Western Management Looks East Again
Kase, Kimio; Slocum, A.; Zhang, Y.Y.
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Original document: Asian versus Western Management Thinking
The idea that management phenomena can or should be addressed by using a uniform set of management tools and concepts worldwide was challenged during Japan’s halcyon days in the 1970s and 1980s, when management techniques and values were incorporated from Japan into Western management teaching.
In their book Asian versus Western Management Thinking: Its Culture-Bound Nature, IESE’s Kimio Kase, Alesia Slocum and Yingying Zhang reflect on how the East and West are divided by fundamental differences in their approaches to learning.
The East tends toward “inductive thinking” and the West, “deductive thinking.” The authors posit that embracing or even synthesizing both approaches could lead to better strategic and managerial solutions.
When faced with uncertainty, managers tend to fall back on their cognitive frameworks, gained from their past experience and/or their tacitly or explicitly learned cultures to frame, understand and act upon the challenges they confront. The implication is that different people use a different “how” to comprehend and act in their managerial settings.
Is the division between induction and deduction permanent, or can a person change his or her management approach from one to the other? Are the perceived differences between Westerners and Asians collective or personal traits?
Since as far back as ancient Greece, the West has embraced the idea of “personal agency” – of being in charge of one’s own life – while the ancient Chinese centered on “harmony,” which was reflected in a Confucius-inspired system of government based on a sense of “collective agency.”
These differences in philosophical persuasion have given rise to markedly divergent social models. In the loosely integrated societies in the West, individuals look after their own self-interest and that of their immediate kin, while in the tightly integrated societies in the East, individuals are born into a collective that extends far beyond their close family to include the tribe or the community as a whole.
The strong personal ties in Asian societies create interdependence for individuals from childhood onward. By contrast, most Western children are explicitly encouraged to be independent.
Most of the leading management theories have been generated and studied within the context of the Western corporate world, and have generally been assumed to be universally applicable, irrespective of cultural differences.
However, as business has become increasingly globalized, managers and entrepreneurs have become more aware of national cultural differences, and international business theories have had to take this into consideration.
The authors explain that Asian managers tend to process information inductively in such a way that highly abstract notions guide their decision-making processes.
Western managers, by contrast, tend to apply established patterns, approaches and categories to deliberate on their decisions and strategy implementation, as is typical of the deductive approach used to teach most MBA programs.
Not all Asians are completely inductive thinkers, any more than all Westerners are purely deductive. MBA programs in Asia are rapidly changing decision-making behavior, and the preponderance of successful, self-made, untrained entrepreneurs in the West suggests that there are already a fair number of Western business leaders who rely on a more inductive approach to management.
That said, as it is generally easier to learn deductive rather than inductive thinking, the East/West convergence appears to be largely one-way traffic.
Given the difficulties of explaining or teaching inductive thinking, Westerners face greater difficulties in understanding and applying it. That’s because the underlying knowledge is tacit, rooted in philosophy, epistemology, cognition and culture.
The Best of Both Worlds
Still, there exists a strong case for incorporating these elements into modern management theory, as Asian economies gain increasing economic and political clout in the world.
In trying to combine inductive and deductive approaches, the authors propose applying different combinations and weights of the two modes of thinking at different phases of a firm’s development.
Inductive thinking, they say, is probably more useful at the entry stage, when one wants to be more creative to differentiate oneself, or at the decline stage, in order to renovate the industry.
In the growth and maturity stages, deductive thinking would help the firm apply established models systematically, in a way that assures success in the earlier phases.