Getting The Word on Global

Tom Peters

Astrologers, economists and meteorologists are busy declaring what the ’90s will bring. I’ll spare you my prognostications, but will let you in on one sure thing: The use of the adjective “global” will increase exponentially in business and politics.

A crash reading program has been a central part of my global-immersion strategy. This preliminary list of “must reads” for businesspeople is one byproduct. Few are management books. Most describe the culture, politics, and economy of an area. Getting a deep feel for the flavor of a country should be priority number one. Tips on local management practices are relatively easy to pick up—and can only be applied to the extent one “knows” the larger context anyway.

Asia. The incontestable pick for clearing the fog surrounding Japan is Dutch journalist Karel van Wolferen’s The Enigma of Japanese Power (Knopf, 1989). It’s dense and not without bias, but your Japanese IQ will have shot up when you finish. Robert Whiting’s book about Japanese baseball, You’ve Got to Have Wa (McMillan, 1989), and Donald Richie’s portraits of ordinary Japanese in various walks of life, Different People (Kodansha, 1987), are great for flavor. More palatable still: Shogun (James Clavell, Delacorte, 1983); Japanese friends say it must be read to come to grips with modern Japan. For tips on successful American business strategies in Japan, Robert Christopher’s Second to None: American Companies in Japan (Crown, 1986) is indeed second to none.

As for the rest of Asia, begin with Asia’s Next Giant (Alice Amsden, Oxford, 1989) and Is Korea the Next Japan (T.W. Kang Free Press, 1989) for a look at the second most important country in the region. Assuming China cleans up its tawdry act, get ready by reading Ezra Vogel’s One Step Ahead in China: Guangdong Under Reform (Harvard, 1989). Then meander through Ian Buruma’s God’s Dust: A Modern Asian Journal (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1989) for a wonderful overview of Asia’s diverse people and politics.

Europe. Forget the spate of books on the opening of the European Single Market in 1992. To get a real feel for the continent, ingest instead Luigi Barzini’s masterful The Europeans (Penguin, 1984); it’s enlightening and lively. Germany is the key to Europe. John Ardagh’s Germany and the Germans: An Anatomy of Society Today (Harper and Row, 1987) and David Marsh’s new The Germans: Rich, Bothered, and Divided (Century, 1989) will get you off to a quick start. For German corporate affairs, examine Peter Katzenstein’s Industry and Politics in West Germany (Cornell, 1989).

Should Russia be on your agenda, begin with Hedrick Smith’s classic The Russians (Times Books, 1983) and William and Jane Taubman’s Moscow Spring (Summit, 1989). As to Russia’s troubled economy, I’ll place my money on Anders Aslund’s well-received Gorbachev’s Struggle for Reform (Cornell, 1989).

The rest of the world. The Middle East is hopelessly confusing, even to experts. Yet Thomas Friedman’s award winning From Beirut to Jerusalem (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1989) penetrates the murk—and is a page-turner to boot. Hernando De Soto’s The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World (Harper and Row, 1989) sheds a bright light on Latin America and economic development in the Third World in general; the book focuses on the irrepressible entrepreneurial sector in Peru’s lagging economy. Another worthwhile look at this area of economics, which most of us fail to grasp, comes from Mark Holmstrom in Industry and Inequality: The Social Anthropology of Indian Labour (Cambridge, 1985).

General business. I’m certain that few American managers have really studied Geert Hofstede’s Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in work-Related Values (Sage, 1980). That’s undoubtedly because the brilliant, well-researched volume by the professor from INSEAD (Europe’s leading business school) suffers from an academic writing style. But I wouldn’t recommend the book if I didn’t feel that it was a priceless acquisition. Culture’s Consequences alone could be the basis for your company’s international management training program.

North America. So you think you know Canada? Think again and then dive into Andrew Malcolm’s acclaimed The Canadians (Times Books, 1985). You’ll quickly discover that our wonderful northern neighbors are, well, Canadian. Along similar lines, I also heartily recommend Clyde Burleson’s Interstate Commerce: Regional Styles of Doing Business (Franklin Watts, 1987) for fun and profit. You’ll learn about the great gulf between the “vastlands” (Western Colorado, Montana, etc.), “natureland” (Washington, Oregon, etc.), “wonderland” (you guessed it, California) and the other distinct regions that make up the United States. Profound differences in tastes, habits, and business decision-making styles are among the topics covered.

With the exception of Shogun, the most important books left off the list: fiction. Want to really come to grips with Russia? Plunge into Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Latin America? Mario Vargas Llosa. Germany? Heinrich Boll.

Almost all of these books are as readable as they are provocative. Each will contribute to making you a more fit global manager for the borderless ’90s, now arrived.

(C) 1990 TPG Communications.

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