Success – A Cultural Perspective

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What factors make you or your business a success?

And how do your cultural values shape this view?

I recently heard the story about a popular grocery store in a small town in Mexico that had what Wall Street would call a success. The store happened to begin stocking a home made brand of peanut butter that became so popular that it flew off the shelves. When the store ran out of the product the customers clamored for the store to resupply them with their newly found delicacy.

The store declined their request.

The reason, to loosely quote the storeowners was,

“Too many people wanted it!”

Now a typical businessperson in the USA would respond to the storeowners

Are you crazy. You were on the brink of a great new thing”

This story is repeated again and again here in Mexico. I was working with a Mexican CEO recently who oversaw his company’s operations in Latin America. My job was to help him define success for a couple of key corporate initiatives. He told me how difficult it was to raise the bar for financial success for some on his executive teams.

He said, “I have two groups on my executive team. One made up of baby boomers that had been with the company a long time. The other group of recent hires was under 40 years of age.

The older generation of leaders was quite happy with the success the company had achieved in Latin America. They had no great incentive to push for even greater success.

The younger executives were rearing to expand their business capabilities. Although they were also from Latin America they had been influenced by more of a profit-driven global business perspective.”

Both these cases, the grocery store and the Latin American executive, illustrate how culture (and generation) shapes one’s view of success.

USA business success = Continual growth of the value of the company or product to the shareholder/customer


More is never enough, the bar keeps being raised.

Business success in Mexico = The degree to which my work contributes to my family and quality of life


More is not necessarily on my radar, enough is enough


  1. One cultural measure of success is not necessarily better than the other. Growth can be good and it can also be destructive.
  2. It is good to know there are alternative models to serve as examples
  3. We can consciously choose which model or hybrid thereof we can follow.

So my question to all of us is,

“What can we learn from the Mexicans about life and work?”

“How can we continue to grow our business and not implode in our personal and family lives?”

Growth can eventually kill our civilization, environment, and each other.

But that does not have to be the case if we ask the question

“Why do we work?”

When I asked the group of Latin American Executives that question the answer was quite unambiguous,

“Our company/product makes a difference in peoples’ lives”

Contribution must never be eclipsed by compensation.

 How do you define success for yourself?






About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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