Wednesday 6 September 2006

More on Cultural Matters

The more you have a culture that naturally glocalizes - that is, the more your culture easily absorbs foreign ideas and best practices and meld those with its own traditions - the greater advantage you will have in a flat world. The natural ability to glocalize has been one of the strengths of Indian culture, American culture, Japanese culture, and, lately, Chinese culture. The Indians, for instance, take the view that the Moguls come, the Moguls go, the British come, the British go, we take the best and leave the rest - but we still eat curry, our women still wear saris, and we still live in tightly bound extended family units. That’s glo-calizing at its best.

"Cultures that are open and willing to change have a huge advantage in this world," said Jerry Rao, the MphasiS CEO who heads the Indian high-tech trade association.

"My great-grandmother was illiterate. My grandmother went to grade two. My mother did not go to college. My sister has a master's degree in economics, and my daughter is at the University of Chicago. We have done all this in living memory, but we have been willing to change . . . You have to have a strong culture, but also the openness to adapt and adopt from others. The cultural exclusivists have a real disadvantage. Think about it, think about the time when the emperor in China threw out the British ambassador. Who did it hurt? It hurt the Chinese. Exclusivity is a dangerous thing."

"Openness is critical," added Rao, "because you start tending to respect people for their talent and abilities. When you are chatting with another developer in another part of the world, you don't know what his or her color is. You are dealing with people on the basis of talent-not race or ethnicity-and that changes, subtly, over time your whole view of human beings, if you are in this talent-based and performance-based world rather than the background-based world."

This helps explain why so many Muslim countries have been struggling as the world goes flat. For complicated cultural and historical reasons, many of them do not glocalize well, although there are plenty of exceptions-namely, Turkey, Lebanon, Bahrain, Dubai, Indonesia, and Malaysia. All of these latter countries, though, tend to be the more secular Muslim nations. In a world where the single greatest advantage a culture can have is the ability to foster adaptability and adoptability, the Muslim world today is dominated by a religious clergy that literally bans ijtihad, reinterpretation of the principles of Islam in light of current circumstances.

(excerpt from US best-seller "The World Is Flat")