from R&D Innovator Volume 1, Number 4
Harvesting the Advantages of
Marcus, a technology transfer consultant, was scientific director
of the Office of Naval Research Far East in Tokyo.
is generally considered to be a field that transcends national,
religious, racial, gender and language boundaries.
So what if some team members come from different cultural
backgrounds? Don't we all play by the same rules?
and no. While
scientists can transcend the more obvious boundaries, their work
is often circumscribed by cultural boundaries in subtle ways.
These boundaries can cause problems, or they can be turned
entrants have always been a source of vitality and resiliency for
research systems. European
immigrant researchers certainly were a big boost to U.S. science
and technology earlier in the century.
During today's overall transformation of national and
global systems, new entrants represent an important opportunity.
Western and Japanese Science
Western and Japanese science.
Western science is based on principles such as causality
and divisibility of a problem into constituent sub-problems.
Japanese science, by contrast, is holistic—problems are
viewed as single entities. As a consequence, there's much more tolerance of seemingly
non-causal connections between data points.
For example, if one function in a 120-function integrated
circuit failed in an American chip factory, chances are the
assembly line would be halted and everybody would focus attention
on the problematic function.
But in Japan, workers would dismantle the entire line and
start fresh. They
would look at the entire system as a unit.
have traced differences in Western and Japanese science to the
different cultural and
behavioral patterns in Japan,
and those in turn are reactions to Japan's population density
and its distribution of natural resources
Chemtech 20: 212, 1990).
example, the Japanese art of brush painting, sumi-e,
uses a limited number
of subjects. What may
seem in Western eyes to be a copy, practically a print, rather
than an original, is to the Japanese an original of an approved
subject that has been painted by hundreds of artists over the
Japanese themselves refer to this as a template mentality, a
preference for following a pattern rather than breaking new
ground. To me, this
helps explain why Japanese science admires quality above
in the Western manner
is goal-oriented, emphasizes the short term, uses thought
experiments and can be expressed alphabetically.
Its language is single-valued (each term has exactly one
in a holistic Japanese manner is multi-valued and
process-oriented, emphasizes the long term, executes experiments
only physically and can be expressed in ideograms.
can best distinguish the impact of using alphabets rather than
ideograms by asking you to imagine a sunset.
Now imagine poetic images of a sunset. The former
represents the alphabetic representation, the latter the
happens when research team members grounded in the two paradigms
described in Table I try to collaborate?
They may seem uncooperative or unproductive to each other,
and thus be unable to work together.
Likewise, competitors who fail to understand each other's modus
operandi may cry "foul play."
Nonetheless, working together across paradigms can be fruitful. Some
behaviors and practices on both sides help this process, while
others are a hindrance. It
takes a concerted effort to appreciate—and take advantage
of—team members brought up in different cultures.
Good communication and a positive learning attitude are
required. If you are
quickly turned off by attitudes different from yours, you stop
communicating and thus deprive
your team of potential benefits.
from cross-cultural Interactions
following are examples of "contact problems" between
different cultures, and rewards for people who are open to other
1. Cultural Diversity....Maori
from Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, The
Old Fool and the Corruption of Myth, p. 21, Spring
Publications, Dallas, 1991)
the mid-19th century, Sir George Grey, governor general of New
Zealand, learned the language of the native Maoris.
Surprisingly, this knowledge helped him little, and he
misunderstandings while negotiating
with the chiefs. Finding
himself helpless to understand the images, allusions and proverbs
of the Maori, he began studying their mythology and soon found
that he could communicate effortlessly with them.
2. Cultural Diversity....Native American
from The Scientist (March
Sigstedt, an ethnobotanist, has been studying a medicinal plant,
bear root, which the Navajo people use as a headache remedy,
fungicide, insecticide and for numerous other purposes.
Sigstedt lived for years with a Navajo family, where he
learned the legend of the bear, the generous, divine being who
gave Navajos the bear root. Sigstedt
decided to check whether the legend had a biological basis, and
was astonished to find that when he gave the plant to bears in a
zoo, they immediately began chewing it and rubbing it over their
bodies--precisely as the Navajo legends say the bear taught humans
to do. More than a
dozen compounds with known pharmacological activity have been
identified in bear root.
these are examples of individuals working in locales that are
culturally and geographically quite different from their own, the
principle of learning from other cultures should also apply closer
to home, and to differences between the genders.
College president Linda Wilson puts it this way:
'Age of Knowledge,'...we will develop not just more knowledge, but
also better and broader knowledge, more connections among
knowledge areas, and much better assimilation and accommodation of
the dearth of minorities and women in the scientific enterprise, I
think their inclusion can significantly strengthen the research
effort by bringing new perspectives and attitudes to the work.
have other suggestions for increasing knowledge flow among
people who work under different paradigms.
Among the behaviors I consider helpful are:
Keep talking, communicating.
don't I conclude this article by listing other paradigms?
Because if you knew what other paradigms might bear on your
R&D work at a particular time, if paradigms could just be
listed and used, they would shrink to become one more item in the
toolbox of your own paradigm, to be used when needed in the
familiar, linear manner.
would be far better if other scientific paradigms were represented
in your research group by workers who are comfortable with
those paradigms. Only
then can you reap the harvest of many forms of cultural knowledge