Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Yin and Yang of Management Practices

A book review: "From the Great Wall to Wall Street" by Wei Yen.

The author has made a valiant attempt to explain why the business executive from China thinks and acts differently from his/her counterparts in the U.S. or the West. He does so by comparing the legacy of Confucius, Laotzu and other sages from the Chinese culture to Socrates and other western philosophers. He calls the Chinese approach wholistic and the American approach direct and rational. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and the author suggests that some combined methodology to management may be the optimum.

Author Yen also attributes the Chinese concept of yin and yang as a cause of misunderstanding and mistrust between the Chinese executives and the American. Readers might find some of his discussion of the contrasting philosophies esoteric and not grasp the relevance to modern practices. I find his comparison of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu particularly relevant and insightful.

Von Clausewitz promoted the idea of striking where the enemy was most concentrated in order to annihilate the enemy forces and achieve total victory. Whereas Sun Tzu's Art of War stressed winning the war without having to fight even one battle as the best of all possible outcome. He considered not just the physical conflict but also the psychological aspects of warfare. If deception, psychology and persuasion can convince the enemy to surrender, so much the better. Clausewitz's idea is direct, logical and analytical. Sun Tzu's is nuanced and looks at the whole picture.

The author used taichi, a form of martial arts also known as Chinese shadow boxing, and weiqi, a subtle Chinese board game, as metaphors for the Chinese style of management. Thus while the American manager takes a direct and rational approach to solving problems and does not consider consequences of human emotions, the Chinese manager looks for solutions that preserve harmony and minimize hurt feelings. He also explained the importance of quanxi and face in the Chinese way of doing things.

This is a book that I wish I could have written to promote the mutual understanding of East and West. I deduct a star from this review because the book could have benefitted from professional editing to tighten some of the prose and reorganize the chapters to make them more uniformly even. A simple spell check would have eliminated some annoying typos, which I am surprised that the publisher apparently did not do.

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