Book Review:
Asian Versus Western Management Thinking: Its Culture Bound Nature
Author: Kase, K., Slocum, A. & Zhavg, Y.

Kase, K., Slocum, A. & Zhavg, Y. (2011). Asian Versus Western Management Thinking: Its Culture Bound Nature Palgrave McMillan, London

Reviewed by: Samir R Chatterjee

A book examining the divergent philosophical roots of Western and Asian managerial approaches is a very timely contribution as the world’s economic engine is undeniably moving to Asia. Professor Kimio Kase of IESE Business School in Spain and his coauthors Alesia Slocum of St. Louis University and Ying Ying Zhang of Complutense University provide the readers with an insight research into the contrasting way managers conceptualise and cognitively orient themselves in the West and Asia. The book deals with this formidable task by outlining a significant review of literature outlined in four chapters and a number of case studies in eight annexure. In addition, there is a chapter describing the theoretical framework as well as one on research findings. In sum, it is a densely written research book which could be of value to intelligent practitioners.

The authors contend that Western managerial doctrines and ethos emphasise ‘form’ and mereture feel comfortable with conceptualisation and empirical investigation of managerial problems. In contrast, the Asians prefer to highlight ‘substance’, and, therefore, feel intuitive knowledge seeking as the primary goal. Asians not only accept circulatory nature of time, but also attach equal validity to tangible as well as intangible unobservable actions in contrast to the Western idea of linearity of time and preference for ‘objective’ analytical approach.

The main hypothesis the book addresses is to examine the fundamental differences in their approaches to learning by Asian and Western Managers. They argue that Asians are philosophically oriented to ‘inductive’ thinking, while Western Managers and management thinking underpin ‘deductive’ thinking. The book provides evidence tracing back to ancient Greece of the importance of ‘personal agency’ or independent thinking in the West, while the Asian emphasis on ‘collective agency’ is argued to be based on a Confucian inspired governance system. It is, therefore, a real challenge to accommodate the specific and temporal contexts and make the ‘one best way’ of managing relevant. Globalisation has necessitated the urgent imperative for management researchers to devote more attention in leveraging this diversity for the benefit of future generations of managers.

The authors outline three main aims of this book. Firstly, to parry an alternative evaluation of the theories of culture specifically popularised by Hofstede. Secondly, exploration of a new theoretical framework differentiating between Asian and Western managerial thinking. Thirdly, providing a fresh pedagogical basis for researchers, academics, and practitioners. Overall, the book contends that Western cognitive predisposition produced a very different epistemological and ontological basis which dominates the contemporary research literature and MBA course designs around the world. This, the authors argue, is because it is difficult to research and teach using ‘inductive’ cognitive paradigm. For example, it is argued that Japanese, Korean, Chinese or Indian management thinking are rooted in their respective tacit philosophical traditions, and, therefore, require alternative epistemological and cognitive mindsets.

In spite of its deep research and practical relevance, the book is not entirely accessible to practitioners and students mainly due to its structure. It is not clear why four out of seven chapters were devoted to separate literature reviews on various philosophical and psychological traditions. In addition, it is unclear why eight excellent case studies are listed as annexure and integrated into the main section of this book. Perhaps it would have added to the appeal of the book if the structure was more straight forward and also leveraged the case studies more directly to the main arguments.

The readers of RPHRM may find the eight case studies which form the basis of this book highly relevant. Specifically, the cases of Lenovo in China, Acer in Taiwan, Japanese Army and Virgin Finance throw new light as to the divergence, convergence and emerging crossvergence in the area of Human Resource concepts and practices. The story of narrow governmental mandate being engulfed by the forces of global market outlined in the Lenovo story could have been much more forcefully elucidated in the main section of the book. However, one has to agree that the book is a welcome addition in enhancing the contemporary managerial research by arguing the necessity of a ‘subjective’ domain to the quantitative and ‘objective’ basis of thinking.

Samir R Chatterjee
Curtin University