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February 02, 2012

The Economist: How are you at reading Tribes?

"Reading a contract is useful, but you also need to be able to read people." The Economist, which has emerged as the weekly magazine for the 21st century world, has consistently underscored that doing business internationally requires an instinct for the multicultural. Business smarts and merit, of course, count, too. But the Multicultural is Now Everywhere, as nations and tribes down through history continue see their own move to locations all over the world. To encounter different tribes and folkways, you need not even travel. Tribes will come to you. To succeed at most things, you must be cognizant that increasingly tribes are all around you, and you need to start "getting" them. At The Economist, see columnist Schumpeter's excellent The Power of Tribes, and these examples:

Cultural ties matter in business because they lower transaction costs. Tribal loyalty fosters trust. Cultural affinity supercharges communication. Reading a contract is useful, but you also need to be able to read people.

Even as free trade and electronic communications bring the world closer together, kinship still counts. Indians in Silicon Valley team up with other Indians; Chinese-Americans do business with Taiwan and Shanghai.

One of the most vibrant cultural networks is also one of the oldest: the Sinosphere. China’s growing might is reinforced by its links with the overseas Chinese. Some 70m ethnic Chinese live outside mainland China. Some are descended from those who moved abroad during China’s imperial expansion from the 12th to the 15th centuries, settling in what are now Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Myanmar. More recently, many fled to escape the horrors of Maoism, or to seek a better life in America or another rich country. Together they connect China to every corner of the world.

Graphic: Brett Ryder/The Economist

Posted by JD Hull at February 2, 2012 01:22 PM


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