Soft Power Can Put A Smile On Your Face

Submitted by: Andrea Muntzel

You can imagine my surprise when I turned on the TV Tuesday morning only to see Good Morning America doing a segment on Mumbai. The show is doing a new reporting stint on the “biggest” things in the world. Why were they in Mumbai? It is because the city is the most populous in the world, with the potential to dwarf the total population of the entire Australian continent in just a few years. Although the initial draw of the city was its colossal population, the segment didn’t dwell on that. Instead, they attempted to show a snapshot of the many faces of Mumbai. Those who chose to read the Khanna book Billions of Entrepreneurs will surely remember the portion dedicated to India’s “soft power.” Khanna quotes Joseph Nye, a member of the Clinton administration, when describing soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.” Contrast this with China’s hard power which is gauged by how well the country can “coerce and get its way through military power and economic weight.”

Since we are in business school, it would make sense that we often fall into focusing on that “economic weight” portion of hard power. It seems clear though, that India lacks the hard power of China but is still finding success economically. Something must be said for the magnetism that emanates from India’s soft power. I’m not sure how long GMA keeps its videos up, but I hope you get the chance to see them. It’s a series of five short video segments on things as diverse as the slums of Dharavi to Bollywood to our favorite game, cricket.

GMA Video Link

Just to keep in mind when you watch, notice how many times the words ‘spirit’ and ‘determination’ are mentioned. Observe the ‘electrifying energy’ that surrounds Mumbai and ‘binds the spirit of the people.’ Finally, how does soft power ultimately affect business in India? How does it affect the people drawn to doing business in these countries? According to Khanna, China lost a lot of its soft power during the Cultural Revolution. We all know there’s something to be said for efficiency, but how important of a factor is culture in business?

From the videos, we can see that Mumbai’s chaotic, bustling, and energy-rich culture has given birth to at least one interesting business prospect: Tiffinwallas. Essentially delivery men, these individuals pick up business people’s homemade lunches at their house and then deliver them to their work, making so few mistakes and resulting in such incredible efficiency that Mumbai’s tiffinwallas have a 6-sigma rating! We’ll have to talk to Professor Olsen about that one next quarter…

In my opinion, soft power is inextricably related to business power. Regardless, though, even during dead week, these videos can put a smile on your face.

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15 Responses to Soft Power Can Put A Smile On Your Face

  1. Dr. Singh’s presentations are always full of statistics about India and so are the blogs and books we read in preparation for our trip. No matter how many stats I hear, I am always shocked by the staggering figures relating to India.

    Some of my favorites from this video include:
    – Mumbai has 1M new residents EVERY year
    (a little quick math: that is almost 3k/day!)
    – Bollywood releases 1200 movies year – which is double Hollywood’s releases!
    (that is over 20 movies a week!)
    – Victoria Train Station (scene of the dance scene finale in “Slumdog Millionaire”) has over 6M passengers/day!

    I am glad to see that this video link is still live on almost one year later. GMA did a great job creating a mosaic of Mumbai in those 3 minutes – wow, I am getting excited for our trip! They refer to Mumbai as a city that is “alive and kickin'” – I can’t wait! The maps and visuals of this video really do a great job of summing up the staggering statistical figures relating to this city. The time elapsed videos also help to portray the bustle that awaits us in India’s largest city.

  2. JOhn Barry says:

    While most of us were not alive during the time, it’s funny to think that America was once better known for its soft power than its hard power. Back in those days, our belief system in freedom and human equality is what garnered the world’s attention, not our overabundance of investments in military expenditures and our Gross Domestic Product. It’s unfortunate that due to some poor and misguided leadership, America has lost much of the world’s respect over the years because of its reliance on solving problems not through diplomacy but rather through brute force. Just because you’re the biggest kid in the yard does not mean that you have to be a bully to get your way. As a matter of fact, if you can convince people that your way will benefit them the most, you won’t have to make constant expenditures of energy everytime you seek to get something done. Hopefully your well implemented display of soft power will pay dividends in the form of people’s hearts and loyalty, making it unnecessary to have to constantly re-assert oneself and display one’s hard power. If we MBA’s can keep this in mind as we progress in our future careers, perhaps we can have more productive business relations with customers, suppliers, business partners, and even competitors.

  3. Tim Lynds says:

    I agree with Andrea that business power is essentially soft power. Companies cannot force a consumer to buy their products by putting a gun to his or her head, although I am sure some companies would if they could. Companies have to attract and retain customers using soft power in order to become successful. Just as the basis for Mumbai’s soft power is the energy and spirit of its people, companies get their soft power from brand image, company culture, product quality, etc. All of these factors combine to attract consumers to the company’s products and helps them make the decision to buy.

    I know there is some coercion and other hard power type actions going on behind the scenes in business, but no business would be successful without any customers. Businesses need soft power first before any hard power actions can be taken.

  4. Jay Ponto says:

    I agree that business power (as we know it) is soft power. Companies will do whatever they can to get you to buy their product, but traditional business power as we know it in the United States is soft, and done through advertising, special offers, deals, etc.

    The video does emphasize everything being BIG. Whether it’s the number of people flocking to Mumbai, the city’s population, the train station, the number Bollywood movies produced, the demographics of the population, or the separation between the rich and poor, everything is big in Mumbai! Just like how Americans describe New York City as the city that never sleeps, it seems that Mumbai is similarly being characterized as being a very vivacious metropolis. Mumbai seems like an exciting place with lots of opportunity, and I am very eager to visit it this summer!

  5. Jordan Wente says:

    I think culture plays a big role in business. If the culture of a society promotes hard work that translates directly to how people in that society will conduct themselves on a job. Energy, determination, and spirit are all desirable characteristics that can have positive results on business efficiency. If the workers are happy and determined that leads to a more productive work environment. This soft power seems to affect business in India because people are attracted to this energy. It could be compared to picking a mate. Most likely you would be attracted to a person that is energetic, determined and full of spirit rather than someone who possesses characteristics of hard power. Economic weight is extremely important but the mixture of energy and economic weight is even more appealing in my opinion. Look at business in the US that focus on the wellbeing of their employees in an attempt to create an environment full of energy with the goal of ultimately be more productive. People are drawn to doing business in India for the same reason that the videos put a smile on your face. It’s that smile that appeals to people and the knowledge of the determination that accompanies it. I would have to say if you were to choose between two countries, with similar capabilities and qualifications, you would ultimately choose the one that inspires you. That’s the country I would choose anyways!

  6. Danielle Steussy says:

    Something that we learned about in Organizational Behavior is the importance of company culture. The employees truly have an impact on how the business is formed, maintained and perceived, and each day we learn about more companies that incorporate a soft power approach into their company culture. As a result, employees are more productive and actually exhibit more creativity. Such companies like Google give their employees more freedom and flexibility while still giving them ample incentives to get work done. Even local businesses like San Luis Obispo’s MindBody has a creative environment and are thriving. Many people hear about these places and how employees are treated and strive to work for them. This productive and creative culture is not ruled by hard power, but rather soft power. We’re seeing incredibly innovative companies emerge and thrive with high profit margins to prove their success.

  7. Michael Minasian says:

    While this does seem like an interesting way of addressing things, I think that there is something to be said about the effectiveness of China. While I completely disagree with the way that they get things done on a moral level it is admirable the amount of prosperity that China has achieved under such tyrannical rule. It is heartening to see that people doing things based on people’s wants and needs as opposed to coercion can still be successful. It might be a slower ascent, but it is certainly on the way up.

  8. Both India and China are doing well with either of their mentalities. It seems that their power, whether soft or hard, works well with what the country is known for producing. China is the manufacturing hub of the world. We rely on almost everything to be manufactured and shipped from China to the states. In that regards, we aren’t looking for the most innovative products, but rather the most affordable ones. The hard power approach works well because it strives for production rather than creativity. The opposite can be said for India. The country is known for its services in technology and engineering, which require a more creative mind. The soft power helps mold these innovative minds, and the country prospers because of it.

  9. Chase Janvrin says:

    I disagree with some of the earlier posts regarding business power as soft power. I think in this day and age the connection between big business and politics is undeniable. Consider our wars in the middle east right now. How much of those wars were “fueled” by the desires of the very companies that our President and Vice President used to head, to gain access to those oil reserves? While that may be an extreme example, I’d also point to an earlier blog touching on the fact that because the primary source of drinking water in the big cities of India is bottled water, there is little to no support to improve public water facilities. While ensuring that the economic infrastructure can support business is an important facet of attracting business, money still talks. And you aren’t talking large, community changing money without talking hard politics.

  10. Yuxiang Gao says:

    India’s infl uence is soft rather than hard.
    Indian movies have become part of global culture.
    India’s private sector has leveraged its success in its knowledge economy to gain global economic relevance. India’s capital markets are also strong and act as a market-based mechanism to incentivize competion within the country.
    A shared experience of Buddhism gives China and India a
    common cultural ground. Bilateral trade and commerce are seems that their power, whether soft or hard, works well

  11. Chester Hiu says:

    It is interesting to see two different approaches from comparable countries achieving results. I think that the passive and patient nature of India, especially through non-violent protest, set the tone for a soft power stance. On the other side of the coin, the violent nature and upheaval in China during World War II and the Communist takeover set a hardline stance and hard power projection. The result: two large populations, two different takes on history, but one world. They complement each other and provide a synergy through their strengths.

  12. Austen Diliberto says:

    When I think of soft power, I think of an underdog. That is what India is. Even with all of its economic momentum and potential the country is still poor, but improving. Indians seem to be humble yet determined which is part of their soft power. They don’t use force or pick on other countries, they work on developing themselves to be the best they can be. China could have been like this, but its government is less trusted worldwide and its immense size is daunting. The rest of the world is used to China being on top because most of our goods have said “Made in China” for years. China has been demonized for stealing jobs and polluting the planet, while India gets away with similar acts. China really isn’t that bad off because it has such a close relationship with the world’s economy. However, if given a choice between allying with either India or China, who would you choose? I trust India more than I do China and I don’t think I’m alone on that.

  13. Amy McDougall says:

    As a Political Science student, we studied soft power incessantly. Particularly in international relations, soft power is gaining greater significance and is most adequately portrayed by the United States. People around the world don’t just recognize how big and powerful the United States is, they also want to be American. Things that are American have an unique appeal that translates into power that cannot by physically counted for. However, Joseph Nye a few years ago, added to his soft power hypothesis, claiming that “smart power,” which is the harmonious use of hard and soft power together, is in fact the best way to employ power and dominance on the world stage. I think that India is indeed gaining greater soft and hard power, but what they have not mastered yet is employing the two together. To compete in today’s world, you have to have both to have influence. China, who has indeed gained greater economic and military power in the past decade has not been as successful in spreading Chinese “zeal” across the world. China to this day is still more of a solitary powerhouse. For those who play Risk, its like all of China’s armies are stockpiled in one location, but it hasn’t permeated throughout the world yet. India on the other hand is starting to permeate throughout the world but they haven’t built themselves up as much as China. The United States however has done both. It has an international presence in every corner of the globe, but it also has maintained its dominant position as a solitary actor as well.

  14. Stephen Allison says:

    Chester, I don’t believe “passive” is an accurate adjective to describe non-violent protest. Gandhi was very much active in the promotion of his protest tactics, tactics which were active enough to successfully gain Indian independence from the British.

    India has immense soft power, especially when compared to China. As Billions of Entrepreneurs pointed out, India has Bollywood promoting Indian cinema, Ravi Shankar promoting Indian music, Swami Vivekananda and Deepak Chopra promoting Yoga, and Gandhi promoting Indian politics. In contrast, China has no ambassadors for their culture at the same level as the mentioned names. I know one main reason I chose the India trip over the China trip is because of India’s soft power.

    For all of India’s soft power, their hard power cannot be denied. India’s GDP in 2001 was $492b, and a decade later in 2011 it rose to $1,848b. India has a long way to go in reducing poverty and growing their economy but I would not say that they are weak.

  15. AliyaZ. says:

    In my opinion it is definitely the soft power that will dominate and will be accepted as a successful way of doing business. The short video does provide us with shocking number about Mumbai. But what is more impressive is how this so densely populated city has so much spirit and determination. From personal experience, I always think that people who live in such big cities tend to be more overwhelmed and dissatisfied with their lifestyles. I guess it is soft power that causes this spirit in Mumbai people, which makes me very excited to experience it on my own this summer.

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