Global or worldly?

Managers should aspire to a wordly mindset rather than a conformist global view.

by Henry Mintzberg and Karl Moore, World Business Magazine
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

We are delighted that this magazine has been named World Business because we wish to make the point that managers should be urged to become more worldly, not more global. What's the difference? Global sounds conformist - everyone subscribing to the same beliefs, style and values. Forget your background, your origins, your roots; become modern, contemporary, part of the emerging 'globe'.

Is global what we really want in our international corporations? Is this going to result in the innovation that so many of them claim that they need? Or does it result in the exactly the opposite, a demeaning kind of conformity? Consider 'worldly'. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "experienced in life, sophisticated, practical". An interesting mixture of words, and more like what companies should strive to be in their international activities.

What does it mean to be worldly? To us, worldly also suggests proceeding from a position of personal strength - of deep roots in one's own background and culture that serve as an opening to other people's worlds, in order to develop a deeper appreciation of one's own world.

When we created our International Masters Program for Practising Managers (www.impm.org), we decided to devote one of the five two-week modules to 'context' - the world around the manager: political, economic, social, legal. We were going to call this the 'global' mindset, but for the reasons given above we changed that to the 'worldly' mindset.

We hold this module in India because for foreign participants, India is another world; about as different as any place can be. That opens them up - 'unfreezing' is the word psychologists use - to truly appreciate other perspectives. Just the drive in from the airport can get this going.

An American participant asked one of the Indian staff soon after she arrived how anyone could possibly drive in the traffic. He replied: "I just join the flow." There is order on those streets of Bangalore, but she had to get inside another world to appreciate it.

One of us, in a video link to students at a business school in Argentina, asked the dean if they taught the Argentinean style of management. No, he replied proudly, they teach the 'universal' style. Oh, we replied, you mean the American style. There is no universal style of management.

Every country has its own needs, its own culture, the particular characteristics of its own people. Copying another style, especially one labelled falsely as universal or global, can only weaken people from one culture in competition with others. We all have to build on our own intrinsic strengths. Enough cookie-cutting in management.

Can you identify a global company? Of course you can: Coca-Cola, IBM, Sony, LVMH. Actually, there are fewer than you might think. We take global to mean at least 20% of sales in each of the three main regions of the world: North America, Europe and a group of leading Asian countries. One of us was involved in research involving the Fortune 500, and of those companies, 320 were home-based with only modest sales in the other two regions. Another 36 were 'bi-regional', with at least 20% of their sales in two of the three regions. Only nine companies were truly global, with at least 20% of their sales in all three regions. This is a picture of regionalisation, not globalisation (see The Myth of the Global Company, p34).

How about a global mindset? Consider the 10 most senior executives in the most global company you can think of. How many of them come from, or at least have spent a significant part of their careers in a different country to that in which the company is headquartered? We note that there are pitifully few. Maybe Shell and Unilever stand out because their executives are rooted in two cultures. Perhaps this helps to explain the long-term success of these two companies.

In any event, our point is that global coverage does not a global mindset make. We need to take a good hard look at the whole question of global and worldly. Imagine a matrix of global and worldly, and fill in the boxes.

What company comes to mind as global, but not worldly? An obvious example might be McDonald's. This has certainly worked for hamburgers. Will it continue to do so? And does it work in any other industries?

How about worldly, but not global? There are no shortage of these; for example, sophisticated but domestic advertising agencies and design studios.

Probably the most interesting are those companies that are both global and worldly; for example, IBM and Toyota, and we would add Shell and Unilever.

The list may be short, but is this not the combination many companies should be striving to achieve in this globe of many worlds?

- Henry Mintzberg and Karl Moore, professors at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, run the Advanced Leadership Program (www.alp-impm.com) at Bangalore, India, and Montreal.

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