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Fish Can't See Water: How National Culture Can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy Hardcover – September 30, 2013

4 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The Economist, Oct. 2013. "In focusing on culture they are clearly onto something important. Fish Can't See Water" is full of interesting insights into modern business. There are signs that Western firms are taking cultural sensitivity more seriously. However, emerging-market multinationals still lag behind, particularly in China, ... Messrs Hammerich and Lewis need to take their message about fish and water East as well as West"

MANAGEMENT BOOK OF THE YEAR, 2013 (Denmark). View more reviews on fishcantseewater.com, additional chapter overview, and  educational support materials.
"Many books have been written about culture, but only a few focus on the strategic perspective. This makes it indispensable for executives who works across time zones. A highly readable and insightful book. The authors expand the work of Schein and Hofsteede brilliantly, combining theory with their own practical experiences in the many cases in the book." (Berlingske Business, Dec 2013, Denmark). 

Forbes.com, October 2013.  The challenge today is to build a culture of continuous innovation, scaling, and consolidation, all concurrently. That's a tall order, especially when your global business culture has to align with a myriad of international and local cultures. In a new book, "Fish Can't See Water," Kai Hammerich and Richard D. Lewis explore these culture issues, both national and international, that can make or break your company strategy. Incidentally, I love that book title, which seems to me applicable to most aspects of business (and even people).

Dallas News, October, 2013. 
The authors also provide a 27-country list of cultural enablers and derailers that show what companies should consider when adapting to other countries.
Regardless of national culture, the authors found common denominators when it comes to derailing a company. Paramount among them is a lack of "diversity of thinking." This is particularly true at the board level and among managers. When people think the same, you get the same old plans. That won't work in a business environment of ever-shifting currents.

Financial Times, July 2013
"...this book successfully offers an alternative to the rationalist perspectives that dominate business strategy thinking.."

"This is a thought-provoking read for anyone working across cultures." (The CA, August 2013) "With case studies from Asia, Europe and the US, the book offers a thorough insight into how even the smallest of cultural traits can affect businesses immensely.' (GulfBusiness.com, September 2013) "The book offers a readable tour through organisational culture..." (Professional Manager, September 2013) "...in focusing on culture they are clearly onto something important...Fish Can't See Water is full of interesting insights into modern business." (The Economist, October 2013) "The real challenge this book provides is that companies need to recognise that cultural change does not happen simply by chance or desire, but requires real management focus throughout the organisation. The opportunity that awaits those organisations that achieve this is extraordinary and creates long-term sustainable businesses." (Financial Advisor, April 2014)

From the Inside Flap

“Finally a book that addresses the unique competitive edge of all entities, culture. While culture can work in negative and positive ways, understanding its impact on an organization’s goals and doing something about it is the job of all leaders. Thanks to Richard Lewis and Kai Hammerich, we now have the tools to do just that. This book is a must read for any global leader who works across national, economic and cultural boundaries.”
—Steven J. DeKrey, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Asian Institute of Management; former Graduate Dean at The HKUST Business School, Asia’s leading MBA school

“This great book is an invaluable resource and a superb toolkit for all Executives and HR professionals leading or supervising international businesses and teams. Culture matters more than ever and is a unique source of sustainable competitive differentiation. A maverick piece of work from Kai Hammerich and Richard Lewis with absolute word-class insights!”
—Wilbert J. M. Buiter, former Chief HR Officer at Philips Communications, NCR and ING Group

“As a global and yet distinctly Finnish company, Nokia’s strength is derived from its roots, as well as its willingness to draw upon the unique elements of the many cultures of its people around the world. Having met and worked with both Richard Lewis and Kai Hammerich, I have come to value their unique insight into the interplay of national and corporate cultures.”
—Stephen Elop, President and CEO of Nokia Corporation


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (September 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118608569
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118608562
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.9 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #378,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Kai Hammerich and Richard Lewis have selected and rigorously explored a subject of great interest to me: the dynamics of interaction between and among cultural values that are sometimes incompatible or at least resistant to compromise, accommodation, and consensus. Cultural differences almost inevitably result in cultural confrontations. They help to explain why many (if not most) mergers and acquisitions either fail or fall far short of original expectations. They also help to explain civil wars, tribal feuds, and dysfunctional families.

In this volume, Hammerich and Lewis focus on these specific phenomena:

o How values, beliefs, and assumptions are embedded in an organization by its founder(s) and leaders
o The "Lewis Model" that triangulates national cultures (i.e. linear-active, multi-active, and reactive national)
o The defining traits of key nations (e.g. France, Italy, Great Britain, and USA)
o The "Cultural Dynamics Model" ® and the concept of a cultural dynamic
o Lifecycle periods (e.g. organizational, such as those discussed by Ichak Adizes in Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It)
o The growth period during which companies expand the nature and extent of their operations
o The maturity period with its phases of efficiency, scale, and in some instances consolidation
o "Whither the West" in terms of the impact of what Tom Friedman characterizes as a "flat world" has on western nations as they compete globally
o An existential crisis whose details are best revealed within the narrative, in context

How can business leaders "see the water that surrounds them," water that may be red with ferocious competition, white with uncertainty, or blue (as W.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a lazy potboiler. It dresses up simple 2 x 2 "models" with a few statistics and lots of wordy assertions but with very little substance, It's lazy in the sense that there is no evidence of systematic analysis and interpretation and the book provides very little exploration that merits its subtitle of "how national culture can make or break your corporate strategy." It throws in outdated examples and organizes broad generalizations into authoritative-looking tables and assertions (Complete summary of Spain enablers:"Drive, originality, pride in past")

A few specifics of omissions, errors and trivialization:

Pages devoted to management practices and the impacts of culture in India, China, Mexico and Canada: maybe 5 in total

"California firms are very different culturally from those on the eastern seaboard or Midwest." That's it.

Case study of Austin Motors to illustrate British cultural impacts (5 or so pages). Tells the story up to the 1960s. That's like generalizing about modern US management from Bethlehem Steel or A&P. There's no mention that Austin ceased to exist as a company by the early 1970s. The authors presumably had the case study at hand and it was quick to throw in.

Walmart: A long quote just about disqualifies the book from serious consideration: the culture is intrinsically American: "straightforward, intensely friendly, classless, pushy, engaging the customer the moment he/she comes through the door ("How are you today, sir? How can I be of help? Let me show you...")... On leaving, "have a good day" follows him onto the street." It's been decades since the last Walmart Greeter and this view is like suggesting that Heathrow Airport is run like Downton Abbey.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At a time when businesses are going through such critical changes and transformations, Hammerich & Lewis remind us of the oft-overlooked importance of culture to the success of each and every business. It is a must read for C-Suite & HR leaders globally, as well as anyone keen on uncovering the impact culture has on driving business goals, strategies, and results across any industry.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am remiss in reviewing “Fish Can’t See Water” sooner.
I teach the capstone course for the MBA program at the European School of Business. This book fits perfectly into the presentation of this double semester, in depth look at the real world. In the course, “Leadership and Corporate Sustainability”, I avoid most texts. I find them to be a fictionalized look at how people in business and businesses operate. Fish Can’t See Water presents no fictions.
The book takes a double barreled approach, each revolving around culture. In each case the authors present true example after true example of how the “Fish can’t see”. The value of the Lewis model of global culture comes from not only theory, but experience. It relies on nuance rather than pigeon holing the world into a set definition of what the cultures may be.
The book takes the next step of applying the “Fish can’t see” experience to corporate culture, both influenced by home country and by tradition. They are excellent and very applicable examples.
In today’s world, lifecycles of corporations are getting shorter and shorter. Structurally and dynamically, they are not built for sustainability. Today the average life of a member of the S&P 500 has dropped to 20 years, down from over 50 years decades ago. With that in mind, every corporate leader should put “Fish” on their reading list.
The message is interesting in that it does not suggest that we refuse to change, it suggests that we can’t see the need because we swim in our own ocean. Not only don’t we see the other people in their own dynamic, we don’t even see our own dynamic. We let ourselves be insulated from others because we see them through just one type of lens and we don’t take time to measure if that is the correct prescription.
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