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How Does Ethnic Culture act as Obstacles to Entrepreneur, and thus, holding you back: why obey can be bad for you

Updated on May 21, 2011


Many cultures, esp. Eastern cultures, have problem producing rich people, due to the "cultural baggage" one carries.

Did your parents taught you this? Go to school, get good grades, don't make waves, get a good job (engineer or lawyer or banker), find a good wife, have a good life, obey your parents and elders, etc. etc.

This is a cultural baggage that may be preventing you from getting rich. They are negative memes that you must unlearn.

Culture, Relations, and Business

You may notice that there's nothing in the "traditional goals" about "being a boss". It's "go to work for someone else". Conform. There is nothing about "start a business", "be your own boss", and so on. It's always "maintain the status quo", "change is bad", and so on. That is a cultural baggage, and this is more of a problem in Eastern cultures than Western cultures.

Eastern Cultures have a long history, and thus, also have what I would call "cultural inertia". It takes a VERY long time for an Eastern culture to change course, unless there's some sort of a dramatic upheaval, such as famine, revolution, and so on. That, and Eastern Cultures are often VERY proud of themselves, and as a result, disdain change.

Westerners very often have problem doing business in China because they don't understand that Chinese considers it a faux pas (or, "bad manners") if one does not offer some sort of a gift at a first meeting esp. if you are the visitor. Modern Chinese are much less offended and gets by with a handshake, but old school Chinese expect some sort of a gift, such as a bottle of brandy/cognac (VSOP is preferred) or nice carton of foreign cigarettes (now out of style). The Chinese Communists now made it an ART of soliciting graft, but they call it "mutual understandings". And they are getting very creative about it... Buy vacations or downpayments or scholarships for their wife and children, not themselves, and you better take care of their staff as well.

This is NOT limited to business dealings. My grandma, when visiting someone else's house, would insist on buying SOMETHING as gift, even if it's just some fresh fruit (not even a basket, just some fruits in a bag) or some snacks. But then, she's old school.

Such thing is simply not done in the West. Business is business. Unless of course, you're talking "business lunch", or POLITICS and campaign contributions, but that's off-topic. Deals may be done over lunch, but that's pretty much the limit of the extra-business dealings. And conversely, they limit Asian dealings in the West, as none of the Asian traditions apply over there.

That's cultural baggage.

Respect and Filial Duty

Another cultural baggage: respect for your superiors / elders, and inability to speak up in opposition of something. In an Eastern Culture, we are taught to respect our elders and our superiors. In fact, in Chinese, there is no such word as "Mister". We actually use "xien-seng", which literally means "born before", or "elder". And elders are to be obeyed, even if the orders seem to be illogical.

This applies to one's superior at work as well. Add this to the Eastern cultural "conformity" (don't make waves, don't stand out), and you have inability to speak up in opposition of something. If the company is heading toward disaster, few if any people will have the courage to speak up. No one wants to be first, no one want to be the bearer of bad news or even RAISE the spector of disaster.

(For those who want to know, the English word "Mister" actually came from Magister, or Master, i.e. "superior")

And if you can't even speak up as an employee, how can you ever move to self-employed or business-owner?

Sure, some employees will get disgruntled, then leave to start their own small business or self-employment, but they will take most of their baggage with them. When client wants X, you simply say "sure", instead of asking "Are you sure? I think Y is better, and this is why..."

And if you can't tell the truth in public, you can't manage a team or be a true business owner.

Saving Face

Another problem with Eastern Culture is "face saving", esp. Chinese. A lot of people are forever unable to make ANY major decisions as they are afraid fo committing major social blunders. if you quit, you may be insulting the boss or whoever hired you initially. If you don't quit you stay at this miserable job with no future. If you go with vendor A instead of vendor B you risk insulting vendor B who may then stab you in the back one day (long memories and all that).

In the West, none of this is a concern. Business is business. If you choose to quit, I will ask you to stay, maybe offer you a raise, or find out WHY you want to quit, but I won't take it personally. Same with selling. If you don't buy my product, I will use the opportunity to figure out what I didn't do to get the sale, not put you on my ENEMY list. In other words, Easterners often tend to take things a bit too personally, as affront to their ego/status. It's almost as if to make up for our lack of stature.

What's worse, you can insult people even without realizing it, not by doing something, but by NOT doing something!

I know a lady, one of the nicest you'll find, helps seniors every day nagivate the maze of government benefits and medical world, do translations, appointments, transportations, and more. She also enjoys going to concerts and helps resell a lot of the Asian concert tickets. Just the other day, she was bemoaning the fact that she had bought DOZENS of tickets from the local authroized ticket agent, but that agent never even offered her a single complimentary ticket. That agent lady must be severely lacking in manners.

My first reaction is... Gee, why don't you just ASK HER for a comp ticket? Then I realized the answer. She's too proud to ask. Again, "face saving". Asking for something is begging. It must be "offered freely". So yes, she's still stewing over it, and she never DID get that free ticket (that I know of).

And this face saving and taking things too personally extends into every part of our lives.

If you have the son of the owner as an employee in your department, and he's a slacker, do you call him out, and risk pissing off his daddy, who may then fire your ass, or do you just grit your teeth and order someone else to pick up the slack, thus pissing THAT guy off instead? Or maybe you don't want to give him a break, but your superior, hope for some brownie points, suggests you to give the kid a break? What do you do then?

After a while your spirit is crushed and you stay in your corporate drone life forever.

Unlearn the Negative Memes

You need to UNLEARN these negative memes. They will only hurt you in the business world. It takes a major core programming update and/or a severe change of scenery for one to dump the cultural baggage and learn some new tricks. But it must be done.

The first thing you need to realize is that "face" is merely a psychological condition. if you look at it objectively, you'll realize how silly "face saving" really is. Face saving is about PRIDE, which is emotion. If you do business with emotion, you won't get very far. A business cannot work with emotional ups and downs and sideways.

Most ethnic businesses don't grow much, because the owner is too proud to ask for a loan from the bank, or find investors, except relatives and CLOSE friends. They'd rather stay small, or beg relatives for capital, when they could have found angel investors, private investors, venture capitalists, or just go to a bank and apply for a business loan. Frankly, most would get turned down for a loan because they never bothered to ask how to get a loan (that is, with a financial statement). To them, going to banker for loan is like begging for money. It's bad for their ego.

These are negative memes, that prevent you from "being all you can be". And the first part to "curing" them is to recognize that they are there, and they are holding you back.

There are plenty of other cultural baggage you may be carrying. You should consciously examine every decision an hour before bed time, and see if you can identify some of them: did you do them because it really was the best decision? Or did you just do it because it was the way it was always done?

Don't dwell upon the mistakes. Write them down in a journal somewhere and go over it in the morning, and vow to change at least one item per day. Review each week and see if you have made any positive changes.


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    • kschang profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      I think we're getting off the subject of entrepreneurship, but I do wish to correct a few of your understandings.

      1) I wasn't talking about child labor in China. I am talking about overall labor situation. In late 2010 there were at least two strikes at auto plants in China for better wages, and the various suicides at Foxconn raised concerns for employees in China in general. China's economy is walking a tightrope: either they succeed, or they fail in a spectacular fashion. Their GDP and annual growth is pure fiction (look it up in Wikileaks) The bank has TOTAL control over inflation. They can earn short-term profits, but their long-term outlook (10-20 years) is worrisome. Besides, the biggest employers in China are actually foreign investors. Foxconn who builds all the iPhones and iPads? It is a Taiwanese company. Native innovation is few and far in between. Again, cheap labor. The whole idea of communism is power to the workers, isn't it? Yet in China, power is actually NOT at the hands of the workers, but the party. There's a fundamental disconnect

      2) Most so-called foreign car makers actually are built in the US using mostly American parts. Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, and more all have factories here in the US. Only the luxury brands like Audi, BMW, and other European makers are imported, and those pay luxury tax.

      3) As for "government loans" to GM and Chrysler, you don't understand the Japanese economic system. The way Japanese economy works is the government, through its "postal savings" system, takes in huge amounts of money, which is then lent to the banks at negligible interest rates, and the banks then lend it to the zaibatsus at very low interest rates. So in effect, the Japanese industries have been taking government subsidies for many decades.

      4) If you have a small business that takes up all of your time, that's a job, not a business.

      I'm going to create a topic on my blog for the offtopic discussion.

    • Adroit Alien profile image

      Adroit Alien 

      7 years ago

      Japan, Singapore, Korea, China, are all part of the East and their cultures are very similar. I think it's fair but I'll yield just to continue the conversation.

      I think criticizing China is unfair and hypocritical. Yes they use child labor and their lack of human rights is an issue but this is a subject of business, not politics. Another point I want to mention is demand. China is filling the demands of westerners. We can complain all we want about child labor but we'll gladly go to wal-mart and buy all their cheap child-labor manufactured goods. We are the cause. China's "exploiting" child labor is no different that the US "exploiting" the prison industrial complex. But in business, the bottom line is profits.

      Another point I want to touch on is hypocrisy. Japanese auto makers dominate the American market. While US automakers struggle to compete in their home market, the Japanese auto industry overtook GM. The issue of taxpayers propping up GM with billions of dollars is an example of this hypocrisy. While Japan and Korea competitively compete in the free market, GM digs its hands into our pockets to save their business. Not exactly a good example of entrepreneurship.

      We(Americans) criticize the Chinese for its communism in favor of capitalism yet when were feel the ill effects of it, we resort to bailing out failing companies. Free market at work?

      If some Japanese can start their own noodle shops, isn't that a prime example of entrepreneurship? I think the American media has fueled us with fantasies known as the "American Dream".

      Yes, I can agree with you that other cultures have their disadvantages but we have plenty at home as well. In respect, our economy have been terrible in the last decade. We have an insanely high unemployment rate. In fact, my state has the second highest average. Last time I check, it was 10%.

      Another thing I want to point out is the eastern spending system. Most easterner keep their money in house. The Chinese have a lower GDP per capita but almost all their money stays in China. The Japanese buys cars every 5 years and they almost always buy Japanese. Their money stays in home also. In comparison, most of our spending money leaves the US. Half our auto spendings goes overseas to European, Korean, and Japanese car makers. Almost all of our spending on goods goes overseas to China or Central/South America. American companies are getting rich at the expense of the US.

      I remembered 10 years ago, it was looked down upon whenever you bought stuff "Made in China". Now, it's so common, we don't even think about it. Nike, Adidas, Old Navy, etc all have stuff coming from there. Sure, China may be considered "employees" of these American companies but that's nothing to boost about when these companies keep all the profits and help develop a foreign country. As our culture fuels the fantasy of being a boss, the easterners dig deep and get their hands dirty. If China is emerging into a superpower in a period of 2 short decades, what does that have to say about our ethnic culture? Do they really have a disadvantage? I have to respectfully disagree.

    • kschang profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      I don't think using the Japanese is a fair comparison. In Japan, the zaibatsus (giant industrial conglomerates) control almost everything. Everybody works for the zaibatsus. There is no entrepreneurship (other than maybe open your own noodle shop or such). Japanese success is from R&D, industrialization, and work ethics. In fact, Japanese economy had been in a slump for past 20-30 years once their labor force gotten too expensive.

      As for China... China is basically exploiting its cheap labor force (thus, selling out their "communist" ideals) to buy their trade surplus. China is trying to avoid that by stealing tech from all around the world (i.e. industrial espionage) before that inevitable collapse. No doubt they work hard, but doesn't make them entrepreneurs.

      Furthermore, "working hard" really has very little to do with entrepreneurship. Working hard, to borrow Mr. "Rich Dad" Kiyosaki's words, makes you an Employee. It doesn't make you an Entrepreneur.

      Perhaps "shortcomings" is too strong a word. More of a "disadvantage" when you're in a different culture. It's more about a mindset that you must adopt (or unadopt) when you move among cultures.

    • Adroit Alien profile image

      Adroit Alien 

      7 years ago

      I think you lost me. Even though I understand your hub, I don't think it's a problem that needs correcting.

      Cultural differences are just that, differences. What you mean by correcting them is to realign eastern business culture to western beliefs and ideas. In a way, we(Westerners) can learn alot from Eastern businesses. We are the one who owe China money. China has all of our manufacturing job. India has a large portion of IT and customer service.

      One thing I've noticed while working with foreigners is how hard they work. In comparison, it makes Americans(me included) look lazy. A negative part of American culture is we feel we are entitled. I've made friends with many foreigners and it's hard for me to defend when they call us lazy and fat.

      Also, is giving gifts as a part of a business relationship so much different from bribing? That's common here. I know someone that gave the state a few hundred dollars in order to get his vendor license a little quicker. It worked.

      Shortcoming are subjective and if the bottom line is the litmus test, then I think Easterners are doing fairly well. Just look at Japanese auto and high tech industry.

    • kschang profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      Thanks. The "point" of the hub is to recognize the shortcomings in one self. To borrow an old toy slogan: "Knowing is half the battle." Once you know the problem, you can work on correcting them.

    • Adroit Alien profile image

      Adroit Alien 

      7 years ago

      This is an amazing hub! I am Cambodian-American and I completely understand the cultural baggage. I've been studying this myself. My mom would alway get mad at me for "stirring up trouble."

      This is especially difficult when I get angry at teachers, bosses or anyone socially, ahem... "superior". Being a good boy can only get you so far. It won't make me my own boss.

      I can also understand the language barrier. We have something similar in Cambodian. Our language is very socially conscious. For example, in English, when greeting a woman, it's polite to say, "hello ma'am" or something similar. In Khmai, you have to visually inspect the person. Gauge by your own consciousness whether or not the woman is older or younger than your mother. Then call her "Oum" if she is older, or "Meen-ye" if she's younger. You can offend people fast in many eastern cultures.

      Thanks for the read.


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