There hasn’t been much change yet. We Europeans send our employees to, say, Asia, in order to teach and we invite employees from other countries to us in order to learn. Quite apart from the problems these traces of the colonial era bring into our relationships, I cannot help but ask whether we Europeans are not missing out on an important opportunity to learn for our future.
Let me share a story. I met a manager from India who had been invited to come to Germany for two years. He was an energetic young man who wanted to get things moving and learn for his country and his organization in his country. He was full of admiration for the degree of order he found in Germany and experienced the country as very tidy, as a place where everything has its place and everything is regulated. His only concern was that he could not see where he was able to make a contribution. Almost all decisions had been taken out of his hands by the infrastructure, the course of everything was in place and he was only able to follow through. He was not able to live out his role as a manager, because he saw that everything had already been »managed«. While he admired this state of affairs, he also felt uncomfortable in his experience of ossification, lack of initiative and indecision that comes with the dominance of an infrastructure.
While we talked, I looked out onto the streets, the regulated traffic and compared my own experiences. They are very different. My Indian acquaintance continued to tell me of a recent experience that still puzzled him. He had to pass a driving test in Germany. While driving on a main road with right of way, he nevertheless slowed the car at each junction in order to ensure that the other drivers would really stop for him. He did the same at green traffic lights. The tester criticized this practice and told him to continue driving without interruption. My acquaintance was confused and tried to understand how it is possible to simply rely on someone else sticking to the rules? For him it had been necessary to confront the incalculability of others and take safety into his own hands. As he sees it, it is his responsibility.
In this regulated country, on the other hand, we can usually rely on others complying by the same rules as ourselves and it makes sense to keep driving without interruption on the basis of this trust. But in India? Such behavior would not end well there. Given the same regulations, it would still be better to rely on behavior that follows individual decisions, which means: step on the brake here and there. The behavior of others is spontaneous, follows their own rules and has to be »managed« with regard to one’s own behavior. The outcome there is not down to infrastructure but to everyone’s own, anticipatory decisions.
This episode translates as: adhering to behavior that is responsible and includes others in complex, ambivalent and open situations. That is one thing we would stand to learn if we were to be invited, say, to India. After all, global businesses have in common that they experience heightened speed, insecurity, vulnerability, complexity and ambiguity. These are situations where bureaucracy trying to conquer these agile and often chaotic situations by way of rules has often failed. It is far too slow and rigid.
It would benefit our own future and competitive capacity to set out in order to learn.