America and Europe are two vastly different animals when it comes to how they approach business. But this doesn't mean one region's methods are "right" over the other's, and in fact, we can learn a lot from each other if we extend our hands out across the pond.

For a few insights on how business mindsets differ in these regions, I turned to Robert Vis, Founder and CEO of communications company MessageBird. With headquarters in both Amsterdam and San Francisco, he's seen both sides of the coin.

Global versus globally-minded

"Simply put," Vis explains, "there's a difference between a global company and globally-minded company. Global companies view international expansion like an umbrella--bringing everyone together under a standardized, 'one-size-fits-all' approach. Globally-minded companies don't view international expansion so unilaterally. Instead, they meet customers where they are."

With this differentiation now in your mind, in Amsterdam, Vis is in an incredible situation where there are roughly 200 nationalities packed into just 84 square miles. Just by itself, MessageBird represents 30 countries and 20 languages. And geographically, different policies and infrastructures are just a stone's throw away no matter where you turn. While Vis is admittedly in a hub, it's an extreme example that Europeans get plenty of exposure to what's different. That "normalization" might make it easier for them to think and act more inclusively and more easily handle diverse customer needs.

Vis cautions that being surrounded by diversity is not the same as making the conscious choice to value and embrace it. But Vis says that diversity is engrained in his company's DNA. His circumstance forced him to be more open to different points of view, approach building his platform with a global mindset right from the start, and take all the complexities surrounding him into account. He asserts his long-standing belief that leaders can encourage an atmosphere where we welcome and learn from the differences around us.

Ideas versus traction

"In the U.S.," says Vis, "ideas get funded. In Europe, traction does. Europe has a similar-sized economy to the U.S., and double the population. Yet, European venture capital activity is just a fraction of what is available in the states. The U.S. leans on decades worth of VC experience and vast resources and is quicker to jump on ideas and take risks. In the EU, there's a higher burden to build a sustainable business model and prove you're worth."

Europe can learn something from America here in terms of trusting the potential within a concept, letting new players onto the field and being able to rapidly adapt to a market. But Vis also says that playing the long game like the Europeans doesn't mean you have to move slowly. He compares it to building a house.

"You want it to be sturdy, you want it to be strong. But if a nail is in the wrong place, or if a plank of wood isn't lining up just right, you rip it out immediately. Just because you swing the hammer the wrong way once or twice doesn't mean you're compromising the structural integrity of what you've build. It just means you tried something, failed fast, fixed it quickly and moved on. And in the end, the house you built will still be strong."

Job hopping versus commitment

Vis says that he finds that workers within the EU tend to stay in one place longer than Americans do, which has benefits.

"Going through the ups and downs with one company teaches you resilience," Vis claims. "You learn to lean into and embrace those bumps in the road, and work through them, instead of avoiding them altogether. There's also a sense of camaraderie that builds up over an extended period of time. You feel like you're building something together, which is very rewarding."

But on the other hand, as Americans ping into new positions, they get exposed to different atmospheres, viewpoints and opportunities. That can keep creative juices flowing and stave off feelings of boredom that could have a negative influence on productivity.

24/7 versus time off

Americans tend not to take vacations, and there's a valid point here regarding the consistency that always having your people available can provide. But as studies offer more numbers on areas like productivity and revenue, more Americans are conceding that the European standard of valuing reasonable time off really does pay off.

"When leadership takes time off, it sets an example for employees," Vis says. "[Europeans] encourage and expect employees to use their vacation time, instead of leaving it on the table. We do it because we believe the best, most engaged, most enthusiastic employees aren't the ones with tunnel vision. They're the ones who are experiencing life."

Both Europe and the United States are enormously successful. And if we can at least look at what each side does well, then our perspective can broaden. We're then in a much better position to make intelligent decisions about what to do and how to shape what's in front of us. Observe. Ask why. Learn. Then lock in to what you want and go after it.

Published on: Sep 13, 2018
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