Polish Heroes A Book review; Tim Bridgman “Positively Disappointed – Business Across Cultures in Poland”, Szkolenia Lodz, 2015

When I was handed the manuscript for Positively Disappointing, I thought the title was brave. Having personally experienced the negative language and assumed pessimism of Poland’s neighbour, The Czech Republic, some 20 years ago, I was keen to read of Tim’s experience and his analysis of the country’s culture as it exists in modern regional Poland.

The Culture of Poland

The Culture of Poland

This short and pithy book has 9 fictionalised stories that are based on the author’s real life experiences over the last decade.

By not attempting an opus major or tackling the whole of Polish culture, Tim has given us an accessible doorway via a foreigner’s Polish experience. With chapters about the ordering of coffee, being a disappointed vegetarian or, the enthusiastic cyclist, taking his life literally in his hands, Tim filters his perceptions through Hofstede’s dimensions and allows us to draw our own conclusions.

The main thrust of the book is post-Soviet Poland’s EU membership, the outflow of Polish talent and the influx of foreign investment. The author develops an argument for a genuinely changing culture with the challenges this presents for both foreign and Polish managers running businesses and leading people in markedly different ways.

The book works because of Tim’s vulnerable and honest confessions – the mistakes of a naïve outsider, and his even-handed treatment of the stories that are remembered.

The beginning of the book gives lesser-known historical facts – the post-war persecution of a Ukrainian minority and the expulsion of the sizeable German population.

I found the book to be a little light on the specific inheritance of the Soviet years and not to say enough about the catholic contribution to the Polish psyche. Having said this, the tome achieves its objectives and stimulates the mind whilst informing the reader about the local zeitgeist.

Who should read this book?

British and overseas managers who have worked for a couple of months in Poland and overcome their initial trauma will benefit from picking up this book, enjoying the stories and contemplating answers to the questions posed at the end of each chapter.

An English – Polish glossary is a very sensible addition and makes this sometimes esoteric book easily accessible to any Pole that wishes to see the foreigner’s point of view.

In conclusion, the author has done Poland and foreign managers a favour by producing a functional book that combines fact, reflective exercises and stories that can genuinely help build bridges across nations and prevent a few escalating culture and commercial clashes in regional offices around Poland.

The book comes out in February –

 

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Making Poland Smile Tim Bridgman

Misery is Optional

Misery is Optional

The above picture is a campaign poster from the recent presidential elections for the Polish city of Łódź. The candidate’s slogan translates to: What hurts you? What f*#ks you off? What do you want?

Poles have a reputation for being dissatisfied and confrontational and posters, such as above, only seem to prove this point. However, not everyone in Poland is of this mindset. Below are two examples of recent campaigns trying to make Poland smile.

Ralph Talmont at TEDxKrakow – Smile!   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpsv3e48kFY

ASPIRE Happy Video;  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK4ePwJB0Ns

But can it really be that simple? And is a smile the final ingredient Poland needs on its road to recovery?

Upon closer examination, you may have noticed that both videos are set in Poland’s most attractive, prosperous and developed city, Kraków, which is now one of the world’s top 10 outsourcing destinations. Furthermore, both videos are also associated to organisations set up in Poland by immigrants from abroad (Australia and Britain) and, obviously, are in the English language.

So the message seems to be that foreign companies setting up in Poland are expecting their Polish workforce to smile and if they don’t this could be detrimental to future relations. This is a tall order for a nation used to short-term contracts, authoritarian bosses and intense (sometimes back-stabbing) competition from colleagues.

Such management techniques and work environments were all used to create an atmosphere of extreme insecurity in the past that guaranteed people would work as hard as possible for as long as possible. It is this that has created the drive behind Poland’s tiger economy and, in many ways, is the thing that foreign investors most want to retain.

So who knows what is best now, to be cheerful or to be a grump? After all tigers are not supposed to smile, but to growl at everyone who passes.

Timothy J. Bridgman lives and works in Poland with his young family. He is the author of;
Positively Disappointed: Cross-Cultural Awareness and Communications in Poland
published by SZKOLENIA ŁÓDŹ