Global? How about Worldly?

30 January 2015

Do we need more globalization on this globe? Or more worldliness in this world?

In an earlier TWOG, I described our International Masters in Practicing Management (, comprising five 10-day modules, each focusing on a managerial mindset—for example the Reflective Mindset (the module held in England) and the Collaborative Mindset (the one held in China). There is also a module concerned with the social, political, and economic issues that surround organizations. We could have called it the Global Mindset. Instead we decided to call it the Worldly Mindset.

Why? Because we want the managers to come out of our program more personally worldly than commonly global. Global implies a certain cookie-cutter conformity—everyone subscribing to a common set of beliefs, techniques, and styles. Is this any way to foster the innovation needed by so many organizations? In our classrooms, the managers learn by reflecting on their own experience and sharing their insights with each other. We celebrate their uniqueness, not their sameness.

Consider the definitions of these two words, from The Pocket Oxford Dictionary:

global : adj. 1. worldwide (global conflict). 2. all-embracing

worldly : adj. 1. of the affairs of the world, temporal, earthly (worldly goods). 2. experienced in life, sophisticated, practical.

Global may be “all-embracing”, about the whole world, but worldly digs into the experiences of this world, bringing together the “sophisticated” with the “practical”--a most interesting combination of words. That’s the difference between a Masters in Business Administration and a Masters of Practicing Management. One claims to teach wannabe managers to see the big picture—at least from on high—while the other encourages practicing managers to construct these pictures from their own experiences on the ground. Which would you like to be running your company?

The Worldly Mindset takes place, not coincidently, at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. India is another world for the non-Indian managers in the program; indeed in some sense India is otherworldly. Arriving at the first running of this module, in 1997, I shared a taxi from the airport with an American manager who worked for Lufthansa. Judging from her reaction to that ride, it was a good thing that we were not in a rickshaw! A few days later she asked one of the professors “How can you possibly drive in this traffic?” He replied nonchalantly: “I just join the flow.” Welcome to the Worldly Mindset! That’s not chaos out there, but another world, with a logic of its own.

At this module, the mangers are not voyeurs, touring some foreign country. They are hosted by colleagues from that country, just as they host these colleagues at modules in their own country (including Rio in Brazil on the Action Mindset and Montreal in Canada on the Analytic Mindset). Two weeks ago, at this module in Bangalore, Professor Srinivasan started her presentation on The Cultural Dimension of Doing Business with: “I want you to see this through my eyes!” That’s the spirit of the worldly mindset!

We may talk a lot about “global”, but most managers are firmly local— rooted in their own cultures. That includes many of the most international companies, not to mention the headquarters themselves. Businesses today need people to be more worldly—down the hall as well as around the globe. Why impose conformity when so much can be learned from diversity?

But we cannot stop with instilling a better sense of other people’s worlds. More important is the use of that insight to instil a more profound sense of our own world. We don’t need managers who roam the globe to spread a single perspective. We need managers who appreciate different worlds because of how deeply they understand their own world. T.S. Eliot put it marvellously in his most famous lines of poetry:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

So let’s encourage all of us, managers included, to know our world for the first time.

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg