Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast!

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” — a quote that grabbed me during a recent keynote address by BNI (Business Network International) founder and Chairman Dr. Ivan Misner. He was introducing his new book, Business Networking and Sex (Not What YouThink!).

Those (in the audience of more than 1000 Kansas Citians) with more exposure to culture-related topics probably guessed that the book focuses on networking techniques of the different genders and how to be successful networking with the opposite sex. But to hear so boldly from this networking icon how powerful culture truly is in relationship building and the networking process resonated strongly with this Cultural Detective!

When I heard this statement from Dr. Misner, I wished I could have jumped up on stage and displayed the Cultural Detective Women and Men Values Lenses. It would add to the value of his research by providing clear underpinnings as to what motivates the networking behaviors of men and women, and it would help explain the “whys” behind the stories illustrating their differences which seem to be highlighted throughout the book.

Dr. Misner’s book takes a three-pronged look at business networking across the sexes by offering a surveyed objective look at how men and women think about, approach, and in what ways they are successful at business networking. He then counters that with a “he said” (Frank) and “she said” (Hazel) analysis and interpretation of the survey results.

Over a four-year period they surveyed more than 12,000 businesspeople globally (covering every continent) on 25 questions about business networking. The results and interpreted analysis could bring about some interesting and revolutionary changes to the way in which each sex approaches networking with the other. Communication gaps could be narrowed and connections broadened through Hazel and Frank’s guidance and revealing a bit of the opposite sexes “Lens.”

My only wish was that Dr. Misner would have take the results of the survey to a deeper level by breaking it down to country-specific data. But then again, that’s where Cultural Detective national Values Lenses could shed some light!

NOTE: While the book reviewed in this post references two genders, and we offer an excellent package with this same approach, Cultural Detective Women and Men, there are other ways to look at gender than just a polar division of male/female. Cultural Detective LGBT examines some of these complexities of gender and sexual orientation.

With Love, from War-torn Syria

On my second day in Damascus, I moved in with Noura and her family, only to find out that … they themselves have just miraculously escaped from their home town, Homs – the city that is being bombarded and torn apart by civil unrest!

Her brother has gone to school only 30 days this year. They were trapped in their house for two weeks without electricity. Each time they go to the grocery they are uncertain of ever being able to come back. Leaving their only source of income – an internet café – behind, the single mom and her two children have been struggling to avoid falling apart. With very limited resources, this refugee family has been hosting me, feeding me, loving me, giving me a bed, and escorting me to all sorts of sightseeing places that a tourist is supposed to visit. And all that amidst tears, fear, sadness, worries and uncertainty about their future.
In this picture, Noura and I are under the hooded cloaks, visiting Umayad Mosque, one of the earliest mosques in Islam, built on the 3000 year old remains of an Aramean temple. The worship site was turned into a Roman temple, later converted to a Christian church, and finally was dedicated to Islam in 636 (only four years after the death of Prophet Mohammad). The rich history of this mosque reminds us that holy sites should not be seen as the monopoly of one religion, and that we are the result of an accumulated heritage.

Looking at the chaos in some of the Arab countries right now, I can’t help wishing those various branches of Islam could understand this simple notion. And may the extremely hospitable people of their countries, like Noura’s family, teach them the lesson of co-existence, even in time of harshness.

Are Weapons Always Related to Violence?

The first impression of anyone arriving to Yemen is probably the massive amount of weaponry carried by civilians. I imagine that children here probably sneer at the plastic “Made in China” toy guns. In a picnic area near Sanaa, I was shocked to see young boys of about 12 years old firing their AK-47s into the sky. They broadly smiled at me and furiously waved their hands with two fingers forming a V — sign for victory and peace.

It is estimated that there are 60 million firearms owned by the population of 25 million. Children and women aside, each adult Yemeni man stocks up to 10 weapons at home or tucked into his belt. And that excludes the ornamental daggers that are part of the traditional Yemeni outfit. Quoting political science professor Ahmed al-Kibsi: “Just as you have your tie, the Yemeni will carry his gun.”

However, despite the deeply-rooted gun culture, it is amazing to see what the Yemeni revolution has achieved so far, with a relatively low death toll (approximately 2000) compared to Syria (at the moment estimated at 30,000 and still rising).

One person who greatly contributed to the transition of power in Yemen is Jamal bin Omar — the UN envoy who orchestrated the negotiation process. One day after the election, I had the honor to meet up with him in a casual private gathering. Looking exhausted but calm, he agreed with me that Yemen stands now at the perfect position to transfer away from its gun culture, as security has to be the most important job for the new government.

In the same evening, I also talked with Cathy who is Jamal’s assistant. Overwhelmed with the very limited violence during the election, she told me that what is happening in Yemen is a miracle, given the country’s complex situation and its extreme gun culture: “There must be something very special in the make-up of the people here!” – Cathy explained to me – “They may scare the hell out of you with the loads of weapon they carry around, but they genuinely want peace!”

Strange but true: for Yemeni, weapons do not necessarily mean violence.

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I am co-author of Cultural Detective Vietnam, and am in the midst of a journey that traces the path of Islam from its origins as it spread outward around our planet. Thank you for following!

Culture Change and Free Speech

Los Tigres del Norte, one of my favorite (and one of the world’s most popular) bands, was banned yesterday from playing in the city of Chihuahua. They were banned because they played a very popular narco-corrido based on a soap opera and book, La Reina del Sur. The ban occurred not in some foreign place that might be unfamiliar with the band’s norteña music, but rather in a city that is steeped in norteña culture. The Mexican press, and most Mexican people, are upset about and vocal in objecting to this cavalier censorship.

A bit of background is in order. As has been well publicized worldwide, Mexico has been a sad battle route in the drug buying and the arms selling of its northern neighbor. Locally and similar to criminals worldwide, drug lords take over and strong arm mountain pueblos, also sometimes building schools or hospitals and taking care of people, thereby building loyalty and security for themselves.

Around this drug trade has grown a culture, which has closely mixed with the pre-existing norteña culture. That cultural mix includes a style of dress (one extreme is those tippy-toed guarachero boots), a unique vocabulary and style of speech, songs (narco-corridos are songs that glorify the life of the outlaw), and even a patron saint whose image, likeness and altars can be found in most any colonía (Jesús Malverde, so-called patron saint of the drug lords and lost causes).

Mexico is a large country, as is northern Mexico, and norteña culture as influenced by narco culture has a diversity within it. There is also spillover; many people who have nothing to do with the drug trade may build an altar to Malverde (unwed mothers may pray to him, for example, as might people who have lost their jobs) or have his face emblazoned on the window of their pickup truck. And, MANY of them listen to what can be called narco-corridos. The particular song for which my Tigres were banned, ironically, ends with the outlaw (a woman) being punished for her crimes.

I believe that most Cultural Detectives value free speech, and do not believe in censorship. It is interesting, though, that this ban occurred because Chihuahua city is trying to change its culture. It is trying to take the narco out of norteña, to stop the glamorization of criminal activity, to restore responsibility and good citizenship to its citizens.

It is personally ironic to me because last year, I posted on the Facebook page of another favorite band of mine, la Banda El Recodo, sharing with them my disappointment that they had released a song so far below the respect and esteem with which they are held by the public (the song talks about guns, arms, bulletproof vests; it encourages people to get drunk and shoot bullets into the air; the official video involves non-stop drinking, high-priced cars and watches, and ends with the lead singer pretending to shoot the viewer). In hindsight, was I censoring? I know my motivations were the same as those of the city of Chihuahua: El Recodo is at the top of their craft; people respect them. I love them, and I love Mexico. I wanted them to stand for and promote what is good about Mexico, help make it a better place, not glorify and feed the worst of our local culture.

What do you all think? We interculturalists work with culture change on a daily basis. Have you advocated censorship in your role? Have the opinions you’ve expressed served to censor another? What are your strategies for culture change?