Sikh Captain America

Vishavjit Singh in Central Park NYC as Sikh Captain America, photo by Fiona Aboud

Vishavjit Singh in Central Park NYC as Sikh Captain America, photo by Fiona Aboud

I recently came across the best “Cultural Effective” (yes, that’s a play on “detective”) I’ve seen in a long time! He has my deepest respect, and he has me rolling on the floor laughing, as well.

I found him via an article that had a photo of a skinny, long-bearded Sikh man posing as—wait for it—Captain America! He had his shield, tights, and turban on, and was ready to fight for justice. Of course it got my attention. I absolutely loved it! The article was an interview with Vishavjit Singh, an engineer, writer, educator, activist, costume player, and the artist behind the terrific series,

totally biased avengersIf you think Sikh Captain America sounds interesting, how about a complete set of Totally Biased Avengers, fighting for justice and equity in our world? They are the brainchild of the talents over at Totally Biased, and include Asian Thor, Black Black Widow, Gay Hulk, and brown Jesus Christ. You readers know that Cultural Detective is awfully cool and helpful, but these Avengers may have us beat, lol. Do yourself a favor and watch the video below. But be careful, you will laugh out loud.

Getting back to Sikh Captain America, however, you have got to check him out. He, er, rather, his alter-ego, Vishavjit, is doing wonderful work in the world! Take a look at his terrific flip book on turbans, for example. Visit his website or follow him on social media to see his latest cartoons and other ventures. I especially appreciate how he teaches people to respond to bias respectfully, rather than sinking to the same level of ignorance or, worse, anger. He demonstrates patience, intelligence, empathy, humor, and both visual and verbal communication skills—definitely a superhero combination!

Vishavjit made a cartoon explaining the road he followed to get to where he is today. Those of us interested in the pathways to reconciling Blended Culture identity will no doubt resonate with it. The lightness yet levity with which he operates in the world is especially impressive when you consider he survived the civil unrest that resulted in the deaths of so many Sikhs in India.Autbiography_Perspectives_DA_edit

Way to go, Vishavjit!!!! Bless you! It is a pleasure to be with you on a journey to build intercultural respect, understanding, and justice in our world. And you seem to be having so much fun doing it!

This post is part of the #MyGlobalLife linkup.

She’s Been in 68 Countries in 21 Years

CarouLLou-LOGO What??!!!

I have been fascinated with CarouLLou ever since I met her online about a year ago. She and her husband have been global nomads together for 21 years (and on their own before that). They are, however, unlike any other global nomad I have ever met. Initially they would live two years in a given location—fairly normal, expatriate-type stuff. Over the years, however, as the internet came into being, as communication became easier, as it became possible to rent furnished apartments online, and as visas became more complicated (e.g., non-EU citizens may stay in Europe for six month per year, but only three months in a six-month period), CarouLLou and her “mystery photographer” became more and more nomadic, living in each location for shorter and shorter periods of time. Nowadays, they often stay in a place one-to-three months.

Do they feel like tourists? Well, they do some touristy things; they see the sights, particularly when a place is new to them. But, that place, at that time, is their home. Their only home. What they love is feeling like locals: eating where locals eat, discovering hidden treasures that only locals know about, and doing things even locals wish they could do.

Sound familiar? I know it’s true for me, and I’m confident it’s true for many of you readers as well. How often have we been told we are more Japanese or Mexican than many born to that nationality? Untrue, of course; a metaphor, of course—but a compliment that reflects a desire on the part of the global nomad to put ourselves in the shoes of other people.

In the video below, CarouLLou answers my question about feeling like a tourist vs. being “at home,” what home means to her, and she tells us an interesting story about their life in Venice.

Why do CarouLLou and her husband choose this lifestyle? Isn’t it difficult? It surely isn’t “normal”! To hear her tell it, the global nomadic life is almost addictive, with the constant stimulation of new experiences and learning. Below she explains why they live the way they do, and the advantages and downsides of their extreme global nomad lifestyle.

Photo courtesy CarouLLou. Click on the photo to learn her packing tips!

CarouLLou and her love travel with one medium-sized suitcase and one carry-on each—65 kilos of luggage. Remember, those suitcases contain everything they own. It definitely puts the quantity of “things” I have in my 3-bedroom condominium to shame. And my stuff has been actively downsized for several years now! So many of us want to live simpler, lighter lives. CarouLLou definitely lives lighter, if not simpler, than most of us.

I am fascinated that all her belongings fit in one medium-sized suitcase and a carry-on, because CarouLLou always looks so gorgeous, so put-together, and so in her element—whether she is in Mexico City, Tokyo or Rome. How in the world does a woman look that great and own so few pieces of clothing and accessories? Her response seems a good guide for many of us.

I well know that the life of an entrepreneur, local or global, can get lonely and isolated if we’re not careful. We don’t have an office full of people to work with everyday, so we have to reach out and actively build community more than some others. The very creative CarouLLou found an innovative way to connect with like-minded people in new cities in which she lives: “brainstorm lunches.” Click on the link to read a full article about these, or view the video clip below to hear her talk about the fit between treasuring friends and family, and the life of a global nomad.

CarouLLou speaks four languages, but obviously she has visited a lot of places in which she doesn’t speak the language of the place. How does she get along? I asked her to share some tips with us on how to communicate and get what we need when we don’t speak the local language.

There are so very many countries in the world, and even though CarouLLou and her husband choose to live mostly in metropolises, how do they choose where to live next? How do they decide whether to go to a new place or revisit a previous “home”? And how do they agree? I love her answer; based on decades of experience, it provides a sound guide for any traveller or sojourner.

Are you curious to know whether, after 21 years of nomadic life, CarouLLou still experiences culture shock? Here is what she says about this challenge.

The Facts This couple has been in 68 countries by the UN nation-count, 82 countries according to the “Travelers’ Century Club.” They like urban areas, and tend to travel East to West, following the seasons. They have twelve or so absolute favorite cities in which they feel at “home” and revisit regularly, and they rotate favorite places with places they’ve never before been to.

Photo courtesy CarouLLou

In 1994, CarouLLou and her husband began traveling, subletting their Montreal apartment, but in 1996 they announced to their family and friends that they were “jumping into the unknown!” They sold all of their belongings—minus a couple of suitcases full of personal items—and a FAX machine—to make their home portable.

How does CarouLLou support herself? She became “location independent” years ago with her marketing business, and then with her coaching business, because she could meet with her clients via fax and phone. (CarouLLou actually gave her clients and collaborators prepaid phone cards so they wouldn’t incur extra charges to communicate with her; how fast technology has changed!) She got her first email in 1998—quite late to the technology world, in my global nomad experience—and started a few online businesses as well as a photo site for her family and friends.

Currently, CarouLLou provides consulting on life potential, for start-up businesses, and marketing strategies, has several websites, some information funded by publicity, and others with affiliate partnerships (among them her travel site, as well as hotel booking and apartment booking sites). She loves fashion; in her blog and Facebook photos she always looks perfectly put together, and her looks are her own, yet change with each city in which she lives. She also has an online jewelry store to enable us to share some of her “finds,” and shares her inspired “looks” for various cities and sells clothes online. She is an investor, engages in currency trading, and has passive income from international organizations she’s set up over the years. CarouLLou also has several papers: Style, Nomads, and Travel.

Her philosophy includes:

  • “When we travel with an open heart, our world is full of hearts.”
  • “Don’t try to spend less, try to find ideas to make more! The more you spend, the more people benefit.”
  • “Remember the word currency comes from ‘current,’ so be in the current!”
  • “Work a little everyday, and do something special every day… and you will feel on vacation all your life!”

You can subscribe to CarouLLou’s blog, or follow her on most every social media. Like Cultural Detective, she has about 20,000 followers on social media, and she definitely shares our passion for cultural diversity and competence.

Kids Skyping Around the World

tumblr_mqvsd7ij1c1rkz363o1_1280Remember the goal of intercultural communication? To help us be able to better understand one another, talk to each other, collaborate, and make our communities and our world a better place in which to live?

Sometimes, however, I get discouraged that my beloved intercultural field has lost its way. It’s great that we now have so many PhD and MA programs, but when did intercultural communication become all about dimensions and theories? Or about exercises and activities without an underlying coherent design?

Yes, perhaps these are expected mid-life or late-career gripes. Then I come across a movie entitled, “The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It,” showcasing a most excellent-sounding project called “Skyping Around the World” by a group called “Do Remember Me: Connect, Dispel, Build,” and my faith is restored. The project gathers youth aged 12-15 at neighborhood recreation centers in France, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and the USA for a series of workshops that use art for social advocacy and to motivate activism.

Kids connect with one another via Skype to engage in positive dialogue and dispel the myths of hopelessness, overcome media stereotypes, and bridge cultural differences. Their mission is to delve deeply to find their common ground, to share experiences, and to work toward actively supporting one another. They encourage activism and advocacy for issues such as peer violence, the absence of leaders and heroes, and many other pressing issues.

Regular readers of this blog know that the “contact hypothesis” tells us that merely bringing kids together via Skype isn’t enough to achieve these lofty goals. The meaning they make of their Skype experiences must be facilitated, and that is apparently done, at least in Philadelphia, by two teaching artists, Sannii Crespina-Flores and DJ Lean Wit It.

The 12-minute film is most definitely worth viewing. It is embedded it below. Come on, get your cup of tea ready, and prepare to smile and be encouraged.

“The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It” | Sundance Institute

These kids use their phones and iPads, which they would normally use to text local friends, take selfies, or make social plans, to enlarge their worlds by forging friendships with peers across the world. For young people who have often never left their hometown, these exchanges prove to be both touching and surprising, giving them exposure to new corners of planet Earth and encouraging them to witness to the great (and sometimes unfulfilled) potential that exists in their own back yards.

The film came to be when it was the winner of a 140-character story entry in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge, designed to help put an end to extreme poverty in creative ways:

“As technology advances, our world grows smaller. Yet, while we are more connected than ever before, we remain separated by the lottery of where we are born. Around the world, people just like you – with the same beliefs, dreams, and aspirations – have drastically fewer opportunities due to extreme poverty and hunger.

Through the universal power of storytelling, the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge will put a spotlight on our similarities—showcasing stories that communicate how we can support one another to end poverty and hunger once and for all. There is a more hopeful future for millions of people around the world, it’s up to us to inspire a positive change together.

In 2015, storytellers from around the world will gather to showcase how creativity can change the world.”
–Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge website

Obviously a very noble cause—ending poverty—though the Film Challenge is taking a  Minimization (in DMIS and IDC terminology) approach to intercultural competence. A Minimalist approach, of course, is probably most appropriate to build critical mass; while it by no means stretches us to the levels of intercultural competence needed to end poverty, it can, at least, help build momentum to get people on-board and helping to accomplish the goal. The Film Challenge is an impressive global partnership of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sundance Institute, and the following organizations:

partnership There is some connection to Global Citizen as well, though I can’t figure out from the website exactly what that affiliation is. The Global Citizen is a platform that advocates for the achievable goal of ending extreme poverty in the world by 2030; it was created in 2012 by the Global Poverty Project. Kudos to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Sundance Institute, as well as all the sponsors and participating organizations!

Some of the other films in this challenge are also very interesting; all highlight successful attempts to bridge cultural differences in order to end world poverty. Watch them here.

Thank you for joining with Cultural Detective on this journey to build intercultural competence. We are thrilled to be able to share projects like these that parallel our goals: better understanding of others and ourselves, and innovative and meaningful collaboration. Together, we can transform our world. As Dr. Seuss, the children’s author, wrote in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Four Steps to a Happier Life: Actions Don’t “Create” Reactions

Potato-PotahtoDuring our monthly webinar, attended by people working in academia, NGOs, private enterprise, and a religious community, and geographically from Russia to Egypt to the USA and quite a few points in between, one of the participants summarized for us what she had learned. Cultural Detective had taught her, she said, “that actions don’t ‘create’ reactions; interpretation of actions creates reactions.”

Yes! That is brilliant and powerful learning! And it is crucial to understand this idea if we are to develop intercultural competence. It is a prerequisite to implementing the four steps to a happier life.

“Actions don’t ‘create’ reactions.
Interpretation of actions creates reactions.”

Your Story/My Story
To understand the concept better, think about a time when you had a painful miscommunication with someone, the type of miscommunication that haunts you for days or longer. The example I’ll share with you involves a family member, but yours might involve a friend, family member, important client, or colleague. Got your example? Okay, here’s mine.

Recently, a family member took exception to a text I sent him. It was classic miscommunication. He felt I had jumped to conclusions about him, specifically, that I had falsely accused him of wrongdoing. His negative judgments and assumptions about me made me sad. This is common; there is a downward spiral that so often happens in miscommunication. We want our family, friends, colleagues, and clients to give us benefit of the doubt, to assume we have their backs. It is upsetting when, instead, they think the worst of us.

Communication is a shared process. We send our messages and usually assume that the receivers of our messages understand us. But does our intention, the meaning, as conveyed by our message match the other’s interpretation? This, of course, is the crux of successful communication!

Think about your own example. What happened? How did each of you perceive the miscommunication? How did each of you feel? What was the outcome?

My relative’s upset was real, as was mine. We can’t and shouldn’t deny our feelings and our reactions. Yet, it was especially important to me that, as a family member, we not feel negatively toward one another. One good outcome of the exchange was that I learned something new about him, and now understand an area of sensitivity for him. That knowledge will inform my future interactions, and hopefully help me to communicate with him in ways he finds more supportive. I am confident that he learned something that will inform his future communication with me, as well.

So, did my text “cause” him pain? Did his response “cause” me sadness? Did our differing communication styles “cause” frustration? No, of course not! It is the manner in which we interpret differing communication styles that can cause us frustration and can waste our time, energy, enthusiasm and resources. Your mother may have told you when you were young that your friends can not make you angry; it’s your choice to become angry or not. Differing communication styles can actually strengthen teamwork, and they can add delight to friendships.

Now, think about your example of miscommunication. Did your behavior “cause” negativity for the other person? Did their behavior “cause” it in you? Or, rather, was it the way each of you interpreted the other’s behavior—the meaning you gave to it—that caused the grief?

In my example, there was no negative energy or assumption embedded in the initial text; I had no thought of accusation. Many times, however, our innocent actions result in hurt feelings or negative perceptions, just as they can also help people feel good. In hindsight my text could have been worded better. A lengthier, more explicit text from me (or, better yet, a phone call) may not have “caused” the reaction it did.

However, it was not the text itself but, rather, my relative’s interpretation of the meaning behind my text, that provoked his reaction. We cannot control how others will perceive us, though we can do our best to improve our communication skills. The distinction between behavior causing a reaction versus our interpretation of the behavior influencing us to react in a certain way is an important distinction for cross-cultural and intercultural communication effectiveness.

So, what are these four steps to a happier life, to improving your communication with others?

Step One
The first point to remember is that miscommunication happens—every day, even between loving couples, family members, and friends. How much more frequently can miscommunication happen, then, between strangers or those who come from very different cultural backgrounds?

When we find ourselves in an uncomfortable communication situation, we need to remember not to place blame. It’s happened; miscommunication is natural and normal. But we can use it as a learning opportunity—a chance to understand more about ourselves and others.

Step Two
As the Cultural Detective Method shows us, when we find ourselves involved in miscommunication, or feeling a bit frustrated or judgmental, we are wise to take a look within ourselves. What are my assumptions? What beliefs am I using in my interpretation of events? What does the way I feel tell me about what is important to me? What values do I hold in relation to this situation, and how do I link them to appropriate behavior?

Our past experience and “common sense” (really “personal cultural sense”) cause us to interpret actions in certain ways. Becoming aware of those filters, the ways we view the world, can help us know ourselves better, to be better able to understand and anticipate our own responses, and better able to explain ourselves to others.

Step Three
Once we’ve taken a look into ourselves, it’s time to try to put ourselves into the shoes of the other. Even though we might perceive behavior as negative, let us temporarily, while we think this through, give the benefit of the doubt. What might be other, positively intended reasons that the person did what they did?

Of course, I can also consider whether I know this person to “have it in” for me. Does this person have a history of attacking me, or of acting unprofessionally? If not, the above “positive intent” exercise becomes even more important.

Step Four
Finally, it’s time to reach out and take action to resolve the miscommunication. Preferably,  this includes a combination of apologies for discomfort, questions that seek to understand, explanation of intent, and summary of what has been learned. It should, also, ideally culminate with a path forward: how we’ll try to communicate more effectively with one another from this point on.

Looking at the above four steps, you will see they incorporate the three capacities that the Cultural Detective Model teaches us:

  1. Subjective Culture: Knowing ourselves as cultural beings
  2. Cultural Literacy: Empathy and the ability to “read” the intentions of others
  3. Cultural Bridging: The ability to bring out the best in ourselves, others, and the organization or community

If you haven’t yet joined us for one of our monthly webinars, please do. Those attending receive a complimentary three-day pass to Cultural Detective Online, a tool that can help you integrate these four steps so that they become second nature in your daily life. And, please, share the invitation with your friends, colleagues, and clients! Let’s make this world a happier and more interculturally effective place!

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up

Clean House and Change the Bedding to Greet the Lava

Photo by Pahoa-based photographer Sean King/Caters

Photo by Pahoa-based photographer Sean King/Caters

The gem of a video clip below offers a glimpse into an aspect of native Hawaiian culture of which many people may be unaware. As lava flows on the island, there are vast cultural differences in how the native and immigrant cultures view the event. While native Hawaiians prepare to welcome a guest, others talk about ways to change the course of the lava to flow in a more convenient direction.

I am so proud of what the government in Pahoa, district of Puna, county of Hawaii is doing, and not doing, to “divert” the lava flow that is destroying homes, businesses, and lives. The clarity, patience, and wisdom they show in their answers to community members’ questions make me wish they worked in my county.

In the video, you will see Pi’ilani Ka’awaloa, an INCREDIBLE cultural resource person!!! She demonstrates wisdom in her people’s truth, and openness to teaching as well as acting in collaboration with others. She tells us that the native Hawaiians have adjusted to western culture, in that they now “buy” their land. But she also tells us they will never “own” it; it belongs to the goddess Pele.

“We would never tell Pele to go here or there in her own home! If she feels she needs to clean her house, then let her clean her house!”

I believe you will very much enjoy the cross-cultural differences visible in this Question and Answer session after a county informational meeting on the lava flow. What a challenge to bridge two such vastly different cultural orientations, on such a very sensitive subject as saving our homes and businesses.


I learned about what is going on in Pahoa from a friend I have only met virtually, Tim Sullivan, who lives there. Some people say that online “friends” aren’t real, but I can assure you that via social media I am now connected with many people whom I respect and learn much from. Tim recently wrote an extremely insightful and powerful blog post on the cross-cultural aspects of the lava flow in Pahoa. Be sure to check it out.

I think this short video clip would be an excellent piece of material to debrief using a Cultural Detective Worksheet. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! And may blessings be upon all those who make Pahoa their home.

Cultural Resurgence Among the Tlingit of Southeastern Alaska

Totem pole, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska, August 2014

Totem pole, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska, August 2014

I recently traveled in Southeast Alaska, where I was thrilled to see gorgeous country and amazing wildlife, and also learn a tiny bit about the native peoples who inhabited the area prior to the Europeans’ arrival. Alaska is a beautiful, largely unspoiled area, much of it covered by mountains, glaciers and rivers. Southeast Alaska is a harsh land in the winter, but has amazing natural resources. In the summer you will find indigenous berries, incredible wild salmon runs, and an abundance of other seafood. The natives had a saying, “When the tide is out, the table is set.”

Totem pole, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska, August 2014

Totem pole, Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska, August 2014

Today, nearly a fifth of Alaska’s population identifies some Native heritage, the survivors of peoples in the area for the last 15,000-30,000 years. They have adapted to the growth and decline of glaciers, and the changing land, climate, and resources. Prior to European contact, they probably numbered 80,000-90,000, with dozens of distinct cultures. After contact so many died, primarily due to disease, that by the first US Census in Alaska (1880), the Native population was just under 33,000.

Many of the traditional ways have been lost, but increasingly many people are working to save the remaining fragments of their cultures. Totem poles have disintegrated—wood doesn’t survive forever in this temperate rain forest. Traditional arts and crafts methods and skills have almost been lost—only a few elders remember the old ways. And native languages are rapidly losing speakers. Yet there is hope because the younger generation realizes what is slipping away. Cultural arts centers are teaching traditional carving methods, beadwork, and weaving, and the young are learning dances from their elders.

Jim Heaton, Master Carver, Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center, Haines, Alaska, August, 2014

Jim Heaton, Master Carver, Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center, Haines, Alaska, August, 2014

I was privileged to hear Joe Williams, a distinguished member of the Tlingit tribe, share a little about his culture. The Tlingit (pronounced roughly like “cling kit” or “clink it”) are the indigenous peoples of what we now call Southeast Alaska. Their name for themselves is Lingít, meaning “People of the Tides.” Click here for a good short history and cultural context of the people.

Joe told us many stories about the flexibility, ethical standards, and bravery of his people. He is a great communicator, able to bridge cultures with humor. You can see a short clip of Joe talking about his culture here:

Joe was not taught the Tlingit language or traditional ways when he was young. At that time in the US and Canada there was blatant cultural imperialism and systemic discrimination against native peoples. Native children were taken from their villages and placed in boarding schools miles from family and home. The emphasis was on “civilizing” native populations by forcing them to give up their language and customs, adopt Christianity, speak English, and generally act like “good” Europeans.

Fortunately, this attitude (and the law) has changed, and multicultural diversity is more valued in the US these days. Many tribal members from the younger generation are learning, cherishing, and preserving their native heritage for those who come after them. There are organized programs for tribal members to learn their native language. I met adult language students who receive their Tlingit vocabulary-word-of-the-day on their smart phones! Who says you can’t blend the old and the new?

When asked if his culture would survive in the crazy modern world, Joe told us a story—a traditional way of teaching/learning. One day, after being away from home for several hours, he returned to find his wife working in the kitchen and his three-year-old granddaughter visiting. His granddaughter was playing under the dining room table and singing a Tlingit song. He was very excited and rushed out to the kitchen to tell his wife. She replied, “Yes, and she has been singing the same song all day—would you PLEASE teach her another one?!”

Cultural transmission in action?! Perhaps Tlingit culture will survive another 10,000 years, after all!

How to Get Promoted in 3 Hours

mexican-american flagsI’m going to tell you a real story, of an actual person, who was promoted to a management position from an administrative assistant position because of a three-hour workshop she conducted for her bosses.

How’d it happen? The woman, let’s call her Yolanda, worked for a very large multinational in Texas. The firm, of course, did a lot of business with Mexico. Over the ten years or so Yolanda had been with the company, she’d worked for a succession of bosses, most of whom did not understand Mexican culture and had committed many errors, losing opportunity and revenue, as well as credibility, for themselves and the company. Yolanda is Mexican-American, and her bosses’ actions used to frustrate and embarrass her. She could see that her bosses could be a lot more effective, she wanted to help, but she didn’t know where to begin to explain Mexican culture to her bosses. She was an administrative assistant, not a consultant, executive coach, or trainer.

Enter Cultural Detective. Yolanda looked over the Cultural Detective Mexico package. It made sense to her. She intuitively understood the values in the package’s Mexican Values Lens. She could tell stories from her own organizational experience to illustrate each value and correlating negative perception. Yolanda had so many stories, stories that were real, that had cost her company money and, in some cases, staff.

Yolanda got her four bosses to agree to a three-hour “lunch and learn,” during which she’d teach them about Mexican culture. She was excited, but she was also scared. She wasn’t a facilitator, she’d never studied culture or cross-cultural communication. But, she knew her organization, she knew her bosses, and she knew both US American and Mexican cultures. So, she gave the workshop her best.

At the outset of her seminar, Yolanda told her bosses a story—a story they clearly recognized from their own experience, a story of a time they’d been frustrated, and less than successful. They all knew the details; she had only to remind them of the event she was talking about. Yolanda drew a Cultural Detective Worksheet on the flip chart. She asked her bosses what they had done in that situation. Then, she asked them to think about why they had done what they’d done—what was the underlying “common sense” that motivated their behavior? That wasn’t so easy, but they did it. And it proved pretty insightful. They hadn’t consciously thought about the reasons for their actions, hadn’t spent time thinking about how culture-bound their behavior was. This was Yolanda’s first successful “aha” of the three hours.

Next, she asked them what their Mexican colleagues had done in the given situation. Yolanda encouraged her bosses to quote the words that were said and the actions the Mexicans took. Of course, her bosses said things like, “I couldn’t trust them,” “he wouldn’t tell me the truth,” or “they went behind our backs,” but on the flip chart she recorded the actual words and behavior of the Mexican colleagues. Yolanda then asked her bosses to do the same thing for the Mexicans that they had done for themselves. She said, “Maybe your colleagues really were dishonest, untrustworthy, conniving. But, for the sake of learning, for a few minutes let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. What could have been the positive intentions behind their words and actions? If we look at your side of this Worksheet, you have all positive intent, nothing negative. Let’s see if we can’t fill in their side the same way. Maybe at the end we decide to throw it all out, decide that they were just bad people. But first let’s see.”

Her bosses came up with several guesses—possible motivators of their Mexican counterparts’ behavior. Then Yolanda filled in a couple more, explaining the reasons these colleagues had probably acted and responded the way they had. Her bosses said things like, “That makes sense,” “I’d never considered that before,” and “so I did exactly the wrong thing; I shot myself in the foot!” Her bosses experienced their second “aha” of the workshop.

Next, Yolanda handed out a copy of Cultural Detective Mexico to each of her bosses. She walked them through the Mexican Values Lens, telling stories from her organizational experience. She asked them how they felt about each of the values, and reminded her bosses that each Mexican is unique—that the values in the Lens are societal tendencies. After introducing the Values Lens, she focused her bosses’ attention back on the Worksheet. Now they had lots of ideas about why their Mexican colleagues might have acted the way they did. And even more importantly, her bosses had lots of ideas on how they could have acted in ways more conducive to achieving their business objectives—to bridging cultures. A third round of “aha” learning was achieved.

The three hours sped by quickly. Her bosses learned so much. Their ability to do business in Mexico and with Mexicans was greatly enhanced. They learned about themselves, about their own personal and US cultural values, which enabled them to better explain themselves to any new colleague, whether Mexican, Chinese, or US American. And, very key to me, Yolanda’s bosses learned what a valuable asset she was as a cultural resource. They began using Yolanda as a sounding board, asking her to help them write emails and reports, and also to help plan strategy. Within a couple of months, Yolanda left her job as an administrative assistant because she was promoted to a more prestigious and much better paid management position. She achieved her dream of being able to travel for business, and she loved the kind of work she was able to do. Her company gained an employee who was confident and able to use her bicultural heritage in ways that added value.

Now, I’m not promising that using Cultural Detective will get you a promotion, but if you and your organization work across cultures—and what organization doesn’t these days—you will definitely gain a whole lot of skill and expertise by using Cultural Detective. Add it to your priority list! Start building your intercultural competence by attending one of our free 90-minute webinars, or subscribing to (and using!) Cultural Detective Online today.

Great Culture-Crossers I Have Known (or wish I had!)


Entrance to Woolarac Museum

This is a guest blog post by Carrie Cameron, co-author of Cultural Detective Russia. I assure you I would have been wrangling to get on the guest list for Frank’s annual party! What a mixer those must have been!

What do oil tycoons, American Indians, and bank robbers have in common? I had a chance to find out recently, when I visited the Woolaroc Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, USA. The name “Woolaroc” is composed of the words “woods,” “lakes,” and “rocks.” The museum and surrounding natural park, located in the beautiful hills in the northernmost vestiges of the Ozark Mountains, was a gift to the people from Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum (Phillips 66). The museum is full of extraordinary Indian art and artifacts, as well as cowboy and frontier art and artifacts.

Mr. Phillips was born on a small farm in Nebraska, became a successful businessman, and married the daughter of a bank president. Moving to northern Oklahoma to buy land and drill for oil, he became deeply attached to the countryside, and also close to the Osage tribe living there. He was the first White man adopted into the tribe, a testament to his ability to transcend cultural differences.

He originally built Woolaroc as a personal retreat, to which he invited his wealthy business associates and friends. But perhaps his most remarkable social contribution was to host a grand party once a year to which he invited his business and family friends, his Osage Indian friends, local White settlers and cowboys, local lawmen, and bank robbers and cattle rustlers (who received full amnesty for that day). What a gathering that must have been.image003Phillips’ ability to value the humanity in an extraordinary range of people—rich and poor, White and Native American, businessman and cowboy, and even citizen and outlaw—was exceptional. It reminds us that building cultural bridges is not just about ethnicity or race, but about the many facets that make up our unique identities. Not simply tolerating—but actually thriving—on this kaleidoscope, Mr. Phillips appears to have been a Cultural Detective par excellence!

So Proud of Our Customer!

MSFT_logo_rgb_C-Gray_DMicrosoft India has been a Cultural Detective customer for six years, and both Heather Robinson and I are so very proud of the abilities their staff members have developed to in turn coach and develop their support engineers’ customer service skills. The entire project has been amazing—truly a privilege to be a part of it! I’d like to take this opportunity to share a bit of their “Cultural Effective” story with you.

Microsoft uses Cultural Detective to coach their large enterprise customer support representatives. In the first six months using the tool, they told us they attributed a 30% increase in customer satisfaction to Cultural Detective! Now, five years later, they know Cultural Detective inside and out, and use the CD Method when interacting with both international and domestic customers.

In March of this year Heather again traveled to Bangalore to work with the trainers, to help improve their abilities to coach using Cultural Detective. The approach she used is what we call EPIC: Essential Practice for Intercultural Competence. It is a combination of Cultural Detective, with which Microsoft has been working for five years, and Personal Leadership, which their staff have been working with for the past year or so.

The design was an inspired one. Because Microsoft has experienced facilitators who are also well-versed in Cultural Detective, Heather used these facilitators to get team newcomers up to speed, as well as to facilitate small group breakout sessions. This internal group of facilitators put together the readings, sample interviews and assignments for the three-day training. As is so wonderful when training in India, there were plenty of games, activities and laughter.

As you might imagine, one of the main challenges for the support engineers is knowing how to respond to customers’ emotions. Large enterprises rely on Microsoft products to function in highly customized ways, which often means long days of problem-solving discussions, heightened emotions and frayed nerves. The March training included the learners acting out skits of engineer-customer interactions, videotaping them, and then using the Cultural Detective Worksheet to debrief the contrasting values, and the EPIC approach to discern how to respond most appropriately. We would love to share one or two of those videos with you here, but, of course, they are proprietary.

Instead, let me leave you with a few of the notes scribed in small groups. In case you’re wondering why “Kit Kats” and “Milky Ways,” the participants chose a candy bar and then broke into groups, one of ten techniques you can find in this blog post.

If you or your organization would like to be profiled in an upcoming blog post, we would be happy to talk with you about making that happen. Just let us know. Congratulations to all the Microsoft staff, who are so committed to building intercultural competence in their organization, and to you, the Cultural Detective community, for your efforts on this same journey.

Transforming Lives: Education as an Alternative to Violence

AUN “The youth in Nigeria are beginning to speak—some with violence.
They attract attention. But others are also speaking.
The question is, is anyone listening to this plea
for western education, for training, for reform, for help?”

—Margee Ensign, President, American University of Nigeria

With all the grim news coming out of Nigeria these days, I thought you might want to hear about a little-known educational bright spot in the country: the unique programs offered at the American University of Nigeria, founded in Yola (capital of Adamwa state) in 2005 by the country’s former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar.

Despite Boko Haram’s year-long campaign of terror, including kidnapping over 300 girls from a school, murdering family members, burning villages, and displacing thousands of people, most families still desire an education for their girls and their boys, says Margee Ensign, President of AUN. And AUN provides it.

Both the university’s valedictorian and its graduating class speaker this year are women. The university is one of the leaders in the interfaith peace initiative. It has hired and trained more than 500 female and male security guards to protect the campus and its housing, offering each of them a free education. AUN facilities include a nursery school, primary and secondary school, in addition to the university itself. It recently dedicated a new library that has received international accolades for its efforts to create the finest e-library in Africa.

“Security comes not from our security force, but from our development and peace efforts,” Margee reports. In one of the poorest places on earth, AUN has a program to teach local women literacy and entrepreneurship skills, to enable them to generate income for their families. The university’s Peace Council has created 32 football and volleyball “unity teams” for young people to play in tournaments year-round. None of the young people have jobs, over half have dropped out of high school, and 10% have not even completed elementary school. Sports team members study a peace curriculum focused on building understanding and tolerance. The unity teams help ensure that these youth stay active and involved in their communities—making them less vulnerable to recruiting by terrorist groups like Boko Haram.

This kind of creative programming doesn’t happen by accident. Margee is a tough, dedicated, innovative, and tireless educator. Her extensive experience in administrative and faculty positions in universities in the USA (including Columbia University in New York, Tulane University in New Orleans, and the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California), and her interest and experience in international development in Africa, make her well-prepared to be president of AUN.

“I met with about 80 women in the [AUN entrepreneurship] program…They wanted to learn English, Nigeria’s official language, so that they could read to their children. In modern education, they knew, lay the only hope for the future.”

Margee relishes the challenges of working across cultures. She has embraced the local community culture, while building a university culture that retains important aspects of the US educational experience. After all, this is why parents are sending their children to college at AUN. She’s always recruiting—looking for people with just the right skills, willing to give their time and talent to join the international faculty and staff at AUN, a growing academic community in Nigeria.

The Cultural Detective Team believes it is possible to help make the world a better place through our actions. Yet, it isn’t always easy! Cultural Detective: Global Teamwork investigates some of the challenges involved in managing culturally diverse teams in today’s global environment, even if working in the same geographical location. What is the task? How do we form and maintain a high performing team? How do we manage the terrain or contexts in which team members work? How do we choose the right technology to support the team? How do time and space affect communication? Add culture to this mix, and it is even more complex! These are just the beginning of the challenges Margee faces each day—and she loves it!

All around the globe, dedicated, competent people are working to make a corner of the world a better place—often, not the corner of the world in which they were born and raised. Yet, they are motivated to share their skills in multiple arenas and diverse geographical locations. You probably know people that match this description—or are you one?! We’d be delighted to share their stories or yours with our readers!

With all the doom and gloom in the news, it is good to remind ourselves that generous people are doing wonderful things in difficult circumstances. A recent article written by Margee and published on the website offers an often overlooked perspective on the area better known for the rampages of Boko Haram. We invite you to read Margee’s entire article here: “Nigerians defy terror to keep learning.”