Clash! 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are; Novel thinking about conflict and co-operation

uly 3, 2013 5:15 pm

Novel thinking about conflict and co-operation

Review by Trisha Andres

Clash! 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are

By Hazel Markus and Alana Conner (Hudson Street Press, $25.95)


Should Mark Zuckerberg lose the trademark hooded sweatshirt when he goes to meet investors in Wall Street? According to the authors of Clash! – a manual for navigating cultural divisions in the modern world – the answer is a resounding yes. They write: “In Silicon Valley, his attire isn’t a problem; Steve Jobs broke the CEO dress code a generation before when he adopted a black turtleneck and jeans as his power suit. But on button-down Wall Street Zuck’s hoodie causes an uproar. The Northeast establishment sees the young entrepreneur’s refusal to don at least a jacket when he is in New York as a sign of disrespect.” The book splits people ac­cording to two modes of operating: independent and interdependent – with the former better at adapting to and mimicking those across various cultural divides. “Independent selves view themselves as individual, unique, influencing others and their environments, free from constraints and equal,” the writers explain.On the other hand, interdependent selves regard themselves as “relational, similar to others, adjusting to their situations, rooted in traditions and obligations, and ranked in pecking orders” – and typically consist of women, ethnic minorities and those from the developing world.

“By being interdependent in interdependent places, Zuckerberg could receive even more support,” argue Hazel Markus, a psychology professor at Stanford University, and Alana Conner, a psychologist and science writer.

Their book sometimes feels like merely an elaboration of the centuries-old maxim: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. However, its strength is the wealth of research deployed to explore this advice as the authors examine different types of cultural tensions in the workplace and beyond, and ways of dealing with difference.

The eight typical clashes of the book’s title that are used to illustrate the independent-interdependent dichotomy include frictions between people of different genders, ethnicities, classes, religions, regions and workplaces, as well as the broader collisions between the east and west, and the developing and developed world.

Case studies that are employed to ground the authors’ thesis in the real world of business include Zappos, the online shoe retailer that encourages managers to spend 10-20 per cent of their time “goofing off” with other employees to help develop relational skills and nurture work friendships. This emphasis on relationship-building is part of the company’s commitment to an interdependent ethos.

The authors also look at how hallmarks of a rigid independent mindset can hamper co-operation in business. They highlight the aborted partnership between Intel and the makers of the XO or $100 laptop, the not-for-profit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). The partnership, which in 2007 saw Intel pledge funds and expertise to OLPC to help produce its inexpensive laptops aimed at children in developing countries, ended in friction over Intel’s own low-cost machine, the Classmate PC. The authors contend that the chief obstacle was that neither organisation valued its obligations to the other, so they were unable to operate inter­dependently.

The book provides plenty of fascinating observations that presume a high level of cultural determinism. However, these presumptions can make for somewhat outdated and sometimes preposterous advice. For example, the authors recommend that people of colour “make a white friend” to better succeed in the workplace and help break down racial barriers. In today’s multicultural world, this seems not just rudimentary but also reductive.


Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are

by Hazel Rose Markus  (Author) , Alana Conner  (Author)

Are you independent–individual, unique, and in control of your world? Are you interdependent–relational, similar to others, and good at adjusting to situations?
Or are you both?
In Clash!, leading cultural psychologists Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner show us how our cultural backgrounds create and reflect these two basic ways of being a self, which then shape everything from how we run our governments to how we raise our children.
Markus and Conner also demonstrate how clashes between independence and interdependence fuel many of today’s most pressing conflicts, including tensions between East and West, the Global North and Global South, men and women, blacks and whites, conservative and liberal, religious groups, rich and poor, and businesses, governments, and nonprofits.
Provocative and entertaining, Clash! offers solutions to many of the problems that plague our workplaces, schools, and relationships. For readers of The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille and The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, it doesn’t just explain who we are, it also envisions who we could become.

Editorial Reviews


“This book is a passkey that opens many doors. Using one simple principle, Clash! explains some of the most bedeviling cultural divides in our workplaces and communities.  It’s mandatory reading for teachers, managers, and parents who want to raise their kids to succeed in a multicultural world.” –Chip Heath, PhD, coauthor, Decisive: How To Make Better Choices in Life and Work and Switch: How To Change When Change Is Hard
“What a brilliant, eye-opening book! Filled with insight, and based on fascinating original research, Clash! offers a way to understand and break through some of the deepest cultural divides of our time. It’s a page-turner – fun, witty, engagingly written.” –Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
“If you fear that cultural, political, and class differences are tearing America apart, read this important book to learn how we can turn some of our differences into strengths.” –Jonathan Haidt, PhD, author of The Righteous Mind
“Clash! offers deep insights into how our cultures and culture clashes make us who we are, and how that matters for success in the 21st century. Everyone should read this book.” –Carol S. Dweck, PhD, author of Mindset
“In these days of heedless enthusiasm for gene maps and brain scans, Clash! reminds us that human beings are, above all, culture-bearing, culture-sharing, and culture-shaping animals. This thoroughly engaging book shows that to know a person, one must know a culture.” -Barry Schwartz, PhD, author of The Paradox of Choice and Practical Wisdom

From the Author

As the world gets smaller, hotter, and flatter, people from different cultures are colliding like never before:
1) East Asian students now dominate Western schools and workplaces, yet crash into the so-called “bamboo ceiling” before reaching the top.
2) Women are getting stuck as they rocket up the corporate ladder, while men are falling off the ladder altogether.
3) The have-nots still struggle in the classrooms of the haves, widening the gap between rich and poor.
4) Many Blacks, Latinos, and other people of color know that discrimination keeps them down, while many Whites sincerely believe that race no longer matters.
5) The politics of conservative Protestants frighten Americans of other religions, while the politics of more mainstream traditions infuriate the conservatives.
6) Midwesterners and Southerners get depressed when they relocate to the Coasts, and vice versa.
7) Despite the need for more collaboration, partnerships between governments, businesses, and nonprofits too often fail.
8) Governments in the Global North and Global South still can’t agree about what counts as “fair,” “honest,” and “efficient.”
Although each of these eight conflicts seems unique, we reveal that many stem from the same root cause: the tension between people using the independent, separate, and in-control side of their selves, versus people using the interdependent, connected, and adjusting side. We also show how people can nudge their cultures to call forth their best selves. By knowing when and how to use our different selves, we may not just survive, but thrive in the 21st century.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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