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Position Paper - Exporting Mental Models

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The article printed in "Business Ethics Quarter, 10, no.1 (2000)" by Patricia H Werhane presents issues related to international business and the western mental models of free capitalism, growth and well-being. Exporting Mental Models: Global Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century attempts to answer the multidimensional question of how businesses should behave when surrounding themselves with new cultures and customs.

It is necessary to properly and fully understand the meaning mental models. Werhane explains beneath all the overly-complicated wording that how we frame a situation is critical to its outcome, people with different backgrounds can easily perceive the same situation differently. Social upbringing, education, religion and culture are examples that influenzas our mental models (similar to our schemas); it is how the experiences are perceived, framed and stored that determines how we describe, learn and predict situations.

She then links how western capitalistic mental models are being exported to completely different cultures with other values and perceptions from our own. For international businesses to operate in multiple cultures and traditions Werhane argues that it is essential for the firms to step back, review their own mental models and truly understand and respect the social structures of the new community, only then can cultures and international business (globalization) grow in a healthy direction.

She includes examples of interest illustrating western exportation of mental models. The feudal community in the Philippines is foreign to private property ownership, but our mental models are informing us that introduction of property rights would increase both social and economic growth in this community; therefore it would be the right way to act. But what about the changes simultaneously done to their culture?

Werhane also discuss the forced introduction of western mental models conserving rights to intellectual property. W.R Grace Co. used a culture's traditions with the Neem tree for an all natural pesticide that sold to customers' home in America. Grace than patented their product (including the natural products from the tree) according to western standards (adopted by Indian law), but who are we to say that natural materials can be controlled by the first to log it? Obviously this Indian culture has actively used the plant products for centuries without a written permission, should that be necessary to patent a natural product to continue on cultures and traditions?

Even SELF who intended to increase what we westerns consider as good; economic and individual growth, overlooked the importance of dealing with the social consequences that might occur. They didn't realize that by providing some with electricity they disrupted a social balance between members of a modest community. All of these examples show how mental models can disrupt



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