One significant way Asian cultures differ from Western cultures is that they place group identity over individual identity. This factor limits the ability of Asians to think outside the box.
I had the opportunity to learn much about group identity in Asian cultures while living in Japan for the past year and a half and traveling to other Asian countries. Asian societies are generally less tolerant of diversity and difference than Western societies. They are more uniform and homogenous.
The importance of group identity in these societies manifests itself in several ways.
First, family names precede given names throughout much of the region. This family-name-first pattern reflects the concept that the family is more valued than the individual. Second, arranged marriage still exists in several Asian countries. An arranged marriage differs from a love marriage in that it essentially represents the merging of two families rather than the union of two individuals.Third, queuing is not practiced in many Asian cultures. Instead of waiting in line for their turn, people often cluster as a group toward the front.
These are but a few examples of how Asians value group identity over individual identity. In cultures that place more value on group identity, groupthink often occurs. In a groupthink environment, the factors that lead to innovative ideas are discouraged. These factors include taking risks, breaking rules and challenging assumptions.
People who may have truly innovative ideas do not feel comfortable expressing them in a groupthink environment because they would be viewed as nonconforming and disruptive. In an increasingly globalized and competitive world where innovation is critical to any nation's economic and national security, extra barriers to innovation come at an extremely high price.
Bill Costello, via e-mail
Readers' comments are welcome. Please send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or to the individual columnists. China Daily reserves the right to edit all letters. Thank you.
(China Daily 05/28/2010 page9)