Biggest Culture Gaps Within Not Between Countries: Research

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For nearly two decades we here at Cultural Detective have gone out of our way to teach people that culture is NOT limited to nationality, despite the fact that so many use the two words interchangeably. National boundaries are frequently rather arbitrary or externally imposed, and they can also change over time. Northern Italians are so different from southern Italians, and living in Mexico I can’t begin to tell you about the huge regional differences within this nation. Culture can be a valuable guide, but it can be sliced a slew of different ways. There is a huge bias, however, even in the intercultural field, to looking almost exclusively at national differences.

Two of the graphics we use to illustrate the multi-dimensionality of various cultural influences upon most of us are above. I even wrote a blog post in June 2014 entitled, We Are Not (Just) Our Nationality(ies).

A few months ago three researchers—Bradley Kirkman, Vas Taras, and Piers Steel—conducted a meta-analysis of 558 studies conducted over the last 35 years on work-related values. Their analysis included 32 countries across four fairly standard cultural dimensions:

  1. Individuals vs. groups
  2. Hierarchy and status in organizations
  3. Having as much certainty as possible at work
  4. Material wealth, assertiveness, and competition vs. societal welfare and harmony in relationships

The results were published in the Management International Review and, for those who don’t have a subscription, a summary is also available on the Harvard Business Review site. What were their results?

Over 80% of values differences occur within countries, and only 20% between countries! Thank you for helping us out, gentlemen! We MUST look at people as unique individuals with multiple cultural influences, not as stereotypical “Chinese” or “Americans.” That approach hollows us out and strips us of our richness—especially in today’s world, where so many of us are Blended Culture beings—multi-racial, global nomad, TCK/third-culture kids, etc. Cultural Detective helps us to look at ourselves and others in context and in our wholeness; it is the only intercultural development tool on the market today that does.

For those who do business globally, the most important takeaway is never to assume that people from a particular country embody the values typically associated with that country. Cultural stereotyping by country will likely lead to a whole host of mistakes when trying to lead and motivate a culturally diverse workforce.

The research team then went on to say, hey, if nationality isn’t a great indicator of culture, what is?

I have long said that, in my experience, occupational culture (e.g., research vs. marketing vs. finance; higher education vs. business vs. healthcare) is one of the best indicators of similarity internationally, along with organizational culture and urban/rural demographics. But hey, predictions aren’t my forte; 30 years ago I said sushi would never take off in the west, but robata-yaki (grilled skewered meat and veg) would. Oops.

Kirkman, Taras, and Steel looked at 17 possible cultural containers, to see how they rank in terms of pull: gender, age, generation, number of years of education, occupation, socio-economic status, and environmental characteristics such as civil and political freedom, economic freedom, GDP/capita, Human Development Index, Globalization Index, long-term unemployment, urbanization, income inequality (using the GINI coefficient), level of corruption, crime rate, and employment in agriculture. Interesting mix of containers, for sure.

Findings in their study showed that demographic groupings such as occupation and socio-economic status are high indicators of cultural similarity. People with similar socio-economic conditions and levels of education had more shared values than did those within nations. Quoting them, “Our data show that it makes much more sense to talk about cultures of professions, rich versus poor, free versus oppressed, than about cultures of countries.”

Obviously their work was limited to four work-related values, and didn’t include more general societal values such as equality or freedom. As the researchers concluded:

“For those who do business globally, the most important takeaway is never to assume that people from a particular country embody the values typically associated with that country. Cultural stereotyping by country will likely lead to a whole host of mistakes when trying lead and motivate a culturally diverse workforce.”

Log into your subscription to Cultural Detective Online now, and take the time to analyze an interaction from just a couple of these “containers” of culture. You’ll realize just how rich the system is, and why using it regularly can improve your intercultural competence.

Think One Person Can’t Do Much?

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Stroke order for capital letters in Adlam, photo from The Atlantic

How about two? This is the story of a childhood dream and lifelong passion and perseverance.

We start our story when two Guinean brothers—Abdoulaye and Ibrahima Barry—are 10 and 14 years old. They loved school, and were frustrated that their native language, Fulani, didn’t have its own writing system.

Fulani is a traditionally oral language spoken by about 40 million Fula people across western and central Africa. Like so many oral languages worldwide, people end up transcribing them using an existing script—they superimpose a foreign alphabet onto an existing oral language. This type of practice is rather imperialistic and it usually doesn’t work very well. Such was the case with Japanese, an oral language written in Chinese characters until Prince Shohtoku invented two indigenous syllabaries for the language—hiragana and katakana—in the tenth century. Today Japanese remains a complicated written system of four different scripts, if we include the Chinese kanji, the two kana syllabaries, and the Latin romaji to which it’s often transliterated.

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Distribution map of major populations of the Fula people, Wikipedia

In the case of Fulani, it was usually written using Arabic script. But, just like romaji, or Latin characters in Japanese, there were no consistent rules, so reading was difficult. It meant that every Fulani reader had to learn Arabic in order to read and, to make matters worse, the Arabic letters didn’t capture the Fulani sounds. The Latin alphabet is even worse with Fulani pronunciation. According to Kaveh Waddell, author of the wonderfully written Adlam: The Alphabet that will Save a People from Disappearing, “Neither the Arabic nor the Latin alphabets could accurately spell Fulani words that require producing a ‘b’ or a ‘d’ sound while gulping in air, for example, so Fulani speakers had modified both alphabets with new symbols—often in inconsistent ways.”

The Barry brothers loved to draw, so they took it upon themselves to create a script for Fulani—and it only took the school boys six months! Their new alphabet spread quickly and came to be called “Adlam”—its first four letters. The script’s name is also an acronym for a phrase meaning, “the alphabet that will save a people from disappearing.”

Adlam is written right to left, and Fulani’s five vowels each have their own letters. “One of the things that’s really hindering progress in Africa and Guinea in particular,” Ibrahima told Waddell, “is we spend so many resources learning new languages even though we already have languages that we can use to develop our countries.”

The boys taught Adlam to friends and family, and had the inspired idea to ask each student to teach three others. They transcribed school books using the new script, and in junior high started teaching larger groups of people in markets and neighborhoods. Their father’s relative, an official in the local government, came to the house for a demonstration. He was impressed when he found that the boys could consistently, independently, and accurately transcribe one another’s speech from separate rooms.

In 1993, as a high school student, Abdoulaye, traveled to Conakry, Guinea’s capital city, and wrangled his way onto a popular radio show to promote the new script. “That’s how the whole country learned about Adlam,” Adboulaye said.

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A group of students learn Adlam in Sierra Leone. Photo from The Atlantic

Many Fula people are nomadic, so the script spread quickly among traders and farmers—from Guinea to Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast. More and more books were converted to Adlam, but they were written by hand and copied by machine, a very cumbersome process. The process of propagating a new script wasn’t always easy; Ibrahima was imprisoned for a time after police officers raided his Adlam study group at university. Upon graduating, Ibrahima started a Fulani-language newspaper, also written by hand and photocopied.

New writing systems aren’t created all that often. The most widely used scripts in the world today—Latin, Chinese, Arabic, Devanagari, and Cyrillic—are all thousands of years old. In 1959, Hmong spiritual leader Shong Lue Yang created the 81-symbol Pahawh script, though RPA romanized characters are still very popular. The Cherokee syllabary is a success story: Sequoya created the script in 1821 and seven years later a Cherokee-language printing press published the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper. Cherokee was added to the Unicode standard in 1999; in 2003 Apple created a Cherokee keyboard; and Google has recently helped implement Android support for the alphabet.

To take Adlam to the next level, the Barry brothers figured they could skip the printing press and go directly to computers. They both ended up emigrating from the west coast of Africa to the west coast of the USA—to Portland, Oregon—pursuing their educations and working. They paid for the development of an Adlam keyboard and font. In 2008, they were thrilled to finally be able to type Adlam for the first time. However, because Adlam wasn’t yet supported by Unicode, readers had to have the font installed on their system.

Several years later, after Ibrahima presented at a type design conference in Colorado Springs, the brothers were introduced to Deborah Anderson, a linguistics researcher, who leads a program called the Script Encoding Initiative, at UC Berkeley. Along with Michael Everson, one of the co-authors of the Unicode Standard, the SEI has added more than 70 scripts to the Unicode standard since 2002! Kudos to these incredible Cultural Detectives!

SEI’s site tells us that over 100 scripts remain to be encoded, and asks for donations to support the effort. UNESCO, the USA National Endowment for the Humanities, and Google all support the Initiative. The effort includes historic scripts, such as expanding the set of supported Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as focusing on scripts used by religious and linguistic minorities—to promote literacy and education in native languages.

Waddell tells us, “I asked Everson if any of the alphabet’s quirks presented challenges—the fact that it’s written right to left, for example, or the fact that the letters are connected to one another—but he said it was nothing new. What was new was that the script wasn’t yet set in stone. Mr. Barry had learnt calligraphy and was working really hard on optimizing stroke order. I was saying, ‘You have to stop tinkering with this.’ If he wanted this to be stable he needed to stop altering it.”

In 2014, at a meeting of the Unicode Technical Committee in Sunnyvale, California, yet another milestone was achieved—Adlam was approved. It was included in Unicode 9.0 which was published this past summer. However, you won’t yet find it on your cell phone; technology companies haven’t leapt on the Adlam bandwagon.

One hope is “Noto,” an enormous font family that aims to support 100% of the scripts in Unicode 9.0. Finding Adlam on your operating system won’t happen overnight, but hopefully it won’t be much longer. A second hope is that Fulani speakers have started creating their own apps: one to text in Adlam and the other to learn it.

Twenty years on, the Barry brothers are now 36 and 40 years old, and Adlam is taught in over ten countries. Ibrahima recently finished writing a book on Fulani grammar, and he plans to create a dictionary as well. Both brothers want to open more schools in Guinea and nearby countries that teach children in their native languages.

Martin Luther King, Jr., had passion, a dream, and perseverance. Gandhi had those three qualities as well. Fortunately for speakers of Fulani, so do Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry.

The original article in The Atlantic is much longer than my summary here; be sure to read it if this has piqued your interest. And be sure to log into your subscription to Cultural Detective Online now, to help define and preserve your culture!

Virtual Teamwork in Latin America

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Our friends over at Iceberg in Buenos Aires have completed one of the first surveys I’ve seen on global virtual teams in Latin America. I’d like to congratulate them and thank them for this effort!

An astounding 88% of respondents to the survey confirm that the advantages of working in a global team outweigh the challenges! Their major reason? The diversity of perspectives, knowledge, and expertise among team members, which in their experience can generate innovative solutions and outstanding results.

Over 30% of the respondents reported spending more than half their work days interacting with colleagues around the globe; another 56% spend between 10-50% of their work days interacting with global clients. 68% of their global teams get together face-to-face at least once a year but, surprisingly, they prefer video conferences over live meetings! Even though respondents view video conferencing as their best coordination tool, only 32% of them use it in all their virtual meetings.

Survey results showed that diversity on these teams arose due to functional necessity, rather than because of its inherent benefits. Over half of those responding report their companies have lost opportunities due to cross-cultural misunderstandings. Despite this fact, only 21% of them report having received training to improve their virtual team’s productivity! Even sadder to me is that 53% of those who have received training did so in a webinar, 32% via e-learning, and only 16% had the opportunity to attend a face-to-face training or team-building session. Come on, Latin America! OJO! We’ve got work to do!

What did the respondents say is most complex about working in a global virtual team? First is including colleagues that don’t participate, then sending messages that are adequately understood, following up on what teammates are working on, and achieving agreements and decisions. 69% said the lack of co-location makes it more challenging to create trusting relationships, 68% said the distance makes it difficult to understand the context of colleagues’ communication, and 60% noted that distance can therefore generate conflict.

What qualities do they feel are most important for success on a global team? Communicating with clarity, adapting to cultural differences, and demonstrating a collaborative spirit.

Below is a visual that Iceberg created to summarize their findings.

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While there were only 86 respondents from four countries included in the survey, it is a good start. Respondents were representative of what we might expect in Latin America: 54% work for enterprises with fewer than 5000 employees, and 25% work for organizations with over 20,000 employees worldwide. 27% of the respondents were manager level, with 16% at director level. Most were from the IT industry, followed by consulting, education, and consumer products. The full Iceberg report (in Spanish) can be downloaded here.

Overall, the sample is fairly small and rather skewed, however it is useful for gathering ideas on how to make our virtual teams more effective, and some of the uniqueness we might find with teams and team members based in Latin America. If you work with global or virtual teams, be sure to check out Cultural Detective Global Teamwork, a powerful developmental competence tool that is included in every subscription to Cultural Detective Online.

 

Fascism, Democracy and Inclusion

cdfc-grad-5I am very pleased to share with you a guest post written by Taruni Falconer, Lead Facilitator of Cultural Detective Certified Facilitator Workshops, and co-author of Cultural Detective: New Zealand

“Fascism did not rise in the 1930’s because it was strong, but because democracy was weak!” These are the recent words of a political strategist in a news interview following the US elections. This declaration stopped me in my tracks.

I have the good fortune to live in relatively stable and prosperous democracy, Australia. I have also lived and worked in countries taking their first steps into democracy. In Yemen, l watched their precarious first, UN-supervised democratic election. In Tanzania, I listened to Julius Nyerere, father of unified Tanzania, make an impassioned plea to his people to act peacefully during the turmoil of Tanzania’s very first multiparty elections.

My life’s work as an intercultural educator has been built on the democratic principle of “better together than apart”, of finding ways to leverage and bridge differences, of responding to difference as a potent resource rather than a source of fear.

The political strategist’s statement about democracy has me reflecting on the rich range of tools I have for participating in my democracy. It has me realising the tools I have at the ready to understand the position of “the other” who represents different thinking. And there is no shortage of that!

I have been using Cultural Detective© as a primary training tool since 2003. I use it with my clients from Mumbai, India, to Wellington, New Zealand; from Singapore to Melbourne, Australia. It does not mean that I try to shoehorn it into every design I create, however, it is a reliable go-to resource. It’s a favourite tool in my toolbox, applicable in very diverse situations where training, facilitation, or coaching is concerned.

Right now, as I respond to the after-shocks of Brexit and the US election, I am also reaching for the simple Cultural Detective Method that applies three core questions:

  1. Who is doing and saying what here?
  2. Assuming they have a reason to respond in this way, what might that be?
  3. In what ways can we bridge this difference, this divide, and then take appropriate action?

Cultural Detective is a well-tested tool for taking effective action in these mutable, turbulent times.

These three questions at the heart of the Cultural Detective Method were taken up by two client organizations who joined together recently in Adelaide, South Australia, for a two-and-a-half-day Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification course. The workshop was hosted by Multicultural Aged Care, a group that has long been actively engaged in building intercultural competence for the aged-care workforce, and Scope Global, managers of international development and educational programs throughout Asia and the Pacific. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Both organisations were drawn to this in-depth course to learn more about the multiple applications and strengths of the Cultural Detective Method and materials. Over a three-day period, they shared intense, guided interaction, and gained many useful and practical insights:

“I really got that I need to adjust the type of bridge to the specific situation. I had thought of bridging as a major project like the built-for-hundreds-of-years Sydney Harbour type of bridge. Not true! Bridging can flex according to the situation and not all bridges need to be the permanent stone structures.”
—Agnieszka Chudecka, Multicultural Aged Care, South Australia

“Before doing this course I had understood that bridging could happen at the interpersonal level and not really considered the ways this could happen systemically as well. That’s changed. I get it. I now see multiple ways we can make simple low-cost systemic modifications that will facilitate bridging.”
—Ammeline Balanag, ScopeGlobal

I reach for Cultural Detective with confidence.  It’s safe. It works alongside other tools. It gives me a deliberate approach and process to understanding different viewpoints. It enables participation and the inclusive practice of democracy in our teams, in our organisations, and in our communities.

It continues to have my participatory vote and that of my clients.

On the Road with Migrants: Translation Help Needed

migrants-2-7123c.jpgThe Caritas game “On the Road with Migrants” is now available online in Italian and Greek, in addition to French, English and German. Please scroll down the following link for your free download:
http://www.secours-catholique.org/actualites/en-route-avec-les-migrants-un-jeu-a-telecharger

I am working on a translation to Spanish. Would LOVE your help! …. Please let us know if you are willing and able as we are putting together a team.

Thank you for helping us build respect, equity, inclusion and JUSTICE in our world!

Inclusion in Cyberspace?

I am pleased to present you a very interesting guest blog post written by John Gieryn, about inclusion and intercultural competence in online communities.

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The internet was a promise of open access and global inclusion, but has this been realized? You have most likely felt or heard hints of the web’s democratizing potential. You might have also sensed that the internet isn’t living up to this potential, and that barriers to global access and equity are yet to be bridged. The internet was born in a time before 4G access and smartphones. The current design of our web no longer supports the progress of society and is in need of a major remodel to ensure it supports inclusion, and a social cohesion that fosters both cultural and individual diversity. I write this post as a call to action. My hope is to spark discourse, the sharing of challenges and examples, lessons learned, and practical ways towards self- and group-improvement in the arenas of open source design, participatory organization and online collaboration.

Background
I’m a digital native, having communed and convened through the web since I was young. For the last nine months, the majority of my social and professional interactions have occurred online. Engaging with what I’d consider progressive and impressively democratic networks, I’ve seen and heard surprisingly little in open source design communities on intercultural competence seeking.

My interest in such competence began from a painful yet most valuable experience. For six years I have been working primarily as a community organizer, within the framework of social change. At the end of my first year, I had the opportunity to learn in a personal and powerful way what my privilege meant. A long story short: myself and two other males had been dominating the conversation in a non-hierarchical, direct-action collective, in the midst of the biggest protest movement Wisconsin has ever seen, and several women of color felt unable to bring their issues up for a period of months. The outtake was a dramatic pair of sessions, six hours each, that were necessary to reestablish the balance and harmony of our group.

I’m cis, white, and male, from the lower-middle class. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much easier I can move through my world than others who don’t have these same privilege-granting characteristics. It was just easier, more comfortable, for me to speak than for people whose experiences differed vastly from my own. This balancing lesson taught me how to authentically collaborate through the lens of power with instead of power over, and it continues to shape my work and increase its effectiveness.

In my current work online, the lessons I learned about balancing power have become harder to apply, because 1) I can’t always tell who is in a virtual room, 2) it’s harder to determine what privileges are held by those present, and 3) asynchronous communication lacks many of the visual cues that are so helpful in facilitating safe(r) spaces and recognizing when someone is in discomfort or shut down. With the loss of visual cues and physical presence, new tactics are required for safeguarding groups from imbalances and reversing disparities when they occur (e.g. asking someone for a quick face-to-face after an online meeting can feel very different than it might in a face-to-face meeting).

Why Intercultural Competence Matters
Cultural competence is defined as “a complex, psychosocial and socio-cultural process of cultural awareness, content knowledge, and applied or practice skills. It is as an active, developmental, and ongoing process, one that is aspirational rather than achieved,” (. It is the awareness of cultures, the distinctions of their context, their sense-making, and their values and norms and the applied practice of interacting with them through communication and other collaborative processes in appropriate and competent ways. Beyond being a fair or just concept, intercultural competence is just plain effective, as it can activate and sustain collective action in many ways, especially through Social Capital. Cultural Detective, since it helps people develop intercultural competence, can thus play a role in activating social capital.

Beyond being a fair or just concept, intercultural competence is just plain effective, as it can activate and sustain collective action in many ways, especially through Social Capital.

Benefits of Social Capital
Social Capital is a concept used to identify resources that are neither human nor financial, but interpersonal. It’s important to note that the phrase “social capital” is problematic, as “capital” has represented a relationship of domination and oppression for half a millennium or more. I use the term (without intending these connotations) as it is widely used in the literature I cite, and is useful until a better naming emerges. The resources found in “cross-cutting personal relationships…provide the basis for trust, cooperation, and collective action in such communities,” write Nahapiet & Ghoshal (1998). In that same paper, they found it useful to identify three dimensions of social capital— structural, cognitive, and relational— though they admit there is much interrelation between each.

The structural dimension refers to the makeup of the network, who relates to whom and how strongly. The cognitive dimension refers to the self-rated expertise and tenure one might have; self-efficacy, or control belief (the belief that my actions will yield the intended results) has a significant effect on whether one will intend to do anything, let alone participate in an online community.

The relational dimension has the largest potential impact, in my opinion, for the way online communities organize. Relational Capital can be further broken down into four aspects.

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In a group that has high amounts of Relational Capital, it’d be likely that:

  • A member has confidence in the other group members
  • Members identify with the group
  • Members feel a sense of obligation to participate in the group; I’ve renamed this interdependence above, since it is a primary cause of this commitment
  • Members understand and abide by group norms. This may be reinforced through sanctions

Intercultural Competence for Collective Action
Relational Capital is where intercultural competence can be effectively leveraged in order to build collective action and increase knowledge sharing in online communities. Intercultural competence, as I explained above, means being able to understand someone’s cultural context, communicate in ways that are appropriate, and take actions that are mutually understood. I’d also describe it as being fully present with someone. Such competence is required to build confidence, create shared identity, communicate and form norms, and enable commitment. Intercultural competence strengthens all of the components of Relational Capital.

Another leg of the stool for collective action, that I’ve depicted below, is reciprocity. Studies, “consistently found that reciprocity is critical for sustaining supportive relationships and collective action” (Chechen 2013). Intercultural competence is key to reciprocity because, in any exchange, understanding the context of someone’s culture and the ways that they send & receive signals is critical. How can you return the favor if you don’t know what you’ve received? How can you pay it forward if you don’t know what you gave, in the eyes of the other person? This is why online communities need intercultural competence.

In future articles I hope to write more about some of the other concepts depicted in this Collective Action Hypothesis, above. The dotted lines are my personal understandings, and the solid lines are backed up with formal academic research.

Call To Action

If we are to reach the admirable, attainable goals of the internet—to bring democracy, inclusion, and access to people everyone around the globe—then intercultural competence must be on the agenda. The Open Source movement, as well as participatory organizations and any online collaboration, have much to gain from prioritizing dialogue and resource sharing on intercultural best practices, as cultural competence is a key component of open access to tech.

I invite people to share any resources, comments, or quotes by making a suggestion here. I also hope that you will spark these sorts of conversations, and share these types of resources, with your community. Continuous learning and diverse lenses have the capacity to transform our world into a more sustainable, flourishing home. So please— stay curious.

Resources + Examples

  • The World Value Survey created this very interesting cultural map depicting traditional values versus secular-rational values and survival values versus self-expression values
  • “The Challenges of Managing Cross-Cultural Virtual Project Teams” research paper on the challenge of leadership, virtual aspects of communications and developing trustMany of the online resources I found were proprietary. However, this
  • 6 Levels of Culture diagram was helpful; the DIE assessment is a freely accessible & widely used method to teach cognitive flexibility, frame of reference shifting and curiosity
  • Short videos, like this one on New Zealand & German cultural differences, can be helpful

References

  • Carroll, Doris Wright. “A Model of Cultural Competence in Open Source Systems.” Safari. IGI Global, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.
  • Chechen Liao Pui-Lai To Fang-Chih Hsu , (2013),”Exploring knowledge sharing in virtual communities”, Online Information Review, Vol. 37 Iss 6 pp. 891 – 909.
  • Faraj, Molly Mclure Wasko; Samer, and Wasko. “Why Should I Share? Examining Social Capital and Knowledge Contribution in Virtual Communities” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
  • Nahapiet, Janine, and Sumantra Ghoshel. “Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organizational Advantage.” Academy of Management Review 23.2 (1998): 119-57. Web.

john gieryn | @coopchange | john(at)enspiral.com Licensed  CC BY-SA 4.0

Sperm Whales and Cultural Diversity

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Image from “The Lost Culture of Whales,” by Shane Gero in The New York Times

Our annual year-end gift to each other in our family is a boat trip to visit the humpback whales in our bay in Mazatlán. They are gorgeous, and during the trip we often swim with dolphins, delight in jumping mantas, and greet sea turtles.

I just read an article about sperm whales on the other side of Mexico, in the Eastern Caribbean (The Lost Culture of Whales, in The New York Times); their populations are declining by 4% annually. Horrible, for sure, but why write about that on the Cultural Detective blog? Granted, we here at Cultural Detective very much support sustainability, a reduced footprint, and respect for our planet and its ecology. But what do declining sperm whale populations have to do with culture?

According to Shane Gero, behavioral ecologist and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project: “Behavior is what you do; culture is how you do it. All sperm whales do the same things — feed, swim, defend, socialize — but how they do them is different around the world. Just as humans use forks or chopsticks, they, too, differ in how they eat, what species of squid they eat, how fast they travel and where they roam, their social behavior, and probably many other ways we still do not understand.” Sperm whales in the Eastern Caribbean have at least 22 different dialects, and can identify one another. Interestingly, those from a similar culture are more likely to cooperate.

It seems that the lives of sperm whales are remarkably similar to those of humans: extended family members — usually female — babysit calves. Family is critical to survival, and the whales live in communities of neighboring families in a multicultural oceanic society, according to Gero. “We are not just losing specific whales that we have come to know as individuals; we are losing a way of life, a culture — the accumulated wisdom of generations on how to survive in the deep waters of the Caribbean Sea.”

I found all this fascinating, but I especially enjoyed reading Gero’s conclusions, which I post below.

“The definition of biodiversity needs to include cultural diversity. All sperm whales around the world are similar genetically… But genetics may not be particularly helpful when conserving populations of cultural whales. ‘Genetic stocks,’ which we have traditionally used to manage and protect much of the world’s wildlife, simply cannot preserve the diversity of life. Diverse systems are more resilient, and the most important diversity in sperm whales, as in humans, is in their cultural traditions.

I could point to many reasons to protect whales, like the way they mitigate the effects of climate change by cycling nutrients that enable the ocean to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, or how top predators regulate marine food chains. But if we are to preserve life, ours and theirs, we must find ways to succeed together, and value diversity in our societies and in our ecosystems.

—Shane Gero, behavioral ecologist and founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project

Life is indeed wholistic, all beings are interconnected, and preserving the diversity amongst ourselves and our animal and plant life may be key to our survival. I have no doubt it’s key to our well being.

The best part of working with Cultural Detective has always been the community — you — like-minded people striving to build intercultural competence. Gero’s opinions and experience would seem to make the case that our community is broader than I thought, including, at a minimum, biologists and ecologists, as well.

Study Supports Ecotonos’ Effectiveness

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“This study shows that the use of the Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures supports the development of cultural intelligence (CQ) and an increase in the development of confidence in cross-cultural encounters.

This legitimates the use of Ecotonos in international business education.

Ecotonos may also be effective in preparing students for overseas internships or study abroad programs… and in multinational corporations and universities as a means to improve the CQ of their management and students.”
—Bücker and Korzilius

Since its publication in 1995, Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures has become a classic in the field of intercultural communication competence; it is a go-to resource for corporations, universities and NGOs that require the ability to effectively team across cultures. Two decades of anecdotal evidence strongly support Ecotonos’ usefulness, but it is only recently that management researchers in The Netherlands provided empirical evidence on the simulation’s effectiveness.

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Three of the five generations of Ecotonos; compact Fifth Edition on the right.

Developing cultural intelligence: assessing the effect of the Ecotonos cultural simulation game for international business students,” a study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management (Vol. 26, No. 15, 1995-2014) by Joost JLE Bücker and Hubert Korzilius, found that Ecotonos supports the development of cultural intelligence (CQ), specifically metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral CQ.

Bücker and Korzilius write, “CQ is defined by Earley and Ang (2003) as a person’s capability to adapt effectively to new cultural contexts. It refers to individual capacities which enable one to interact effectively with others from different cultural backgrounds and in different cultural contexts (Brislin, Worthley, & MacNab, 2006). It is the ability to adapt and adjust to one’s environment, and the effective functioning in situations characterized by cultural diversity.”

The research was designed to test the benefits of using Ecotonos as a training method to develop CQ among business students that participate in an international study program, while the researchers also saw applications for corporations and universities. Simulations and role plays “should provide the most suitable opportunity to train someone’s CQ… ECOTONOS (Saphiere, 1995) was created as an attempt to add additional learning goals to those of existing games such as BAFA BAFA and ALBATROSS, by creating simulations that had more complex options.”

The study of 66 students in Toulouse and Nijmegen consisted of an experiment group that engaged in one round of playing Ecotonos, a control group that did not participate in Ecotonos, and the completion of four questionnaires 3-5 weeks apart by members of both groups:

  1. CQS (Ang et al, 2007)
  2. Cross-cultural Communication Effectiveness (adapted from Hammer, Gudykunst & Wiseman, 1978)
  3. Social Desirability Scales (Kleumper, 2008)
  4. New Self-Efficacy Scale (Chen, Gulley and Eden, 2001)

Bücker and Korzilius note the importance of their study:

“Although it has been claimed that simulation games may give positive outcomes, such as more familiarity with people different from ourselves in terms of gender or ethnicity, such games may also reinforce prejudices. Burgstahler and Doe (2006) claim that ‘In all types of simulations there is a risk of long-lasting unintended negative results’ (p. 9).

An evaluation of an intercultural communications simulation called BAFA BAFA (Shirts, 1973) found evidence of a positive change in enthusiasm for learning, an intended result, and an increased ethnocentrism, an unintended result (Bruschke, Gartner, & Seiter, 1993). The simulated experience triggered negative and reactionary attitudes toward other cultures, and did not allow for more positive changes that might come from extended interaction across cultures (Bruschke et al., 1993).

The two simulation games of Bafa Bafa and Ecotonos are different. Whereas in the Bafa Bafa game participants are invited to simulate explicit stated cultural behavior, in the Ecotonos game participants have more freedom to create their own culture. This different way of prescribing behavior in the two games may have implications for the degree of prejudice after the simulation.”

The researchers found that “Ecotonos increases the ability to reflect on cross-cultural interactions, and stimulates interest in intercultural behavior and practicing cross-cultural relevant behavior.”

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A concern that came out of the study is that researchers found “there is more understanding and comfort in student interactions, but there is not more progress in the joint project result. For undergraduate business students, feeling comfortable in intercultural situations and becoming interested in other students’ cultural backgrounds is already a great win; it stimulates intercultural learning by opening up students’ mindsets in the international class. For more mature graduate students, extra strategic learning should be expected during the simulation game, in terms of effectiveness of their cross-cultural behavior and effectuating certain predefined targets in their communication. This might be developed by stimulating the competitive side of the role of the participants in the simulation game.”

I would posit that playing Ecotonos multiple times will enable students to practice and improve their collaborative abilities; this is, after all, how the game is designed to be used. A different task or case study can be used each time the game is played, and different rule cards as well, making the play unique each time.

A second way for participants to improve their collaboration skills is for facilitators to urge them to choose one behavior they would like to demonstrate during the simulation. Participants should focus on that. During game play, when collaboration all too frequently breaks down, facilitators can interrupt play to remind players to practice the skill they have previously chosen. Both of these interventions are described in the Ecotonos Manual, 5th Edition, 2016.

I would like to thank both researchers for this work, and express my hope that they will continue with further studies on this topic.

If you haven’t yet conducted Ecotonos with your students, trainees or learners, what are you waiting for? Purchase your copy today. If you have an older copy, you may want to update; the fifth edition has explanations of a whole lot of how-to and underlying theory that you may be missing from earlier versions.

Women in Leadership and the First Public Use of Cultural Detective

women-in-workplace-2016Cultural Detective is all about supporting equality and justice, and one of the ways we’ve supported gender equality — and particularly women in business leadership — just might surprise you! It involves the very first person to use Cultural Detective after it launched to the public in 2004…

“Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager — so far fewer end up on the path to leadership — and they are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.

This disparity is especially pronounced for women of color, who face the most barriers to advancement and experience the steepest drop-offs with seniority.”

— From Women in the Workplace 2016 report

I had a longstanding training contract with Texas Instruments in Dallas. One of the secretaries there, an administrative assistant we’ll call Ana, was Mexican American. She reported to four “white guys”: US American Caucasian men, all of whom helped manage TI’s business in Mexico and Latin America. Ana had worked for TI for six years; she knew all the stories of success and failure between Dallas and Mexico.

Ana was so excited when we launched Cultural Detective Mexico! She knew our materials are written for lay people, and she knew the business would benefit from using them. So, Ana got her bosses to agree to participant in a Lunch-n-Learn she would lead, during which she would teach them about Mexican culture. They of course were skeptical, but they agreed to humor Ana. And it would only last three hours…

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Ana conducted the short workshop for her bosses. Using the Cultural Detective Mexico Values Lens, Ana told a Texas Instruments’ story for each of the values. Each time she told one of the stories from her and her bosses’ experience, she asked them how they could have done things differently had they known what she was explaining to them. Her bosses were amazed. Two of them called me to praise Ana and the Cultural Detective, and tell me they couldn’t believe how practical our approach is.

So what does Ana’s story have to do with women in leadership? Re-read the pull quote above…

Two and a half weeks after the Lunch-n-Learn, Ana was promoted OUT of her administrative assistant role and INTO a management role! Her bosses not only realized, thanks to her efforts, the business value of cultural savvy, they also gained recognition of the power of Ana’s insights and experience. They knew she could be a terrific asset to the Latin American operation, and, indeed, she has been. But it took her taking on a leadership role for them to begin to picture her in that role.

Cultural Detective, when used regularly over time to reflect on one’s own experience, builds intercultural competence. In that sense our Method and materials help build equity for women, as well as others who all too often lack access to power. We have two terrific packages that focus on specifically on gender: Cultural Detective Women and Men and Cultural Detective LGBT.

But Ana’s story also shows how using the Cultural Detective Method can build credibility for the facilitator and establish the importance of cultural competence, justice and equity in our organizations and communities.

Learning to use the Cultural Detective Method to build intercultural competence has never been easier with Cultural Detective Online at your fingertips 24 hours a day. You, your staff, and those you coach can develop a habit of exploring cultures, studying critical incidents and uploading your own real-life stories to hone your skills on the way to your next promotion.

The pull quote at the beginning of this post is taken from “Women in the Workplace 2016,” a survey conducted by McKinsey and LeanIn.org. of 34,000 men and women at 132 companies in the USA that employ 6.4 million people. The survey was designed to uncover attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition, and work-life issues. The 31 page 2016 report is available via free download, and includes some excellent Cultural Bridges for helping organizations, managers and individuals understand paths to “getting gender diversity right.” The report’s findings make an excellent companion piece to use with Cultural Detective Women and Men.

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Communicating with US Americans

P1280467Last year was a watershed for the field of intercultural communication, as it brought the publication of the Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence. Edited by Janet Bennett, the very heavy and extremely useful two-volume set includes about 350 entries by a broad international, multi-disciplinary cross-section of professionals. I am proud to be included among them.

While the first entry I was asked to write delighted my soul, the second and third ones were much more of a challenge. I suppose Janet asked me because there are few people foolish enough to take on a topic as huge, as broad, and as problematic as Communicating Across Cultures with People from the United States. I am USA-born, currently living in Mexico. I love and am extremely proud of my birth country. I am also perplexed and dismayed by it. Such is, perhaps, the nature of a culture that includes 320 million people and nearly 4 million square miles!

The USA is so very misunderstood. Any of us born there, who travel abroad, know how it feels to wear the “brand” on our foreheads, to be seen as a “representative” of that “crazy” and yet “incredible” nation. Most people internationally feel a complexity of emotions about the USA and its culture. Many hold stereotypical views, and I saw the encyclopedia as a chance to help explain US culture a bit.

In the Cultural Detective series we have the excellently written Cultural Detective USA, written by the incomparable George Simons and Eun Young Kim. The Cultural Detective USA is a tool for developing cross-cultural competence and teaming; an encyclopedia entry is information and knowledge. Thus, the two work together and complement each other very well.

I highly recommend you purchase the complete two-volume encyclopedia, published by Sage in 2015, or ask your librarian to add it to their collection. It is a hugely valuable reference, one I’ve consulted extensively since it arrived last May. Here’s what Sage says about the full volume:

In 1980, SAGE published Geert Hofstede’s Culture’s Consequences. It opens with a quote from Blaise Pascal: “There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees that are falsehoods on the other.” The book became a classic—one of the most cited sources in the Social Science Citation Index—and subsequently appeared in a second edition in 2001. This new SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence picks up on themes explored in that book.

Cultural competence refers to the set of attitudes, practices, and policies that enables a person or agency to work well with people from differing cultural groups. Other related terms include cultural sensitivity, transcultural skills, diversity competence, and multicultural expertise. What defines a culture? What barriers might block successful communication between individuals or agencies of differing cultures? How can those barriers be understood and navigated to enhance intercultural communication and understanding? These questions and more are explained within the pages of this new reference work.

Key Features:

  • 300 to 350 entries organized in A-to-Z fashion in two volumes
  • Signed entries that conclude with Cross-References and Suggestions for Further Readings
  • Thematic “Reader’s Guide” in the front matter grouping  related entries by broad topic areas
  • Chronology that provides a historical perspective of the development of cultural competence as a discrete field of study
  • Resources appendix and a comprehensive Index

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence is an authoritative and rigorous source on intercultural competence and related issues, making it a must-have reference for all academic libraries.

My entry had to be very brief, as the 2-volume set includes over 300 entries. The publishers have given me permission to share my three entries, so here is the link for you to read Communicating with US Americans. I’m sure you’ll find many points you would have worded differently or added in, as nearly everyone has a unique experience of a nation with such a powerful presence on the world stage. I look forward to hearing your comments and additions!