With the increasing interest in Asia and globalisation of the world economy, cracking the cultural code has become important.

Beyond handing namecards with both hands and bowing, what are some of the differences in East and West. Both Hofstede and Trompenaars are very insightful in outlining some challenges to watch out for.

I came across a very practical book on cracking the cultural code. However it involves observation. India is different from China from South Korea from Indonesia from Malaysia.

Where are some of your challenges?

1. Making small talk with colleagues
2. Asking a favour from a colleague
3. Promoting myself at networking events
4. Receiving compliment from colleagues
5. Telling a joke at lunch
6. Giving feedback to my boss
7. Giving a formal presentation at a meeting
8. Pitching my idea to investors
9. Interviewing for a job

In the section on “You can be a Cultural Detective”, Prof Molinsky suggests to use a series of diagnostic questions, using the 6 dimensions of the cultural code he coined.

1. Brevity and en pointe:
Do people tend to be succinct in what they say and get right to the point – often with as few words as possible?

Or do they use words more general, or ambiguous poetic language, hinting at what they mean without being too direct? Senior Chinese government officials tend to favour reference to Tang poems for instance.

There are regional differences in that regard.

2. Energy
When something positive has happened, do people express emotions openly through facial expressions, body language and tone of voice eg Mediterranean cultures. Or do they tend to hide or suppress the outward expression of positive emotions despite their feelings, example British stiff up lip.

3. Formality
Do people dress conservatively, make official appointments to speak with each other and use titles such as “Doctor” or “CEO” . Or do they dress casually, drop by casually for a chat or first name basis. Do not be deceived by outward appearances though. Sometimes people may want to be addressed by first name but they are very formal.

4. Assertiveness
Do people express views strongly and forcefully. Is conflict encouraged? Do people express different view points in meetings? Or do they express opinions in a cautious manner and public display of conflict or disagreement is frowned?

Here, there is a difference in hierarchy. Those at the top tend to be more forceful.

5. Self promotion
Do people tend to highlight or draw attention to their personal accomplishments or tend to minimise, underplay their achievements?

6. Personal disclosure
Do people keep conversations strictly about business or do they discuss details of their personal lives with colleagues at work? In Asian cultures, people do discuss details of family life.

How much to ask depends on the seniority. Do not be surprised if an older colleague were to ask how much you earn, and your age. Such invasion of privacy may be uncomfortable for an American, who although comfortable with small talk will consider such topics taboo. A German boss on the other extreme will unlikely ask questions about your family as this would be considered too personal.

Global Dexterity , how to adapt your behaviour across cultures without losing yourself in the process” by Andy Molinsky
395.52 MOL (NLB)

SMU Associate Professor Tan Hwee Hoon is investigating on how trust is influenced by culture. In a cross-culture longitudinal study, the research team is examining dimensions of trust depending on 1. Ability 2. Benevolence 3. Integrity.

In American culture, trust is highest when the imdividual is deemed to have high ability. Whereas in Asian culture, benevolence or whether a person has consistently shown that he/she watches your back is more important.

Stay tuned as she prepares to publish her report.

Hilarious look at cultural differences between East and West


*Clever Signage*!! 😃😃😃
*A sign in a shoe repair store*:
“We will heel you,
we will save your sole,
we will even dye for you!”

Sign over a *Gynaecologist’s Office*:
“Dr. George, at your cervix.”

At an *Eye Clinic*:
“If you don’t see what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place.”

On a *Plumber’s truck*:
“We repair what your husband fixed.”

On an *Electrician’s truck*:
“Let us remove your shorts.”

In a *Non-smoking Area*:
“If we see smoke, we will assume you are on fire and will take appropriate action.”

On a *Maternity Room door*:
“Push. Push. Push.”

At a *Car Dealership*:
“The best way to get back on your feet – miss a car payment.”

At the *Electric Company*:
“We would be delighted if you send in your payment on time. However, if you don’t, YOU will be de-lighted.”

In a *Restaurant window*:
“Don’t stand there and be hungry; come on in and get fed up.”.

In the front yard of a *Funeral Home*:
“Drive carefully. We’ll wait.”

Sign on the back of *Septic Tank Truck*:
“Caution – This Truck is Full of Political Promises.”  😃

Source: Received on Whatsapp from friends

How do organisations train employees for contingency? Does the star person at the top matter more for your company brand or the employees?

On 26 Nov 2011, the unthinkable happened at the Taj Mahal palace hotel in Mumbai when terrorists attacked the hotel, where 31 people, including 11 hotel employees died and 28 injured.

Some of the staff who were evacuated returned to man the phones, calling each room and instructing hotel guests. Efforts by employees who were empowered to make decisions saved the lives of 1,500 guests who were in the hotel.

In an article “Ordinary Heroes” which appeared in the Havard  Business Review and a TED Talk, Prof Rohit Deshpande and Anjali Raina attributed the exceptional behaviour to organisational culture.

The multimedia case study ‘Terror at the Taj Bombay: Customer-Centric Leadership’ by HBS professor Rohit Deshpande documents “the bravery and resourcefulness shown by rank-and-file employees” during the attack. “Not even the senior managers could explain the behaviour of these employees,” Deshpande is quoted as saying in HBS Working Knowledge, a forum on the faculty’s research and ideas. According to Deshpande even though the employees “knew all the back exits” of the hotel and could have easily escaped, many of them stayed back and helped the guests. “The natural human instinct would be to flee. These are people who instinctively did the right thing. And in the process, some of them, unfortunately, gave their lives to save guests.” 

Can organisational culture play a part in how employees handle situations/crisis they can never be ready for?

The authors suggest that the unusual hiring, training and incentive systems of the Taj Group combined to instill an extremely customer centric work ethic.

For instance, Taj prefers to recruit from smaller cities such as Pune rather than metropolitan like Mumbai.

Criteria for selection include traditional Indian values such as Respect for elders, Humility, consideration of others. Traits such as respect for elders, cheerfulness and neediness.

Trainees go through 18 mths (instead of industry average of 12 mths) of training in  one of 6 residential Taj Group skill certification centres.

At the managerial level, company recruits from lower tier B schools as MBAs who prefer to build careers with a single company are better suited for customer centric environments.

liáng qín zé mù ér qī

Excerpts from “What the CEO really wants from You” by Gopalakrishnan

Those who approach life like a child playing a game, moving and pushing pieces, posses the power of kings.
– Heraclitus quoted in #A whack on the
side of the head#.

Enthusiastic people seem to have access to a spirit inside them.
Enthousiasmos = “the God within you”


A fruit/vegetable scuplture of the crimson sunbird by Harijanto at the 2017 Edible Gardens Festival. How many types of vegetables can you spot?

Allow me to introduce two men, Alan and Ben. You can decide whom you prefer.

Alan is smart, hardworking, impulsive, critical, stubborn and jealous. Ben, however,is jealous, stubborn, critical, impulsive, hardworking and smart. Who would you prefer to get stuck with, in an elevator?

Most people choose Alan, even though the descriptions are exactly the same.


Your brain pays more attention to the first two adjectives to the lists. The first traits outshine the rest. This is known as the primacy effect. Similarly known as “the halo” effect in interviews.

Sometimes, the recency effect matters as well. The more recent the information, the better we remember it. For instance, if you listened to a series of impressions formed some time ago, the recency effect dominates. For instance, if you listened to a speech a few weeks ago, you will remember the final point or punch line more clearly than your first impressions.

If the series of impressions was formed some time ago, the recency effect dominates.


  1. As an interviewer, randomise the sequence of interviews so no one has an unfair advantage.
  2. Jot down evaluations so that the middle counts as well.
  3. If you’re a candidate, practice your intro and importantly, at the end of the interview, help your interviewer summarise in a few points what you represent.

Source: The Art of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli


Self determination theory by Deci and Ryan. My favourite theory learnrd at a workshop this year. Here I found some materials on how to incorporate Autonomy,’ ‘Relatedness,’ and ‘Competence’ and to infuse that into our everyday work.

Ask yourself every day, “What choices do I have?”

Then, at the end of the day, ask yourself, “What choices did I make?”

Because you start to understand that you do have choices. The outcomes of your day are oftentimes because of the way you chose to handle things.


We need to ask ourselves questions like, “How did I demonstrate my values today?”

If you don’t even know what your values are, then you need to start by developing your values.

“How did I contribute to something greater than myself today?

How did I contribute to something beyond my own self interests?”


What did I get done?
What did I learn today?
How did I grow?
What did I learn today that will actually help me be better tomorrow?”

That’s our sense of competence, which is that we are basically learning something every day that will make our work and our lives more manageable.


The Peter Principle, Why things go wrong by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull

With foreword by Robert Sutton

Let me have men about me that are fat
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous
– Julius Ceasar, Shakespeare

We hire people after our own image. The authors cite Napolean who felt that people with big noses make better leaders. The Retrospective Decision making model predicts that we make decisions intuitively and retrospectively give a reason (possibly logically) for our decision.

We make judgments about people’s competence. Sometimes from brief interactions. The more powerful you are, the more impact. Interviewers sometimes take as fast as 30 sec to form impressions.

The Peter Principle predicts that many people are promoted to their level of competence.

Several examples of signs of people who posses this malady.

Cannot tolerate papers or books on his desk. Probably such piece of paper is reminder that he hates his job. He makes a virtue of his phobia by keeping a clean desk, creating the impression of incredible fast decision making.

Obsessive concern with buildings, planning, construction, maintenance and reconstruction. But unconcerned about the work going on, inside the buildings.

Such as those with a compulsion to build memorial statues.

When i read this tiny book of 161 pages or halved if you put in A4 size, it was amusingly refreshing. Most bizarre types actually exist in organisations especially because the skill sets required for different levels of organisation from technical in front-line supervisors to political skills needed at higher levels of management.

What then is the solution?
As someone interested in productivity, I am curious about how to improve our decision making on promotion and hiring.

Unfortunately, beyond naming the crime as incompetence, this book sheds little light on how to solve the problem.

Perhaps its beyond my competence to read between the lines. Or frankly, no one knows. Management is as much an art as a science.