Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Competitive Advantage and Cultural Paradigms: An Exercise in Brainstorming for International Communication

Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Competitive Advantage and Cultural Paradigms: An Exercise in Brainstorming for International Communication

Article excerpt

BRAINSTORMING THE CULTURAL forces that underpin and business encourages students to think in interdisciplinary ways. The exercise described in this article draws on diverse publications in business, economics, and culture. It invites students to identify factors of cultural advantage or "social capital" in economic systems. The exercise offers an alternative approach to teaching economic comparative advantage by lecture format; instead, students integrate material through peer learning and interaction. This is especially useful in groups where conflicting expectations about learning and teaching styles create barriers to communication. The exercise was devised and tested on over 100 students in the Master's in European Management program at EDHEC (Ecole de hautes etudes commerciales du Nord) and has been found to create a motivating context for cultural and communicative exchange, especially in diverse, multicultural, and international groups. It instigates student peer learning by opposing culturally held v iews about management and by introducing alternative definitions of value. It also helps shape managerial and decision-making reflexes through basic training in economic anthropology, intercultural communication, and the analysis of culturally-bound assumptions regarding competitive advantage. Finally, the problem-solving exchange is a communicative activity that measures how well students articulate personal views about culture, negotiate stereotypical perceptions with others, and create a group atmosphere conducive to intercultural exchange.

Logistics of the Exercise

To carry out the exercise, students first read a short essay (reproduced in Appendix A) and then spend a week reading additional material on the topic (see the Bibliography), summarizing key concepts from one or two items on the list. The categories shown in Appendix B may help spark later discussion.

Returning to class and working in small, preferably international/multicultural groups of four to six, they then teach each other important ideas from their reading for about one hour. Following that, they discuss the questions or perform the tasks listed in the next section. The teacher moves from group to group observing the content discussed and the group communication dynamic. A secretary for each group notes down important points made; the notes are then read to the class at the end. A final 30 minute debriefing by the teacher completes the exercise. Supplementary exposes and written essays can also be included.

Tasks and Questions

The student groups should focus on some or all of the following tasks and questions.


* Identify your country's competitive "social capital" and comparative advantages right now in the global market. Choose factors most dependent on a cultural trait or preference. Decide in the group what distinguishes "cultural" from "economic" capital.

* Take the same cultural trait and discuss how it may be beneficial or detrimental to the development of a different product, service, or industry.

* Identify places in the world where this cultural advantage would become a competitive advantage without taking into account other economic factors.

* Identify cultural traits for which there seems to be no corresponding economic outlet.

* Identify social trends that have introduced or led to product innovation. Identify how product innovation also leads to social trends.

* Discuss how corporate culture also leads to competitive advantage.


* As the world becomes a more multi-cultural place, will economic trends become standardized, or will production concentrate into specialized "cluster industries" as Porter seems to predict?

* Aside from language, tradition, and shared sets of values, culture can also be defined as common goals and shared resources. Identify new examples of culture in the twenty-first century. …

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