In David Mitchell’s Booker Prize-winning novel Cloud Atlas, one of the characters exists in a post-apocalyptic world in which corporates control everything; all forms of coffee have become known as “Starbucks”, all cameras are called “Nikons” and the golden arches (presumably representing McDonald’s) are perceived to be a temple.
Apocalypse aside, is this is what corporates yearn for: a world in which their brand name is synonymous with their product? Two of the aforementioned brands are moving towards this. Admit it. It is strangely comforting to see the green mermaid abroad when you want to order a mocha chocca latte.
McDonalds and Starbucks are leading the field in “glocalization” (a portmanteau of globalization and localization) because they have been able to adapt their products to the cultures of the regions in which they operate. In Japan, you can order McSushi; in Korea, McDonald’s will serve you a Beef Borgogi burger or, in India, a Maharaja burger. In France, the familiar face of Ronald McDonald has been replaced with Asterix the Gaul. UK branches of Starbucks serve a traditional English scone with afternoon tea, while in the US, an Oprah chai latte, where a percentage of the price goes to Oprah Winfrey’s charity, is an option for the socially responsible commuter.
Sociologist Roland Robertson coined the term glocalization, defining it as “the simultaneity of both universalizing and particularizing tendencies”. The concept now pervades business strategy, with multinational corporations encouraged to forge local roots. Glocalization seeks to involve local preferences and culture in products, to imply that global super-corporates are supporting the local communities in which they operate. Is this what globalization is really all about? Super-corporates competing with local traders, to make consumers believe they have always been there and understand their needs? I thought the age of empires and invasions had passed…
If editing Dialogue has taught me anything it is that global competition is a good thing, with ideas from business greats in emerging economies challenging the excepted norms of the so-called “developed” economies. Competition leads to higher levels of service and better quality products, supporting long-term global economic growth. But competition is nothing without collaboration. Dialogue aims to nurture global collaboration so that business leaders can generate game-changing business ideas.
Ironically, competition and collaboration are complementary strategies as the focus in this issue seeks to prove. Businesses with global aspirations should partner with companies operating in the foreign markets as the authors in our focus section (page 28) demonstrate. For example, Xiaodong Yang shares compelling research about cultural understanding when working with organizations in China, while Suzanne Rosselet gets to the core of the collaboration versus competition debate.
My view, as I write my last leader as editor of Dialogue, and move from commentator to entrepreneur, is that collaboration (with a dose of competition) could guide us through a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous economic storm. We must share ideas, cross-market products and continue to nurture that all-important dialogue.