Having lived and worked outside of England, my home country, for a total of 23 years – in Germany for 8 years and most recently for 15 years in the US – I’ve come to appreciate that the concept of the nation state is a very unique and real phenomenon but that most people don’t understand exactly what it is or how the digital world is forcing it to change.
A nation state is defined as a political unit consisting of an autonomous state inhabited predominantly by people sharing a common culture, history and language, and this concept dates right back to the treaty of Munster, Germany in 1648. Today, however, television, the internet and the expansion of mobile communications are forcing increased globalization of culture and language to occur, and as a result the original concept of the nation state is being constantly challenged and, in some cases, eroded.
If, like me, you have been fortunate enough to live and work in multiple countries, you cannot help but appreciate that each one has its own national workplace culture. In a Financial Times article earlier this year about the cultural challenges faced by foreign CEOs, Rob Goffee of the London Business School identified that a key ability is to understand how to adapt without abandoning ones original values: “the skillful executive balances who they are with where they are”. This has become especially relevant as an increasing number of executives from my home country are relocating to head up US based companies, and a wave of UK start-ups are crossing the Atlantic in search of broader market opportunities. But just because we speak the same language doesn’t mean that it’s all smooth sailing!
From an early age, Americans are taught self-advocacy and a strong emphasis is placed on self-belief. We Brits, on the other hand, are known for our self-deprecation (even extending to our sense of humor) and this can be a challenge for us in the US workplace. As Alex Kelleher, founder of Cognitive Match, was recently quoted as saying in an article in the Financial Times: “the market here (in the US) definitely likes the confident, self-assured “winner” approach… and while sometimes self-deprecation can be seen as endearing, it may not be ideal in a competitive environment over here”. I couldn’t agree more! I’ve come to realize that, in an increasingly globalized world, it’s very often the small, subtle cultural nuances that still exist but tend to be overlooked when businesses think about relocating, hiring or partnering overseas.
I was also reminded of an article by Adam Haslett that appeared in the Financial Times in 2010 where he identified that, as a Brit living in the U.S., he had “always felt a pessimist among optimists in the U.S. and as an optimist among pessimists in Britain”. In the past, I myself have experienced a sense of not belonging to any one specific nation, of being almost “mid-Atlantic”. Today, however, with the rapid and widespread growth of digital technologies across geographical boundaries, I now find myself experiencing a new phenomenon of living in a “virtual nation state” where language, cultures and political philosophies merge, and openness of thinking is the currency of success. I feel wealthy; not in financial terms, but because of the breadth of knowledge and the degree of perception and understanding I’ve acquired from experiencing different cultures, both first hand and “virtually”. The enviable challenge that I face is how to share this “global mindset” and enlightened world view with people who can make a difference. Perhaps self-deprecating humor really is the way forward!
Having worked in a variety of geographical areas across the globe, we at KeySo Global have acquired the flexible mindset needed to understand and adapt to the different business cultures that we have been part of. We are eager to share our experiences with you and help you guide your business through the often turbulent waters of overseas expansion. For more information contact us at email@example.com.
Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global