Eliane Karsaklian, LARGEPA – Sorbonne, France

Published in

Volume 17, Issue 1, p51-66, March 2017


With the interdependence of markets and continuously growing interactions between companies worldwide, it is hardly conceivable to define business as a local or national activity. We argue that other than the born globals (Knight and Cavusgill, 2004) today’s international business professionals need to have mastered international business tools and strategies. To do so, they need to understand the nuances of intercultural interactions and be able to capture the prism of professional practices and behaviors. As a matter of fact, with the increasing interconnections between countries and companies, it is imperative that international business people have a good understanding of intercultural issues and their impact on international business in order to venture abroad. The complexity of cultural facets can be captured in models from other scientific fields which contribute to more accurate cultural analysis. Although research on international business has grown significantly, physics and international business had never been brought together before in order to explain cultural differences and their impact on international business. We suggest that because physics acknowledges paradox theories, constructs emanating from that field can be valuable to understanding and managing intercultural issues in business as well. Physics and cross-cultural studies, as the two underpinning fields applied to this research having so far been treated separately, are incorporated into a framework aiming at providing international business people with a clearer vision of cultural profiles and equip them with more appropriate tools to work internationally. In our view, the main issue in cross-cultural interactions is not the cultural differences alone but the fact that people ignore or deny them. For having been overly exposed to certainties about globalization of markets and homogenization of cultures, international business people are often reluctant to recognize that cultural differences have a real impact on working styles and might be tempted to venture abroad without taking these ones into account. The belief that it is all just about business leads to inappropriate behaviors when facing other cultures what in turn leads to misunderstandings. Not because of cultural differences per se, but because of the ignorance or denial of them. One consequence of the development of international business is the increasing number of people from different cultures working together, which, unlike the belief that cultures are getting assimilated to each other, enhances the probability of potential confrontation of varied cultural patterns and business practices. We argue that international business people should change their lenses and look into the new challenges with a microscope as it is done in quantum mechanics. Seeing contradictions as a natural phenomenon inherent in all cultures can provide theoretical explanations to cultural conflicts and help international business people to manage duality thanks to models used by physicists. More often than not, the (comparative) analysis of different cultures is based on the confrontation of West and East in terms of business practices and cultural behaviors. Several authors have been taking this discussion to a higher level in a) explaining the origins of the differences between West and East and b) suggesting methods to enable Western and Eastern businesspeople to work together. Drawing on the wave-particle duality paradigm, we propose an integrative framework that aligns with paradox management in intercultural studies. From classical physics to quantum mechanics, the understanding of different states of a matter has evolved dramatically. Same should apply to intercultural understanding which should move from static and polarized cultural dimensions to dynamic and dual ones. The impact of such evolution on international business is not to be neglected mainly when it comes to working with the Asia-Pacific region. We draw our inspiration from the works of prominent physicists such as Bohr, Einstein, Planck and Schrödinger as a follow up to the Copenhagen Interpretation and parallel the theories of classical physics with the works of Hofstede, Trompenaars, and Hall while aligningthe theories of quantum mechanics with the works of Li, Fang and Chen. In order to help business people to better work internationally, we propose a framework that describes the business rationales and behavioral consequences of three main paradigms: classical physics’ exclusion theory with either/or cultural interactions, quantum mechanics’ inclusion theory with both/and cultural interactions and quantum mechanics’ integration theory with either/and cultural interactions. The cross analysis of these three paradigms indicates the views and practices of the following business factors in different cultural settings: thinking patterns, time management, communication styles, decision making process, problem solving process, and business standards. The existence of duality and paradoxes should not be seen as a hampering block to international business people but as more appropriate lenses through which to understand contextual behavior. International business requires practices and rules that result from cooperation. It has to do with building a working culture for those who work together. Behaviors are expected and suspected every day, everywhere and international business people must be aware that their behavior functions as an input to other cultures to which there will be an output consistent with the local culture, just as an action-reaction interaction. While physicists study natural phenomena to develop better understanding of how natural elements interact with each other, human interactions in cross-cultural context scan also be understood thanks to physics’ theories. This paper contributes to the extant cross-cultural literature and to the international business field in enabling the description, analysis and consequences of the three main scientific paradigms. To do so, we develop a theoretical framework to account for variations of cultural values and the consequent array of professional behaviors. We argue that anyone venturing abroad should look into the new challenges with different lenses. Seeing contradictions as a natural phenomenon inherent in all cultures can provide theoretical explanations to cultural conflicts. Our interdisciplinary approach demonstrates that parallel worlds can be brought together thanks to science. If all cultures are paradoxical in nature, bipolar scales narrow them down to non-paradoxical cultures by concealing their real core values. Put in physics’ terms, when a matter is measured with one method at a given moment, it might appear as having only one state and thus the researcher ignores all other possible states of that same matter. In both cases, conclusions are based on the outcomes obtained at that very moment depending on when and how the phenomenon is measured.


cultural frameworks, international business, quantum physics, paradox management, international business and business.

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