Fish Can’t See Water by Kai Hammerich • cultural diversity • corporate culture • national culture

Book cover of Fish Can’t See Water by Kai Hammerich and Richard D. Lewis

Fish Can’t See Water takes the reader through what the origins of culture and cultural understanding are and is based on two highly influential thinkers Edgar Schein and Geert Hofstede and serves as the counter-argument to Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat which I have reviewed a few weeks ago. It Deep dives into the successes and failures of various multinational corporations and based on these studies authors argue that even in our globalised world, country differences and national culture still matter, and how businesses approach those differences, be it within their customer approach or within the company structure itself, can affect organisations.

So the approach to culture is that at the top level you have what’s called the artefacts. The best way to explain that is by looking at the pyramids. The artefact is what you can see.  You can see the pyramids, you can see they are huge,  they are impressive but you have no clue why they were built, how they were built and how people use them. The second level of culture it’s what is called the exposed values. These are justifications for your decision-making, so why do you think about the world the way you do and how does that impact the way you expect people to make decisions and behave in the corporate world. Then at the lowest level, you have beliefs and assumptions that underpin everything above it. These are often unspoken and invisible to the individuals that’s where culture really happens.

Then the book highlights two perspectives: the strategic rational perspective which is a strategy you organize your business to deliver some results. The second perspective is a corporate culture which cuts across and meets the rational perspective in the work practices or the management practices, for instance, the way people get work done and this is where the intersection between national culture and the rational linear active strategic perspective happens.

Basically speaking, the whole book talks about the immense impact that national culture has on the company’s performance and what they have to do in order to acknowledge this influence. So why is it that companies often in the day-to-day business forget to include the considerations about corporate culture and focus solely on the strategy and daily execution? For instance, the Western world where we have a very rational results-oriented mindset becomes overwhelmingly dominant. This is fine until the culture starts to cross the way of strategy. This is where the national culture will play its role as some countries are more custom-oriented than others. That understanding will help them to go from the startup phase to the geographic expansion phase. This understanding would definitely help eBay, Amazon or PayPal to compete effectively with Alibaba in China. History has shown that inaccurate execution connected with cultural difference had a huge influence on business as described in “Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built” by Duncan Clark.

On the other hand, I have to say that when I was reading this title I had an impression that it was used as a marketing tool. The book focuses primarily on describing results that cannot be achieved without engaging the authors’ services. Kai Hammerich and Richard D. Lewis give significant room to describing their models and dedicate the major part of the study to convincing the reader of the book’s subtitle: just as fish can’t see water, corporations cannot see it without external help. I also have to admit that the content was a bit repetitive and I couldn’t find it absorbing. Last but not least, summaries at the end of each chapter were a great guide as they helped me a lot to encapsulate whole knowledge.

Fish Can’t See Water: How National Culture Can Make Or Break Your Corporate Strategy
by Kai Ewerlöf Hammerich and Richard D. Lewis

Final rating:

Interesting story
Complexity of ideas
Flourish language

In the article I made use of a few authors’ interviews.

Book details:

Size: 312 pages
Published: 2013


Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads:

Other useful links:
The Lewis Model – Dimensions of Behaviour:
Other important book about cross-cultural communication by Richard D. Lewis – “When Teams Collide: Managing the International Team Successfully” –

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