Latino Growth in USA Signals Need for Change

Andrés Tapia has written an article for Diversity Executive, in which he outlines the need to adapt US business practices in order to attract, retain and make the most of Latino talent. In the article, he references (and gives you a sneak peak of) our upcoming Cultural Detective Latino/Hispanic.

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This article by Vijay Nagaswami, “Culture vs. culture,” was sent to us via the marvelous Cultural Detective certified facilitator and current SIETAR India President, Sunita Nichani. She says, “Here is an interesting article published this Sunday in one of India’s leading newspapers, The Hindu. With the slow erosion of the custom of marrying within similar communities in India, intercultural competence will be vital for making marriages work.”

Lots of work to do in this world, in so many ways and places. Let’s get started, everyone!

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Interesting article in Diversity Executive magazine about product naming problems in the global market, some good examples, and a link to an article on the value of intercultural competence.

Kudos to all our interpretation and translation colleagues!

What are you favorite “Cultural DeFective” examples? And your strategies for preventing them?

People To People International Working with Cultural Detective to Diversify Chapter Recruitment

Over the past several years I have enjoyed developing a professional and personally meaningful relationship with the People to People International organization (PTPI). For those of you who are not familiar with PTPI, the organization was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 and is now run by his granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower. Their mission is “to enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures.” They are a dynamic group of dedicated staff and thousands of volunteers in over 135 countries truly working to promote the benefit of people working and living cooperatively together throughout our world. They are known by their tagline, “Peace Through Understanding.

Last year in November Cultural Detective had the privilege of sponsoring and designing the student curriculum for the PTPI Global Youth Forum 2011 (GYF). We focused on designing curriculum that would readily engage about 130 students and GYF leaders and most importantly inspire them to explore building relationships outside of their perhaps “look and act like me” group of students and friends in their local communities. Based on the testimonials of both students and teachers, we feel we did a pretty good job!

This spring I’ve been asked to present the Cultural Detective Method to PTPI Board Members and the PTPI Community at Large so they can focus their attention on recruitment of diverse leaders and members. In the upcoming session I hope to show how generational differences as well as national cultural differences impact with whom we as individuals may naturally gravitate to, which can limit the growth opportunities possible by confidently reaching out to people of multiple cultures. Stay tuned for more about the event in a future post!

The Connection between Creativity and Intercultural Competence

If I were to ask you what it takes to be effective across cultures, what comes to mind? If you are anything like me, then you have probably started to rattle off some of the classics: self-awareness, open-mindedness, curiosity, flexibility—maybe communication skills. All important.

But where is creativity in this picture? And why isn’t it closer to the top of the list when it comes to what it takes to be effective when working across cultures?

You could argue that creativity is an output of some of the above: if you are open-minded, curious, and flexible, you are likely to be able to be more creative, which will help you to be more effective. But I think it’s worth highlighting the importance of creativity as a stand-alone competency for working across cultures—especially when it comes not just to being aware of cultural differences, but being able to develop effective bridging solutions to differences you may experience.

Take Morfie, our newly named CD animal mascot, as an example. Sure, he may be curious as he scuttles across the ocean floor, but what makes him effective is his creative problem-solving in the face of challenging situations: his ability to morph himself into another sea-creature to ward off danger.

The importance of creativity is something I learned the hard way. When I first moved to Japan, I moved into an apartment subsidized by the company I was working for. There were all kinds of problems with the apartment when I arrived (for example, the heating was broken and it was the middle of winter in Sapporo—yes, the same location as the Winter Olympics in 1972). What would you do in this situation?

My initial instinct was to take a more ‘American’ approach—to take my contract in to my employer, highlight the conditions outlined in the contract that had not been met, and ask for these to be amended. But I wasn’t in the US. I was in Japan, a more relationship-focused and indirect culture. Surely going in and making these kinds of demands and pointing to a contract would not exactly start me off on the right foot with my employer, I thought.

So instead, I tried a more indirect approach. When they asked me how things were in the apartment, I remember trying to be subtle about naming some of the problems. I think at one juncture I might have even said something like, “This is the first time I’ve lived in an apartment where frost and ice forms on the insides of windows.” I kid you not. This raises a whole other topic of the ineffectiveness that can often happen when more direct speakers try to be more indirect.

The point of that story, beyond revealing how much I had to learn about Japanese culture when I arrived, was that I was far from creative in my solving of that situation. In my mind, I had two options: take the American approach, or take the Japanese approach (at least my limited understanding of it at that juncture). Be direct or indirect. It was bifurcated, dichotomized, overly simplified, and therefore ineffective.
  • What if I had invited some of my colleagues over to my apartment for a meal, during which they could have experienced the issues first-hand?
  • What if I had asked a colleague for a recommendation for a repair service? Or even asked them to call a repair company for me, since I had yet to learn the Japanese word for moldy?
  • What if I had written to the American colleague whose role I was taking over and asked him what he would do in this situation?

The point being, I could have and should have considered a lot more creative solutions here, but simply didn’t. And that’s really the point. Often when we are working across cultures, we stop at the first, most obvious answer, and that’s a limitation.

The good news is that my little housing adventure in Japan likely has helped me to become more creative—and it certainly proved the need for me to do so. Interestingly, recent research at Northwestern University in the US and INSEAD in France has highlighted that individuals who have lived abroad often demonstrate higher levels of creativity on classic ‘creative problem solving’ tasks.

That said, waiting until you are stuck in challenging intercultural dilemmas to flex your creativity muscles—or relying solely on living abroad to develop the muscle, doesn’t seem the right answer. It’s the kind of thing that you want to have so ingrained in you, that when you are faced with a tough situation, you naturally think through a number of different possibilities. In essence, it’s about learning to be Morfie-like, to be able to quickly run through a rolodex of possible options as to how to transform yourself effectively in those situations—and to continually be expanding your repertoire of possible options.

Developing your creative problem-solving skills is one of four main competencies we focus on in the newly released Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures for that reason. In the package, we go through a series of exercises that help people to expand their solution space—to really get beyond solutions of the generic, ‘he should get cross-cultural training, she should take the other person out to dinner’ nature. In an earlier post I shared with you an exercise to get started.

One really useful technique that we practice in the package comes from the work of Michael Michalko, a pioneer in creativity. It’s called challenging assumptions. The process is simple. When you are faced with a challenging situation, you name all the assumptions you are making about those situations and challenge those assumptions. The premise is that often the way we frame a problem limits the potential solutions to it.

If we go back to my Japan example, I made a lot of assumptions:
  • that I couldn’t take a typically American approach (yet my colleagues were very accustomed to working with US Americans)
  • that my colleagues were typically Japanese (they may have been attracted to the company I was working with very specifically because it wasn’t typically Japanese)
  • that the solution lied in me adjusting the way I communicated, from a more direct to indirect style (versus, for example, emphasizing another shared value we had), etc.

Challenging even just one of the assumptions would have opened up a lot of other options for me to effectively address this situation.

The experience I had in Japan was ten years ago now, but the lesson it taught me about the importance of creativity is invaluable. I now adopt a number of different creativity techniques regularly in my work. Beyond challenging assumptions, I also regularly change my physical location to prompt me to think about things differently, and I use techniques like thinking through analogies and wearing the hat of the other individual to help me identify more creative and effective solutions.

I would love to hear your experiences with creativity as they relate to intercultural problem solving: whether you’ve experienced situations similar to mine in Japan where it would have served you to be more creative; whether you’ve found other techniques that have helped you to continue to develop truly innovative intercultural solutions; even whether I should challenge the assumption I now have that creativity is a powerful, often overlooked skill in intercultural problem solving.

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.

Talent Development Huge Topic For Keeping Employees

It’s commonly known (but not necessarily budgeted for during economic downturns) that talent development serves many purposes. Successful organizations use talent development for employee attraction and retention as well as superior employee performances. Recently, in discussing how best one of our site license clients could leverage Cultural Detective in one of their employee networks, the client mentioned there is a big push for employee development again, now that the economy is coming back. Their focus is on keeping people by teaching the skills that support inclusive and collaborative teams.

Cultural Detective is a phenomenal tool for teaching both of these skills and applying them on a global, as well as domestic level. As Janet Bennett points out in her article, “Culture General or Cultural Specific? That is the Question!“, “Rare is the professional arena where we face colleagues from only one or two cultures. Instead, each of us operates with a wealth of cultural diversity that is rich, complex, and challenging. This reality suggests that learning a single specific culture serves us well, and learning about cultural difference in general serves us even better.”

So developing employees to operate effectively in an inclusive and collaborative environment can be accomplished by learning the core Cultural Detective Method which builds the skills of knowing oneself, understanding others and building cultural bridges. As Janet goes on to say, “Cultural Detective® provides both the necessary culture-general breadth of application across many cultures while developing the culture-specific depth. The Worksheet provides a unifying and consistent process for examining yourself and others, and for bridging differences as assets. CD develops intercultural competence by simultaneously improving culture-general and culture-specific expertise in a variety of realistic contexts. By examining key cultural similarities and differences in a culture-general way, we come to know ourselves, and are able to compare and contrast our own perspective with that of others. By focusing the Values Lens on a specific culture, we enhance our capacity to untangle problems, negotiate differences, and look below the surface within and across cultures.” And through this process we can understand how to be inclusive in our multicultural environments and collaborate with those we don’t necessarily share common experiences and work styles.

With feedback like I heard from our client it seems talent development is perhaps again ready to be supported both financially and in practice — let Cultural Detective be your tool-set for achieving an inclusive and collaborative workforce!

“Diversity Training Doesn’t Work!”

“Diversity Training Doesn’t Work: Rather than extinguish prejudice, diversity training promotes it!” This was the title of a 12 March 2012 Psychology Today online article.

While so many of us complain about media sensationalism, I begrudgingly have to admit that, in this case, the inflammatory title led me to read this article from among the 200+ crossing my desk that day.

The article’s author, Peter Bregman, relies on research from 2007 to prove his point. He repeats or paraphrases the subtitle four times throughout his article, each time stating it as fact. Yet, in reviewing the original research he cites, I feel it does not support his premise. The original paper is much more nuanced and even-handed (“certain programs increase diversity in management jobs but others do little or nothing”).

While I take issue with much of what Mr. Bregman says in his article (that there are two types of diversity training, for example: those that tell people what to say/not say, and those that break people into categories. Come on, really?), there is also learning to be gained from it. His conclusion: “We decided to [teach all managers] to listen and speak with each other — no matter the difference — which is the key to creating a vibrant and inclusive environment,” was one I could heartily agree with.

Let me focus this post on the constructive learning we might get from this article. Mr. Bregman urges the reader to do nine different things. I consolidate them, as there was quite a bit of redundancy. They are:
  1. See people as people instead of categories. Train them to work with a diversity of individuals, not with a diversity of categories. Move beyond similarity and diversity to individuality. Don’t reinforce labels, which only serve to stereotype. Reveal singularities. Help them resist the urge to think about people as categories.
    • I wholeheartedly agree! Yes!!! Please! That is exactly why Cultural Detective looks at an interactional process of how people communicate in real situations (using the Worksheet with real-life or prepared critical incidents).
    • It is why we have a package titled, Cultural Detective: Self Discovery, aiding users to create Personal Values Lenses.
    • It is why Cultural Detective: Blended Culture looks at the multicultural experience of so many of the individuals in our world today.
    • It is why our definitions of “culture” go way beyond nationality or ethnicity, and include looking at multiple influences on why we are the way we are (see Layering Lenses).
    • While we are all unique individuals, we are also all members of groups and communities, and our world views are shaped by those groups (cultures) in which we were raised. Cultures establish patterns of behavior that are historically sanctioned, so we each learn all kinds of things that seem natural, yet are culturally determined. Viewing people as unique individuals not influenced by culture is a step backwards, and not helpful in understanding others.
  2. Stop training people to be “accepting” because it doesn’t work.
    • Again I agree! If people can better understand themselves, and get a bit of insight into why others might behave the way they do, we won’t need to lecture them. These are two of the Cultural Detective Model’s three core capacities (Subjective Culture/know ourselves, Cultural Literacy/understand others’ intent, Cultural Bridge/skills and systems for leveraging similarities and differences).
  3. Teach people to have difficult conversations with a range of individuals.
    • Yes! The CD Worksheet came to life as a conflict resolution tool in multicultural workplaces in Japan in the 1980s and 90s. It emerged from diverse individuals having just such difficult conversations.
  4. Teach managers how to manage the variety of employees who report to them. Teach them how to develop the skills of their various employees.
    • While I might offer this as one reason to conduct diversity training, coaching, or mentoring, I can definitely agree with the goal. Cultural Detective offers a process for understanding, valuing and leveraging individual cultural differences. Our newest package, Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures, focuses precisely on skill development.
  5. Help them resist the urge to think about others as just like themselves.
    • Yes! Thinking about others as just like ourselves is one stage of a developmental process. Learning to distinguish the ways in which we truly are similar and different, seeing value in the similarities and the differences, and creating ways to benefit from them, is what Cultural Detective is all about.

The initial research referenced in the article, (“Diversity Management in Corporate America,” Frank Dobbin, Alexandra Kalev, and Erin Kelly, American Sociological Association, 2007), was a systemic study of 829 companies, designed to see which kinds of diversity programs work best, on average. A weakness in the original study is that it looked purely at diversity, not on inclusion or competence to manage diversity.

Having said that, the findings showed that diversity councils, diversity leaders, and mentoring programs most strongly correlate with increased management diversity, while training and diversity performance evaluations have a lower correlation. To quote the study authors, “On average, programs designed to reduce bias among managers responsible for hiring and promotion have not worked. Neither diversity training to extinguish stereotypes, nor diversity performance evaluations to provide feedback and oversight to people making hiring and promotion decisions, have accomplished much. This is not surprising in the light of research showing that stereotypes are difficult to extinguish. … Research shows that educating people about members of other groups may reduce stereotyping.”

“Optional (not mandatory) training programs and those that focus on cultural awareness (not the threat of the law) can have positive effects. In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity. Managers respond negatively when they feel that someone is pointing a finger at them.”

The original article by Dobbin, Kaley, and Kelley presents three broad approaches to increasing diversity:
  • Changing the attitudes and behaviors of managers
  • Improving the social ties of women and minorities
  • Assigning responsibility for diversity to special managers and task forces

These are all situations in which the Cultural Detective Model can be used to help shape constructive interactions and manage differences effectively.

What do you think?