question not because we are exclusively concerned with the United States but because America has contributed disproportionately to the total volume of business studies. It is therefore crucial to ask: What aspects of business studies consist of North American cultural preferences? We need to distinguish between what promotes wealth creation and what wealth creators in the United States espouse. The answers are not necessarily the same.

The business culture of the United States is universalist because:

Protestants teach that God's word has been codified in the Bible for His faithful to read (Switzerland, where Calvinism originated, scores even higher in Universalism than does the United States).

The founders created a New World or universe, with a written constitution and a Declaration of Independence.

Most immigrants to the United States over three centuries have been invited to share American beliefs and pledge their allegiance.

Immigrants have voluntarily relegated their ethnic origins, places of birth, and so forth to a commitment to a new belief system.

Protestant cosmology holds that God wound up a celestial clock and bid His saints to discover, through science, how it worked.

The European Enlightenment doctrine of America's founders commended discovery, science, laws, and methodologies of inquiry.

Early in the twentieth century, educators codified professional business education, which was systematized and mastered (hence the MBA) in an attempt to create an administrative science.

As the United States has grown more and more powerful economically and militarily, it has been increasingly able to develop and enforce upon the world its own rules.

Because many of the foreigners Americans meet are also recent immigrants, there is a tendency to assume that everyone, everywhere would "Americanize" if they could and knew how.

The process of global westernization and the ubiquity of the English language in world business reinforces the impression that "The American Way" is universally acceptable.

When someone speaks your language, you tend to assume that they also share your thoughts and assumptions.

At Its Best ...

The universalist culture accepts and serves all comers equally, whether they want citizenship or hamburgers. The sheer variety of ethnic groups coming to America and living prosperously, for the most part, under the rule of law, is without precedent in the world.

None of this could work unless the citizens themselves could choose their lawmakers. A universalist society counts every vote, even if it cannot make every vote count. Free and fair elections are crucial to a universalist culture.

An extraordinary feature of a culture high in Universalism is that even people of extraordinary power with many particular relationships can be forced to yield to the supremacy of law. As Archibald Cox, special prosecutor for the Watergate investigations, put it just before President Nixon fired him, "Whether this is to be a government of laws or men, must now be decided." It turned out to be a government of laws, and Nixon was forced to resign to avoid impeachment.

The great strength of American Universalism is its tolerance for diversity. When the United States welcomed Albert Einstein to its shores it not only protested anti-Semitism, it included a scientist who would eventually advise Roosevelt on the potential of atomic weapons. What might have been German science and weaponry became American.

Universalism celebrates science and technology in general. From light-bulbs to telephones to space exploration to the computer revolution to the Internet, the United States leads the world in Nobel Prizes won and in the practical applications of scientific principles. The search for new laws is an all-consuming passion (Figure 1.3).

And, of course, Universalism is crucial to mass manufacturing and mass marketing. America's huge domestic market, created by the millions who choose to live under its laws, has created a larger universal "mass" than exists anywhere else in the world. Universalism pays off when the universe is large. Moreover, prices fall as scale increases. When Henry Ford doubled the wages of his workers, much to his shareholders' anger, he put the Model T within reach of his own workers. America is the home of the valuable, cheap commodity, with so many competitors that the laws of neoclassical economics actually work and real prices fall continually.

But Taken Too Far ...

No single end of a value's dimension is an unlimited good. Not everything in life can be easily rubricated. There are whole subjects and areas of cultural interest that are particularist-the arts, for example, and the spirituality of people (see Figure 1.4).

American Universalism and general enthusiasm for simplistic moral formulas have led to televangelism and fundamentalist dogmas. From the nineteenth century onward "spiritual technology" has been popular, and we have seen endlessly repeated the career of the Reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, where the ascent of his rhetoric was accompanied by the descent of his trousers. Scandal follows on scandal, yet instant salvation remains in high demand-fast food for spiritual starvation.

Dale Carnegie's best-seller How to Win Friends and Influence People remains a foremost example of the technological approach to friendship. Remembering and repeating people's names during a conversation and lavishing them with praise are typical keys to unlock "friendship." That you might enjoy the unique particularity of your friend and share something incomparable seems to be of no interest!

The stereotyped nature of "universal" criteria is never more obvious than in beauty pageants, where the measurements and sentiments of Miss America are ludicrously limited to a narrowly construed "ideal of beauty" that excludes 90 percent of women. That such contests are under assault from those advocating greater political correctness merely shows how old formulas are attacked by newer ones. The formulas remain. At Antioch College, for example, each level of sexual intimacy between students must be formally negotiated.

Although many scientific laws are nonlinear, cultural "scientism" tends to maximize forces borrowed from nineteenth-century physics and deemed objective. Quantity is seen as good in itself. Hence you must be "100 percent American," more received in your wisdom than anyone else. Not long ago citizens of less than 100 percent purity could be summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee or put on a Hollywood blacklist. That certain thoughts can be classified in advance as subversive regardless of context is evidence of a vulgar, doctrinal Universalism. Benchmarking, the comparative measurement of industrial processes, tends to assume that the major challenge is doing things right, as opposed to doing the right things. But this assumption is only occasionally true and leads to "doing the right things" being overlooked in the search for perfection.

Finally, an excess of Universalism results in a litigious society and the "lawyer from hell" sitting in Reception with nightmare news. Apparently, America requires twenty-two times as many lawyers per capita as Japan. The phenomenon of the lawyer joke in America is testimony: "Give me three reasons why they are using lawyers instead of rats in animal experiments."

1. Because there are more lawyers than rats

2. Because research assistants feel sorrier for the rats

3. Because there are some things that rats won't do

The number of lawyers has doubled since the sixties. As more law students pass the bar, more litigation is stirred up, and each disagreeable experience is universalized into a federal case.

At Its Best ...

A particularist culture celebrates what is unique and incomparable about people, situation, and events. If we were afraid of the unprecedented or the original, we could not create. Before the general rule must come the events or phenomena concerning which the rule is made.


Excerpted from Building Cross-Cultural Competence by Charles M. Hampden-Turner Fons Trompenaars Copyright © 2000 by Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1(12)
Universalism-Particularism: The Dilemma
Reconciling Universalism and Particularism: Stories and Cases
Individualism-Communitarianism: The Dilemma
Reconciling Individualism and communitarianism: Stories and Cases
Specificity-Diffuseness: The Dilemma
Reconciling Specificity with Diffuseness: Stories and Cases
Achieved-Ascribed Status: The Dilemma
Reconciling Achieved with Ascribed Status: Stories and Cases
Inner Direction Versus Outer Direction: The Dilemma
Reconciling Inner and Outer Direction: Stories and Cases
Sequential and Synchronous Time: The Dilemma
Reconciling Sequential with Synchronous Time: Stories and Cases
Appendix I Dilemma Theory and Its Origins 345(4)
Appendix 2 Exercises in Reconciliation 349(4)
Appendix 3 Measuring Transcultural Competence: Old and New Questionnaires 353(6)
Appendix 4 The space Between Dimensions 359(6)
Bibliography 365(12)
Filmography 377(2)
Index 379

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