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Can anyone help me with 'Kiasu'

by Phil Dourado January 5, 2009

Hi to members of the Asia Pacific Forum. I have a question I hope you can help with.

I'm running a private version of this Leadership Hub for a global corporate, to help them exchange leadership tips and insights and good practice from one side of the globe to the other among their operating units. We are running the pilot in their Asia Pacific region, with about 300 members. It's a closed intranet thing.

A Malaysian colleague tells me that 'kiasu' - not wanting to appear to not know the answer to something - is a prominent part of the business culture in Asia Pacific and that not wanting to lose face may inhibit members of the community from sharing expertise.

His point is that if the head of a business unit in, say, Shanghai, wants to improve his or her employee engagement scores and knows that his equivalent in the group's business unit in, say, Singapore, and some others, are good at it, 'kiasu' might prevent him or her from posting a question asking for help in this area. 

Now, I think some cultural differences are overplayed and others are underplayed - I mean we make too much of some and are ignorant of others.

So my question, as someone with limited experience in Asia Pacific (despite half my family being out there) is

1. Is 'kiasu' a significant factor?

2. Might it inhibit people opening up to each other in an online community like this one and saying "I'm having trouble with...Can you suggest ways of doing it better"?

3. If so, any advice for how to handle that?

Thank you if you can help.  

Phil