Just as work and life are intertwined, so are social issues and organizational issues. We cannot separate them except to face accumulated troubles down the line; we need to understand the dynamics of the interaction effects and their impacts. The rate of these interaction effects is faster and more impactful in the information (internet) age. The most horrific examples came from the still spreading riots in the Muslim world, in reaction to the despicable and ignorant portrayal of prophet Muhammad on YouTube, owned by Google. To say “both sides are employing deficit thinking” may win me the award of this year’s uber-understatement. However, these recent violent reactions are the most dramatic outcomes from parties that can see only the negative in each other. But what I really want to focus in today’s space is the issue of navigating through different cultural principles when a business operates on multinational platform.
Early this week I heard part of a radio program, the Diane Rehm Show, where panelists discussed the “cultural clashes over free speech.” To what extent should Google stand by the “freedom of speech” principle when host countries of Google’s overseas operations do not embrace such principle? From all kinds of perspectives offered, I still feel ambivalent about how a multinational should operate when cultural principles and values clash.
To the extent that Google was founded on the principle of “freedom of speech,” and within a society that has bled for it, it should honor the very premise that has allowed its wild growth and profit. Shouldn’t it? Yet, “freedom of speech” is unique to American Constitution and culture, and to what extend should we, Americans in general, “impose” on other countries? More fundamentally, when two cultural values clashes, how come it always seems that resolution requires one to give ground?
As I mentioned, I don’t have ready answers to these questions.
Take another example of a principle, bribery vs. the elimination of bribes. Bribes do not manifest only in the form of money; there are other means, but money is the most common form. Suppose a US company knows that its unique widget is perfectly safe, having been approved and successfully used in the States as well as in many other industrialized nations. But this company runs into a stonewall in a developing country where the local culture and practice is to “bribe” the officials to get anything done. Should this US company play by the local rule or home country rule? If the company actually approves such money exchange in order to get business, where should they draw the line for the next encounters, either in the country in question or the next countries? Similarly, if we say it’s okay for Google or YouTube to make a judgment call, to edit as they see fit – which they do — where should they draw the line? When we know certain materials would be regarded as inflammatory in many cultures, do we go ahead and post those materials in those countries anyway?
New York Times has a timely op-ed piece, focusing on politics and freedom of speech issue. It gives me more information but my mind is still befuddled.
I can continue in this fashion, asking more and more questions, posing more and more competing perspectives, and I still cannot answer. If you can, and have clear guidance, would you please share with others?
Till next time,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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