Cultural Shifts Bring Enlightenment

Photo credit: Sara Goldsmith

I am currently working with someone from another part of the world on a test venture. Although putting together the test venture was relatively easy, that was due largely to our having a pre-existing relationship.

More problematic was my partner’s understanding of the venture itself.

We grew up in different cultures. Worse, our cultures were, in many ways, exact opposites of one another.

I am American, where we truly have an embarrassment of riches. In America, we have so much wealth that it actually takes conscious effort to recognize it all.

Water and electricity are pumped into our homes without interruption. Smooth, well maintained roads allow us to move freely about. We have so much food that it sometimes spoils and gets thrown away before we get around to eating it. TV, radio, phone service, free libraries, schools, police and fire protection, curbside trash pickup… The list just just goes on and on.

We have hundreds of channels on TV and dozens of restaurant choices within a few miles of practically every home in America. We have abundance coming out our ears.

As a consequence, what do Americans value? Scarcity. Anything which is rare has value. Anything one-of-a-kind has tremendous value. Things that are antique and for which more can’t be produced — reproductions are not the same thing — have value.

Contrast that with my partner, who grew up in a third world country where everything is scarce. Electricity gets turned off on a regular schedule because the grid can’t support continuous delivery. Food and water are not things to be taken for granted. There are few cars because so few can afford them.

In that world, the very concept that scarcity has value is something completely alien.

It took some lengthy discussions but once we each understood the context of one another’s way of thinking, it was a smooth partnership.

The same applies to your relationship with your customers. While the differences in background and thinking may be less extreme, it’s no less important that you take the time to understand your customers and properly explain yourself to them.