Management across Cultures: Insights from Fiction and Practice

Mary‐Ann Owens (International Readiness Consultant, Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




Owens, M. (2000), "Management across Cultures: Insights from Fiction and Practice", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 141-147.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Managers interested in acquiring international experience would find this book appealing. The fictional stories give the reader a taste of experiences and feelings one would encounter in actual cross‐cultural situations. Applicable and useful managerial insights are summarized within the short business articles.

Theory states that adults need experiences to learn. The fictional stories by Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Paul Theroux, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Augusto Monterroso provide these experiences. Some of the stories are humorous and interesting while others are disturbing, as cross‐cultural experiences can often be. Emotions can be triggered because of the differences in values across cultures. These short stories help the reader tap into deeper insights about cultural differences in experiential ways. They also ensure that the reading of this 442 page book is more than just an intellectual exercise.

Section one contains theory and fiction on making sense of the cross‐cultural experience. Initial confusion, learning the language, family adjustment to a new culture, re‐entry and managerial insights are covered. This section is well thought out. Especially enjoyable is Mark Twain’s essay on “The awful German language” which explores the difficulties of learning a new language, in a tongue‐in‐cheek manner. Another informative article is “Serving two masters: a study in expatriate allegiance”. It illustrates the necessity and difficulty of being loyal to two offices for the success of the business venture.

Some differences in the meaning of work, personal values, power, authority, status, and hierarchy across cultures are outlined in the second section of this book. The fictional stories combined with a small amount of theory leaves the reader confused. A deeper look at the theory would facilitate a stronger integration of the experiential material. However, the redeeming part of this section is the insight in managing across cultures in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Western Europe, Africa, Mexico and Russia. These articles are very helpful and informative. Cross‐cultural managers or workers in these countries would especially benefit from these summaries.

The final section looks at managing globally across cultures with sections on ethics, cultures in contact, cultures in change, and managerial insights. Most of the articles in the managerial insights section are very useful and informative. “Resolving cross‐cultural ethical conflict: exploring alternative strategies” is a thorough article that provides a useable framework for resolving ethical dilemmas. “Negotiating with ‘Romans”’ provides eight strategies for effective negotiations ensuring both sides perceive that the interaction process makes sense. Two other noteworthy articles are “Managing globally competent people” and “Creating a high performance team”.

Overall, this is a worthwhile book to read and own. The fictional stories help managers develop their cross‐cultural awareness and sensitivity skills. The business articles are practical references to accompany managers on their international business assignments.

Related articles