By: Robert Greene, Saturday June 10th,2006 03:39
When looking at a country from another cultural background, you tend to wear a kind of "cultural eyeglasses." You often interpret everything from your own cultural conditioning. Things may seem irrational, frustrating, or upsetting, simply because of that conditioning. This is fertile ground for future conflicts in many areas. To me, culture is an iceberg, where the main force is resting beneath the surface.
There are two major, typical miscalculations foreign corporations tend to make when they approach the Indian market.
First, they tend to feel that because culture is intangible and it does not show itself in the bottom line, they do not need to waste their time on that issue.
Second, they may think that culture is like marketing or finance: you learn about culture in India in a four or eight hour session and that is all you need to know. Then you are free to continue with your job since you are adequately sensitized to the culture.
It is important to really appreciate Indian culture. The main reason for this is that if conflict arises, it will give them a much better perspective on understanding the source of the conflict and resolving it. Still, many foreign businesses tend to put everything in a "black box." If a problem occurs, for example, with castes or religion, here are the solutions - one, two, three, four. In reality, it is not as simple as that.
If foreign visitors can learn to appreciate cultural issues and understand the cultural background of their Indian partner, then they will have a much better understanding of the general problems which arise in doing business. They will be able to look at a problem and consider all the variables that are affecting the particular situation, and then go about and seek a solution for it.
Understanding the totality of the big picture will considerably empower Western companies to be successful in India. Foreign representatives need to understand that accepting the Indian culture (without wanting to change it) is quintessential. A day-long program, for example, is inadequate, even though the manager may feel sufficiently culturally sensitized. For a long run, the best advice is an immersion in a fascinating, maybe at times distressing, Indian culture.