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How cultural knowledge can help you to succeed in business

Innovation is an omnipresent buzzword in today’s world. But when does it happen and where does it come from? At SAP’s Design & Co-Innovation Center, we believe there are three factors for innovation: people, process, and space. In our projects, we always put the person in focus and we do this all the more so when we collaborate with people from different cultures. Over time, we have learned that cultural knowledge plays a crucial role in achieving great success. Why is that?


Culture is an important feature of a person’s identity and it also has a social function as it creates a sense of belonging to a certain community.

That’s why the aspect of culture shouldn’t be neglected in business. In our daily work, we focus on the people, the users of our products and services, and their needs. We also have to know the customs of our international customers to run successful workshops and projects, after all, expectations differ significantly across cultures. So how do we aim to meet them?

Our multidisciplinary team is made up of people from 27 countries who speak 23 languages. We see our cultural mosaic as one of our greatest assets. Additionally, our team covers a broad set of different educational disciplines. This allows us to tap into yet another set of diverse experiences that help us to find the right answers to the challenges we want to solve.


Let’s have a look at some examples of how cultural diversity and knowledge have helped us to succeed in projects:

  • Adapt your processes to the culture you are working with:

We have learned from many projects how important it is to be aware of cultural differences and to react accordingly. Taking a concrete example: People from certain countries may be more reluctant when it comes to prototyping, crafting, or performing role-plays. In particular, the warm-ups that we usually do at the beginning of workshops might be met with reluctance. A good way to break the ice is to demonstrate the exercises and to do them together with your customers. Later on during the project, each phase might be experienced differently in other cultures, which might also mean adapting the steps. In particular, the user research phase within the design thinking process may turn out to be different as soon as you have to deal with culture-specific customs. Therefore, what you need are standard processes with various options and alternatives. In fact, coming from another culture can be advantageous in a project setting in that you enjoy a certain freedom to break the rules as an outsider in a given culture. This in itself often results in unconventional impulses or ideas, which can only help to fuel success. 

  • Let your customers use their own language:

The success of a workshop is fully dependent on the participants and their input and nothing helps more to make them feel comfortable and free to join in than the chance to speak their own language. With example languages such as Dutch, Swiss German, or Russian, we have experienced the full significance and power of language in enabling our customers to articulate their needs and pain points, and to generate ideas in their mother tongue. In one particular case, professional simultaneous interpreters were brought into an interactive customer workshop to ensure that everyone could be understood, to keep up a well-paced creative flow, and to prevent content from getting lost in translation.

  • Be open-minded and embrace new opportunities:

Our team has just established a new AppHaus in the innovation hotspot Seoul, Korea, embracing the chance to be fully open to alternative and very promising opportunities. Our core approach is to remove hierarchies through the workshop character that we apply to every project, allowing creativity and freedom of mind, which is the true source of all innovation. At a very early stage, we have seen that teams in Korea have a much stronger feeling of belonging together than in Europe. It’s not the individual performance that counts, but rather the performance of the group. Moreover, it is an important value in Asian cultures to save face in public interaction, not only one’s own face but everyone involved. The knowledge of customs and norms therefore is not only a great asset, but it is essential for succeeding in a different culture.


We have seen that cultural knowledge and cultural awareness enrich our working life as they open completely new perspectives. Understanding and valuing cultural diversity, but also learning from andabout different cultures enables you to think in different directions while making use of your own knowledge and experience. In this way, exciting and successful outcomes can result from your projects and help you achieve your mission.

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