The Dominance of “Western” Management Theories in South-East Asian Business Schools: The Occidental Colonization of the Mind

We don’t need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom.
Teacher, leave them kids alone.
Hey, Teacher, leave them kids alone!

Pink Floyd — Another Brick in the Wall

After the Second World War many South-East Asian nations had to work hard for independence from their colonial masters. After more than 50 years of self government in some cases, many of these nations have developed relative urban affluence where consumerism and enterprise dominates life. Career development and upward mobility often requires a diploma, degree, and post graduate qualifications.

However, a colonial hangover and psychological dependence still lingers on. All these awards, especially within the business, entrepreneurship, and management disciplines are heavily based upon “Western” theories and ideas, embedding the occidental mindset within the South-East Asian “psych”.

The dominance of occidental intellectual thought, particularly within economics, entrepreneurship, management, and organizational disciplines displays all the hallmarks of neo-colonialism through the backdoor.

Although governments of South-East Asia espouse their own respective national values and ‘ways of doing things’, the fact is that students are taught predominantly “western” ideas and values through local college and university systems.

Occidental sourced knowledge is accepted into South-East Asian societies without questioning. This is the last bastion of colonialism, the subliminal way the “west” imposes values upon others, without overtly being aware of it. What more, people pay for the indoctrination of these values.

No country can be truly independent until it espouses, teaches, and promotes its own indigenous ideas and values. South-East Asia may stand independent politically, gone a long way in achieving economic independence, but today still trapped within the syndrome of intellectual colonization. As business schools steadfastly stick to occidental business curriculum, former “western colonial masters” still dominate their ex-colonies, this time intellectually.

The spread of management education in South-East Asia

Business, entrepreneurship, and management courses are the fastest growing areas in South-East Asian education. Along with ICT, these are the most popular areas within both the private and public higher education sectors. The relatively low overhead and operational cost per cohort is a financial windfall for colleges and universities. Business education has become the cash-cow of colleges and universities within the region.

What makes these courses financially lucrative is the relatively low cost of teaching resources for basic courses compared to other disciplines. Very little infrastructure aside from classrooms and lecture theatres are required. A great number of business schools develop curriculum around an array of “international” edition US sourced textbooks on offer by the major educational publishers, strongly competing for business.

Consequently the intelligentsia of many business schools has looked inwardly, focusing their concerns upon quantity and numbers. The organization of the majority of regional business schools is based upon the best of what both Weber and Taylor had to offer.

They are bureaucratic diploma factories based upon single textbook unit courses, orientated around exams that at best measure memory and retention rather than creativity and the potential of the student to be innovative.

To cap it all off, these schools are burdened down with quality assurance processes at administrative and teaching levels. With the high time commitment needed to adhere to these processes, mediocrity is ensured through the rigidity these systems create. South-East Asian educators have succeeded in building the most ugly images of the western functionalistic organization, replicating organizations that existed in the industrial revolution.

The leaders and teaching staff of the region’s business schools have a preference for the imported hype of management gurus who are popular in the media, even if these positivist instruments are not directly suited to the different contexts and varied business situations within the local environment.

Consequently there is a blindness and adverseness for locally developed ideas and thinking. The majority of management and business consultants, speakers, and trainers either franchise, or copy western management tools and instruments they use. Perhaps it would not be exaggerated in saying that local academics educated in the “western” paradigm locally or abroad are mesmerized by international management gurus.

The great paradox of South-East Asian business and entrepreneurship education is that local higher education institutions espouse values within their respective cultural frameworks, but what is actually taught is distinctly “western”.

There is also a double paradox here. Although “western” techniques are taught, so many business practices are influenced by indigenous cultural considerations.

What is taught is directly threatening to many local business owners. This is the source of much generational conflict as the children of many successful Chinese businesses return home to Jakarta, Bangkok, and Manila after studying overseas and disagree with the way their parents operate the family business.

In addition many innovation management methods are seen to challenge the perceived right of “management prerogative” of Chinese owned and operated businesses.

The poor fit – cemented into the wall

There has been little debate about the fit between “western” management thinking and the make-up and behaviour of local corporations, entrepreneurs, and the general environment. As a consequence, the relevance of many theories has been accepted without question.

For example in the theory area, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is accepted into management curriculum where there may be many other more suitable theories and meta-theories that could be advanced. In the contextual area, the legal system, supply chain, where the emphasis on particular marketing tools should lie, interrelationships between people, which all could be described ‘as the way of doing things’, makes applying ‘western management theory’ challenging to say the least.

For example, human relationships among the ethnic Chinese in South-East Asia were once built upon trust based principles of personalization and quanxi[1]. This was considered necessary in developing South-East Asia where legal codes and contract enforcement were still in their infancy. The effect of this was to slow down the state of progress and limit the incorporation of new comers to an industry. This also restricted the input of new ideas and technology into firms within the region, a situation described in few textbooks.

The preference for the ‘latest popular’ management knowledge often leads to misinterpretations, as very few management and entrepreneur instructors actually have much first hand business experience. Thus rigid interpretations of management still influence entrepreneurship courses.

Many entrepreneurship courses advocate market research through focus groups, which are not suited to new to the world products in developing markets. Business plans are almost always at the central core of any curriculum where there is little evidence that planning leads to success in entrepreneurship[2].

Further business schools base much of the curriculum upon general misconceptions that both the media and imported textbooks that have evolved over the last 15 to 20 years have created. Entrepreneurship has been glorified by media stories, biographies of successful entrepreneurs, and events like ‘entrepreneurship week’, ‘business plan competitions’, and ‘entrepreneurship awards’. Course curriculum is shaped in the mold of the media made myths of hi-tech and high-growth entrepreneurs[3].

Business schools have developed inspiring spiels about becoming an entrepreneur. Many assumptions about firm behaviour, entrepreneurship, and innovation are based on myth rather than grounded research[4]. Some of these myths encapsulated within foreign textbooks infer that firms are perpetually entrepreneurial, when the concept of entrepreneurship is really only a description of firm start-ups and early growth period.

Contrary to the multitude of media stories and books on high tech entrepreneurship, very few start-ups are based upon innovation. Research has indicated time and time again that the majority of new firms are of a non-innovative nature. The average start-up is much more likely to be a cafeteria, sandwich bar, coffee shop, computer retailer, or some other form of retail outlet than something high tech.

Business curriculum largely ignores the importance of emotion in decision making. For example, identifying an opportunity and exploiting it may have as more to do with inner personal needs i.e., recognition, love and affection, power and control, self esteem, or grandeur, etc., as with any rational thought processes[5].

Case studies are usually about highly successful growth companies like Apple, Google, and Yahoo, etc. Students develop the belief that this is the norm rather than the exception. This is the ‘entrepreneurial growth myth’, the idea that firms need to grow into large firms in order to survive.

This ‘grow or die’ syndrome has been adopted by business schools around the region, making many small businesses feel pressured to seek expansion and strain the stability of the enterprise[6]. Proprietors of small or micro SMEs tend to be branded as un-ambitious failures with little relevance to society and considered part of the informal economy.

Today, like the ‘west’, South-East Asian society equates success with size[7]. The reality is that most firms have very little intention to grow.

The human race has sent a man to the moon, cured many diseases, mapped the human genome, descended to the deepest parts of the world’s oceans, but nobody can really be too sure of the reasons why one business is successful while another business fails. There are many types of businesses where it is extremely difficult to identify the elements of success, e.g. restaurants, boutiques, and spas, etc.

They rely on very tight (but not necessarily apparent) formulas for success, which the entrepreneur may not even understand. Also quite often what looks like a solid and viable opportunity appearing very straightforward and even gathering very favorable market research results, may fail dismally in the marketplace [8].

Some examples of spectacular market failures include Federal Express’s launch of ZAP Mail facsimile service in 1984, The Coca Cola Company’s launch of New Coke in 1985, and the launch of 3G video calling around 2003.

Management theories that have 10 rules, habits, or points that claim to lead to success, do not prove cause and effect. The mentioned elements may exist and correlate with success, but we aren’t really sure about causation. So many books mention the same companies, that it can’t be possible that all these companies are utilizing all these theories at once.

These positivist theories miss out on the complexities of organizations and the environments they exist within, and most often the points and issues that influence success and failure.

Implementing management theories as a checklist is potentially very dangerous. Checklists are just like putting a net into the ocean to see what can be picked up, where we assume that what is picked up is actually the essence of the ocean.

As W.Edwards Deming once said “you can only measure 3% of what matters.” Problems and opportunities arise out of imperfections and theories don’t handle imperfections well. Occidental management theory has reduced business thinking down to the lowest common denominator rather than preserved the complexity.

Business literature in South-East Asia is primarily US based which reflects the needs of a post industrial society rather than a developing economy[9]. This is partly responsible for one of the biggest tragedies of entrepreneurship education in the region.

Very little if any focus is given to various technologies that a potential entrepreneur will require in a new business. The acquisition of technology is one of the greatest difficulties SMEs in developing countries face and little is done within the education sphere to solve this problem.

A graduating student may have acquired some general business skills but has little or no knowledge or access to the means to acquire the knowledge to develop a farm, a small engineering shop, a food manufacturing operation, or a cosmetic manufacturing operation.

One can see around the ASEAN region that it is the non-business schools that show innovation with their outreach programs while business schools fall into the trap of cashing in on their BBA, MBA, and now DBA programs.

US textbooks are based upon the premises of the US secondary school system which is very different in content and method than schools in the South-East Asian region. In addition, due to the different stages of economic and social development the types of industries and contemporary issues are different between the ‘west’ and South-East Asia[10].

Where elements of creativity are added to a course, tools like Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats are introduced with very little application to the real world problems that an entrepreneur might face.

Entrepreneurship has become seen as a ‘quick fix’ in providing a career[11]. Business schools in the region have structured curriculum in a way that may build false hopes within the student cohort.

For example subjects like entrepreneurial finance and business plan give students the impression that institutional finance is accessible, where current lending practice in developing countries is extremely risk averse and primarily collateral based lending[12].

Business schools teach the paradigm of growth where research clearly shows that the majority of entrepreneurs are not seeking to develop high growth business models.

The resulting errors and mistakes – “I don’t need no arms around me”

Evolving South-East Asian business and entrepreneurship curriculum has followed the post industrial models with a number of errors and mistakes. Due to the developing nature of most South-East Asian economies, there should be an emphasis on manufacturing which should include new product development and manufacturing line and system development.

However ‘cut and paste’ curriculum from business schools in post industrial societies have largely dropped manufacturing from their curriculum due to the cohort interest in the services sector, where opportunities exist. This leads to a mismatch of what South-East Asian business schools offer and what business and entrepreneurship students need.

As a result business and entrepreneurship graduates flood out into the market place without any technology skills[13], crowding the services sector which is not creating extra employment or real economic growth. Business and entrepreneurship graduate employability is a major issue facing South-East Asian economies today.

Today many ‘roundtable’ discussion forums on business and entrepreneurship are run by major universities around the world with the objective of disseminating the latest information on theory and pedagogy. Many of these are focused upon method and delivery of entrepreneurial education.

However at the time of writing very few South-East Asian business schools have benefitted in the classroom from these ‘roundtables’. South-East Asian delivery methods are still very much lecture orientated with textbook content, with a few, but increasing number of adjunct activities.

These two issues, technology and pedagogy require some deep thinking on the part of the intelligentsia of South-East Asian business schools. Content and delivery espoused and demonstrated at ‘roundtables’ need to be closely examined, experimented with, and utilized  with close adaptation to the needs of South-East Asian cohorts.

This is the challenge that requires a large investment in time and staff resources to create the curriculum and delivery methods necessary to meet the needs of the students and nation.

To compound the above, governments and corporations have a positive disposition for foreign advisors and consultants, shunning their own. There is a negative disposition toward ‘locals’.

Foreign advisors and consultants are most often sort in the misconception that their advice will be superior to local advisors and consultants, even though foreigners may have little real understanding of local context. This doesn’t occur because of any vacuum in knowledge and wisdom of local academics.

In fact many South-East Asian academics are very successful in other universities around the world. Some have written very sound academic dissertations and hypothesis but fail to get them published through the publishers that can bring them to mass popularity. Rather they sell a few hundred copies and can be found gathering dust on library shelves.

Part of this preference for foreign expertise is based on the belief that something imported is better, an old colonial hangover. However the cost of this hangover is holding back indigenous intellectual development and preserving the state of neo-colonialism at a time when the US and Europe are far from possessing a monopoly of new ideas.

The irony of it all “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding”

Asian business and management has been of great interest to many ever since the rise of Japan Inc. During the 1980s, a multitude of writers, some of them top academics and management gurus espoused Asian management ideas to the ‘west’.

Japanese success in the US and European markets was explained by numerous authors as well thought out marketing strategies[14], a strategic mindset[15], superior productivity[16], organizational culture[17], specific cultural practices and a shared commitment[18], a special nexus between government, business, and the banking system[19], and innovation[20].

Asian authors like Kenichi Ohmae brought intuitiveness into strategy at a time it was becoming overly analytical. In addition he provided a reorientation towards the customer in the firm’s strategy, at a time when marketing theory was becoming too structured.

This interest in Asian management extended into the 1990s where many authors espoused the reasons for success of the Asian tigers due to work ethics, culture, low cost base, rising levels of innovation, government sponsored capitalism, the role of the overseas Chinese[21], quanxi[22], growing domestic markets, and well thought out strategies[23].

Most literature on Asian management was positivist and instrumentalist rather than reflective which could be seen with the titles using words like ‘how’, ‘new competition’, ‘success’, and ‘challenge’, etc. Culture and philosophy had been superficially mentioned and a multitude of books about ‘Confucius’[24], ‘Sun Tzu’[25], ‘Buddhist management[26]’, and ‘Islamic business[27]’, were published.

A second generation of business and management books focusing upon China and to a lesser degree India is upon us. Books in this latest era are focused upon the nouveau entrepreneurs of the region, who they are, how they organize themselves and became successful[28]. In essence there has been no shortage of “Asian” ideas in management going across to the ‘west’.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s many academics became interested in the connections between Confucianism and the spectacular rise of the Asian Tigers.

Some argued that Confucius was opposed to modernization as it didn’t advocate individualism, common to the Western characteristics of entrepreneurship, was too dependent on guidance, emphasized an all round development of personality to harmonise with the environment, which discouraged aggressiveness and encouraged traditionalism, rather than modernisation[29].

However Tu suggested that individualism is a Western mode of capitalism and East Asian had developed another model based on relationships to develop change through consensus and networks, with a sense of personal discipline[30]. Confucianism was criticized for lack of profit motive, as his philosophies discouraged self-motivation and that merchants were not included in Confucius set of key relationships.

However, through responsibility and obligation to family, other motives exist, such as their well-being[31], and treatment of those inside and outside an individual’s universe of relationships will be different, i.e., outsiders treated with respect but caution, more adversarial, rather than brotherly relationship.

Confucianism is also criticized for its lack of innovation, whereas the reality of Chinese business has been to seek ways to control an existing market, rather than create new value through innovation[32].

However there are two interesting concepts within Confucianism that are very relevant to corporate wisdom, a concept that will most probably have a revival in popularity in contemporary management thinking in the near future.

The first is the Tao, the way of life and Te, potency and self-sacrificial generosity with humility, with the moral power of attraction and transformation, associated with these qualities. The humanistic attribute required to achieve the above is through Ren, which means love, kindness and goodness, qualities of the perfect individual.

This is the essence of what makes humans different from other members of the animal kingdom. Failure to develop Ren would lead an individual to quickly develop foregone conclusions, dogmatism, obstinacy and egotism, which would block wisdom and prevent people from making new insights and discoveries, as one’s mind must remain open to become wiser.

Li is the expression of Ren in a social context through norms, rites and rituals governing ceremonies according to one’s social position. Through Li, the individual expresses his respect and reverence for others[33].

Another important aspect of Confucian thought mentioned above is Yi or righteousness. This is where self interest is subservient to organizational interest. Yi is practiced through cultivating ritual and etiquette and eventually becomes second nature.

Zhi or wisdom is the ability to apply the above virtues into life situations which implies an understanding of the Confucian worldview above. Zhi is therefore much more than knowledge. Finally one must possess Xin or trustworthiness to safeguard the mission of the organization. Romar suggested that Confucian ethics are very similar to the ideas developed by Peter Drucker[34].

The tremendous economic growth in Asia after the Second World War was labeled as ‘Confucian capitalism”[35]. Hofstede postulated that culture is a prime determinant of performance and Confucianism dictates hierarchical organizational structure, preserving values, and thrift, which were all seen as organizational drivers of economic growth[36].

One of the side effects of Confucianism is nepotism and thus the creation of lack of transparency, corruption, and inefficiency[37]. Some scholars labeled this as one of the prime reasons of the 1997 Asian financial crisis[38][39]. Interest in Asian business and management declined with the Japanese bubble bursting and the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

This occurred at a time when there was a small re-emergence of US industry where the Asian myth was broken and it was back to business as usual[40]. US industry became equipped with new paradigms that would solve all their competitive problems packed up in new management philosophies that would bring a new arrogance in executive management, thinking they were envisioned for the future.

Tools and slogans like the ‘Value Chain’, ‘Strategic alliances’, ‘Strategic innovation’, ‘Lean Manufacturing’, ‘Business Process Re-engineering’, ‘Balanced Score Card’, ‘Benchmarking’, ‘TQM’, ‘branded derivatives’, ‘Quality Management Systems’, ‘Zero defects’, ‘Performance Measurement’, ’Excellence Model’, and ‘Six Sigma’ instilled new found confidence.

Many of these ideas developed as a ‘quick fix’, within a rapidly growing consulting industry.

Another example of Asian influence on the ‘west’ is the claim that Chinese business success is related to the doctrines of Sun Tzu[41]. This may have some positive bearing in the business strategies of some businesses, which are quoted as examples in books[42], and Sun Tzu’s philosophies have certainly influenced writers[43].

But as other authors have commented in the Asian SME context, most businesses start out finding the correct business strategies by nothing more than trial and error until they find a successful set of strategies for their businesses[44].

Very few business entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia until recently have been educated past secondary school and although Sun Tzu is known to Western business scholars, it is highly doubtful whether many Chinese are familiar with his works on strategy.

However there is some evidence that the educated Chinese public service over the centuries did use these texts in forming the strategies of Chinese state[45]. It is claimed that Sun Tzu’s doctrine influenced Admiral Yamamoto in planning the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mao Tse-Tung’s philosophies, the Vietnamese General Vö Nguyên Giáp’s strategies that led to victories over the French and American forces in Vietnam, Che Gueverra’s revolutionary and guerrilla tactics in South America, and the Gulf war campaigns and resulting insurgencies[46].

It also appears that the doctrines of Sun Tzu were studied by Western military scholars[47] and the early business schools took some interest in The Art of War in the 1950s and 60s when the concepts of business and corporate strategy was being pioneered.

Strategy as a war paradigm became very popular in the United States with a number of ‘bestsellers’ like Barrie James ‘Business War Games’, and Al Ries and Jack Trout’s ‘Marketing Warfare’[48] in the 1980s and has become part of contemporary marketing terminology[49].

In addition Sun Tzu has become part of popular culture influencing films like the Star Wars Trilogy, Wall Street, The Sopranos (HBO), The Art of War, and Die Another Day. The influence of Sun Tzu on Asian business has probably been through these western influences, rather than direct knowledge and education in the region itself.

There is very little evidence of direct influence of Buddhist Dharma upon business in Asia. Many studies mix Buddhist and Confucian philosophies which although bear some similarities, are also contrastingly different[50]. Although some cases are reported[51], the Buddhist business is more myth than reality.

This is partly because there is very little consensus about what a Buddhist venture would actually be like. The only visible evidence is the belief and practice of a degenerated form of corrupted Buddhism, mixed with superstitious rituals, artifacts, ceremonies, giving donations to the temple for positive Karma, and praying to Bodhisatvta for wealth and prosperity.

However, Buddhist Dharma has influenced Western psychology significantly. The teachings of the Abhidhamma Pitaka have inspired and influenced many psychoanalysts and psychologists[52], including Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Albert Ellis, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Marsha M. Linehan. There has been a great leap forward in humanitarian and transpersonal philosophical influence in therapy[53].

Dialogue between philosophy theorists and practitioners of East and West has led to mutually influential relationships between them[54]. This has led to new insights into therapies and new schools of thought on both sides[55].

Many of these practices are being used in modified forms for therapy today[56].Aspects of Buddhist Dharma are also incorporated in the works of Western philosophers including Caroline A. F. Rhys David and Alan Watts.

Applying Buddhist philosophy to organization and management in “Western society” is also not new. Writers have focused upon the quantum analogies of Buddhism[57], ethics[58], and humanist views[59].

The concepts within the wheel of Samsara provide insight that emotions play a major role in all organizations[60],where occidental organization theories have tended to ignore the role of emotion in organizations until quite recently[61].

The concepts of dependent origination through systems theory and a reframed ‘Eightfold Path’ is similar to many of the concepts within the learning organization. Peter Senge is the Director for Organizational Learning at the Sloan Business School at MIT in Boston.

He was one of the high profile academics during the 1990’s and propelled the concept of Learning Organization into the management vocabulary. Senge defines the learning organization “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together[62].”

Such organizations according to Senge will be able to face the rapidly changing environment with flexibility and adaptation, driven by peoples’ willingness and capacity to learn at all levels. However current organization structures and form are not conducive to learning and people although having great capacity to learn, do not have the tools needed[63].Senge and his team spent many years developing this process.

The irony is that Asian ideas have more influence on ‘Western’ management thought than in Asian management thinking. The only probable exception is Confucianism which could cautiously be associated with the structure, process, and strategies of family owned Chinese businesses in Southeast Asia[64].

Although Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ and Buddhist Dharma originated in the Asian region, it has primarily been ‘Western’ management thinkers who have applied the respective philosophies to management, at least in these contemporary times. Although the Islamic ‘Tawhid’ is 1500 years old, it is probably only now that it is being considered seriously as a management philosophy.

Before now, Islamic thought has had negligible influence on contemporary business, but the market may change that; although Islamic society itself has not taken Islamic concepts onboard into business until this time. The nature of Muslim consumers and the rapid growth of the Halal market globally will be a driver of change here.

Why? – “Don’t think I need anything at all”

As mentioned in the introduction of this article, South-East Asian business schools have been unquestionably built upon Weberian models. School management tended to overzealously enforce structure, systems and procedures that create immense rigidities. In addition, deans tend to play the role of a patriarch rather than a chairman of the board, which often degrades into crude authoritarianism.

Consequently major positions within the hierarchy tend to go to those are liked and favoured, rather than those who have worked meritoriously, successfully, and are qualified for the job. Although these appointed subordinates know their role and operate with a certain degree of autonomy, deans may take the prerogative over decisions he or she may have some interest in.

This centralized decision making should increase the ability of schools to make quick decisions and adapt to the changing environment, but usually the opposite occurs due to complacent conservatism or a general reluctance to make decisions. Personal relationships become a major part of decision making, where organization performance becomes very subjective.

This most often leads to suboptimal performance. Because of the nepotistic nature of the school, disempowered staff seek satisfaction and reward through their personal work or from outside the school.

Consequently many business schools in South-East Asia fall into Morgan’s political organization paradigm where power is the prize and Machiavellian behavior is the norm. Motivation among staff at the school will most probably be very low.

There is a drastic shortage of business and entrepreneurship lecturers within the region. Stringent criteria in the employment of lecturers eliminate the potential to employ mature, experienced practitioners or practademics. For example under the regulations of one aspiring university in Malaysia that portrays itself as the “Harvard of the East”, it would not be able to employ people like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late Steve Jobs, even as adjunct, due to issues of qualifications. Thus those that gain employment within the region’s colleges and universities have formal qualifications, usually without much, if any experience.

South-East Asian business and entrepreneurship academics consequently tend to  lack the depth of knowledge about what they teach and rely on textbooks and popular management books as the basis of their teaching. This lack of depth of knowledge in many fields leads to a lack of confidence to develop curriculum outside the familiar textbooks they have available to them, thus inhibiting the ability to provide an education according to local needs. With this comes a reinforcement of an unconscious bias towards ‘western’ literature as local literature is still rare and far between and in many cases just a translation of existing foreign textbooks. Any original local material usually lacks peer acceptance due to the lack of ability of many to critically appraise it.

South-East Asian business schools have developed into a rut of pursuing quantity for the windfall incomes they can accumulate through popular products like the MBA. Foreign universities through setting up branches or strategic alliances are also cashing in on the rapid growth of business education in South-East Asia, further perpetuating the myth that foreign business theories are the first class product. They have adopted the classic post colonial market strategy of importing their product into a local market with minimum modification and exploiting the market to the maximum.

This rut manifests deep into the structure and processes of local colleges and universities. ISO quality accreditations and their logos are prominently displayed as symbols of quality, even though they have little or no relevance to the actual standard of the courses provided. ISO standards make no claims about product quality or relevance whatsoever and only mislead the public. The resources needed to implement these useless ISO standards are taken from potential academic development resources. This leaves a single textbook approach to courses, predominately delivered through formal lectures, rigid assessment and examination criteria and reliance on outdated curriculum development tools like Bloom’s taxonomy, when there have been many advances in pedagogy over the last few years; all in an unquestioning manner. The result of this is a sanitized teaching paradigm which doesn’t reflect the real business environment, leaving students ill-prepared for the outside world. This ‘cut and paste’ culture without questioning and adaptation is holding back the development of business education in the region.

Of late, universities have realized the need for research to build esteem and gain a ranking. However this has been turned into a meaningless chase of KPI figures. Many new academic journals are cashing in on this unhealthy focus on SCOPUS indexing and now offer ‘pay for publishing’ arrangements, rather than the traditional ‘double blind peer review’ system. To date, most local research has tended to emulate other research, applying theory to local contexts, rather than developing indigenous hypotheses. This lack of originality is preventing the rise in international stature of local business academics and is the loss of a great opportunity to develop Asian based management knowledge.

Finally, local South-East Asian academics have not asked whether “there is a distinctively Asian type of management based upon traditional philosophy?” and perhaps “can the focus on these ancient philosophies and religions really bring any revelations to Asian management thinking today?” Management theory has been something secular in Asia in contrast with the ‘west’ where it has been tainted with spiritualism. Asian academics have preferred to keep both issues in separate boxes. Whether this is on the assumption that Asian academics believe there is nothing to learn from their heritage, so emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and professionally separate meaning of their personal lives with their professional lives. May be it is just from lack of confidence to think outside their trained discipline and merge new ideas into their existing knowledge.

Conclusion – “Another brick in the wall”

The education gap between South-East Asia, Europe, Australia, and the US is going to be felt for a long time. Part of the problem is the inept ability and resistance to change. Part of the problem is the lack of skilled, experienced and knowledgeable people. However the rigidity of educational institutions is something that can be solved, through some visionary thinking.

There is also another problem. It is apparent that creativity is an important aspect of education, which is deeply lacking in Asian curriculum throughout the whole school system. In business and entrepreneurship creativity is vital in the areas of opportunity recognition and construction, strategy development and execution, marketing, new product development, and solving general problems related to entrepreneurship. If we accept entrepreneurship as a behavior, then entrepreneurial behavior is related more to creativity than intelligence; entrepreneurship can then be taught. Entrepreneurship will no longer be based upon innovation, but value – value for both the consumer and members of the enterprise, much more closely aligned with the reality of the needs and abilities of entrepreneurs in developing economies. Creativity, rather than intelligence appears to be a more critical factor in achieving success. Therefore education curriculum will need to focus on creating value through offering alternative business models rather than the traditional business tools that that the MBA graduate is familiar with.

This is in stark contrast to the major objective of ‘western’ education system to nurture creativity and assertiveness from a young age. There is a cultural hindrance here where questioning is encouraged in ‘western’ classrooms but considered disruptive in ‘Asian’ classrooms. Without solving this problem at primary and secondary levels, tertiary institutions have extra challenges to bring up and develop the caliber of local students. This is actually a disadvantage that can be eliminated without great need of any capital expenditure.

There are indeed a rich number of paradigms that business and entrepreneurship can be considered through, and many of these can add practically to the development of ethical business, human relations, conflict management, organizational learning, and even creativity development. There are rich models for psychology, motivation theory, and organization behavior from Buddhism and Islam that have been totally ignored. Marketing books are incomplete as they don’t explain the deep textures of the South-East Asian market environment. Using local paradigms will assist in understanding the various paradoxes and contradictions of business in Asia.

One of the issues is interpretation. Max Weber interpreted Confucianism as a negative force to economic growth and William Ouchi probably understated the influence of Confucianism in Japanese business hierarchy and decision making. Using single ‘western’ metaphors provides a biased insight[65], but when local metaphors are used, we can see much deeper layers of meaning. There is no shortage of potential paradigms such as the ‘Taoist tradition’  which may have an important insight into Chinese cognition in South-East Asia[66], Hinduism which heavily influences the nature of business[67], ‘feudalism’, ‘developing nation’, government sponsored capitalism’, ‘adventurism’, ‘Sufism”, ‘Sikhism’, ‘Shinto traditions’, ‘Machiavellism’, and ‘diplomacy’, etc., that can bring new ways of learning. These can be developed into relevant meta-theories and interchanged to shed more understanding of the dynamics of Asian business and economy.

It could be argued that Asia’s failure to develop their own contextually relevant theories and the corresponding positivist practices, where instead culturally unsuited practices are utilized, is a missed opportunity to develop new forms of new dynamic capabilities and competitive advantage within the region. This is the challenge to management academics and practitioners in South-East Asia. It is the task of looking through the rich history, culture, society, stories, and philosophies of the region for the inspiration to develop and construct homegrown management ideas, rather than importing ideas developed in other parts of the world, which are suitable for those parts of the world. Confucian, Buddhist, Strategy, and Islamic institutes exist all over the region, but there has been little focus on developing these philosophies as management paradigms. Today there is an intense vacuum of original management thinkers in the South-East Asian region.

True independence from colonialism only comes through original thought as a means to act in an intellectually free manner. It will be the content and spirit of the curriculum taught in South-East Asian business schools that will determine how the region does things in the future.

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[4] Hunter, M., (2012), On some of the misconceptions of entrepreneurship, Economics, Management, and Financial Markets, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 55-104.

[5] Hunter, M., (2012), Opportunity, Strategy, & Entrepreneurship, A Meta-Theory, Vol. 1, New York, Nova Scientific Publishers, see Chapter 3.

[6] Expansion often requires a firm to take risks and enter parts of the market that have marginal revenue potential than the current areas the firm occupies. This can be seen in the expansion of many Malaysian family owned supermarket groups where a financially solid group of 3 or 4 supermarkets can come under cash-flow strain because the family opened another outlet in a marginal market. If this problem is not quickly remedied by closing the new outlet, the cost of overheads eats heavily into the cash-flow of the financially healthy outlets.

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[25] There are so many texts about Sun Tzu. One of the author’s favorites is Sawyer, R., D., (1994), Sun Tzu: The Art of War, Bolder, Westview Press.

[26] Witten, D., & Rinpoche, A., T., (1999), Enlightened management: Bringing Buddhist Practices to Work, South Paris, ME, Park Street Press.

[27] Dr. Chapra in an on-line interview was very critical of the development of Islamic economic and business theories claiming they were unbalanced in their approaches. He was reported to state that “Primary attention has been given so far to Islamic Finance. This has led to the false impression that interest-free finance is all that Islamic Economics has to offer. Since most of the governments in Muslim countries are not yet convinced that interest-free finance is workable, excessive emphasis on it has created a resistance in official circles against Islamic Economics. They find it to be of little value. This is unfortunate. We must blame ourselves for this. Islam is a complete way of life and is capable of solving the problems of not only Muslim countries, but also of mankind”. In the same interview Dr. Chapra said that it was the responsibility of Islamic intellectuals to show how Islamic economics could solve the socio-economic problems that humankind faced. This is in great need because there is a distinct lack of theoretical and empirical analysis to show that an Islamic strategy can help solve economic problems, particularly with the current state of the Islamic world, where there is decline in moral values, exploitive financial systems, illegitimate governments, landlordism, lack of education, absence of justice and ineffective operation of incentives and deterrents. Dr. Chapra believes that there is great repetitiveness in what is written about Islamic economics which is not serving any cause. An Islamic alternative needs to be spelt out, which can only really be done after the real position in Islamic countries is analysed, i.e., how individuals, families, firms and governments actually behave, so the gap between ideals and reality can be measured and Islamic remedies developed. See: Islamic Voice, ‘Islamic Economics Offers the Best to Mankind’,, (Accessed 20th December 2006).

[28] See for example: Engardio, P. (2007), Chindia: How China and India are Revolutionizing Global Business, New York, McGraw-Hill, Yang, K., (2007), Entrepreneurship in China, Aldershot, Ashgate, and Nie, W., Xin, K., & Zhang, L., (2009), Made in China: Secrets of China’s Dynamic Entrepreneurs, Singapore, John Wiley & Sons.

[29] Chen, M., J., (2001), Inside Chinese Business: A Guide for Managers Worldwide, Boston, Harvard Business School Press, P. 23.

[30] Tu, W., M., (1984), Confucian Ethics Today: The Singapore Challenge, Singapore, Federal Publications.

[31] Tu, W., M., (1995), ‘Is Confucianism Part of the Capitalist Ethic?’, Stackhouse, M., C., (Ed.), On Moral Buwsiness, Grand Rapids, MI., William B. Eerdmans Publishing, pp. 409-411.

[32] Fairbank, J., K. and Goldman, M., (1998), China: A New History, Cambridge, MA., Belknap Press of Harvard University.

[33] Koller, J. M. (1984), Oriental Philosophies. New York: Macmillan.

[34] Romar, E. (2004), “Managerial Harmony: The Confucian Ethics of Peter F. Drucker,” Journal of Business Ethics 51(2): 199-210.

[35] Tu, W., (1991), A Confucian Perspective on the Rise of Industrial East Asia, Confucianism and the Modernization of China, Mainz, Hase & Koehler Press, P. 31.

[36] Hofstede, G., (1991), Cultures and Organizations: Software of the mind, London, McGraw-Hill, Franke, R., Hofstede, G., & Bond, M., (1991), Cultural Roots of Economic performance: A Research Note, Strategic Management Journal, Special issue, Global Strategy, pp. 165-166.

[37] Redding, S., (1993), The Spirit of Chinese Capitalism, New York, Walter de Gruyter.

[38] Pye, L., (2000), Asian values: From Dynamos to Dominoes?, Culture matters: How Values Shape Human progress, New York, basic Books., Seong, H., C., (2003), myth and reality in the Discourse of Confucian Capitalism in Korea, Asian Survey, Vol. 43, No. 3, P. 485.

[39] However another explanation is that institutions are more a product of their stage of development rather than the cultural context, which negates the Confucian influence. See: Singh, K., (2007), The Limited Relevance of Culture to Strategy, Asian Pacific Journal of Management, Vol. 24, P. 421.

[40] Krugman, P., (1994), The Myth of Asia’s Miracle, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 6, pp. 62-78.

[41] Min Chen, (2004) Asian Management Systems, 2nd Edition, London, Thomson.  

[42] Chen, M., J., (2001), op. cit.

[43] Ohmae, K., (1990), The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Interlinked Economy, London, Collins.

[44] Gomez, E., T., (2004), op. cit.

[45] Tung, R., L., (2001), Strategic management Thought in East Asia, In: Warner, M., Comparative Management: Critical perspectives on Business and Management, Vol. 3, London, Routledge,

[46] Cantrell, R., L. (2003), Understanding Sun Tzu on the Art of War, Arlington, VA, Centre for Advantage.

[47] McNeilly, M., R., (2001), Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 6-7.

[48] James, B., G., (1986), Business Wargames, London, Penguin, and Ries, A., & Trout, J., (1986), Marketing Warfare, New York, Paperback,

[49] Terms such as offensive, defensive, flanking, and guerrilla marketing strategies have become very common in marketing expression.

[50] Weber, J. (2009), “Using Exemplary Business Practices to Identify Buddhist and Confucian Ethical Value Systems,” Business and Society Review 114(4): 511-540.

[51] Prayukvong, W. (Undated), “A Buddhist Economic Approach to a Business Firm: A Case Study,” accessed at (16th March 2012).

[52] Trungpa, C. (1975), Glimpses of Abhidharma: From a Seminar on Buddhist Psychology. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications; de Silva, P. (1991), “Buddhist Psychology: A Review of Theory and Practice,” Current Psychology: Research and Reviews 9(3): 236-254; Claxton, G. (1990), “Meditation in Buddhist Psychology,” in West, M. A. (ed.), The Psychology of Meditation. Oxford: Clarendon Press; Epstein, M. (1995) Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective. New York: Basic Books.

[53] Goleman, D. (2004), Destructive Emotions and How We Can Overcome Them: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

[54] Safran, J. D. (2003), “Psychoanalysis and Buddhism as Cultural Institutions,” in Safran, J. D. (ed.), Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1-34.

[55] Grossman, P. (2004), “Mindfulness Practice: A Unique Clinical Intervention for the Behavioral Sciences,” in Heidenreich, T., and Michalak, J. (eds.), Mindfulness and Acceptance in Psychotherapy. Berlin: DVTG Press, 16-18; Safran, J. D. (2003), “Psychoanalysis and Buddhism as Cultural Institutions,” in Safran, J. D. (ed.), Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1-34; Sherwood, P. M. (2005), “Buddhist Psychology: Marriage of Eastern and Western Psychologies,” (accessed 20th October 2009).

[56] Epstein, M. (2001), Going on Being. New York: Broadway Books.

[57] Low, A. (1976), Zen and the Art of Creative Management. New York: Playboy Paperbacks.

[58] Field, L. (2007), Business and the Buddha: Doing Well by Doing Good. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

[59] Larkin, G. (1999), Building a Business the Buddhist Way. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.

[60] Hunter, M. (2012), Opportunity, Strategy, & Entrepreneurship: A Meta-Theory., Vol. 1, New York, Nova Scientific Publishers, 255-271.

[61] One of the first books on emotions within organizations was Fineman, S. (ed.) (2000), Emotions in Organizations. London: Sage.

[62] Senge, P. (1990), The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday, 3.

[63] Ibid., Ch. 2.

[64] However even the influence of this paradigm is declining as ‘occidental management paradigms’ learned by ‘Gen Y’ children of patriarchal leaders return home from study abroad with new ideas. Yet this does not mean the disappearance of Confucianism as an influence on management as the cognitive and ethical aspects may enjoy a renaissance in China this century. See:  Bell, D., A. (2006), China’s leaders rediscover Confucianism – Editorials & Commentary – International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, Sept. 4, accessed online at: (16th March 2012).

[65] Morgan, G., (2006), Images of Organization, (Updated Edition), Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage Publications, P.4.

[66] Spencer-Rogers, J., Peng, K., & Wang, L., (2010), Dialecticism and the co-occurrence of positive emotions across cultures, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 109-115.

[67] Rai, H., (2005), The role of Hinduism in Global India and her business ethics, In; Capaldi, N, (Ed.), Business and religions: a clash of civilizations?, Salem, MA, M & M Scrivener Press, pp. 379-389.

Prof. Murray Hunter

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