Progress Around the World – It’s Not “Same Same” Everywhere

In connection with my trip to ProcureCon Asia, held in Singapore, I was also in some of the surrounding countries, where I was reminded of how “progress” is defined so differently around the world. It’s important for practitioners rolling out global or regional centers of excellence, or for providers when deciding on go-to-market strategies. And it can be all too easy to overlook this aspect. But it really changes how you should prioritize activities, specifically when you decide at what stage a market is “ready” for a given solution, process, or other approach.

To give you an idea of what I mean, years ago, after I had moved to Japan to start my first real job working for a manufacturing firm in Osaka after my undergraduate studies, I was of course struck by the numerous “peculiarities” associated with daily life in Japan. I just assumed a country as advanced as Japan wouldn’t:

  • Run unsightly aerial utility lines everywhere (phone, electrical etc.)
  • Have open sewers along houses (often inhabited by weasels!)
  • room-specific A/C and no forced air circulation in homes or offices
  • No paper towels or driers in public bathrooms (you were supposed to have a handkerchief in your pocket for this purpose)
  • Inefficient single-pane windows (in a country that sees both baking heat and freezing winters) and no real insulation in buildings


Yet, despite all of these shortcomings (to my mind), that had long ago been addressed in the country I moved from (Sweden), Japan had made cutting-edge progress in so many other areas – from manufacturing tools and processes, to cars, electronics, and all the various fine arts and social rituals that are part of the daily experience there. Such a contrast, and how you could have the latter without addressing the former seemed inexplicable to me.

I was reminded of this during my stay in Singapore (a heavy-handed version of Tokyo, albeit with English spoken far more widely – or “Singlish,” at least) and in Georgetown/Penang, Malaysia. The latter place has received immense investments from a long A-list of both western and Asian manufacturers setting up plants in the area. Singapore especially has received quite the modern makeover, but still has some areas that are less polished (by US standards). A short commuter plane ride away in Georgetown/Penang (Malaysia) the state of development is even more contrasting – Starbucks outlets indistinguishable from those in the USA, brand new Aston Martin cars, and concrete and glass towers that could just as well be in Singapore or Tokyo – right next to what can only be described as blighted hovels.

In these countries, taxi payments via credit card are processed more easily than cabbies seem capable of in many US cities. Cell phone service is better than what dear ol’ AT&T can provide here in Atlanta. Heck, even the cabbies over there often speak English better than their counterparts do in Atlanta. And obviously most of the factories in the area (many semiconductor chip fabricators) are operating under standards that are as good as they can be anywhere.

Whether it is tied to different political or social processes, it is clear that the priorities in these countries are quite different than in the US and in northern Europe. So different that you just can’t grasp it intellectually, you really need to be there, to internalize the difference in outlook. Your priorities can come across as irrelevant, or counterproductive. It’s not just a different language; it’s a different culture altogether. Not “same same” – as street vendors like to say in Thailand when they peddle their knockoffs.

For solution providers, judging market readiness is complicated, and you probably have some tweaking to do; your interface, processes, UI language – not to mention pricing – all need a localizing effort. Before long I expect to see Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Thai, Malay as required solution UI languages, and not just carbon copied versions of the US original, but truly localized variants. Educating a marketplace might feel good – but it is usually more productive and profitable to sell what clients are buying. And to understand that, you need to be there.

Share on Procurious

First Voice


    Thank you for your insights and first hand observations. They are a welcomed distinction from the academic pontifications so common in today’s media. I generally try to base my own writings on personal experiences as I believe most data to which we are exposed lacks real world interactive reporting not to mention the inability to empathize with those with whom we we do not share a common culture. As an illustration I will relate an interesting anecdote:

    An old army buddy of mine has a son who recently married a Vietnamese woman who has a 13 year old daughter. I will spare the readers here the nightmarish bureaucratic experience “Joe” was subjected to in his 3 year ordeal to obtain permission from the US government to allow his bride and stepdaughter to enter the country. Suffice it to say that the two females are continuing to “adapt” to life in the state of Oregon.

    The 13 year old stepdaughter continues to adjust to the public “skool” system with amazing success even though her initial command of the new language was nil. You see, her school experience in her native land consisted of a 12 hour day 6 days per week. She has therefore considerable leisure in overcoming the language handicap due to 5 hr school days 5 days per week. This is also ameliorated by having mastered the equivalent of lower division college level work unknown in her US 8th grade class.

    Regarding your observations of the apparent social contrasts existing side by side in Asian nations, it is, I would posit probably due to those cultures pursuing economies based on exporting to the heretofore affluent “Western” world. Given the mercantilist economic policies pursued by most nations as evidenced by the ongoing currency wars, this situation will inevitably change.

    We truly live in “interesting times”.


Discuss this:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.