The corporation as agent of cultural fusion, Makiko Eda [TED]

To read this summary in Myanmar language, click here.

Makiko Eda, former President of Intel Japan and current Chief Representative Officer for World Economic Forum Japan, shares her experiences of joining a global corporation, Intel, in this TED Talk, “The corporation as agent of cultural fusion.” She shares about culture shock and of what she learned navigating global and cultural norms personally and through observing other employees, especially in emerging markets.

She shares the very different office norms from more reserved Japanese style to the more direct American style as soon as she would pick up the phone. She quickly learned there are distinct communication styles between the two cultures and determined to make a conscious effort “to go back and forth between the communication styles.”

She explains, “When I was with local partners and customers, my communications and behavior have to follow a more rigid and traditional protocol like the order of sitting around a table or how low you go in bowing or the use of honorific language.”

She was often the only woman in the room and had no women role models to look up to which led to her decision to be overly polite out of caution. This widened the gap between her Japanese and American communication styles. Over time, though, she learned to enjoy moving back and forth between these communication styles, spending time having very direct conversations with the global team while also building deep connections with the local, Japanese community.

As her position changed to working in the Asia-Pacific region, she began to explore the experiences of other employees in emerging markets where “rapid economic growth is creating significant changes in their society.”

Through her research in the broader regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, she uncovered that new employees who joined the U.S.-based global organization, Intel, cited they chose the company for the greater perceived value of job training and development as well as “preferred the direct and less hierarchical organizational style”.

Even though these employees consciously chose to join a less traditional, less hierarchical organization, Makiko Eda shares that there is often a tension between the local and global environments. Many are told “to be more vocal” and “to increase the direct conversation” from the global team.

Makiko Eda explains that Intel has a practice called “constructive confrontation, where you are supposed to constructively confront your colleague when you do not agree in order to solve it on the spot.” This type of practice is especially difficult for those in Asia because, she says, “we are taught not to challenge seniors or to rock the boat and this starts very early in a childhood in a family or school education.”

She cites an example from a Vietnam leader who intentionally practices constructive confrontation in front of others to demonstrate that it’s okay and that relationships will not break. While employees recognize to bring their opinions forward in the company is the right thing to do, they also share that it is an extremely difficult thing to do because they do not want to challenge their boss. This is especially true for those participants in Asia.

Outside of the company setting, these employees have to follow the conversational norms that take place in the local environment. Often, and especially in Asia, these norms do not involve directness or confrontation at all. In many of these cultures, there are work norms and home life norms. However, for these employees working for a global company they have to exercise an even larger balancing act between local and global culture.

Makiko Eda states, “Many cultures and environments are not used to seeing women in charge of business.” She shares an example of a local customer who reached out to the U.S. executive instead of the female executive country representative simply because he was not used to dealing with women in business. In this case, the U.S. executive shared with the customer that the female executive handles all business in that country and the customer must go through her. This female executive felt empowered by the U.S. executive but also had to be careful not to offend the customer in the local cultural norms.

Yet, despite these challenges, her study shows that these employees demonstrate that they chose a company whose values align with their own. They selected a global company that would give themselves “an opportunity to be trained and developed.”

Without these employees balancing between global and local cultures, these global companies would be unable to operate in these emerging markets. It is clear that there is strong affinity to the global corporation as a whole even while working from the local site. What connects these different sites to the main global company? Shared values that are continually shaped by employees around the world.

To watch the full video, click here.

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