How to make it all work in India… or not?

I am currently reading How to Make it All Work by David Allen. Only half way through so still digesting how to best harness my intuition, spontaneity and serendipity. But it has definitely got me thinking. I wonder also how it applies in various cultural environments… and if it is relevant. I recently wrote a paper as part of my Masters in International & Community Development on cross-cultural communication looking specifically at Australia and India. Two contrasting cultural environments, where the approach to task completion  and how to get things done is strikingly different.

There are numerous theoretical models which exist and can be applied to explain the existence of the different cultural values. I wanted to share this section from my research report on one of these – the idea of polychronic versus monochronic cultures – which determines how you approach various tasks. It compares the different approaches to learning to drive.

Polychronic and monochronic value orientations

Edward Hall, American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher proposed the idea of a continuum in time orientation to explain the different approach to completing activities. He observed that differences in space utilisation and the priorities given to human relationships over task accomplishment vary with monochronic and polychronic cultural orientations. A monochronic culture has a linear and structured way of thinking and emphasises task completion. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a polychronic culture in which ‘people change plans, borrow and lend things more frequently, emphasize relationships rather than tasks and privacy, and build long-term relationships with family members, friends and business partners’ (Bluedorn et al).

The Indian culture typically illustrates a polychronic orientation, and Australia a monochronic orientation (Dodd 1998). The different approaches to driving in each culture as presented by my colleague Tarun and also by my mother, perfectly illustrate the contrasting orientations:

When I learnt to drive in India I was told never to leave a gap because someone else would take it. And to always blow my horn so then people know I am there. When I came to Australia I thought this is the way it is suppose to be. But it is boring. People only drive in straight lines. When I returned to India, it took me a month to build the confidence to drive again. It was crazy..

This experience shared by Tarun illustrates a learned polychronic orientation and then a shock when place in a monochronic environment. This is the mirror image of my mother’s recollection of driving in India, where she experienced cultural shock in taking her monochronic orientation to a polychronic environment:

We drove out of the airport and turned onto a newly laid freeway. There were three lanes meant for each direction with a dividing concrete strip down the middle. But no-one took any notice – of the direction or the lanes. There were buses and trucks going well over 100k an hour and a buffalo drawn cart coming the wrong way up the freeway. Everyone was swerving and tooting. There were cows sleeping in the middle of the road. We just went around them. And then all of a sudden the new freeway stopped. No signs of warning. We just did a sharp right hand turn and were on a dirt road. Amazing.

At this stage (100 pages in), I am unsure how David Allen’s approach would work with/in the Indian culture. Good food for thought. On that note. It’s lunch time.