The Impact of Culture on University–Industry Knowledge Interaction in the Chinese MNC Context

The Impact of Culture on University–Industry Knowledge Interaction in the Chinese MNC Context

Jianzhong Hong (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland), Johanna Heikkinen (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland) and Mia Salila (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-790-4.ch014
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Recent studies on university–industry collaboration have paid a growing attention to complementary knowledge interaction, which is of crucial importance for networked learning and knowledge co-creation needed in today’s rapidly changing markets and for gaining global competitiveness. The existent studies concentrate on the transfer of knowledge from the university to the company, and the impact of culture is examined with a focus on fundamentally different cultures between two types of organizations (i.e., between universities and firms). The studies, however, remain highly fragmented in cultural exploration on one level, and are primarily concerned with one-way technology and knowledge transfer. Research on more interactive knowledge interaction (e.g., collaborative knowledge creation) and especially in the Chinese context is seriously lacking. This chapter explores university–industry knowledge interaction in a broad sense, focusing on the development of a conceptual view on the understanding and analysis of the cultural impact in the Chinese MNC context. The chapter is an early work in process and it is theoretical in nature. It clarifies and elaborates key concepts and perspectives, and suggests implications for future research and practice regarding effective knowledge co-creation involving dissimilar cultures.
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As tasks, work and projects are increasingly conducted in globally distributed contexts, seeking for and integrating complementary knowledge and building networks across geographic and cultural borders are increasingly becoming the firm’s key strategy and part of operations for going international and gaining global competitiveness (Awazu, 2007; Buckley & Carter, 1999; Buckley et al., 2006; Kodama, 2003; 2005; Lindqvist et al., 2007). Due to the changing competitive landscape, external links and networking directed at the transfer and creation of knowledge, are of crucial importance for the innovative performance of firms and the advancement of new technologies (Johnston & Paladino, 2007; Santoro & Gopalakrishnan, 2000; Schartinger et al, 2002). Undoubtedly, universities play an important role in such networked innovation systems, and complementary knowledge interaction increasingly becomes a key driver for university–industry (U–I) collaboration (Lin, 2005; Santoro & Gopalakrishnan, 2000; Wang & Lu, 2007). However, many cross-border knowledge interactions including knowledge transfer projects have failed because of cultural barriers (Almeida et al., 2002; Bröchner et al., 2004; Holden, 2002; Lam, 1997; Moitra & Kumar, 2007; Siegel et al., 2003; Simonin, 1999).

Culture may enable or coerce good knowledge interaction depending on how well we know it. Previous studies have identified the following cultural barriers to or influences on effective knowledge interaction: cultural variation across nations in terms of the dimensions of individualism–collectivism and verticalness–horizontalness (Bhagat et al., 2002), cross-cultural differences in language, conception and prioritization (Kohlbacher & Krähe, 2007), differences in Hofestede’s cultural dimensions of individualism/ collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity/femininity (Lucas, 2006), national or societal settings in terms of knowledge structure and work system (Lam, 1997), language and social knowledge in the form of understanding others’ behavior (Buckley et al, 2005), cultural awareness of Chinese guanxi (personal connection) and mianzi (face) in cross-border knowledge transfer (Buckley et al, 2006), Chinese guanxi in terms of trust, relationship commitment, and communication (Ramasamy et al., 2006), cultural distance in the transfer of marketing know-how in international strategic alliances (Simonin, 1999), and the alignment of different professional or functional cultures of executives, engineers and operators (Schein, 1996). In the specific context of U–I knowledge interaction, the impact of culture and related factors are examined and acknowledged with a focus on fundamentally different cultures between two types of organizations particularly in goal formation, time orientation, language and assumptions (Cyert & Goodman, 1997; Elmuti et al., 2005), agreeing on priorities and timescales, publishing in the public domain, and academic laissez-faire approach vs industrial lack of flexibility (Barnes et al, 2002), and cultural traits in the institutionalization of U–I knowledge transfer activates (Santoro & Gopalakrishnan, 2000). Nevertheless, the existent studies remain much fragmented in cultural exploration, and are primarily concerned with technology and knowledge transfer. Knowledge transfer is one form of knowledge interaction. Research on other types of more interactive knowledge integration such as collaborative knowledge creation, and especially in the Chinese context is seriously lacking.

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