It is generally believed that intercultural awareness does contribute to successfully doing business in another culture. But when it comes to how and where it contributes, it becomes a question not easy to answer. With particular references to doing business in China, recently there are several articles discussing about how relevant some of the cultural tips for doing business in China are to the business successes in China. Diligence China published an article with the title of Look to the Future of China – Not just its Past, which
“admits knowing Chinese history can help gage where China is going, but asserts that a knowledge of emerging market trends is even more valuable. (A summery by China Law blog in To Succeed in China Know the Now .)
Aisa Business Law, looking at the question from a different angle, points out in Do the Top Ten Cultural Tips for Doing Business in China Really Help and Inquiring Whether the Top Ten Cultural Tips For Doing Business In China Really Help – Part II, that there are universal business principles which are in fact not cultural specific such as ‘guanxi’ – the most-talked cultural ‘tip’ for doing business in China and saying:
“there is just hardwork and guanxi, which is good networking, a pretty universal essential to doing business anywhere.”
“Knowledge of Chinese history and culture is an asset for doing business in China. However, because circumstances in China change so quickly, staying abreast of China’s current situation is far more important than knowing its past. The most successful businesses in China usually emphasize knowing their own businesses inside and out first, understanding China today second, and China’s history and culture third.”
I can not be more agreeable to these arguments and I think these insightful arguments put forward a new perspective on how one should relate Chinese culture phenomena (old and new) to doing business in China. Being a native Chinese and with limited knowledge of English language and culture, I feel it is interesting to notice that many of the teachings of how to do business in/with China tend to start or end up with listing out some stereotyped cultural tips and types, and my natural response towards it is that it is really inadequate. I do believe that cultural awareness contributes to business success, for
“Culture shapes our values, attitudes and our behaviour. It affects the way we communicate with each other, the way we expect to lead and to follow, the way we negotiate, the way we buy and sell, and the way we work together in teams.” (by Cultural Intelligence)
The stereotyped cultural tips, however, could be very misleading when delivered in an over-generalized approach or taken with an over-simplified manner without better and live understanding of the specific situation. In terms of China, the speed of change, the scope of the land, the complexity of systems, the span of history, the diversity of local cultures, the varied levels of educational development in different localities, and the gaps in economic development among areas would all affect business developments and successes, either domestic or international.
Moreovre, business success is composed of many factors and some of which are not cultural specific. For instance, as pointed out in the posts by Aisa Business Law, good networking is in fact universally essential. Good networking is certainly an intercultural skill but it is an interpersonal skill in the first place where attitudes towards differences is of the essence. So, either in business or in any other intercultural communications, it is important to be aware of cultural idiosyncrasies and actively work to overcome them.
I would also agree that cultural knowledge is not always a prerequisite, but I think it is not always a prerequisite in the sense that it will not guarantee a success, but rather, it is a plus, which, together with other business essentials, helps to pave the way to a success.