With Dr. James Grubman, Author of the book: Cross Cultures: How Global Families Negotiate Change Across Generations
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Sometimes, a great thinker comes along who takes the things you already know, organizes them in a brilliant way, and leaves you with a new perspective and wisdom about the world around you. One such individual is Steve’s guest, James (Jim) Grubman, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is a consultant on family wealth matters where psychology, law, finance, and business all come into play. Jim works with affluent families and their advisors to understand the many ways that wealth and life can be integrated successfully across current and future generations.
Before starting, Steve takes a moment to recommend Jim’s previous book, Strangers in Paradise: How Families Adapt to Wealth Across Generations, where he discusses an immigrant’s journey—not from country to country—but from poverty to wealth.
How Family Enterprises Transition Across Generations
In his discussion today, Steve focuses on Jim’s new work, From Traditional to Blended Cultures: How Family Enterprises Manage Transitions Across Generations, which reflects recent groundbreaking research in cultural psychology and divides world cultures into three main categories.
The first type of culture is what Jim and his colleague, Dennis Jaffe, call Individualist Culture, which is prevalent in the U.S., Canada, Northern Europe, Great Britain, and Australia. Individualist Culture is focused on, as you might expect, the individual, who tends to be more important than even family and oriented to assertiveness, direct communication, and self-sufficiency.
Collective Harmony Culture
The next type of culture, outlined in Jim Grubman’s From Traditional to Blended Cultures is Collective Harmony Culture which is prevalent in East Asia—China, Hong Kong, elements of Japan, and various countries in that region. This is a culture that’s grounded in Confucian principles and places a very strong emphasis on the family, the collective, and in self-esteem rooted in what is called “face,” maintaining dignity in a very social environment.
The third kind of culture, which is called Honor Culture, puts together what may seem like disparate cultures and is prevalent in the Middle East—Latin America, India, Russia, and Southern and Eastern Europe. It’s essentially a culture with roots in tribal culture and has a strong emphasis on family and community, as well as a heavy emphasis on maintaining reputation, respect, and honor, but in a different way than in Harmony Culture.
The part of the world focused on family, tribe, and clan sees the strong individualist focus of Western culture as somewhat unusual and rather self-centered. Steve likens that difference to two quotes; one, in America, says “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”; the other, in Japan, say “the nail that stands up gets hammered down,” which sums up these cultural differences pretty well.
In today’s world of globalism, there’s a crossing of cultures as families send their children across the world for education or work. These world travelers come back with different mores, different ideas of how they want to live their lives, which often clash with the tenets of their home cultures.
In such situations, Jim helps understand that this behavior is cultural in nature and not the individual acting up, which defuses some of the tension. In addition, he uses modern, interest-based negotiation strategies that focus on shared interests and compromise, rather than differences. The key to overcoming cultural barriers lies in understanding the perspectives of other cultures, by elders deeply rooted in tradition and by youngsters bridging the gap by being more respectful to their original culture.
Jim Grubman brings this all together in his latest book, Cross Cultures: How Global Families Negotiate Change Across Generations.
With globalism on the rise, with barriers to travel breaking down, and with cross-cultural relationships on the rise, urban families rarely live or work within the boundaries of their primary cultures. To succeed in this new world, socially and professionally, consider learning Jim’s techniques on how to successfully build bridges and negotiate your way across cultures.
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Steve Pomeranz: Sometimes a great thinker comes along that takes the things you already know, organizes them in a brilliant way, leaving you with a new perspective and wisdom about the world around you. One individual fitting this category is my next guest: Dr. James Grubman. Dr. Grubman often is consulted in situations where psychology, law, finance, medicine, and business all come into play. And he draws on his experience as a psychologist, neuro-psychologist, and family business consultant. And it’s a pleasure to have him back on the show. Hi, Jim. Welcome back.
Dr. James Grubman: Hi, Steve. I’m glad to be back.
Steve Pomeranz: You know, the last time we spoke, we spoke in detail about your last book, which is Strangers in Paradise, where you discussed the immigrant’s journey. We don’t really have a lot of time to go into that, but I do highly recommend that to anyone who really is trying to understand this immigrant’s journey. Not from country to country, but from perhaps poverty to wealth.
And now your new book, which is coming out next January, talks about the journey across cultures. And you recently co-wrote an article entitled “From Traditional to Blended Cultures: How family enterprises manage transitions across generations.” So you divided world cultures into three main categories. Tell us about that.
Dr. James Grubman: Sure. This actually is coming out of some very recent, very groundbreaking research in cultural psychology, that has begun to understand there are three main culture types around the world. And these will make sense as soon as I describe them. The first type of culture is what we call Individualist Culture. This is with my colleague Dennis Jaffe and I. This consists of North America in terms of the US and Canada, Northern Europe, Great Britain, Australia, what people often think of as “the West.” The Individualist Culture is focused on, as you might expect, the individual. The individual tends to be most important compared to family and oriented to assertiveness, direct communication, self-sufficiency, all the qualities we associate. There’s a second kind of culture, which is largely in East Asia, which we’re calling Collective Harmony Culture—China, Hong Kong, elements of Japan, and the various countries around there. This is a culture that’s grounded in Confucian principles and has a very strong emphasis on the family, the collective, and in self-esteem rooted in what is called “face,” maintaining dignity in a very social environment. The most recent research has clarified the third kind of culture, which is called Honor Culture, and it puts together what may seem like disparate cultures—Middle East, Latin America, India, Russia, Southern and Eastern Europe. It’s essentially cultures that began in a tribal kind of culture. And Honor Cultures also have a strong emphasis on the family and community, but with a heavy emphasis on maintaining reputation, respect, and honor, in a different way than Harmony Culture.
Steve Pomeranz: Is the Individualist Culture that we know here in North America, is that a typical idea to the rest of the world? Or is it somewhat unique?
Dr. James Grubman: It is actually unique where much of the world is much more focused on family, and in a sense, the word “tribe,” a sort of a clan. And they see the strong individualist focus of Western culture as somewhat unusual and very self-centered in a way.
Steve Pomeranz: There’s a quote in the article: “In America we say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In Japan, people say that the nail that stands up gets hammered down.” That pretty much explains it, right?
Dr. James Grubman: It does. That we cherish, in the West, individualism, assertiveness, and self-sufficiency, when to the rest of the world, they don’t understand why family and the fact that drawing too much attention to yourself are neglected. And so, it’s a very different mindset, with much greater emphasis on family functioning and the collective family, elsewhere in the world.
Steve Pomeranz: So as globalism increases and families send their children out around the world for higher educations, and those younger people come back with different mores, different ideas of how they want to live their lives, they come back and perhaps find difficulty assimilating back in. And the families receiving them don’t really understand.
I want to read from an excerpt in the article:
“A daughter from a business family with an Honor Culture married and went to live in the United States, where she received her MBA and worked for a large corporation. Following tradition, she left her family’s business to join her husband’s family, but the marriage fell apart. After her divorce, she wished to rejoin her family’s business and return home to her country or return to her home country. Her father was open to bringing her back, but her tradition-oriented brothers were not. They felt if their sister rejoined the business, they would be diminished in the community. And they also did not like the prospect of losing some of their shares and collaborating with a woman. Her father, though, opened to her rejoining, wanted her to live in the family compound with the rest of the family. And how does one reconcile the daughter’s Westernized character and her cherished roots in the family?”
How would you counsel in a situation like this?
Dr. James Grubman: My colleague Dennis and I see this often. And what we do is, we actually help families do two things. One is, we really help them understand that this is cultural in nature and not individual personality. Many families feel that a daughter like this would be simply doing some type of betrayal of the family traditions or the family itself. And we help families frame it from a cultural standpoint, which tends to normalize it, defuse some of the tension, and provide an opening for the next step. The second step is using negotiation strategies and methods. I often work with families around the idea of clarifying what their shared interests are, rather than their differences. To use current, very modern negotiation techniques, of what’s called interest-based negotiation. To come toward compromise solutions. To focus on what everybody wants, if it can be managed, and to work out the differences. So by framing it in a cultural way, and then using negotiation, it works out.
Steve Pomeranz: So in this example, in order for the daughter to rejoin the business, what changes or accommodations would need to take place?
Dr. James Grubman: One of the things that happens is that the family discusses what they want for the business. What are their shared interests for the family enterprise? And in the modern world, for example, as you mentioned globalization, helping the brothers and the father understand the utility of having greater involvement of a woman in the business, was something that they did not think of and had to get used to, compared to their tradition. But they saw the utility of it.
For the daughter, for her to able to talk about what she wants, such as a little bit more freedom and recognition, but to be willing to blend back in with the family heritage, is something that she would clarify.
So, I help families start and maintain the discussion around areas of common interest, working out what’s needed for the business, and seeing if they can achieve some compromises together.
Steve Pomeranz: Now they wanted her to live in the family compound with the rest of the family. I’m sure that was not acceptable by her. What would have been the compromise there?
Dr. James Grubman: Well, what is interesting is, the compromise there was she agreed to maintain a residence in the family compound, but they agreed that she could also maintain a weekend residence elsewhere, where she was living more among very old friends that she had gotten from school, and that she had opportunities to have a different social life. So she agreed to participate in living in the family compound, and they granted her some freedom not to have to do that full-time. And by doing so, they achieved common goals.
Steve Pomeranz: So understanding, I think, is the key here. This idea to be able to incorporate the perspectives of other cultures. So the elders need to understand certain things. What would be some of the ideas, new ideas, they would need to adopt?
Dr. James Grubman: One of the most important things elders need to adopt is understanding that in a modern world, their children or grandchildren have options. For many elders, the tradition is, you come back and work in the family when I tell you to. And the idea that the younger generation might say ‘no’ and have other options is simply not thought of. So the elders need to really understand the new generation going off to be educated in London or Stanford or Miami, understand they have options in the world. And if the elders can come to accept that and not see that as a betrayal, but simply as a reality and a consequence of the education the elders paid for, they can be more open to it.
Steve Pomeranz: What about the younger generation? What in turn do they need to understand?
Dr. James Grubman: Very often, the younger generation needs to understand that they need to speak more respectfully and using a little more traditional language and cultural attitudes that will be understood by the elders, compared to what they’ve been learning in Individualist education. So they need to reconnect with their heritage and their roots, in a cultural sense, and do the negotiation with an understanding of where the family has come from.
Steve Pomeranz: A new perspective on the globalized world in which we live, Jim’s got a book, co-authored, that is coming out in January of 2016, entitled Cross Cultures: How Global Families Negotiate Change Across Generations. And Jim, what’s the best way, what website can people get to hear more about this?
Dr. James Grubman: This will be available on Amazon.com, either originally through my website JamesGrubman.com or directly from Amazon, sometime in the early part of 2016.
Steve Pomeranz: Thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. James Grubman: Thanks for having me.