Dr. Nolan predicted that in the near future the best universities will be those that have established strong structural relationships with other top universities around the world. Success or failure in these relationships will be determined by how cultural differences are managed. Globalization does not mean the end of difference, but that we now have to deal with difference directly instead of at a distance.
Culture can be thought of as a management system; a shared understanding of how the world works. Culture has three components: (1) the things we make (artifacts), (2) the things we do (behavior), and (3) what we carry around in our heads (cultural knowledge). An individual may belong to a number of “cultures,” for example institutional (e.g., Harvard, Purdue), disciplinary (e.g., law, engineering), and national. Furthermore, individuals may have a professional culture based on their main area of work (e.g., “she’s a quant,” or “he’s a soybean guy”). Finally, there are the national and international aspects of culture, including the emerging body of laws, regulations, and customs that inform or constrain research activities. These include export controls and intellectual property.
Dr. Nolan trains many engineers for international internships, and finds that they return with a greater appreciation for how common sense can be defined differently in different countries. Culture does matter to what people see, how they interpret what they see, and what they do. One problem is culture’s inflexibility and low tolerance for ambiguity in messaging, which leads to miscommunication. For example, in one negotiation between American and Chinese university deans, the American dean would give responses such as “we’ll think about that,” or “we’ll look into that.” In Chinese culture those sorts of phrases are almost always interpreted as “No.” After the issue was explained to both deans, they quickly came to agreement.
Research collaborations can take many forms (Figure 3-1: Forms of Collaboration, Riall Nolan). They range from lab-centered collaborations between individuals with a defined scope and limited duration to long-term, developmental partnerships between institutions that involve many participants doing external applied work. As collaborations become larger and more complex, they are more influenced by cultural rules, norms, and expectations.
Dr. Nolan has drawn several lessons from his 20 years of experience in helping several large research universities forge structural relationships. It is always important that the institution itself understands both its own cultural identity and the nature of the partnership that it is seeking. University partnerships can take one of three basic forms: (1) Predominant capability,