West Meets East: Enlightening, Balancing, and Transcending
Ming-Jer Chen, Program Chair
June 14, 2010
The Academy of Management holds its 2011 conference against a backdrop of daunting challenges. The world economic crisis has destroyed vast amounts of wealth and millions of jobs. Business enterprises, governments, and public institutions around the globe have been forced to undertake major restructuring and transformation efforts.
At a time of volatility and uncertainty, the world is looking for new sources of growth and alternative business models. China has clearly been one of the drivers of growth over the past two decades. Now the world’s leading recipient of foreign direct investment and the largest holder of U.S. Treasury bills, it has progressed from being the world’s factory to being an overseas expansionist on a shopping spree. India and Korea have followed similar trajectories: Tata Motors’ recent acquisition of Jaguar/Land Rover and Samsung’s rise to global dominance, to name only two examples, seem to signal a sea change in the global business arena.
In the wake of the crisis, companies from emerging economies are among the leaders in growth and innovation, and the world appears to be in a transition from “West leads East” to “West meets East.” Now, more than ever, we need business professionals—academics and managers alike—who can make sense of today’s global complexity and multiplicity by thinking in broad and integrative ways. China’s re-emergence and the ascendance of India and other burgeoning economies offer an opportunity for revolutionary thinking based on the promise of “East-West” integrative thinking and practice.
Indeed, this is an opportune moment for us to ask how we can learn (or re-learn) from the business practices and cultures of the world’s emerging economic powers. Some cultural norms and practices are in fact diametrically opposite those of the West. For example, “family business,” one of the most popular organizational forms worldwide, might truly be called “business family” in Asia and some other parts of the world because the emphasis is on the latter rather than the former. What does this kind of new learning mean for management theory and practice, which has been predominantly developed from economically advanced Western societies? What will this reframed thinking mean for the evolution of global managers and enterprises in the 21st century? What is the ultimate goal of enterprises of all kinds and across all countries—whether public, private, family, state-owned, not-for-profit, Eastern or Western?
The theme of “West Meets East” has special meaning for the Academy of Management. Our membership has swelled by more than 60 percent over the past 10 years, with almost 40 percent of our 19,000 members now spread across some 100 different countries outside North America. The Academy recently completed a two-year strategic planning exercise that identified nearly 20 major initiatives for the coming years, almost half of which relate to internationalization. The call for a second conference outside of the United States was just announced. Like most large, multinational organizations, however, the Academy finds itself facing its own set of global challenges. How might the demographic shifts within the Academy reshape the management profession and redirect its scholarly pursuits? What questions will this global explosion raise about differences in research and teaching missions? What does professional development mean in this new reality, and what role will the Academy play? At this juncture, will we be bystanders or constructive contributors to the debate on critical business issues of global significance?
The Chinese word for crisis, “wei-ji,” is made up of the two characters representing danger and opportunity. To turn challenges into opportunities, we will need to draw on three ideals: enlightenment, balance, and transcendence. As business educators and scholars, our call is to develop enlightened managers and entrepreneurs who strive to transcend divisions around the globe and reach the balance between social good and self-interest; trust-based and legal relationships; teamwork and individual stars. The notion of “harmony” or “self-other integration” has long been central to Eastern management thinking and practice. Balance means integrating extremes, identifying commonalities and relationships, and applying universalities from setting to setting. Transcendence offers the ability to comprehend paradigmatic differences, similarities, and interrelationships.
Enlightening, balancing, and transcending open up opportunities for a richer and more expansive platform for new paths of scholarly, managerial, and human pursuits. The enlightened business scholar or manager strives to reach the pinnacles of both humanity and professionalism, with the hope of making our world not simply smaller but better.
At this 71st convening of Academy members, we extend our warmest welcome to all of you. And at the Academy’s first-ever gathering in San Antonio, Texas—where the West meets the South, and at the gateway to a vibrant Central and South America—we hope each of you will consider deeply the challenges-opportunities that lie ahead for all of us.
Come to San Antonio and join the discussion of “West Meets East: Enlightening, Balancing, Transcending.”
*Thanks to Stephen Carroll, Jr., Ben Haimowitz, Don Hambrick, Susan Jackson, John Michel, Jan Rivkin, Anne Tsui, Nancy Urbanowicz, and Jim Walsh for their helpful comments and suggestions.