Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tunnels, lights, and bottomless pits...

The past week has brought some interesting changes in my attitude towards this thesis. Here's a brief summary:

Tuesday: "Why can't I find any good research on my topic? Seriously, does anyone care about this?"

Then, after talking to the reference-desk research ninjas in the library and getting some good help, I arrived at:

Wednesday: "Wow... so there's a ton of research on this topic. Ummm... where do I start?"

I found a couple hundred peer-reviewed articles all published within the last decade, selected about 20 and set them aside for reading. After briefly skimming skimming through a few, then selecting one which I read thoroughly and took some notes on/quotes from, I have come to:

Monday: "Good Lord there is so much research that's been done in this area! Now I kind of feel like a poser for wanting to learn more about this..."

The truth is, so much has been done in the area of international and cross-cultural management, that I really don't feel like I have anything that I can contribute to the field--no new angle to take or perspective to explore. I know, I know--this is a paper for an undergraduate degree, and I may be naive or overambitious to think that at this point I could actually contribute to my field in a meaningful way. I also understand that for the purpose of demonstrating how much I've learned and for the fulfillment of this requirement for graduation, my eyes need not gaze upon so lofty a goal, but I have to admit that I would feel a little lame if my paper was just basically a lit review with a by-now-common-sense conclusion.

Still, I suppose I must admit that it's not my fault that culture has become a rather hot issue in management as of late, and that my interest in learning more about it--given that circumstance--would seem to indicate that my natural curiosities propel me in the direction of smart, career-focused educational goals. Also, I have to admit that even a literature review, if it is well-written and comprehensive in its scope, would be an incredibly useful educational experience.

With all of that in mind, I've begun to wonder if perhaps I shouldn't narrow my scope even more. Specifically, I've toyed with the idea of adding the words "Eastern European" in there somewhere--as in "The impact of Eastern European culture on the internal operations of multinational corporations: cross-cultural management in former Soviet states."

"Why?" I ask me.

Well, for starters, it's a lot more specific.

"Ok, but why former Soviet states?"

Any given topic becomes ten times more interesting the moment you can tie it to the former Soviet Union and invoke images of the cold war.

"Seriously? You just want it to be more interesting?"

OK, I also lived in Russia for two years, and I think my personal experiences and observations can help to validate or challenge research that's already been done on the topic.

"Все ясно."

They won't understand that.

"I said 'gotcha.' "


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In the beginning...

The short version of the story is that today is the 22nd of March in this, the year of our Lord, 2011, and I have only begun work on my Capstone thesis.

"Why?" you ask.

Please, let us not dwell upon the past. A bright future is ahead of me--a future filled with long hours of research, many nights of writing and rewriting, editing and drafting, and copious amounts of Mountain Dew. Indeed, it is a future fueled by the singular hope of someday leaving behind the world of undergraduate academia. So despite my somewhat tardy entrance to the field of battle, my gaze is fixed and resolute toward the final prize.


Anywho, I did some research tonight on my topic. Right now my topic is still fairly general: the impact of regional cultures on multinational corporations. I know that's a pretty broad topic, and that notion has been reinforced to me as I've begun to research its various aspects.

So what part of regional cultures do I want to look at? Languages? Traditions? Attitudes? Religions?

How about the effects those things have on the operations of multinational companies? Am I interested in marketing strategies employed in various regions? Company policies for employees? Conflicts between corporate culture and local governments?

As I've been searching terms like "multinational companies", "regional culture", and "globalization", I find that the most common observations are those relating to language and marketing. While these are not really what I had in mind for my thesis, some are rather comical. For instance, one story has it that a slogan used by Purdue was supposed to say "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," but instead reads (in Spanish) "It takes a sexually stimulated man to make a chicken affectionate." Oops.

So yeah, I've run into a number of those, but I'm not really interested in looking at the marketing side of the issue. Of more interest to me would be how regional traditions and attitudes either help or hinder the internal operations of a multinational corporation. My instinct would tell me that the differences between the dominant or originating culture of the MNC (multinational corporation) and the regional culture that it operates within have the potential to clash in ways that challenge productivity, efficiency, and even stability within the local chapters of the organization.

More along those lines, I ran into an interesting article (link below), published in an issue of American Psychologist, titled "The Psychology of Globalization." The author, Jeffrey Arnett, discusses the rise of what he terms a "bicultural identity," which he believes is becoming more common today. He says that the bicultural identity exists when a person has the ability to identify both with their regional culture, as well as with the larger global culture. As an example, he talks about an Inuit boy who goes ice fishing and snowmobile racing, but who keeps up with televised national hockey games. Were this example to be brought a few more years into the future, I'm sure the author would have included something along the lines of "and plays video-games against peers in Korea."

The idea in the article is that we are able to adopt multiple identities and use them or even blend them together as necessary. He attributes this phenomenon, however, as almost exclusively a property of the generations currently in adolescence and post adolescence (until mid twenties)--saying that for most adults, globalization began after most were further set in their ways.

I'm not sure if I completely buy into every aspect of this psychology, but I think it's a good article and an interesting place to start.

Here's the link to the article:

And here's a link to the google doc where I'll be keeping an annotated record of all my many wanderings on the interwebs in my quest for knowledge (it's an annotated bibliography!):