Two Values Lens Stories

©Cultural Detective, from Cultural Detective Self Discovery

©Cultural Detective, from Cultural Detective Self Discovery

The beauty of Cultural Detective Values Lenses?

A colleague was just telling me this morning that he had a class of students from France and Italy, and one Thai woman. The students had worked with Cultural Detective Self Discovery; they had reflected on their personal values and history, and created personal Values Lenses.

Next my colleague had walked through the French Values Lens with the class, and asked them to compare their personal Lenses with the national Lens, the country in which all of the students were residing and studying. The French students perceived a lot of resonance with their national culture, and the foreign students identified their experience in France as well.

Next my friend walked through the Italian Values Lens, and got the same reaction.

Finally, when he went to the Thai Values Lens, he realized he knew next to nothing about Thais, and that he couldn’t even pronounce the words on the Lens. Thus, he elected to ask the Thai student, blindsiding her or putting her on the spot if you will — he asked her to come up and introduce the class to the Thai Values Lens, which she had only just seen in that moment!

This Thai participant led the other students, and the professor, on a journey into Thai culture that took their breath away! She shared examples of Thai behavior and their meaning that built the other students’, and the teacher’s, respect for who she is and where she comes from.

Such can be the power of a Values Lens. It is not a stereotype. It captures the central tendency, the norm, of a group of people, in terms people can identify with. Thus, it is usually quite easy for a representative of the culture to introduce the values in a Values Lens, using stories from everyday life in that culture.

Second example, much shorter:

So many people nowadays tell us they are global nomads, TCKs, Blended Culture people. And they are. And, this does not mean that they don’t have a culture; it means they have more cultural strands woven into their identity than perhaps the average person!

The second story involves one young woman, who insisted she was nothing like her national culture. She was an individual, a global citizen: culture-less, in a way. In looking at her national culture Values Lens, she exclaimed out loud during class, “Oh my God! I AM Slovak!”

The goal of Cultural Detective Values Lenses as tools is to facilitate dialogue and understanding, both understanding of self and others, and thus enable collaboration that brings out the best of each of us. Please help us make that happen, by sharing your tips, techniques, and designs, and by encouraging best practice.

Why Do Kids Study Abroad?

The allure of traveling to exotic places, learning about people, their language and how their lives were shaped differently than our own – these reasons and more attract students globally to explore the opportunities of living and studying abroad.

From my experience, living abroad as a young adult can be one of the first opportunities to see the world through a very different lens. The experience of trying to understand and communicate with a foreign language and adapt to a very different way of daily life can be both eye-opening and a shock to the system.

As an intercultural product development company we have had the unique opportunity to work with several organizations in the study abroad and student exchange industry. I’d like to point out two of them as organizations who not only facilitate the study abroad experience but also enrich the students’ opportunity to have powerfully positive study abroad learning experiences. Both CIEE and AFS International put significant effort into preparing students for their time abroad by teaching about the impact of culture, and how to interpret behavior by getting to what’s underneath – the values that are motivating the behavior.

Enjoy these two different but equally interesting case studies of how enhancing cultural understanding with a core process like Cultural Detective has been successful. I would love to hear your opinion and ideas that have worked for you in this field!

  • Business case for university exchange program by CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange)
  • Business case for high school exchange program by AFS USA

Watch Out! What a Values Lens is—and is Not!

Our users love Cultural Detective‘s Values Lenses. Many of them even call our toolset “Cultural Detective Lenses” rather than “the Cultural Detective Series.”

Customers tell us they use Values Lenses to:

  • Quickly build recognition that cultures are, indeed, different.
  • Establish credibility that these tools and their facilitation are effective.
  • Supplement—amplify and deepen—the analysis of a critical incident, or better understand a personal life event.
  • Reflect on ways in which they have become who they are by overlaying national, gender, generational, religious tradition or sexual orientation Lenses with Personal Lenses.
  • Contrast their “home culture” Lens with that of a new culture to predict where there might be synergy and resonance, as well as potential difficulties or challenges.
  • Learn to focus on the things that make a difference, to observe and respect deep culture, rather than becoming preoccupied with dos and don’ts.
  • Empower members of their organization to explain their culture(s) to others. Though they may not individually hold the values on the culture’s Lens, the Lens enables them to explain the larger society’s tendencies in ways that help newcomers to be successful.

All of this is fine and good, except that Values Lenses scare the bejeebers out of me!

Ever since publishing Ecotonos back in the early nineties, I’ve said that publishing a tool is like launching a child out into the world: products, like children, take on lives of their own. They do not always do what their parents or creators might have intended. Tools serve certain purposes and not others. Tools can be used expertly or misused.

Since Values Lenses can be such powerful tools, they can also be dangerous tools when misused. Thus the reason for this post. We want to make sure you understand how to use Values Lenses appropriately, and help us keep them from being used counterproductively.

So, what are Values Lenses? And what are they not?

  • Values Lenses summarize the top five to seven core values or general tendencies of a group of people, a culture. They do not apply to individuals within a culture, and the values have a complex influence on sub-cultures of the Lens culture.
  • They illustrate how members of a culture tend to see the world—looking out through the Lens, and how a culture tends to influence its members—like sun shining in through the colors of the Lens. It is important to remember it is “tend to,” not “always do.” Context is key.
  • They capture the ideal and actual aspects of a culture, intention and perception, positive and negative, yin and yang. A Lens both illustrates the values that members of a culture aspire to, and some ways in which the expression of those values might be negatively perceived by those who don’t share them. A Values Lens is a starting point for inquiry; it does not contain every value held by every member of a culture.
  • Values Lenses are tools for discovery and dialogue, clues that may give us an idea about what makes people tick. They are not yet another “box” into which to stereotype people!

Values Lenses can be extremely effective tools, and they are a key component of the Cultural Detective Method. Remember, however, that it is the process of using the Cultural Detective Worksheet that is fundamental to the Cultural Detective approach.

We’d love to hear your ideas and techniques for helping others learn through the use of Cultural Detective Values Lenses! Let us know how you are creatively applying Values Lenses in your life—personally and/or professionally.

Dealing with Postcolonialism

In our last blog post, The Case of Who’s in Charge: Who’s language will we speak, we got a small taste of how African colonialism and slavery have created realities that affect power dynamics and attitudes in our organizations and communities that persist to this day. From the mid-15th century to 1880, roughly twelve million Africans were torn from their homes and families from Senegal to Angola, reaching the Americas as slaves. Other millions died either during the course of enslavement in Africa or en route to the Americas. These are not facts that can or should be forgotten or set aside.

Does post-colonialism exert a negative toll on your organization and people? Is there a way to transform these potentially negative forces into tools for dialogue, understanding and organizational (and societal) transformation?

Our Cultural Detective West Africa (covering Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria) authors, Doctors Emmanuel Ngomsi and Seidu Sofo, have very ably written materials that address these questions.

A short quote from their participant materials makes the main point:

“While it is true that current expatriate employees are not responsible for slavery and colonialism, or for problems linked to colonialism in this region of the world, they may nevertheless sometimes be perceived by local workers as part of the system responsible for repeated abuses. It is important to be aware of this fact, and how individual actions are likely to be understood in this historical context.

We encourage you to seize the opportunity presented by Cultural Detective: West Africa to explore the issues of colonialism and modern-day power dynamics with your West African colleagues. While there is a clear attempt on the part of many scholars (African and non-African) to blame past and current African problems on European colonization, the dynamics of colonialism and neocolonialism are complex issues, and it is crucial that business and non-business people be aware of and sensitive to the history that strongly remains in the minds of professional Africans, and often profoundly affects business relationships.

Today, there are limited forums available to openly address these issues. The workplace constitutes one of the few places in which people may discuss how they feel about historical European intervention on the continent, and perceptions of power dynamics and race relations today. Being prepared to handle these issues constructively is smart business.”

Their facilitator manual contains a section entitled “Facilitating a Discussion of Slavery and Postcolonialism,” which adds encouragement as well as how-to:

“Within the Participant Materials we have included a supplement addressing the issues of slavery and colonialism as they relate to West Africa. People are curious and want to talk about these issues, and while they can be difficult and sensitive issues to discuss, they create an important dynamic in relationships and should not be ignored. The Cultural Detective Model provides a way to explore these issues in a non-evaluative manner that can promote mutual understanding. Remember that no one point of view is ‘the truth,’ and it is rare that a discussion will result in consensus or agreement.

West Africans, Europeans, African Americans, Caucasian Americans, Latin Americans and people in the Caribbean, among others, all have different and sometimes opposing points of view on the causes and outcomes of slavery.

Contrary to a common belief among foreigners, West Africans generally are not uncomfortable talking about slavery and are willing to engage in conversations with people who sincerely and genuinely want to explore and learn about slavery and its effects.

Today throughout Africa, Europeans, Americans and other ‘White People’ may still be perceived as exploiters and neo-colonizers. Resentment remains because some believe that the best minds and bodies of the African continent were transported to the Americas. And while many agree that slavery is wrong, many West Africans also feel that if ‘Whites’ could have their way politically and socially, slavery would still be practiced.

Given the sensitivity toward these issues, foreign business owners need to be particularly mindful of their words and actions. Derogatory acts or sayings by expatriate employers directed toward West African employees are not only unkind but unwise. While private individuals react strongly to such acts, governments may also take swift and decisive action, and some have deported expatriate employers for such misconduct.

Regardless of the economic benefit that a foreign investment might bring to a West African nation, dehumanizing conduct, utterances, or work conditions are not tolerated.”

We eagerly urge you to look through these materials, and put them to good use. We would love to have those of you who work in spaces where you deal with post- and neocolonialism issues to share with us some of your experiences and learnings, so that we might all transform our practices and do our bit to heal this world of ours.

Oldie but Goodie: Indigenous Contributions to Global Management

Because Cultural Detective is used by so many corporations, business schools, and management development programs, we are obviously very interested in strategies for broadening the scope of management teaching.

Recently I was perusing our archives, and found this terrific article from way back in 2005, authored for us by Cultural Detective Malaysia co-author Asma Abdullah. It focuses on indigenous contributions to global management, and I thought some of you might enjoy reading it, for the first time, or seeing it again with new eyes. Oldie but goodie, in my opinion!

Global Success By Trial and Error?

The idea occurred to Dianne that a blog about “How to convince your boss to work with Cultural Detective” could spark some interesting conversation. Always in the mood for some good dialogue, I took the bait!

To those of us who live and breathe “developing cross-cultural competence,” it seems like a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t appreciate a deeper understanding of the cultural values that are most likely driving your international clients’ decision-making process? Isn’t it logical that understanding what makes our global clients, vendors or colleagues “tick” would translate into improved relationships and ultimately more or better business?

We know, by evidence of the shear number of cross-cultural mishaps resulting in project failures, job loss, plant shut-downs, etc., that millions  of dollars are lost annually by culturally inept managers following a path of trial and error versus embarking on a path of structured learning to develop competence for working across cultures. But because those dollars are not directly traceable to a lack of cultural competence, the trial by error path to global success continues to lead organizations through a maze of cross-cultural dilemmas which ultimately may or may not end well for the organization.

If you’re seeking the most direct path to your global success, it makes both personal and organizational sense to prepare the way by learning a core process for developing global competence. In fact, there was a 2007 Accenture study that involved interviews with global managers, who reported a belief that adopting a cross-cultural communication training program could improve business productivity by 26%! Most importantly, their belief was supported by actual improvements in productivity of 30% reported by organizations who did implement cross-cultural training programs.

The bottom line is that by using the Cultural Detective Method you are far more prepared for any cross-cultural situation, so that ultimately you will be more productive and effective in your job and for your organization. Better prepared employees feel more successful and have much better job satisfaction. What boss wouldn’t want that for their employees?

Our clients report feedback such as the following:
  • 30% increase in global customer satisfaction, due to training technical support representatives with the Cultural Detective
  • Alleviation of the typical “low” resulting from culture shock that many expats feel, and shorter time-to-competence on assignment, due to providing pre-departure training that includes the Cultural Detective
  • The Cultural Detective tools allow the flexibility to meet emerging needs/respond to time-sensitive opportunities because they provide “just in time” effectiveness in a cost-effective manner.
  • Cultural Detective training results in “positive and creative resolutions that bridge value differences.”

As I think more closely about this question, “How to convince your boss to work with Cultural Detective tools,” the answer clearly lies in the Cultural Detective Method and the Value Lens tools themselves! What does your boss value? And what does his/her boss value? Leverage whats important to them and put their values to work for you!

So, what do you think? How would you convince your boss? Let us hear from you!

Layering Lenses: We are All Multicultural Individuals

“As an ethnic minority woman working in a large multinational firm, too often I feel like I have to learn only, to fit in. For the first time since I’ve worked here, I can now see, and explain, the unique and valuable perspective that I have to contribute as well!” she said, her face positively glowing.

The privilege of experiencing such affirming responses from Cultural Detective customers is part of what makes my job so incredibly worthwhile. This woman had just spent time creating her personal Values Lens, using Cultural Detective Self Discovery as well as a selection of Values Lenses from various other CD packages.

While the core of Cultural Detective is its process, which enables ongoing learning, collaboration and conflict resolution, the Lenses play an invaluable supporting role. As shown in the diagram above, one important role the Lenses can play is to help us realize that we are all unique, individual composites of the various cultures that have influenced and helped form us over our lifetimes. We are not “just” Chinese or Brazilian; we are much, much more than a single story, as Chimamanda Adichie so well told us.

In international cross-cultural work such as I’ve done over the past 34 years, too often people limit their definitions of “culture” to “nationality.” Culture goes way beyond nationality. Since by definition culture is the shared norms, values and behaviors of a group of people, culture can also include ethnicity, language group, physical ability or mobility, sexual orientation, or gender identity. More often than not, in my experience, while nationality(ies) tend to have a strong impact on our behavior, professional training, the culture of the organization to which the person belongs, the team culture, their socioeconomic level, generation, their faith or spirituality … all of these influence behavior as much as or more than national birth culture. It’s worthwhile for all of us to know ourselves in all the layers of our cultures: why we are the way we are, how we got to be who we are today. In this way we can better predict how we’ll respond, and better explain ourselves and our motivations to others, powerfully transforming collaboration.

People often ask me, where does personality end and culture begin? As a practitioner, my response is, “Does it really matter? Is there an objective, accurate answer?” We are all unique individuals and we are all also influenced by the multiple cultures in which we’ve grown up, been educated and trained, worked and lived. If we can keep our values and our goals clearly in mind, we can be flexible in our behavior and creative in our approaches, in order to perform at our highest and best in a broad variety of contexts.