Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A fleeting visit to Morocco: Thoughs

This weekend I went to Marrakesh to get my busy head out of the orderly European life and immerse myself into the 1001-nights-like atmosphere of that ancient city. It was not my first visit - I have already visited Morocco back in 2007 when I virtually did a round-trip across the country: Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, Meknes, Marrakesh and Es-Saouira. I was thinking to myself then, "This will change in the next 5 years. With the rapid pace of development everywhere else in the world, this country will not escape the burden of modernization". This time around, I was travelling with a friend who said exactly the same thing, and now I am not really sure how much is going to change in the next 5, 10 or even 20 years.

Think of Morocco as a country where

  • a red traffic light is merely a suggestion to the driver to look both ways before proceeding
  • a signed contract is a great place to start negotiations
  • travel is still measured in hours and days instead of kilometers
  • mules, bicycles, camels, people and buggies are equal members of the chaotic mess lovingly referred to as "traffic"
  • a bribe is not corruption but simply a "facilitation payment" to speed thing up
  • in bars you will see only men, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes or shishas, while women stay in home taking care of the house and children
  • telling lies is an acceptable negotiation practice (and oh so many tourists have suffered from that!)
  • etc, etc, etc

How do you do business in that country? Surely not by deploying a pack of Western managers blindly believing that they are able to change people so that they adopt the Western cultural practices. To me that sounds like a sure way to schizophrenia: being one person at work and at home - another. At the same time I understand the business imperative to carry out transactions in a consistent fashion, with integrity and within the legal boundaries. The people issues in such cases are key: values transfer, adapting Western management practices, dealing with "double bind" issues... I would really enjoy an assignment like that :)

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