Competing in complex cross-cultural world Philosophical insights from Yin-Yang

Yadong Luo, Qinqin Zheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Purpose - The purpose this paper is to comment on the "Global Implications of the Indigenous Epistemological System from the East: How to Apply Yin-Yang Balancing to Paradox Management" (Li, 2016), which is a timely and important piece. Li (2016) offers epistemological insights into what Yin-Yang is, why Yin-Yang can serve as a guiding frame of thinking and how to apply this frame of thinking to paradoxical issues to organizations that compete in a complex cross-cultural world. Western management philosophies and perspectives have dominated the mainstream theories in organization and management around the world over the past five decades, paying very limited attention and appreciation to Eastern philosophies that exist already for over 2,500 years (e.g. 551-479 BC's Confucianism). In this commentary, the authors added more explanations, suggesting that given intensified complex and competing needs to fulfill for today's businesses, the indigenous Eastern epistemological wisdom of Yin-Yang balancing is an important guide to understand paradoxes and tensions. Yin-Yang balancing provides a holistic comprehension concerning the complex reality. It treats two opposite elements of any paradox as partial trade-off as well as partial synergy within a spectrum of holistic and dynamic balancing. The authors reinforce that the duality perspective has good potential to help them better understand the process of a multitude of conflictual and competing needs organizations must simultaneously accomplish. This potential is deemed to work not merely for firms competing in the East or other developing countries but can extend to organizations, large or small, in the West or developed countries as well. Design/methodology/approach - This commentary echoes Li's (2016) point that Yin-Yang balancing has significant and extensive applications when a growing number of organizations, local and foreign, are compelled to become ambidextrous when facing complex new business realities and having to deal with intensified competing needs they have to simultaneously, interactively and dynamically satisfy. This commentary discusses some distinctive characteristics of Eastern philosophies, followed by articulation of some critical lacuna, the authors think, concerning the Yin-Yang duality that should be answered. In this commentary, the authors amplify Li's main points, along with the suggested agenda for future research that can further develop Yin-Yang balancing to a theory of managing paradox. Findings - Eastern philosophies have long been dominated by five pillars or five schools of mastery thoughts originating mainly from China - Confucianism (Ru Jia), Taoism (Tao Jia), Legalism (Fa Jia), Militarism (Bing Jia) and Buddhism (Fu Jia). The Yin-Yang philosophy is one of the central notions of Taoism which teaches us how to act in accordance with nature. Founded by Laozi and Zhuangzhi, Taoism is rooted in an understanding of the "way" (i.e. Tao), which is the shapeless force that brings all things into existence and then nurtures them. That is, Tao means the natural course, which is spontaneous, eternal, nameless and indescribable. Unlike Confucianism, Taoism favors philosophical anarchism and pluralism. Tao manifests itself through natural principles or philosophies, including Yin-Yang duality, circular nature of changes, wu-wei (natural course of action), and harmony with internal and external environments. Research limitations/implications - The authors endorse Li's (2016) view that Western and Eastern management philosophies have their respective strengths and weaknesses, neither one alone is sufficient to manage all types of problems. Thus, a better solution is the one that can integrate Eastern and Western epistemological systems into a geocentric meta-system. The world is entering into a globally interconnected era, requiring both the organic complexity and ambiguity and the mechanistic simplicity and clarity. Increased global interconnectivity accentuates complexity and interdependence while increased competition fortifies dynamism and uncertainty. This will cause more, not less, paradoxes than before. To this end, Yin-Yang balancing is an audacious and judicious frame of thinking toward paradoxes because this philosophy embodies a unique ability to address the key challenges of ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty and embraces multiplicity, diversity and inter-penetrability. Practical implications - After centuries of Western economic dominance, China, India and the rest of the East, alongside emerging economies more broadly, are beginning to challenge the West for positions of global industry leadership. At a deeper level, the transformation from "West Leads East" to "West Meets East" heralds the need for ambidextrous or ambicultural thinking: making simultaneous use of opposites, or simultaneously balancing seemingly contradictory forces and needs, such as efficiency and flexibility, competition and cooperation, stability and adaptation, exploitation and exploration, global and local, privatization and state-ownership, market-based and relationshipbased strategies, individualism and collectivism, and long term and short term. Social implications - Epistemological system in the West, including Aristotle's formal logic and Hegel's dialectical logic, are insufficient for effectively managing high complexity and high ambiguity. While Yin-Yang balancing suits well to confront today's new challenges. The authors must acknowledge that Yin-Yang balancing is not a guiding solution solving all problems nor is it the only managerial philosophy that should prevail or dominate in the East and the West. But still, as firms, with a global scope, are compelled to be more organizationally ambidextrous, Yin-Yang balancing or a duality view becomes a more important underpinning frame of thinking. Originality/value - Enlightened by Yin-Yang balancing, there is a great potential of co-evolution, convergence and co-reinforcement of different philosophies. It will not be easy for any single study to reveal a roadmap for this, but it is feasible for the management research community to finally make the trip with the continuous and collective efforts. SomeWestern management theories, such as organizational ambidexterity, loose coupling, collaborative competitive advantage, co-opetition, transnational solution (integrated global integration and local responsiveness), to name a few, share some core values of Yin-Yang balancing, even though such sharing has never been articulated explicitly. Similar to the same difficulty facing any other philosophies to be transformed into actionable theories, the authors have a long journey to navigate in quest for extending Yin-Yang balancing to a universally accepted theory of managing paradoxes. Li's (2016) article sheds much light forthe authors to forge ahead to this direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)386-392
Number of pages7
JournalCross Cultural and Strategic Management
Volume23
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 29 2016

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Keywords

  • Eastern philosophy
  • Paradox management
  • Yin-Yang

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management

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