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© Courtesy of Karl Moore

Russian business part of a post-modern future

by Nathan Gray at 22/03/2013 17:44

Karl Moore blames his generation for a lot of things - including bad architecture.

"Our library at McGill, it's ugly," he told The Moscow News on a recent visit to the city. "Today, we have gorgeous new buildings, gorgeous old buildings, but there's a time where you go, ‘This is as bad as Stalinist or Maoist brutal stuff.' It was useful, but it was ugly."

An associate professor at McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management, Moore understands the usefulness of the "modernist" ideas of his generation in their time, but he sees it coming to an end as younger generations enter the workforce in a still imperfect world.

"We thought that science would deliver us to this much better world, that science was a new Messiah, and it certainly did wonderful things from a health care viewpoint and in other parts of society," he said. "Part of modernism was to reject everything that came before it as inferior - we were the pinnacle of evolution, [but] some of the ideas that we had simply didn't work out."

A modern upbringing

Moore was born in Toronto in 1955, and spent 11 years in high tech at IBM and Hitachi. Academia soon beckoned, and after receiving his PhD at the University of Toronto, he started teaching on Oxford's MBA course in 1995, moving on to McGill in 2000.

His teaching has exposed him to the differences between his generation's "modernist" education and his students' "post-modernist" education, which will have an impact on the business world as they begin to work.

"It's a matter of young people rejecting the excesses of the boomers, rejecting modern thought because it didn't work out," he said. "Post-modernism is very eclectic, very wide open: what is truth? It depends on what your own experience is...  Given this is their world view, how do you lead them?"

Post-modern leadership

In parallel with the growing influence of post-modernism is the evolution of a new model of leadership. Traditionally, Moore said, the model of a leader has been middle-aged, male extroverts - "my people," as he described them - who have their place, but this has neglected different leadership qualities in others.

"We've underestimated the value of introverts in the models of leadership," he said. "An introvert actually listens to you, and you feel that your ideas are getting some airtime, and they're more apt to make a decision based on various people's input, as opposed to just more their own input."

Changes in the world of business and economics are not just based on Moore's observation of his students. There is another level that students need to see, which was the purpose of the Moscow trip, the fifth annual "Hot Cities of the World" tour run by McGill.

"Hot is a metaphor in this case," Moore said of Moscow. "It's actually as cold as Montreal."

The tours - which have in the past traveled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Israel, India, and South Africa - focus on introducing students to emerging markets, which are playing an increasing role in the world economy and in companies' growth strategies.

"My career was largely in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.," Moore said. "Their careers may well be that, plus in the emerging world. Some students that have come on this trip are working now in Abu Dhabi and Dubai or in India and South Africa, because they see the opportunity...  It's more on their radar through that kind of experience."

Russia's evolution

While a growth market with high potential, Russia offers many contrasts to the earlier destinations, which, due to history or the composition of their expat business communities, tend to have a larger Western influence. In relation to his own ideas of modernism and post-modernism, Moore agreed that Russia's "modernism" and shift to post-modernism might be different from that of the West.

"The ideas would take a different nuance, looking at the Soviet Union, because of the view of the world that they had, as well, so it gets a bit more complex," he said. "There almost would be three world views."

Further, the narrower spread of English affects the adoption of Western ideas, but at leading Russian universities, students would already be adopting post-modern perspectives.

"Even if Western businesspeople come here with their ideas, you don't sit and have a beer and argue philosophy unless your Russian is quite good or someone's English is quite good," he said. "So I think the ideas take longer to filter through in a society like that."

As economic significance expands to other cultures, however, an understanding of these cultures and their histories is crucial.

"History suggests at least [some] directions for us," he said. "By understanding Russia's history, you have a sense of where you can predict the future may go."

It is in this understanding of history that the older, modern generation has an advantage.

"As you get older, you remember Reagan, you remember Gorbachev as actors, and so they mean more to you - you have more history," Moore said. "But it's something we try to pass on, a sense of culture and history in terms of doing business. Those are really helpful."

Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #11"
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