This post is for all those who intensively now work with China or will do so in the future. At first it seems that the western and Chinese concepts do not match and thus it appears that one will never understand the thinking of their counterparts in China. With this post I will try to help build a bridge between the western and chinese thinking in the hope that this will allow you the reader to translate your concepts or strategies into the chinese thinking.
The first concept one will encounter is usally the Ying and Yang principal forces. These forces will bring forth the five Elements. These two concepts are the foundation of all ancient Chinese science. It will be mainly known to the western world in the form of the traditional Chineses Medicine or Feng Shui.
A very good introduction to the Chinese science concepts can be found in Joseph Needham: Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 7, The Social Background; Part 1, Language and Logic in Traditional China or by Chao-Chuan Chen: Leadership and Management in China: Philosophies, Theories, and Practices
Image: Yin and Yang and the Five Elements
In the five elements system there are two key relations between the elements. Mainly a nurturing relation which is the dominant relation. In this system there is water nurturing wood, wood to nurture the fire, fire to nurture the earth element and so on. Additionally there is a control relation. Metall is controlling the wood, the wood is controlling the earth, the earth the water, etc.
The best suitable western concept in Management for helping to bridge the gap between western and chinese thinking is based on the Malik Management System. Fredmund Malik developed this system over many years. It is based on the St. Galler Systems Management modell by Alois Gälweiler, Hans Ulrich und Walter Krieg, the works on management cybernetics of Stafford Beer and on the world leading research into Management by Peter Drucker. For a deeper understanding I would recommend Fredmund Malik:
Management: The Essence of the Craft (Management: Mastering Complexity)
For this Management System Fredmund Malik uses the systemic relations between Corporate Policy and Governance, Strategy, Structure, Culture and Executives.
Based on his works it is possible to bring the Chinese Concept of the Five Elements together with the Fredmund Malik’s systemic relations of his Management System.
Image: Systemic Relations in the Malik Management System aligned to the Five Elements concept
Now what is so intriguing about it is that the business tools that are used in a modern western coorperation can now be translated over the holistic system approach developed by Fredmund Malik into the Chinese thinking. And maybe it will lead to even to more new discoveries in this area.
Let me give you an example on how to merge the two systems:
Usually when a Chinese would use the five elements to diagnose a system he would look at the imbalances of Yin and Yang within the Five Elements. A diagnosis as an example would sound like: “There is excess heat in the wood element and a coldness in the metal element”. To translate this back with the help of the Malik Management Systems it would show that there is an uncontrolled situation in the strategy area and a weakness in the Corporate Policies and Governance space.
How would one now remedy this situation and use the language of both concepts ?
A Chinese System expert would look not only at the elements out of control but also see what interelations in the system are causing the imbalance in these two elements. He might not only address the excess heat in the wood element but also check if the metall element should be strengthened to increase the control of the wood element.
He would actually look at the two fundamental forces Yin and Yang within each of these elements to see the best intervention points to stablize and rebalance the system.
A very good insight in how this system is applied is in the works of Manfred Porkert : Theoretical Foundations of Chinese Medicine: Systems of Correspondence (Asian Science Series: No. 3)
To translate this back into a western concept it would require to go one level deeper in the management system of Fredmund Malik and add the related yin and the yang components. The system would look like this (The Yin comp0nent on the left in each element and the yang component on the right. Example the Element Structure now contains the Yin Component structure and the yang component process).
Image: The Malik Management System translated by the author into the Five Elements and the Yin and Yang concept. Please be aware that Fredmund Malik did not structure his system in such a way, but based on his works the author deducted this graphical representation.
Depending on the findings, the interdependencies that led to the imbalance in the first place there are several ways to stabilize the system. One example of such solution could be to strengthen the managment (Yang) component in the Executives element by upskilling the executives in strategic thinking and execution and thus getting a control over the excess in the strategy element. It does not stop to additionally have an intervention in the strategy element by organizing a vision workshop, etc.
This is a likely bridge to bring the western and chinese concepts togehter. As seen in the examples above a system needs to be carefully analysed on the sublevels before translating this into a common concept.
One more concept that often is used in China is the qi concept. It is the result of how yin and yang forces are balanced among the five elements and how well the energy is flowing between the elements. Heike Bruch at the HSG St. Gallen has done research on organisational energy and how it is influenced. A good read is Heike Bruch: Fully Charged: How Great Leaders Boost Their Organization’s Energy and Ignite High Performance
Now with these combined chinese western management system of Malik one has a great tool to analyse and direct the organisational energy.
Always happy to discuss further. This was just a high level introduction.
What to look for in Chinese Management Studies