Book Review: The Geography of Thought

Everyone in business is talking about China (and India, Russia, Brazil, etc). I’ve been generally underwhelmed with the commentary on how an entrepreneur should think about the rise of China. That’s why I liked Geography of Thought so much – it’s all about how Asians and Westerners think differently. There are, as this book proves, fundamental differences in the thought process between Asians and Westerners and this difference is the foundation for all the cultural disconnects between the two cultures.

The book starts by comparing Aristotle and Confucius. Confucianism is the basis for the current Asian emphasis on relationships and obligations. Greek philosophy emphasized objects to be evaluated discretely. Next it looks at why Asians focus on context and Westerners do not. There’s an interesting interlude about language – in English we add "ness" to the end of a word to describe something whereas Asians have a different and specific word for a range of emotions, colors, and so forth. Then, it discusses the Eastern emphasis on dialectical thought, which emphasizes rising above a dispute to find a greater truth whereas Westerners like to simply obliterate a contradiction. On and on and on.

The ramifications of such divergences in thought processes are important in international relations, business, and personal relationships with Asians. For example, Westerners think about contracts (both a social contract w/ the government and a business agreement) as discrete and final. Easterners see contracts in a more holistic light. If there’s a flaw in this book it is it could have been done in 150 pages, not 200, so be prepared to skim some parts. But read it nonetheless.

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