ISEM 2010

In 2010, the 11th International Seminar had reached a new level of internationality. For the first time, the ISEM had not only topically, but also literally moved across geographic and cultural borders and was hosted by Kozminski University in Warsaw, Poland. Rather befitting for this year in which the ISEM embarks upon “a new age” of cooperation, its topic focused on the theoretical constructs of time, the ways in which time is handled across different cultures, and its implications for business and economics.

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Culture-specific handling of time: consequences for individuals, institutions, and business studies

Time is brought to people’s awareness through a wide range of qualities:

  • as past, present, and future;
  • as lifetime, working time, and leisure time;
  • as objective, subjective, and socio-cultural time.

It is experienced in the emergence and transience of things and availed of for the social construction of reality.

Since Frank (1938) pointed out the importance of time for human behavior, a wide range and number of disciplines have applied academic means to approach time as a theoretical construct (cf. e.g. Feldman/Hornik 1981; Jacoby et al. 1976). Even though, as a variable, time may be more apt for quantification than many others, it was initially neglected as a subject of the natural sciences and their “objective” studies – whereas the methodologies of anthropology, psychology, and the social sciences allowed for the humanities to show a more profound interest in the phenomenon.

It was not until much later that the classic business studies began to take time into scientific consideration as well, despite the fact that time represents a defining and determining factor in many issues of economic and business behavior:

  • in Marketing (e.g.: anti-cyclic advertising, the carry-over effect, product life cycles, customer life cycles, customer retention, quick response strategy, etc.)
  • in Research & Development (e.g. terms of copyrights on patents, innovation cycles, etc.)
  • in Human Resource Management (e.g. when it comes to career planning, etc.)
  • in Production & Logistics (e.g. just-in-time delivery, lead times, simultaneous engineering, etc.)
  • in Accounting (e.g. concerning the fiscal year, service life, terms of payment, interest rates, opportunity costs, etc.)
  • in Data Processing (e.g. concerning business process modulation, etc.)
  • in Management (e.g. in first-to-market/follower strategies, short- vs. long-term planning, transaction costs, time-based competition, etc.)

How time is perceived and appraised is not merely a situational variable (and even as such it is largely disregarded in many models on purchasing behavior and decision making). Rather, time embodies a means of structuring processes of any kind, determined in part by culture and in part by subjectivity. As such, it coordinates as well as influences most of the interaction with one’s environment, both on an individual and a collective level.

Time provides the human mind with a sense of order by offering a binding – hence reliable – grid pattern according to which individual behavior may be synchronized (cf. e.g. Zerubavel 1981). Industrialization, for instance, would not have been feasible in its known form without the clock and synchronization.

It is not surprising that culture is found to play a central role when it comes to theories striving to explore and explain the concept of time, since the culture-specific (because culturally determined) perception and awareness of time has grave impacts on how people behave

  • as members of a company or an organization (cf. e.g. Usunier 1991),
  • as consumers (cf. e.g. Hawes 1980; Jacoby et al. 1976),
  • and in private (cf. e.g. Bergadaà 1990).

Life, both physically and intellectually, is in many ways affected by culture-specific understandings of time. While calendars and clocks may evenly divide and structure an “objective time”, there is also a subjective “inner time” – a correlate of culturally overlaid, yet individual memories and experiences. Therefore, subjective time is not homogeneous and whether it will pass “faster” or “slower” may differ, both inter- and intra-individually (cf. Fürstenberg 1986, S.28).

Rhythms of life and time-related rules of coexistence (norms and estimations of time) are greatly influenced by culture, too. Each culture will develop its own characteristic conception of time, as well as strategies of how to deal with it in order to coordinate social life – ranging from working processes and family life to recurring festivities. Other examples to be counted among these issues are the culture’s stance on punctuality and making old-age provisions.

In Western cultures, time does not merely go by: it is considered a valuable and limited resource and – in keeping with the metaphorical conception that “time is money” – needs to be spent wisely. In consequence, time spent is assigned a value based on the use to which it could have otherwise been put. For business studies in particular, this understanding has made time a central “dimension of economic thinking and behavior” (cf. Kern 1992), for instance in marketing (product life cycle) or in production management (e.g. the critical path method).

It was only in the 1990s, when “Time Based Management” (cf. Stalk/Hout 1992) was recognized as a building block of strategic advantage, that the trailblazing paper on “A Theory of the Allocation of Time” (Becker 1965), and later on the “Economicity of Time,” were fully appreciated. Since then, the business world’s versions of social-Darwinist creeds have shifted from “survival of the biggest” towards “survival of the fastest.” Meanwhile, a countermovement has evolved as well, which has been emphasizing the merits of slowness in return (cf. e.g. Backhaus/Bonus 1998; Reheis 1998; Held/Geißler 1993) and from which amongst others the term of “slobbies” arose: “slower but better working people.”

Seminar Paper Topics

  • Physiological time rhythms and how they affect individual leadership and management behaviour.
  • Social perceptions and handling of time in different cultures.
  • Culture-specific handlings of time: consequences for management.
  • The acceleration of time through modern information and communication technologies: consequences for business.
  • Time measurement in business by modern information and communication technologies.
  • Technical enabling and support of the International Seminar 2010.
  • Time-management in international business.
  • The impacts of time on international logistics.
  • Time and its role in strategic management.
  • Interim management: effects on role expectations and stakeholder relations in modern organisations.
  • From Taylor’s scientific management to “speed management”: the development of time management approaches in organisations.
  • Time and its impact on the individual, society, and business: conceptual backgrounds for the design of an empirical study in different countries.

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