If you haven't read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers yet, I strongly suggest you add it to your list. In a nutshell, the book explores all of the various factors that need to come together for someone to be highly successful in a chosen field. Hint: it's not just talent and practice. To make his point, he looks at how things like date of birth, family, cultural legacy, friendships and luck play a role in an individual's success.
On the flip side, Gladwell devotes some time on the role of culture in the failure of certain operations in a chapter called The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes. To demonstrate this, he suggests that certain airlines were experiencing an above-average frequency of crashes because the cultural legacy of their personnel prevented the co-pilot from speaking up when the pilot made an error. The etiquette of the airline's home country was so steeped in layers of hierarchy that, even when faced with slamming into a mountain at 100 miles an hour, "underlings" could only hint at what lay ahead. To be direct about it would be a violation of their etiquette code.
Gladwell's assertion that something as seemingly obtuse as a plane crash can be chalked up to cultural background has received mixed reviews but I found it interesting that lives might have been saved had the shackles of old-world etiquette been loosened a bit. Digging deeper, he explains that Eastern speech methods are based on a lot of direct and nonverbal communications that support the words spoken while the Western approach to speech is much more concrete and direct. In Eastern cultures, the onus is on the listener to decide what has been communicated by coupling the words with the nonverbal signals. In a Western setting, it's up to a speaker to make sure her words are correctly interpreted.
I prefer the direct approach but, of course, it's what I know and what I'm comfortable with. But, in an increasingly global culture, this story highlights the need to be aware of cultural differences in etiquette expectations when doing business in other countries.
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