Building Cross-Cultural Competence

How to Create Wealth from Conflicting Values

Charles Hampden-Turner, Fons Trompenaars

Publisher: Wiley, 2000, 388 pages

ISBN: 0-471-49527-1

Keywords: International Enterprise

Last modified: July 29, 2021, 10:03 p.m.

This is a book about culture. Eighteen years of research has led to an extraordinary discovery — foreign cultures are not randomly or arbitrarily different from one another but inversions of one another's values, reversals of the order and sequence of looking and learning. The implications for business are enormous.

In Far Eastern cultures books start 'at the back' and are read from right to left in vertical columns. To Westerners this seems a reversal of normal practice. Yet who is to say where we should look first, or in which direction our eyes should scan? Neither direction is 'normal'. Cultures are merely reflections of the world mirrored in the eyes of members, and long ago East and West made different initial choices.

We all know the old dilemma of the chicken and the egg. Which came first? This book investigates six value dimensions which represent similar dilemmas:

  • Universalism - Particularism
  • Individualism - Communitarianism
  • Specificity - Diffusion
  • Achieved states - Ascribed states
  • Inner direction - Outer direction
  • Sequential time - Synchronous time

Which came first - the universal rule or the particular event? Which is first - the whole or the part? There is no one answer to such dilemmas, and to solve them is culture's role. "The resourceful individual comes first" says American culture. "The rice-growing village comes first" says Chinese culture. "Think circles", say Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars.

When we compare our conventional order of values with the reversals used by foreign cultures, we discover that what we see clearly, some foreigners miss. What they see clearly, most of us miss. For maximum effectiveness managers must perceive and think in both directions. This is another way of saying that we must learn to think in circles, or cybernetically. Already essential for managers in multinational companies, this skill may spell the difference between surviving and perishing in the new global economy. Its fashionable name among the consulting community is cross-cultural competence.

As you go around value circles, the first value leads to the second, then the second value leads back to the first. Different cultures celebrate the movement along different arcs of the same circle. Although the descending arc may seem to mock and contradict the ascending arc, the truth is that these complement each other, like yin and yang.

The whole is harmony, not discord. Based on fourteen years of research involving nearly 50,000 managerial respondents and on the authors' extensive experience in international business, this book compares the cultural values of more than forty nations. With humour, cartoons, and an array of business examples, the authors demonstrate how cross-cultural competence and the reconciliation of cultural differences can cause whole organizations to grow healthier, wealthier and wiser.

  1. Universalism — Particularism: The Dilemma
  2. Reconciling Universalism and Particularism: Stories and Cases
  3. Individualism — Communitarianism: The Dilemma
  4. Reconciling Individualism and Communitarianism: Stories and Cases
  5. Specificity — Diffuseness: The Dilemma
  6. Reconciling Specificity with Diffuseness: Stories and Cases
  7. Achieved — Ascribed Status: The Dilemma
  8. Reconciling Achieved with Ascribed Status: Stories and Cases
  9. Inner Direction — Outer Direction: The Dilemma
  10. Reconciling Inner and Outer Direction: Stories and Cases
  11. Sequential — Synchronous Time: The Dilemma
  12. Reconciling Sequential with Synchronous Time: Stories and Cases
  • Appendix 1: Dilemma Theory and Its Origins
  • Appendix 2: Exercises in Reconciliation
  • Appendix 3: Measuring Transcultural Competence: Old and New Questionnaires
  • Appendix 4: The Space Between Dimensions


Building Cross-Cultural Competence

Reviewed by Roland Buresund

Decent ****** (6 out of 10)

Last modified: Dec. 5, 2007, 11:44 a.m.

Another classic work. A must read, but I personally tend to dislike the authors attacks against anyone that doesn't agree with them (and they don't have the brilliance of Mintzberg to back it up).

They also have some inconsistencies in their argumentation that sometimes makes them look childish.

But it is an easy read, even if you shouldn't take anything in this book as gospel.


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