Worlds Apart

For multi-national companies, the introduction of a product into a foreign market carries with it the problematic decision of whether or not (or to what degree) the company should adapt its product to local tastes. Sometimes the decision is obvious--McDonald's wouldn't get very far if it served hamburgers in India, after all--but many times a more successful strategy is to try and alter the local tastes of the market rather than the product itself. Wal-Mart's style of big-box retailing might have flopped in Germany, but Toys "R" Us saw success in Japan by sticking with its giant, impersonal warehouses in a market dominated by small toy shops. Sometimes adaptation works, sometimes not, and therein lies the rub: good arguments can usually be made both for and against adapting ex ante, so whether or not the company has made the "right" decision can only be revealed ex post upon success or failure. Any person living in a foreign country is faced with this same dilemma, especially when it comes to male-female interplay. Sometimes there is benefit in contrasting with those around, while other times it's best to take on a similar hue as everyone else. In the United States, for example, many foreign accents are considered an interesting and desirable feature of either sex. Thus, the difference becomes an asset that can be leveraged accordingly. On the other hand, a foreigner whose personal hygiene was more au naturel would quickly discover the need to adapt to US norms. But there's a lot of distance between the antipodes, so what's a boy to do? Trial and error is a risky business, especially when there might not be a second chance.

The accepted answer in business is to adapt as needed so long as competitive advantage is not compromised, where competitive advantage is defined as a feature of a company that is non-imitable. To make the comparison to the individual, the advice might then be to blend in when necessary as long as one don't compromise the thing one's got that everyone else don't, whether it be a stylish wardrobe, a sense of humor, or a talent for Amate painting.

I currently consider my adeptness at blogging as my personal competitive advantage, which along the continuum of possibilities probably fits somewhere between "throwing a ball far" and "speed reading."