The impact of culture on business organizations has been well researched since the groundbreaking study by Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede in the late 1960’s. Over a six year period, Hofstede surveyed 100,000 IBM employees in over 70 countries to rate their responses to questions in four categories he called Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Masculinity. The results are still being taught in business schools (despite the known limitations of the survey format and the restricted sample base of IBM employees). The survey has since been updated to expand the survey population and include the Long Term Orientation and Indulgence vs. Restraints categories.(1)
Understanding culture is critical to all types of businesses. Miscommunication stemming from cultural differences is costly. As a result of globalization and widespread Internet access, even the smallest companies are becoming multinational and must now learn to deal with international customers, foreign partners and in many cases multi-cultural workforces. Cross-cultural education has become a good business opportunity. Resources for cultural training abound: from free governmental sources to a wide price range for private training. Governments publish information and links on freely accessible websites. For example, on its website http://www.state.gov/m/fsi/tc/79756.htm the Department of State lists 25 training and consulting companies including Cultural Savvy in San Francisco and the Eaton Consulting Group in Boston and Copenhagen. In addition, there are literally thousands of management consultants including Angel Rampy, the Founder of Success for Learning whose business focuses on helping foreign born executives adapt to American business culture. Sophia Liu, former Director of HYSTA, the Chinese professional organization in Silicon Valley, and Founder of Ivy Business Institute, uses her expertise on Chinese and American cultural differences to help her clients as a business and life coach. The list goes on.
The impact of culture on learning styles has been well documented. Studies abound highlighting the major differences between Eastern and Western learning approaches. Now the question becomes is one teaching methodology more effective for training global business leaders than another?
Current trends in student applications indicate yes: a business education focusing on creative thinking and innovation is actively sought by future leaders. The previous blog focused on the trend of rapidly increasing numbers of Chinese students studying in the United States. As over 70% of these students plan to return to China, it can be deduced that these skills are also highly valued by employers in China.
The increased demand for an education focusing on innovation can be partially explained by historical context. Education in China has been primarily impacted by two philosophies: Confucianism and Communism. As a result of the focus on hierarchy and tradition, Confucian philosophy set the stage for creating a passive learning environment in which students are most comfortable listening, not questioning, and engaging as a group, not individual participation. (2)
The preference for a passive learning style continued during the Communist revolution, but now instead of thoughtful reflection, politics encouraged rote memorization. With an over 80% rate of illiteracy, the Communists saw an opportunity to expand their population base. (3) The idea was to educate the peasants (including women) to “read and study conscientiously and have a good grasp of Marxism” (4) The purpose of literacy was to support the revolution, not for personal gain. After the Revolution, literacy became a government priority to grow the economy. Vocational programs were added and additional measures were taken by the government to increase literacy by mandating Mandarin as the national language, creating Pinyin and simplifying the Chinese characters. (5) The Cultural Revolution was a major setback to education. "Sweep and clean out all capitalists! Destroy Confucianism!" (6)
After Mao’s death, Deng Xiao Ping redefined education in China. The focus became economic growth. “The key to the door for modern industrialism is Technology. To develop Technology skills is education.” Continuing education programs in Beijing now included required courses in engineering and technology. (7)
Western education however can trace its roots to Socrates who encouraged his followers to think for themselves. “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” (8) From the Socratic method and focus on individual thought, two teaching approaches have developed in American educational circles: the Malcolm Knowles model and the Wiggins and McTighe approach to education. Knowles created a model of informal adult education and self-direction. His goal has been to refocus professors from “educating people” to “helping them learn.” (9) Knowles proposed a more informal and friendly flexible environment with interaction among students. (10)
In contrast, Wiggins and McTighe introduced a structured approach to education. Their “Backward” Design model focuses on helping students better understand the material, not just memorize information. “In teaching students for understanding, we must grasp the key idea that we are coaches of their ability to play the ‘game’ of performing with understanding, not tellers of our understanding to them on the sidelines.” (11). The focus is on a younger target market than the Knowles model. Despite the differences, both approaches encourage and reward individual critical thinking. (12)
The lesson for business is that culture continues to have an impact on how people learn and communicate. With globalization, the East/West differences so clearly stated in the original Hofstede report are blurring. Although passive learning is still the norm in China, the system is showing distinct signs of change. The Beijing educational system recently introduced the Wiggins and McTighe approach to a group of educators as part of the government’s commitment to modernize its educational system and workforce.(13)
So is there a “best “ methodology to train future leaders? The jury is still out. From practice I found that a combination of learning styles is most effective when teaching business classes. What has worked for my students whether they are in China, Eastern Europe, Russia, or the Bay Area, is an interactive and hands on approach to learning, i.e. instructing the students on actual techniques they can use at work the next day while reinforcing these lessons with role plays and case studies to encourage out of the box thinking. My colleague Dr. Gary Wishniewsky , Director, International Programs and Academic Director, Moscow MBA Program at Cal State East Bay and former Director of the Singapore Program at Golden Gate University, agrees that his methodology is similarly interactive to encourage creativity and critical thinking. However, Dr. Wishniewsky does adapt his classroom management style for each location. In contrast, George Hamma, Senior Technical Staff at Spectral Dynamics, changes his teaching methodology depending on location. Mr. Hamma trains technical professionals around the world on how to use his company’s products. He adjusts the level of interactivity and hands on participation depending on the local culture.
This topic warrants further discussion, and we welcome your response on what instructional techniques you think are the most effective for training future global business leaders.
1) http://geert-hofstede.com/national-culture.html In 1991 as a response to the results of a study by Michael Bond working with Chinese counterparts, Hofstede included a fifth category: Long Term Orientation. In addition, the survey base was expanded to include employees from a wide variety of industries as well as students. Three years ago Hofstede added Indulgence vs. Restraint as a category in response to Michael Minkov's World Values Survey data analysis
2) http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=88 According to teachings of K’ung-fu-tzu (Confucius 551-479 BCE) as written in the Analects, knowledge came from the thoughtful study of a subject not from intuition. To become educated, students were expected to find a good teacher, respect his position in the hierarchical society, and mimic his words and acts. “Good” was defined as a man well versed in history, tradition and ritual. Confucius considered women inferior and thought it best for society that they remain illiterate. Society and social order were the priority. Individual thought and action were not encouraged.
“As for education for cadres whether at work or in schools for cadres, a policy should be established of focusing such education on the study of the practical problems of the Chinese revolution and using the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism as the guide, and the method of studying Marxism-Leninism statically and in isolation should be discarded.” "Reform Our Study" (May 1941), Selected Works, Vol. III, p. 24. http://art-bin.com/art/omao16.html
5) http://www.r4e.org/education/China/history_of_education_in_china.htm This was not the case in “unstable” areas (Tibet) where educational opportunities were restricted as a way to control the population.
6) http://historyday.crf-usa.org/2703/new_page_3.htm All schools were closed by the fall of 1966 and some not reopened for up to 5 years. Political slogans were used to incite the Red Guard to attack teachers and intellectuals:
8) http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/69267-education-is-the-kindling-of-a-flame-not-the-filling Socrates (469-399BCE). Socrates refused to think of himself as a teacher. Instead he encouraged his followers to think for themselves by asking them questions, a methodology now known as the Socratic method.
10) http://infed.org/mobi/malcolm-knowles-informal-adult-education-self-direction-and-andragogy/ Knowles believed that adult learning was fundamentally different from childhood learning and popularized the concept of andragogy. According to Knowles, andragogy was based on originally 4 assumptions: Self Concept, Experience, Readiness to Learn, Orientation to learning and a more recently added fifth: Motivation to Learn.
12) http://www.authenticeducation.org/index.lasso According to this model, the teacher is responsible for the 3 stages of Backward Design: Identify Desired Results; Determine acceptable evidence; Plan learning experiences and instruction. The approach focuses on deciding what is to be learned first before deciding how to teach the information. The learning activities are decided in terms of which are the most efficient methods to get the information across.
13) http://www.authenticeducation.org/ubd/china.lasso The Beijing educational system recently hired Understanding By Design, the trademarked program based on the writings of Wiggins and McTighe, to teach 300 Chinese educators as part of the government’s commitment to modernize its educational system and workforce.