Laroche, Lionel, PhD, PEng., Managing Cultural Diversity in Technical Professions

Reviewed by Dr. George Simons at   Amazon review

Culture 101 for Technical Professionals

Some books break new ground by introducing fresh concepts, others by applying well proven concepts to fresh contexts and audiences in down-to-earth and creative ways. Managing Cultural Diversity in Technical Professions is of the latter kind-it is Culture 101 for those who have followed the technical curriculum.

Culture, as Laroche points out, tends to be far from the minds of technical experts, engineers and scientific researchers. It does not show up in the data and procedures they work with. It does show up, however, in the disappointment, confusion, and even rancour that too often occur in these circles as those of different ilk attempt to cooperate with each other. These unpleasant aspects of collaboration are usually dismissed as personality deficiency or incompetence on the part of one party or both, usually in gritty language about, "loose cannons," "ruffled feathers," and "passing the buck." (The author even provides a glossary of such terms commonly occurring in North America). Their cost to progress and profit is rarely counted.

Wisely, the author, who has his feet firmly planted in both technical and educational worlds, enables the reader to identify cultural dimensions in the behaviors they commonly produce or experience in others by telling stories that readers can immediately recognize. To these he applies the boilerplate of cultural theory, building upon Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions and the insights of others who have applied and expanded this seminal work. Power distance, individualism, risk aversion all come to life in the daily encounters that affect productivity, synergy and career advancement.

Understanding a cultural difference or conflict still does not resolve it. Managing Cultural Diversity in Technical Professions does not leave us in theoretical speculation but repeatedly asks and answers the questions, "What can you do?" with very practical advice and tips, and, "What can you gain?" with a clear expectations of how ones management skills, interpersonal competence, and career path can benefit from expanding one's intercultural response repertoire.

The result is both a very readable and well documented text, addressing the common misunderstandings and frictions between what Laroche carefully defines as Americans and New Americans when it comes to management, teamwork, decision-making, feedback, making presentations, humor, and a host of other human interactions that technical people are involved in. Essentially written for the North American workplace in language, style, and presentation, the book can nonetheless find a place in global management curricula and training efforts. Certainly, it belongs in the hands of any intercultural trainer who has been interrupted with the question, "Can you give me a concrete example of that?" when presenting a point of cultural theory to a hard-nosed technical audience.

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