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Multiculturalism in the World of Business: an unavoidable reality

Whilst conducting a study around the issue of cross-culturalism and the extent to which working with colleagues from different countries (often via virtual means of communication) can affect the performance of a team, I uncovered some of the benefits and downsides of multiculturalism in the work environment.

Unilateral, nationalistic business thinking is by far outdated, as companies looking to thrive in the 21st century have to be aware of business opportunities in emerging markets or possibilities to subcontract, partner up with other businesses and supply products and services overseas. SMEs have slowly joined the bandwagon of companies that operate globally, therefore outlining the accessibility of doing business internationally, in spite of their reduced cash flows or investment funds. Therefore, wherever your career takes you, there are high chances that, at some point in time, you will be faced with an international collaboration. You will find yourself taken aback by the politeness of some people and simply shocked at the very dismissive attitude of others, soon discovering that, although each individual has a unique set of skills and a personality to match them, some traits are commonly recognisable in specific cultures or clusters of cultures (Western or Asian for example).

It is true that uncovering the most prominent traits of a culture and determining the best tactics to negotiate across national border can be a time-consuming and sometimes nerve-wrecking process, particularly in the setting of a project, with clear deliverables and set dates. But, at the same time, this process is unavoidable, because the benefits of assembling a cross-cultural virtual team for a project are immense.

As an example, in Western cultures being able to set tight deadlines and delivering work quick is considered effective and beneficial for business. In some cultures in Asia, on the other hand, planning to revisit results at various stages of a project is indicative of the commitment and seriousness of a project team. The two seemingly conflicting attitudes towards completion and setting deadlines of projects can cause frustration amongst team members, but it also has the potential to lead to a realistic deadline which allows the team to deliver a thoroughly checked project within a realistic time frame.

One other issue in multicultural teams is the language barrier. English has been, for the past decades, the lingua franca across the entire world of business. Over two billion of the world’s population speaks the language fluently, but only 359 million of these are native English speakers. However, many can agree that American and British companies have (at least so far) dominated the scene of multinational conglomerates. Although the fact that business communication is conducted in English is seen as matter of factly, issues with the language barriers can be raised on both sides. Native speakers can claim they feel frustrated with what they perceive as ‘strong accents’ or a non-native’s slower responses. On the other hand, native speakers tend to use jargon and metaphorical speak that will fail to resonate with non-native English speakers. Attempting to impose plain English in business interactions is a first step towards trying to minimise these issues.

All in all, however, apart from all the issues, the potential to exchange information with business partners from other countries can have an enormous positive impact, as the business practices which are specific to a country could easily be merged into the strategy and tactics of another nation, leading to increased prosperity.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages you have experienced or witnessed in multicultural business interactions and how can some cultural barriers be conquered in your view?

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When you have a plumbing issue, leave it to the plumber

Now, what would you say if a neighbour broke into your living room when you’re arguing with your wife, they would take your wife’s side and threaten that, unless you get out of your own house in 5 minutes, they’ll start shooting? This is exactly how I see Ukraine at the moment, the husband that’s trampled over by Russian troupes that threaten to start fire on the Ukrainian military defence in Crimea, which both parties agreed belongs to Ukraine as far back as 1994. Russia’s claim that 59% of the citizens in the peninsula are Russians and the military presence in the area is aimed at protecting the majoritarian ethnic group in the area is hard to contradict. However, why deny Ukrainians the right to the same action? Perhaps Ukraine felt threatened in its own region also, hence the army troops they’ve sent to Crimea. My most pressing question is, why threaten Ukraine that Russia will open fire unless the Ukrainian troops back down, when it is clear that Ukraine is legitimately defending its territory?

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In addition to this, the G7 summit members, EU, US and UK have already expressed their utmost disagreement with Russia’s actions, issuing their political and economic threats to Russia in the event of any military action against Ukraine. Moreover, the G8 summit which was supposed to take place in Sochi in June, 2014 has been suspended because the UN does not grant Russia a participant status in the current state of affairs. What more can a nation require to understand that their actions are condemned on an international level?

Or, perhaps this is what every nation and international authority fails to understand: the more they are threatened, the more their currency is depreciating against the US dollar and Euro, the more Western European countries cancel contractual obligations with Russia and so on, the less Russia has to lose by going to war. No, the international community cannot possibly condone the military actions of Russia and no, the sovereignty of a state should not be violated in the fashion in which Ukraine has been treated, but additional threats to Russia will do nobody any good.

The reality is that Putin and his administration have a sense of pride which wins over rational arguments, international relations and future repercussions. The other important aspect is that the Western media is fuelling this conflict by promoting anti Soviet views (whether they are legitimate or not), which lead to citizens demanding and expecting a reaction from international authorities, the EU and UN response to the demands, the rumours from Ukraine are contradicted by the Russian authorities, the international community is trying to consider diplomatic solutions and so on and so forth… In this vicious circle there is an increasing panic spreading across the citizens of the world, who are getting ready for the 2nd Cold War or, in the worst case scenario, World War III. How about we leave the UN, EU, Russian Ministers of Affairs, Putin, Obama and co. to handle the situation, whilst we go on with our lives? The reason I am saying this is because if we keep poking at Russia’s pride with all the articles, we might just hear the first gunshot in Crimea. And then, the War is well on its way…

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Kings and Queens should be back on the politics chess board

Now, let me give you an idea of how I think Americanization has led to the failure of the world as we know it today. A multitude of states, gathered under the name of United States of America gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1776. Since then, they slowly penetrated the rest of the world’s conscience as a sovereign over matters of political and economic aspects. The problem? Have you noticed the decline of European countries, past WWII? Yes, the wars had a lot to contribute; the technological revolution has changed the dynamics of power on a radical basis and yes, the socialist and communist system led to slow or stagnant technological advance and reduced prosperity in numerous nations. But I think the problem lies outside these aspects.

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Think back to the 20th century for instance: a period characterized by political instability, geographical expansion of the British, Russian and German empire and all round military conflict. However, in parallel, art, medicine, technology and business was at its peak. There was a clear divide of power both inner and outer to the states across the world’s nations. I am making no allegation that the 20th century had only positives to think back to, but overall the divide of the society was more clear, with social classes identifiable, human rights violations in decrease (slavery was abolished mid-century in most countries) and all round evolution. Skip forward 100 odd years and you’re in today’s world, with massacres in schools led by frustrated adolescents, mass-murders in Syria with thousands of victims, economic interests that lead to self-destruction of the world order, etc. Not too long ago, someone asked me what I see as a solution to all the atrocities in the world? Well, here is the answer:

I think the secret to a better world lies in the political status quo of the 19th – 20th century, more explicitly monarchy. Why and how naturally follow as questions? To answer this in short, because democracy as we see it today exerted in most countries of the world is an American product. The same way the rest of the world refused to accept American football as a better sport than the traditional football, the non-American countries should completely oppose the idea that American democracy works as a magic political solution. European countries were at their peak when monarchy was the status quo in a wide majority of the states, then came the suppressive socialist political regimes and once a change was about to be made in Europe, countries have opted for an Americanization. By the end of the 20th century, America had over 5 decades to position itself in a good global position, whilst the former powers of the world were licking their wounds as a result of the second WW. Instead of looking for solutions within their historical success, European countries have accepted the sovereignty of US and their proposed political system. But if it works for US, it’s because, unlike other countries with a longstanding history of millenniums, who experienced times of prosperity under the reign of monarchy, they needed (and still need) a political system that is versatile for a conglomerate of individual states that can work together. This is not the case with Europe, and adopting the American way, just because burgers and McDonalds have worked just fine (or not, depending on what side of junk food debate you’re on) is not applicable in politics. So, whether it’s an old-fashioned, irrational idea or yet another one of my ratings or not, I declare myself a big fan of making the switch back to monarchy. And when I say monarchy, I don’t mean just having a façade royal family when the power is in the hands of a makeshift democratic government anyway (ran, of course, following the US model), I mean having decision makers of blue blood who are more interested in raising the global profile of the country they are in lead of. Over to you, on the matter of monarchy as a solution to the constant decline of European countries due to Americanization of political regime, I’m listening.

 

P.S.: If you want an example of countries that are successful by keeping their traditional political system, despite the apparent success of democratic American ways, just have a look at Arab countries, which are blooming and developing, because their rulers think of the country’s interest first and foremost, before thinking of their pockets.

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New Year, New Panic

By now some would have given up on their New Year’s resolutions, others will be proud to have made it through the first full week of quitting smoking, going to the gym or getting very serious about a career change. But the reality is that January is one of the most difficult months for each of us for a million reasons: less money in the bank after the early December pay and winter holiday spending spree, reminiscing about the lovely parties and time spent with friends and family, the pressure of a new beginning and the need for a plan for the upcoming year. But the most difficult challenge is for the brands out there. With a New Year come new plans, as I mentioned, so one will seriously think of replacing the usual fatty dinners for more healthy ones, they’ll think twice before self-indulging in sweet treats… you get the picture. Most companies panic and think of a rebranding to suit the general January feel and trend.

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To be able to change a brand’s products or image, you need a lot of time and resources over a short span of time, as January seems to be a trigger for everyone to instantly ditch their old habits for new, ‘better’ ones. The only issue with that, however, is the fact that, irrespective of the façade that many put up for the sake of answering their co-workers’ questions about their plans for 2014, by the end of January everyone is back to their old selves. There is a reason why we create habits, particularly those that are years’ old, it’s because our minds/bodies/souls have determined those particular behaviours as the ones that suit us best. So, if you’re thinking every single January that your business is in a financial ditch (unless you happen to own any fitness related products/facility, as the hype about this is at its peak) and you DEFINITELY need a quick and drastic change to retain and attain customers, sit back, take a breath and wait for a couple of weeks. There’s a reason why McDonalds/ KFC / Coca-Cola (cliché examples, but you get the point) haven’t gone out of business no matter how many 31st of December resolutions have been made every year: because those promises made to self are, more often than not, dust in the wind.

Example? After Christmas work-do, family dinners (which can sometimes impossible to get through) and the NYE party, one of the first resolutions that your body kind of forces you to make is: NO ALCOHOL IN JANUARY. It’s only a month, right? But then, after your first full week back at work, on Friday, after work, all you want is to meet up with your friends, over a glass of wine/a couple of cocktails, in a pub , for ‘happy hour’ and complain about how awful it is to go back into the whole routine of work. Whoever agrees, hands up, I hope to see you from the bar, where I’ll be spending the next few minutes deciding what cocktail to order. It’s Friday after all, January or not.. Cheers! 😉

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Never underestimate the power of the Magic Trio

The world as we know it (in the PR and Marketing industry) is rapidly making a drastic change towards a digital era, where targeted e-mail campaigns, social media or webinars are taking over (and slowly killing) the more traditional promotional activities.
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But one thing seems to be forgotten in this hype of becoming E-quipped with all the latest technological developments: traditional media still has a great role to play in communicating with large audiences about core issues.

A recent example of a campaign that has cleverly made use of traditional media (TV, radio and print, the former Magic Trio) is the “Be Clear On Cancer” campaign. With an increase of 700 people having discovered lung cancer at an early stage, compared to the previous year , the campaign has shown a great success rate. Although it didn’t use e-mail marketing with lead generation or engaging social media content, the campaign has definitely moved things forward from all standpoints that a campaign needs to touch upon (awareness, interest, desire and action, or, in short, AIDA). The lesson to be learned from here is that good and relevant content will generate good results, irrespective of the means used. To me, the issue lately is that marketers focus too much on tactics and too little on the strategy, they tend to spend generous amount of times thinking of the methods to get the word out there, not knowing what the word is they are trying to communicate in the first place. In this day’n’age, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attain and retain one’s attention, particularly in today’s fast-paced environment and with all distractions brought in by the digital developments. Therefore, launching a campaign with an unclear message but a strategy that has a carefully developed digital marketing tactic and a great team behind, is nothing but a wild goose chase.

Public Health England is now considering re-running the “Be clear on Cancer” campaign next year, according to the article presented above. It remains to see if they will realise that the tactics used were of secondary importance to the strong message they had to send out. Also, it remains to see if the team behind the campaign will know how to utilise the success they’ve had this year to underline the need for check-ups in the year to come. And most of all, I really do hope they will use TV, radio and print to promote their up-and-coming campaign and will not be drawn in the Bermuda Triangle of social media, e-mail marketing and interactive webinars.

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Damned if you do, dammed if you don’t

Let me start by saying I never liked and never will like any of the Beckhams… I don’t think David is hot and I don’t see Posh as a good role model with her anorexic figure and all sorts. But from not liking them, to sanctioning what they do, even when that action is a charitable donation is taking things one step too far.

I was reading an article about their clothes and shoes donation to a charity in London, aimed at raising money for the victims of the Philippines typhoon. The article itself had a neutral, even slightly positive tone, but down below in the comments section hell broke loose. Everyone started accusing the family of the fact that they are publicity seeking phonies. Now, let’s think, the Beckham family is usually one that the newspaper would write anything about. If they felt the need to have some attention drawn to them, they could have simply gone to eat somewhere and the tabloids would have picked up on that.

Instead, they decided to do something different to raise money for the ones in need, something that they knew would have a great success. It’s nearly Christmas, the charity shop will sell the branded items for affordable prices, so people can buy some incredible items for Christmas whilst feeling good about the purchase also, because ultimately it helps the needy people. I can see three additional parties that benefit financially and/or morally from this action of Victoria and her family. Is the fact that an article was published about her and she got the publicity people think she thrives for the ultimate benefit of the whole situation? I’d say au contraire ….

But people will always condemn you, whether you do or you don’t do something, once you’re in the spotlight. But how about learning to be a bit more focused on what we, as individuals, can do to make things better in the world, rather than criticising what others have done for that purpose? At least now, near Christmas, let’s all learn to be a bit more tolerant, a lot less focused on the negatives and just happier.

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The hunger that keeps you going

Nobody likes a know-it-all, but life is not about being liked, but about being needed. Take every opportunity to learn, like Ghandi once said: Live like you would die tomorrow and learn like you would live for eternity.

A friend once told me that if he wants life lessons, he learns from children, they are always blunt and honest. They don’t know how to hide feelings and lie for the ‘greater good’. They, indeed, have no notion of white lies . So learn from children how to be honest, but don’t stop there. In fact, never stop. If you can’t get to grips with the meaning of a certain word, go out of your way to discover all its underlinings. If a concept is not fully clear in your mind, try to find examples that will help you get a complete view of what the concept is referring to.

Everyone is different and there is no doubt that this is what gives the world its unique beauty. The way I understood complicated philosophical discourse is through exemplifying it in my mind. Not too long ago I had to write a paper on the existence of value, where it lies and how it can be evaluated. In order to see how Ancient Greek, social constructivist and modern philosophers have antagonised each others’ views in developing clear discourses about this subject, I used smoking as a social habit to understand it all. But as I said, everyone is different. So it’s important to know yourself as a learner before you embark on a journey of understanding the world.

And one more thing, the most famous people would tell you that they feel like they don’t know anything, because understanding the world is in continuous change and evolution is the first step towards becoming great.

Never stop, learning is an ongoing process that has no secret recipe. Never feel like you know enough, there is no such thing.