Book Review: How Maps Change Things

by Ward L. Kaiser, published by the New Internationalist and ODT Maps, 2012.
Free download through March 31 for Cultural Detectives

Anyone looking to develop a new class or training program to improve intercultural competence? This just-released book, How Maps Change Things: A conversation about the maps we choose and the world we want, could be the basis of one terrific learning journey! I highlighted something on nearly every one of its 188 pages. I learned so much, on so many different yet related topics, that I now have five or six threads of learning and discovery I want to pursue!

At first glance you might think this is a book about maps. Then you read on page six that it is about

“… how we shape and use maps and how they in turn shape us. It’s about how we see the world and how we therefore understand our place in it.”

So you start to hope that How Maps Change Things could teach us to be careful whether we label a certain body of water the “Arabian Gulf” or the “Persian Gulf,” or color-code parts of Kashmir as Indian or Pakistani, but it goes way beyond that.

“Because such maps encourage the feeling that some areas are home to movers and shakers while others shelter mere pawns.” — page 74

Mr. Kaiser, the author, is a big fan of equal-area projection maps such as the Peters, as most in the global diversity and inclusion field are, and points out how maps such as the Mercator aren’t good for much other than navigation. But in addition to showing us how maps can be used to perpetuate bias, he shows us how maps can also be used to promote perspective shifting, equity, and social justice:

“Through internalizing many ways to see the world we may even develop openness to other people’s points of view and greater self-awareness.”
— page 164

“What if people all over the world threatened by, well, you name it – logging, commercial development, polluting factories, hydrofracking chemicals in drinking water, say – what if they could all see maps as tools of analysis and action? …

How about a map to make clear where the hazardous electronic wastes of the developed world get dumped …

Bring together maps, available technology, human creativity, and people’s willingness to take a stand and you’ve got a powerful recipe for changing events.” — page 176

For these reasons and others this volume will be useful to interculturalists and those interested in diversity, sustainability, and social action.

The author premises that maps are tools that serve a purpose.

“Maps are verbs. They may seem to be tactile objects, documents we can handle or fold – nouns – but don’t be fooled. In persuasively framing questions and selectively supplying answers they act; they initiate; they function as agents.” — page 15

To illustrate this point he shares some terrific stories: one about the role of maps in a territorial dispute between First Nations people and the Canadian government (pages 35-39); another about how a map can skew our view of a country as a source of oil or as a residence of people and families (pages 8-17); and a third showing how a map was used to get one county to pay for a highway interchange that served another county (pages 34-35). There is a chapter about the connection between maps and faith/values (chapter 10 page 141), and how maps are used for disease control and health (page 170), as well as for crime prevention (page 173), a topic of special interest lately with concerns of profiling and ethnic bias.

The book is written in a lively, accessible style, though it gets heavier and slower toward the end; ironically, the final chapters are where Mr. Kaiser’s true passion seems to lie. It contains several embedded learning exercises (e.g., page 121) and interesting conversations such as how indigenous North Americans mapped (page 40). Via this latter conversation, he shows that the “culture” of map-makers is not universal. This, to me, is a hugely important point. Too many people believe their area of professional practice is culture-neutral or universal when, in fact, even science is culturally relative (as well as discipline-relative!).

One of the pleasures of reading How Maps Change Things is that it contains quite a few valuable “hidden” gems. One of my favorites: as the author discusses the huge socio-economic gap in our world, variously referred to by such inadequate (or judgment-laden) terms as North-South, 1st/3rd world, Developed/Developing nations, and Viable/Failed states, he provides in the footnotes a list of experts from diverse political persuasions and walks of life who share a consensus on the absolute need to bridge this gap (pages 138-139).

Through March 31 our friends at ODT Maps, the publisher, are offering this ebook FREE to our Cultural Detective community. I urge you to take advantage of this offer and help the author get this book put to good use!

Maps are tools, and can be purposed to perpetuate bias or to help us to create a better world. Cultural Detective has long been passionate about maps as learning tools. Way back in December of 2005 we dedicated an entire edition of our Cultural Detective e-news to maps (including 3 articles of activities and curricular ideas and a quiz), relying in large part on the expertise and generosity of our friends at ODT Maps.

It included: Using Physical Maps to Transform Mental Maps8 Map Activities for Intercultural Learning; a World Map Detective quizTraining with Map Power; and a free offer (a Mecca-centered Azimuthal map, a Peters Projection map, and a Population Map) from our friends at ODT Maps.

Bob Abramms at ODT has a wealth of books, DVDs, globes, puzzles, games, props, and  world maps for different purposes — terrific training material for intercultural and global diversity and inclusion professionals. If you’re not familiar with his great stuff, be sure to check it out.

Book Review: Transformational Diversity

Transformational Diversity: Why and how intercultural competencies can help organizations to survive and thrive, by Fiona Citkin and Lynda Spielman, SHRM, 2011. ISBN 978-1-586-44230-9

This book had me at the title. We all work with people different from us in gender, age, function, ethnicity, nationality, intellectual orientation or religious tradition, and many of us have also been involved in mergers and acquisitions that join two or more organizational cultures. We have a wealth of diverse human talent to draw upon to penetrate new markets and creatively solve problems, but how do we do so?

Books like this one, a compendium of the latest thinking along with sample designs and resources, are gifts. Such compendia guide the responsible practitioner through the maze of information available on the topic, sifting through to highlight for the reader what is most accurate or valuable, and ideally teach us where to turn for further learning. They help us take stock of where we are as a field, where we should be going, and the latest best practice for how to get there. This book does that in a no-nonsense, practical, and brief (131 pages before appendices and bibliography) manner.

The “new imperatives” that the authors cite are real and pressing. They include the need to:
  • Compete worldwide for the best talent,
  • Develop global workforce initiatives,
  • Coordinate all domestic efforts with an increasingly multicultural workforce,
  • Have diversity contribute more visibly to performance and the bottom line, and
  • Organize inclusion-oriented systematic education for all populations (p. 6).

Transformational Diversity aims to take diversity programming “beyond race and gender” (p. 1) to “more effectively enhance productivity and performance” (p. 3).  The authors tell us, “Transformational Diversity is a call for change in current diversity and inclusion programs, which in our experience seems [sic] to be struggling from fatigue and from challenges to produce measurable results,” (p. 5).

What does the book have going for it?

What most stood out for me is that they give voice, or, rather, print, to many of the things leading global D&I practitioners have been saying over the past decade. And this is valuable. Just a few examples include:
  1. The fact that organizations hire “diversity” and then proceed to erase it by teaching new hires to fit in (p. 10).
  2. The fact that so much diversity programming is U.S.-centric (p. 13), that U.S. diversity models have “historically been grounded in… government requirements and moral ground to redress past injustices and discrimination patterns” (p. 9), and that these rarely translate well overseas.
  3. That affinity groups have gravitated towards social and celebratory roles, when their real value is in education: “to make known any differences represented by the individuals within the groups so that the differences can be respected, and thus, accepted” (p. 76).
  4. The fact that understanding the dimensions of culture is not enough. “We do not have to choose between individual and group performance but instead make sure that the relationship between them becomes meaningful in the workplace” (p. 91).

The authors share numerous helpful examples and stories. They cite several research studies and reference statistics, another plus. Their approach is always practical, such as their three steps for rolling out Transformational Diversity (pp. 38-42) or their guidance for “Exporting U.S. Diversity Programs” (pp. 68-70). Many readers will find incredible value in the six programming templates (the authors call them “Archetypes”) the authors provide (Chapter 5).

Thus, there is incredible value in this book, and I highly recommend it for all of the above reasons. The authors do a commendable job communicating basic intercultural concepts to the diversity practitioner, with advice such as helping U.S. Americans to learn to see our biases (pp. 112-114).

What would I have liked to see in this book? Adding any of the below would have added volume and complexity, and one of the most terrific things about the book is its brevity and no-nonsense approach. But, with that qualifier, I felt many of the sample solutions were still heavily knowledge-focused rather than competence-building. This would seem to me a sign of the difficulty of breaking through to new paradigms from the old. The designs in the book are excellent, and with a bit more explanation they may center on skill development, but that fact did not show through as much as I would have liked.

Secondly, as an organizational development practitioner, I was very happy to read the authors’ cautions to embed change in the organization itself (p. 73). The importance of building organizational structures and systems to support Transformational Diversity seemed to me under-emphasized, however. The six Archetypes that the authors present, though they include one on coaching, seem to focus primarily on training. What about incorporating these new commitments and capacities into our hiring, promotion, and review processes, as well as into project management and other on-the-job activities? That is my bias, of course, and no book can do it all. This one is definitely worth the read.