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Book review – Global Mindset: Cultivating Knowledge in Multinational Organizations

Reviewed by Irene McMahon

Global Mindset: Cultivating Knowledge in Multinational Organizations
By Robert P. French
Cambridge Scholars, 2019

Mission Round Table Vol. 15 No. 1 (Jan-Apr 2020): 48

Over the past decade, the term global mindset has become a buzzword appearing in articles and books dealing with twenty-first century leadership. It is a concept which leaders of international mission organisations need to understand and pay attention to if they hope to train and support leaders in today’s world.

The term has emerged primarily in the world of multinational corporations where it has been observed that, as leaders have relocated to new cultural contexts, previous effectiveness could not guarantee effectiveness in the new context. This led to the question: “why didn’t effectiveness in one context guarantee success in another? Global mindset emerged as an explanation” (1). While the term offered an apparent explanation to the problem, the meaning of global mindset remained ambiguous. French’s book is an attempt to clarify the concept and its associated assumptions.

One of the strengths of this book is the exhaustive literature review of works considering the concept of global mindset. Even so, French concludes that scholars’ definitions and conceptualizations of this term are “vast, varied and difficult to summarize” (21). Of the 94 publications surveyed, 25% offered no definition and 36% offered unique definitions of the concept. These studies assume that a mindset somehow “enables an individual and/or organisation to effectively respond to global challenges and opportunities through cognitive processes, filters, or beliefs” (36). Yet the meaning of “mindset” lacks clear definition. The studies are consistent in their understanding that global knowledge is fundamental to cultivating a global mindset. Specifically, three types of knowledge are identified as imperative to a leader’s effectiveness: cultural knowledge, knowledge of the industry in which s/he is working, and knowledge of the organisation they are part of (39). What is missing in much of the literature is a study of the relationship between global knowledge and global mindset. This is the contribution French hopes to make to this field.

French has elected to undertake his study within the industry of global Christianity. He has chosen the  United Methodist Church (UMC) as  it represents an organization operating in multiple contexts throughout the globe. He suggests that the industry of global Christianity is underrepresented in the study of global mindset.

What I believe is particularly useful for mission leaders is that French identifies the UMC as an organization “whose processes, and policies were developed in a particular cultural context and are likely ineffectual for a global organization” (46). This characterization could perhaps be applied  to many world mission organisations. French thus finds that “despite the global organizational identity, experts recognise that the UMC does not and may not   be capable of effectively operating as a global organisation within the bounds of its current organisational structure and processes” (79). It would be interesting to conduct a similar study within other world mission organizations to ascertain how many are capable of effectively operating as global organisations.

A further significant insight from this research is that “it is a potentially significant oversight to assume that individuals who are employed by or volunteer with a global organisation will self-identify as global members of the organization” (42). French’s study was conducted in North America where he concedes that many members struggle to identify themselves as members of the global organisation (46). As many world mission organizations are made up of members and volunteers who live in a wide variety of contexts, it would be interesting to study how many self-identify as members of a global organisation.

One of the weaknesses of this book is actually the key finding, namely the revised definition of global mindset given in the final chapter: “A global mindset is comprised of two mindsets that enable an individual to effectively process global information by differentiating global complexities and cultural diversity (differentiative mindset) and integrating what has been differentiated within a specific context (integrative mindset)” (99). His desire for a definition that is theoretically robust results in one that laypeople will find challenging to understand. According to French, differentiation means to distinguish between two or more things and integration means bringing two or more things together. When applied to the context of global leadership, this means differentiating between an array  of global complexities and culturally diverse concepts (similar to conceptualization) and then bringing them together to accomplish a specific task in a particular context (similar to contextualization).

From this perspective, a global mindset is a construct that can be developed by any individual through global or cross-cultural education, experiences, and skills. Having a “highly developed global mindset enables an individual to accurately conceptualize global information and then contextualize this global information appropriately in one or more contexts” (47).

This book addresses ideas that everyone in positions of global leadership should understand. It should be read by students and leaders alike who need to grapple with the concept and want a comprehensive survey of the literature on this subject. These are not easy concepts to grasp, but its revised definition is perhaps reflective of the complexity world leaders today face and  have to navigate as they manage global organizations. This study is a foundational piece of work in studying the concept of global mindset in the world of not-for-profit organisations.

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