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9.1 Khanna’s case for contextual intelligence

Tarun Khanna has spent his career studying how business is practised in different global settings. And while he once aspired to universalism, experience has taught him otherwise:

Trying to apply management practices uniformly across geographies is a fool’s errand, much as we’d like to think otherwise.

(Khanna, 2014, p. 60)

Khanna stresses that ‘Most universal truths about management play out differently in different contexts: best practices don’t necessarily travel’. Accordingly, ‘Global companies won’t succeed in unfamiliar markets unless they adapt – or even rebuild – their operating models’ (2014, p. 61). Boundary-spanning companies – those that work across boundaries that may separate ways of working within a nation or across national borders – may have to temper their established assumptions about what ought to work with efforts to determine what does work.

Khanna’s argument is that people often ‘overestimate what they know about how to succeed in other countries’ (p. 60). However, if they develop contextual intelligence, they might be better able to appreciate their limitations and what they would have to do to succeed in a different context.