Perspectives from Relational Economics: What are the implications of a focus on commonalities?

In a session of our Working Group “Transcultural Cooperation & Leadership”, we discussed the conceptual and practical implications of a relational approach on cultural complexity together with Professor Josef Wieland, Director of Zeppelin University’s Leadership Excellence Institute and Founder of the Transcultural Caravan. This blog post is intended to touch on a selection of thoughts from this session and to encourage further exploration of the topic.

The role of culture in the theory of relational economics

In the exchange with Josef Wieland, it was discussed that in times in which value creation happens predominantly in global networks, which are characterized by cultural complexity, the question of culture becomes a relevant factor of relational economics. In this context, culture can be described as a productive resource for public and private value creation, and at least two economic effects of culture can be identified: First, cultural complexity may have negative consequences (such as misunderstandings or different perceptions) which lead to frictions in the governance of worldwide cooperation and need to be mitigated in order to economize on relational costs. Second, however, transcultural management may bear the positive potential to help to enhance the corridor of cooperation between organizations by influencing the willingness and capability to cooperate. In this spirit, transcultural management is a direct factor in providing and stabilizing opportunities for cooperative value creation. This shows that, from an economic point of view, the understanding and accepting of cultural differences is important, but it is not the only relevant issue. An economic perspective is rather interested in transcultural management because it is considered a value creating factor to create new commonalities in worldwide economic processes. 

The relational point of view

To explain the behavior of actors not based on their preferences but based on their complex relations has far-reaching implications, which were discussed in the working group session. Correspondingly, a shift in focus from the individual to the individual in relations includes the observation that different decision logics and values provide a situation-specific and dynamic context for interaction and the creation of shared meaning, for example in bargaining situations. In such constellations of cultural complexity, predictions of behavior can hardly be made, and competence cannot only rely on country-specific knowledge or categories; rather, it is a matter of adaptive mechanisms and allowance of local interpretations, and a closer look at the governance of meaning in a cultural process might be a promising endeavor. A relational point of view thus tries to overcome dualistic understandings and can be seen as a method. In this spirit, Josef Wieland’s talk encourages us to think about the organization and creation of shared meaning in a world of economic and cultural complexity. 

Potentials of considering and using cultural commonalities

When asked about strengthening the relational factor in training and teaching formats, Josef Wieland pointed out that it might be helpful to look not only at national cultures, but also at the professional culture because most professions around the world have some commonalities to start practical cooperation and learning. What seems to be important here is that transcultural learning is not just done in educational formats but is the result of practical experience, where the involved persons accept that they live in diversity and complexity and have to find ways to deal with it. This may happen in so-called Communities of Practice, a micro-management approach to create a sphere of mutual learning and unfold a sense of belonging (rather than identity!), where people share some interests without necessarily sharing the same values and give their best to cooperate and create something together. Following the working group discussion, to create a situation in which a sense of belonging to a practical project is key could be one of the implications of a relational concept as a way to approach cultural complexity and the mutual learning opportunities it may provide in real-life constellations. In this case, the focus shifts to existing and new commonalities – and not to similarities – considering them as temporary and context-specific resources of cooperation. Such an understanding of commonalities would then also include the recognition that they are not the opposite of differences, but that both are related to each other. The exchange with Josef Wieland showed that exciting conceptual and practical questions may lurk here about the nature and consequences of commonalities and differences as being in relation. 

Is the term “competence” still appropriate?

One member of the working group raised the question whether a new term is required to meet the relational perspective discussed here. According to Josef Wieland, the term competence gains increasing importance, as the ongoing discussions on how to define exactly what it means have shown. In his view, the concept of transcultural competence can then be rethought towards a process category that refers to the ability and willingness to relate different cultural events and meanings in a mutually useful way for all participants. In the end, it is about finding a way to relate all the different actors, logics and decision procedures to do the best next step together. This means that one cannot optimize or maximize the output of a certain situation but create adaptive governance structures to continue cooperation.

To pursue such questions further seems to us to be a rewarding project for the working group – we are looking forward to it and thank Josef Wieland and all participants for these exciting and inspiring thoughts!

Here you can find a talk of Josef Wieland on the topic “A Relational View on Transcultural Competence”, held at our research conference in June 2020:

Are you curious to learn more about the Transcultural Caravan?

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The learning journey of our working group moves on – we would be delighted if you joined us: we meet every first Tuesday in a month, please contact:

Julika B. Montecinos, Tobias Grünfelder and Jessica G. Schwengber

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