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The Global Delusion

One of the more frequently asked questions I encounter when running seminars focussing on cross cultural leadership is: ‘In the world of international business, are we all becoming the same?’ The answer is ‘yes’ and of course, simultaneously ...‘no!’

It seems now that everything and everyone is ‘global’, but we live in a considerably less globalized world than the corporate ‘propaganda’, might have us believe. Much of what we are told about globalization is frankly over stated. Consider a selection of data recently presented by Professor Pankaj Ghemawat at IESE business school in Spain and you’ll find that the levels of global integration are surprisingly low:

  • Less than 1% of all American companies have any foreign operations
  • Only 2% of the world’s university students attend universities outside their home country
  • Only 3% of the world’s population live outside their country of birth...hardly a multi-cultural collage. In relative terms, levels of emigration have reduced significantly compared to a century ago
  • Only 7% of directors in the S&P 500 Companies are ‘foreigners’
  • Foreign direct investment only accounts for 9% of all fixed investment globally
  • Only 20% of the shares traded on the worlds’ stock markets are owned by foreign investors
  • Less than 20% of the world’s venture capital is deployed outside a funds’ home country
  • As for the ‘new economy’...less than 20% of internet traffic crosses borders. In reality the internet is becoming more regional as local restrictions and language systems impede content flow
  • An estimated $88bns are spent a year on processing travel documents and visas... so not exactly a world of open borders.   In a tenth of the worlds’ countries, income from border controls, passports, visas, permits and passes generate 10% of average national annual revenue
  • Countries will engage in 42% more trade if they share a common language, than if they do not, and 47% more trade if they are in the same trading block   

My point is this. To aspire ‘to be global’ is to be progressive; but to assume that the tectonic plates of civilisational and cultural distinction are vanishing is deluded. The reality is that most of us are far more regionalised than global, in our thinking, experiences, organizational structures, and commercial activities.   

Some businesses are at the vanguard of being globally orientated in terms unifying people, products, services and cultures around the world; but to imagine that the world dominated by a handful of all powerful global companies, is flawed, as Professor Pankaj Ghemawat so strikingly illustrates.

In business we need to be globally minded ...and also worldly wise. Collaboration is at the heart of creating an enterprise-wide mindset that enables the best ideas, talent, resources and capital to flow to the right place at the right time for the best overall impact.   

Collaborating globally demands that we synchronise the value of diverse cultures and communities towards achieving shared commercial objectives. In doing so it brings a world of greater possibility direct to the individual collaborator.

So think big; and ask yourself to what extent is your organization really facilitating true collaboration?

  • Do your people have the skill sets to promote Cooperation with others who have competing priorities?
  • Do you have leaders capable of supporting the Convergence of diverse local needs into globally optimised goals?
  • Do your people have the Coordination tools and behaviours to synchronise multiple information flows?
  • Do your managers have the Capability to leverage their individual skills, knowledge and experience to their colleagues in an electronic environment?
  • Do your leaders have the electronic Communication management skills to deliver complex projects efficiently across multiple time zones?
  • Do your staff have the Cultural Intelligence to see the unique imagination of those who are different, mobilised for the greater good of the business?

At TMA World, we call these the 6Cs of global collaboration. According to Professor Panjkat Ghemawat, we’ve got a sustainable purpose in our business for years to come!