Author Archives: Joshua

A New York Times piece highlights human culture as a positive evolutionary force. In the recent past, evolutionary scientists only believed disease and the effects of the environment drove natural selection.

Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

Although it does shield people from other forces, culture itself seems to be a powerful force of natural selection. People adapt genetically to sustained cultural changes, like new diets. And this interaction works more quickly than other selective forces, “leading some practitioners to argue that gene-culture co-evolution could be the dominant mode of human evolution,” Kevin N. Laland and colleagues wrote in the February issue of Nature Reviews Genetics.

How do you see culture impacting the evolution of humans? What have customs and traditions had to do with our survival?

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RW3 CultureWizard

In the Wall Street Journal, an article highlights the “secretive” culture of Toyota in relation to a series of recalls.

“Toyota is still very much run by its Japan headquarters, despite being active in the U.S. since 1957. Top leadership doesn’t include U.S. executives. The Toyota officials who run the recall process are in Japan.”

Because of this, Toyota’s US operations have not been able to react swiftly to safety issues that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified.

According to a person familiar with the matter, “what has really happened is a breakdown in communications within Toyota” between its D.C. office and Japan headquarters. “The Washington office didn’t have the information it needed to provide to the government.”

Around 130,000 Toyota Prius cars are involved in a global recall because of its braking system.

Why is this? While many of the facts are missing, a comment about cultural norms would shed some light on this issue. Communication in Japanese culture is quite indirect, and very hierarchical, which creates an obvious gap in understanding, e.g. when an American team is working remotely with a Japanese team. Certain information may be only for privileged executives, thus leaving a foreign team of less senior individuals out of the loop. Mistakes are viewed in a more negative light by collectivistic or group-oriented cultures, as in Japan, thus people will strive to avoid giving bad news or making direct confrontations to save face and to maintain harmony.

It will be interesting to see where exactly communication broke down for Toyota. Where do you think is may have occurred?

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AvatarThe front page of The Hindu earlier this week featured an article called “In China, Avatar finds unlikely resonance.”

“…Many film critics and bloggers have…been struck by the close resonance the film’s plotline has had for many cinema-goers here.” Powerful real estate companies in China have forcefully moved residents off land in some of the worst human rights offenses on the country’s record. The article displays some interesting opinions Chinese viewers have had on the movie, including one person that found the movie unoriginal from a Chinese perspective.

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Updated on January 20, 2010: Click here to read an article in the New York Times on the multitude of cultural reactions people have had to Avatar around the world.


An Investor’s Business Daily article this past weekend poses the following question: Why is it hard for American companies to expand overseas? Simply put, “mastering cultural differences and understanding European, Asian or Latin American customers affect bottom-line results.” So, if nothing is invested in cultural learning, business will not build the momentum it needs to achieve the success it took to expand in the first place.

“Americans think if they are well-intentioned and go overseas or anywhere, they’ll be successful. Being well-intentioned isn’t enough,” said Charlene Solomon, EVP of RW3 Culturewizard who co-authored Managing Across Cultures with CEO Michael Schell. Solomon says that “businesspeople need to understand cultural differences and pinpoint what global customers want from their product.”

Wal-Mart considered local tastes when opting to sell crocodiles at a Sam's Club in Guangzhou, China. AP

Wal-Mart considers local tastes in selling crocodiles at a Sam's Club in Guangzhou, China. AP

One of the most important tips Schell and Solomon offered is to “honor the local culture as exemplified by McDonald’s buying local produce and ingredients rather than having them shipped in.” Knowing the customer in an intimate way, as one would more naturally do in their native country, is absolutely essential. Developing a global mindset is a core competency for all members of an organization, management especially, in the 21st century.

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RW3 CultureWizard

The way people communicate is a vital part of understanding a culture. It’s crucial to recognize an indirect communication culture because the words someone uses are only a portion of the message being conveyed.

Cultures in countries like India, Thailand and Japan are very indirect in their style. This means that individuals often speak in a roundabout way by adapting the language to be somewhat general and extremely tactful. Non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, tone of voice and posture, take on a very important role as clues about the full message. While the goal of an indirect communicator is still information, he or she strives to maintain harmony, avoid confrontation and save face for all parties.

If you work with indirect communicators in your business activities, be careful to pay close attention to these signals.

- from RW3′s CultureWizard®

CB007803An article in The Daily Beast highlights the numerous culturally astute personalities that comprise the current US presidential administration. The confluence of like-minded individuals is “…more than a trivial coincidence. So-called ‘Third Culture Kids’—and the adults they become—share certain emotional and psychological traits that may exert great influence in the new administration. According to a body of sociological literature devoted to children who spend a portion of their developmental years outside their ‘passport country,’ the classic profile of a ‘TCK’ is someone with a global perspective who is socially adaptable and intellectually flexible. He or she is quick to think outside the box and can appreciate and reconcile different points of view.”

Now that the current administration is nearing the one year mark, how has it fared in comparison to past administrations that hadn’t the same cadre of multicultural members? What is the value of international, intercultural experience in political leadership?

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At a media conference in New Delhi this week, Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, said “We feel that solutions which have been devised by us around the world, cannot be imposed here. The company needs to find unique solutions for India.” She also noted that the country was in the top three markets for the company, and that they intend to foster a cultural awareness of India to produce the most relevant products. For global corporations, culture becomes an ally when marketing and selling to diverse populations. We’ve seen how PepsiCo approached China (click here to read a related post).

What do you think it takes to achieve success in the Indian consumer market?


Click here to jump to the article on the Hindustan Times website.


In the Report on Business section of The Globe and Mail, a Canadian periodical, Harvey Schachter reviews Charlene Solomon and Michael Schell’s recently published book, Managing Across Cultures, The Seven Keys to Doing Business with a Global Mindset (McGraw-Hill, 2009). He compared it to other books in the field and concluded the following:

MAC book cover “…If you could only read one, I’d nominate Managing Across Cultures, which is more comprehensive, particularly in taking readers through the seven key differences they will encounter in other countries, and having you fill out a questionnaire so you know your personal instincts, should they be different from other Canadians.”

Click here to read the full review.


A radio show on Public Radio International (PRI) used Starbucks as an example of American abundance and excess. The show attributed its success to its positioning as a communal hub.


According to Temple University professor Bryant Simon, “what Starbucks identified was a very important shift and a very important need in American society. Throughout the post-WWII era, Americans moved to the suburbs, they became locked in their cars, for fear they would increasingly live behind gated communities.

“At the same time they were securing themselves, they began to feel as though they were missing something: a kind of community that we often associate with older city neighborhoods. Starbucks understood that desire. From the very beginning, they suggested that their stores, like the old coffee houses, were something called ‘third places’: a place between work and home where people would gather. Starbucks aggressively marketed itself as the place where community would be constructed, maintained, and renewed.”

The individualistic nature American culture developed in the latter half of the 20th century was certainly a step away from a more group-oriented past. Simon argues that their move to foster a community experience was only the means to a very profitable end.

“If Starbucks tells us again and again from its marketing…that this is what community is, it makes it harder to find truer versions of it some place else,” says Simon.

How would you define community, and where would you go to find it in the US?

Click here to read the article and listen to the radio show.