Focus on Happiness vs. Growth!

“Overconsumption” photo ©The Guardian.

Interculturalists have long known that the answers to our world problems lie within the diversity of values and wisdom in the people of our world. Today I learned that economists are now agreeing with us.

For over seventy years economists have told us that growth is the solution to world poverty, that “growth” equals “progress.” Progressives and some of the world’s wealthiest have recently begun to advocate taxation schemes to redistribute monies from the wealthiest and thus build a bit of justice into our systems. Yet, neither approach will work.

Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty on less than $5 (£3.20) a day has increased by more than 1.1 billion. That’s 17 times the population of Britain. So much for the trickle-down effect.
—Jason Hickel in The Guardian, 23 September 2015

We are already over-consuming Earth’s bio-capacity by 60%. The real problem is overconsumption by the world’s wealthiest countries, and the way in which we conceptualize “progress.”

Our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 “global hectares” annually—a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares—many times their fair share.
—Jason Hickel

In a wonderfully insightful article in The Guardian, Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, tells us that an intercultural approach and cross-cultural values may be the solution to problems facing our world. Jason tells us how “economist Peter Edward argues that instead of pushing poorer countries to ‘catch up’ with rich ones, we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to ‘catch down’ to more appropriate levels of development. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption not as basket cases that need to be developed towards western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.” Costa Rica, for example, manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.

“Perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses! According to recent consumer research, 70% of people in middle- and high-income countries believe overconsumption is putting our planet and society at risk. A similar majority also believe we should strive to buy and own less, and that doing so would not compromise our happiness. People sense there is something wrong with the dominant model of economic progress and they are hungry for an alternative narrative.”

Jason directs us to Latin American values such as “buen vivir,” living the good life, to which I’d add also a respect for the planet, Pacha Mama, and community values such as the African “ubuntu.” You can find in-depth explanations of hundreds of non-dominant values in Cultural Detective Online. Changing our western- and northern-centric definitions of progress to a definition more inclusive of the eastern and southern value system could be just the ticket to our survival as a species. Jason also points us toward books such as Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s How Much is Enough?

As Jason concludes his article:

Either we slow down voluntarily or climate change will do it for us. We can’t go on ignoring the laws of nature. But rethinking our theory of progress is not only an ecological imperative, it is also a development one.

This is not about giving anything up. On the contrary, it’s about reaching a higher level of understanding and consciousness about what we’re doing here and why.

Cultural Detectives, let us use this new-found recognition as a catalyst to breathe new motivation into our efforts!

University of Valencia Master’s in Cross-cultural Management

logo-uvSo many people in Europe ask us about Cultural Detective Facilitator Certifications and other professional development opportunities. We of course always mention the Intercultural Development Research Institute in Milan, of which I’m a proud faculty member.

Soon there will be a terrific new opportunity: a Master’s in Cross-cultural Management, offered by the University of Valencia in Spain. The program is extensive and very practical, including cross-cultural management theory as well as cross-cultural marketing, project management, negotiation, conflict resolution, global teams, international assignments, and intercultural training and coaching. The program culminates in an internship or final project.

The faculty teaching this program are incredible, and I am proud to be among them. It is an incredibly talented and diverse group of professionals from around the world.

You can pre-register now, or download a brochure to pass on to your students or colleagues.

The Oxford Dictionary recently added “Mx” to their lexicon. Are you familiar with what it means?


Transgender symbol image ©ParaDox, used under Wikimedia Commons license

Growing up in the USA in the 1950s, as I did, it was “clearly understood” that there were two genders: boys and girls. So it never crossed my mind until I was much older that perhaps the binary world of gender was not so binary. And if one allows—even intellectually—for that possibility, you can begin to see how difficult daily life can be for transgender people, individuals who do not identify with the gender to which they were assigned at birth.

The more one thinks about it, the more complex being transgender becomes. Take a seemingly simple thing like filling out a standardized form: what do you do if you aren’t Miss, Mrs., Ms., or Mr.? This is the dilemma that opens Jacob Tobia’s recent piece in The Guardian, which I highly recommend. He writes of the difficulties of not having a gender-neutral option available in so many daily situations. As I read his article, I began to realize the privilege given to “cisgendered” individuals—those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Tobia writes:

Growing up, I assumed that the only way to have a gender-neutral title would be if I got a PhD and could make everyone call me “Dr”. For most of my life, I didn’t realize that there was another way out of the “Mr/Ms” dichotomy. That changed when, in my junior year of college, a favorite professor of mine introduced me to an artist named Justin Vivian Bond who used a gender-neutral term that I had never heard of before: “Mx.”

What?! Yup, that’s not a typo: the word is “Mx.” When I read this article, I thought everyone else must already know about it, since it is now included in “A title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.”

Judging by the reaction of the few people I have mentioned it to, this term is not in universal usage, at least not in my tiny little corner of the world. However, it seems a great addition to the English language for those who do not self-identify with binary gender assignments.

“…on 28 August 2015…That day, – created by the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary – added Mx to the dictionary. Seemingly overnight, Mx went from an underground, somewhat obscure term, to an official part of the English language.”

Want to learn more about the challenges of being transgender? Watch this video with Jazz Jennings, a transgender youth. Want to learn how to be an ally to transgender people? Here are a few tips from Basic Rights Oregon. Want to understand some of the values that transgender individuals tend to share? Check out Cultural Detective LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), now part of Cultural Detective Online.

Great Press Response to CD’s New Book!

JoeLurie600Cultural Detective is the proud publisher of a wonderful new book chock-full of stories of intercultural interaction from around the world—a book that contains loads of proverbs and insights to current events as well: Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures, authored by Joe Lurie.

Response from the press to the new book has been swift and highly positive.

  1. The first article came from the National Peace Corps Association. Joe has a fellowship endowed in his honor, one designed to enable returned Peace Corps volunteers to obtain their PhDs. Isn’t that terrific? So they used our book to encourage people to apply and further their education! Read more about Joe, the book and the fellowship in this terrific article.
  2. University of California Berkeley profiled Perception and Deception in a public affairs news release, Former I-House director explores cross-cultural encounters in new book.
  3. Perception and Deception was also showcased recently in Psychology Today, in an article entitled, Do You Perceive Things the Way They Really Are?

Joe has been doing quite a few readings, and one that is open to the public is coming up on Tuesday, December 8, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. He is an incredible storyteller, and it’s sure to be a lively audience, so don’t miss the opportunity!

Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures is available in print or ebook versions, via your local bookseller or amazon. Be sure to get your copy today! The book makes a wonderful gift.

What Will They Think of Me?


The International Improv Conference in Mannheim Germany June 2015

We are pleased to share with you today a guest blog post by Patricia Comolet; bio follows the post.

What is one of the main challenges of going into a new cultural situation? Of course—dealing with the unknown—and, often, the self-doubt that it can trigger:

OMG do I need to take off my shoes here? But I have a hole in my sock! What will they think of me?

In other situations, it could be defensive self-assertion that might be triggered:

It is clear that this situation requires someone here to take charge. As the new COO it is my job to step up to that challenge. I need to show that I know what I’m doing or what will they think of me?

Underneath the stress of adapting to an unknown situation or culture can be the insidious fear of judgment.

“Improv” is the art of improvisational theatre, and I find that building an “Improv mindset” is a unique way to prepare for a new office, new city, new country, and /or new culture. It offers a different and vibrant way to deal with the underlying question: What will they think of me?

Why is this so? In the world of Improv, the notion of judgment, with time and practice, fades. Instead, we learn a serendipitous mindset of responding, to the best of our ability, to whatever is presented. I believe that I can manage whatever shows up if I adapt some essential guidelines gained through Improv.

Through Improv exercises we can learn to give ourselves this initial moment to pause and open up to where we are and with whom we are interacting.

Want to try it? Get a partner who is open to learning.

  • Begin by simply looking at your partner to assess his/her current state. What’s going on for him/her? Take the time to assess the environment. What is happening around you? (Developing observational skills and emotional intelligence are two very fundamental intercultural competences, pivotal for any Cultural Detective.)
  • Then comes the basic improv approach: Yes, and. You respond to what has been proposed with a “yes, and.” However, this is not your run-of-the-mill “yes, I hear your thoughts, and here is my idea.” Rather, this is a most distinctive and committed “Yes, and I could add this to your thoughts.” Improv involves an upward spiraling “yes, and” with each participant focused on what they can add to the original proposition. You’ll find the “yes and” in the Cultural Detective list of A Dozen Best Practices for Enhancing Intercultural Excellence.

The magic happens in the process. Allowing ourselves to let go of our own approach or perspective long enough to hear and work with someone else’s provides the time and space necessary to really connect with others. The process builds bridges across divides.

It requires focused intention to step into the other person’s idea/culture/mindset, but once there, like Alice through the Looking Glass, there is a sort of wonder at what is possible. I found, in my improv training, a simmering excitement as I was caught up in the possibilities I could come up with—once I acknowledged the other’s vision of things.

By working with this technique we build acceptance and openness to new ideas. (More intercultural competences being honed here, right?)

Facts, feelings, and intentions are the raw material we have to work with. In the theatre, as in the world of cultural differences, it is the interpretations we assign to what we see and feel that trigger emotions within us. It is those emotions that influence our interpretations. By raising awareness of the power of the interpretations we unconsciously apply to unfamiliar situations, we can open a whole new way to experience what is going on around us. Improv provides a framework for considering other possible interpretations.

In the theatre, as in the world of cultural differences, it is the interpretations we assign to what we see and feel that trigger emotions within us.

Another valuable idea coming from the world of Improv is the simple notion of “make the other one look good.” No matter what is tossed at us during an Improv session, the spirit is to take what is and build on it positively, with the intention of making the other look good. Again, Cultural Detective’s “positive intent” parallels the philosophy of Improv.

Imagine what strength we would gain if we would approach new situations with the idea that it is up to us to make the other shine! What impact could such a positive sense of purpose have on us? How could it help us to adapt more enthusiastically to a new situation?

Improvisation has the benefit of being experiential learning that can help us truly assimilate the knowledge of a culture or people. This fits nicely into intercultural coaching, as cultural differences are easier to perceive when actually experienced. By playing with scenarios in a relaxed atmosphere, we can work through the specific challenges our clients are dealing with to help them experience a shift in their understanding—a shift to help fade the fear of “What will they think of me?

Improv techniques and Cultural Detective integrate easily together, with CD providing a framework in which to use the skills acquired through Improv to better communicate across cultures. Learning to let go of the idea that our approach is the only approach is part of what can be derived from utilizing the CD process. Cultural Detective Value Lenses help us to recognize that our interpretation of events is but one of many potential interpretations. And, the “yes, and” approach may help each person value and build on the diversity found within the interaction. If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe today.

PatriciaComoletOur guest author, Patricia Comolet, has a background in surgical nursing, and has worked and lived in seven countries on four continents, including work in Africa and India, honing her ability to get real results in difficult conditions. Currently, she focuses on coaching global and virtual team dynamics, integrating her skills developed during challenging work experiences with her coaching training. Patricia helps global teams to clarify their team dynamics and establish concrete objectives by promoting clear communication, creative problem solving, collective intelligence, and strong team identity. More information about her work can be found on her website:

The Pulitzer’s of Diversity

Edith Anisfield Wolf, Photo from the Cleveland Foundation

Edith Anisfield Wolf, photo from the Cleveland Foundation

Do you think you are well-read on world cultures? Do you occasionally wonder what one person can do to promote justice in this world of ours? Are you someone who thinks that it’s primarily people of color who recognize the vital importance of diversity on our planet? If so, think again and most definitely read on.

Edith Anisfield Wolf, born way back in 1889, was a poet, businesswoman and philanthropist from Cleveland who had a lifelong passion for social justice. The daughter of immigrants, Edith spoke four languages (English, French, German and Spanish) and used literature as a means to explore racial prejudice and celebrate human diversity.

In 1935 she created the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, to honor books that explore these very issues. That makes 2015 the Award’s 80th anniversary! Congratulations and thank you, Edith! Note how visionary that makes her—establishing this important Award 20 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision! Edith died in 1963, but her legacy lives on.

“The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures…Today it remains the only American book prize focusing on works that address racism and diversity. Past winners have presented the extraordinary art and culture of peoples around the world, explored human-rights violations, exposed the effects of racism on children, reflected on growing up biracial, and illuminated the dignity of people as they search for justice.”
—Anisfield-Wolf website

Over the past 80 years the Award has highlighted nearly 200 significant books, most of which I have not read. So I need to get going! For those of us who may be intimidated by such a long list, they also have a smaller list of 24 “Lifetime Achievement” books, or you can sort winners by year or according to the categories of fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

Again from the Award’s website: “The Cleveland Foundation, the world’s first community foundation, has administered the Anisfield-Wolf prize since 1963. Before then, the Saturday Review sponsored the awards. From the early 1960s until 1996, internationally renowned anthropologist and author Ashley Montagu chaired the awards jury. That panel of globally prominent scholars and writers has since been overseen by Henry Louis Gates Jr., the acclaimed scholar, lecturer, social critic, writer, and editor.”

Have you heard of this Award? Despite its prestigious history and huge contribution, and the fact that the Anisfield-Wolf’s cash prizes equal the Pulitzer’s, many people haven’t heard of it. Perhaps that’s due to how ahead of its time the Award was, though Karen Long, the Award’s manager, has another theory:

“[The] Anisfield-Wolf remains a relatively unknown honor. Awards manager Karen Long suspects she knows why. ‘Things that address race are considered, sometimes in the larger culture, as homework or broccoli or good for you.'” —USA’s National Public Radio

Cultural Detectives, I am thrilled to be on the journey to developing intercultural competence, respect, understanding, collaboration and justice with you. And, I’m feeling like we need to work together to make sure more people know about this incredible resource! Let’s start by watching the Awards via live feed this Thursday, September 10, at 6:00 pm Cleveland time (GMT-4), and by circulating this post widely to your networks.

The Blame Game

BlameVAcccountabilityBlame is one of the most powerful tools in the repertoire of a Cultural Defective. Do you want to diminish trust in a relationship? Cause irritation? Ensure that others do not want to help you succeed? Ruin a perfect opportunity for cross-cultural collaboration? Then blame is a good strategy.

In contrast, Cultural Detective advises you to “refuse to take offense”—a much smarter operating norm for Cultural Effectives. Has someone failed to inform you in a timely manner? Rather than blaming them for rudeness or unprofessionalism, it is more constructive to learn the intentions behind their (lack of) communication, explain your preferences, and together create a shared way forward—a “third culture.”

“Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability.”
—Brené Brown

When others have a different cultural norm, mindset, or “common sense,” it is most productive and sanity-preserving to acknowledge and understand these differing “cultural senses”! Actively taking accountability for co-creating shared norms provides a way to work together more effectively. It also facilitates trust, while embedding as “normal” the processes and a mindsets to help solve future problems.

We are fans of Brené Brown, as many of you may be, too. The video below captures this basic concept of blame vs. accountability in her inimitably humorous and insightful style, albeit not in a cross-cultural context.

Are you looking to build intercultural competence, and learn a reliable process to transform blame into accountability? A subscription to Cultural Detective Online for you, your family, or team will help you accomplish just that!

Enhance Your Training Design Skills!

thIn two complimentary webinars next week—at times convenient to different world time zones—Cultural Detective Senior Trainer of Facilitators, Tatyana Fertelmeyster, will share her wealth of expertise designing intercultural competence workshops.

This professional development opportunity is aimed at those committed to building understanding, respect and collaboration where they work and live. It requires a basic familiarity with Cultural Detective—you know how the famous Lego children’s toy generally works, and you want to learn how to build really cool projects out of it. Similar to Legos, Cultural Detective provides endless opportunities for creating meaningful and engaging learning in a variety of settings.

Participants will explore ways to build everything from a two-hour training session to a semester-long course, and from a culture-specific learning to a leadership development strategy. Bring your experiences, your curiosity, and your ideas, and let’s play with “Lego” together!

The webinars will take place on September 8th and 9th. The first is scheduled convenient to Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The second should be easy to attend for anyone in Africa, the Americas, Europe or the Middle East.

Sign up now to reserve your place, as seating is limited!

Please email your specific questions prior to the webinar to Tatyana Fertelmeyster at We look forward to having you join us!


Cultural Detective is’s “Top Business 2015”

gk-1Nipporica Associates LLC, the company behind the Cultural Detective brand, is proud to announce that it has been been named to the Diversity “Top Business” list for the 15th year in a row—each year since the inception of the prestigious award!

This honor speaks to the hard work and dedication of our Cultural Detective team, beginning with Dianne Hofner Saphiere, founder and principal, and including our highly talented and diverse group of 138 authors, hundreds of certified facilitators around the globe, and to YOU—our clients, colleagues, and community. Together we engage passionately every day to build respect, understanding, collaboration, and justice across cultures!

Here is the notification letter:

Dear Honoree,

We are honored to announce that your company has been recognized as a 2015 “Top Business” recipient by! You have distinguished yourself as one of the leading entrepreneurs in the United States and are most deserving of this award and recognition. We are pleased to present you with this honor.

Over 1,300,000 businesses in the United Sates participated in our 15th annual business survey and you were among the select few chosen based on both your annual gross revenue and the business profile you presented to us. This award reflects our annual “Top Business List” which receives over 20 million viewers annually. We could not have done it without you!

Our “Top Business List” offers the most comprehensive look at the strongest segment of the United States economy – America’s privately held companies. These companies are the most recognized and respected which truly differentiate themselves in our indeterminate market place. We are proud to say this esteemed list has been coveted by the most successful companies in the U.S and, as one of the strongest your company has joined its ranks!

Your award is intended to inspire, motivate and honor your employees, customers, community and most of all, you. Your dedication and hard work has created incentive to stimulate economic growth in America. Like you, we at are dedicated to empowering the economic growth of our country and we are proud to walk alongside you as we all work to make this happen.

As an awardee, I am pleased to extend a personal invitation to you and your team to attend the “15th Annual National Entrepreneurship Summit”. This event will honor you and a select number of businesses which have dedicated themselves in stimulating econonmic growth throughout America. The event will be held at the Harvard Club of NY in NYC on April 30, 2015.

On behalf of and our sponsors, we salute you and your employees for achieving this momentous honor.

We look forward to congratulating you and your team in person at the awards ceremony on April 30th at the Harvard Club of NY in NYC!

With warm regards,

Kenton Clarke
President & CEO
(203) 255 – 8966

Here is the official explanation of the award:

“The ‘Top Businesses in America’ program recognizes and honors individuals who have established themselves as a world class community of entrepreneurs that continue to transform the way we live and advance our economy forward. In recognition of these outstanding accomplishments and contributions, the program is also designed to celebrate and support their efforts in order to generate public awareness among their peers, customers, press and to organizations who seek their products and services.

Now in its 15th year, has been privileged through business intelligence in identifying the USA’s most successful entrepreneurs on a state and national basis. Over 1.3 million businesses participated in the annual survey. The ‘Top Businesses’ are determined by a selection committee which evaluates the eligibility for all submissions in each award category.

The ‘Top Businesses in America’ program is sponsored by major brands which include Apple, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Office Depot, Toyota, Cisco, and Verizon, among others. This ongoing partnership and support has allowed the “Top Businesses in America” program to progress into the nation’s most coveted awards program.

The goal each year of the ‘Top Businesses in America’ program is to continue to celebrate another year of innovation, progression and growth and to raise the profile of entrepreneurs who remain committed to strengthening our competitive global landscape and rebuilding our future. No matter what circumstances, these men and women continue to build successful business relationships. They also continue to create an atmosphere of pride, camaraderie and confidence among their family, customers, suppliers and communities they serve. is proud to be in the position to identify and stand behind these individuals. We know their accomplishments will serve as inspiration to current and future generations.”

We are pleased to receive this honor again this year, and we recognize it is a team effort that puts us in this competitive group. There is a great deal of work to be done building bridges across cultural gaps in this world, and we are thrilled to be able to make a small contribution to this process!

It’s in His Kiss… or is it?

kissingKissing customs vary by culture; we all know that—when greeting, do you kiss, bow, shake hands, hug, fist bump, or use some other gesture? If you do kiss to say hello, do you do kiss once, twice or thrice? Do you kiss the lips, cheek or air?

But when it comes to kissing a lover, to passionate or sexual kissing, well, suddenly we think that is surely universal.

But is it? Are statements such as those below ethnocentric?

Researchers have discovered kissing helps you choose the right mate and helps you live longer. They have found you use 146 muscles when you pucker up and swap 80 million new bacteria when you lock lips. And you will spend some 20,000 minutes — or two weeks — of your lifetime doing it.
The Washington Post

According to a recent study of 168 cultures worldwide, romantic-sexual kissing is actually far from universal. In fact, the study shows that only 41% of the world’s cultures engage in romantic kissing! Researchers on the project were anthropologists William Jakowiak and Shelly Volsche, of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and gender studies researcher Justin Garcia, from Indiana University Bloomington. The paper, entitled, “Is the Romantic-Sexual Kiss a Near Human Universal?”, was published in The American Anthropologist in July, 2015.

Volsche told that, “There is a marked absence of kissing in equatorial and sub-Saharan hunter-gatherer societies such as the Hadza, the Turkana, the Maasai, and the Yanomamo.” The Mehinaku of Brazil told one ethnographer that they thought kissing was “gross,” asking why anyone would want to “share their dinner.” This research found that kissing evolves in complex, post-industrial societies in which there is time for and interest in erotic play. Erotic kissing is not common in agricultural, pastoral and hunter-gatherer societies.

Many societies that do not have romantic kissing use other physical expressions of endearment, often an exchange of breath or mutual sniffing of cheeks and necks. The Oceanic Kiss involves passing open mouths, with no contact. It is usually a greeting, and occasionally part of the sexual repertoire. Are you curious about other sexual customs and beliefs that may be culturally relative? If so, check out this article in Bustle.

Cultural Detective is a terrific tool for exploring the methods you use to build trust with and confidence in others, whether they be romantic partners, work colleagues, neighbors or clients. We invite you to join us in one of our complimentary webinars to learn how.