Since 2004 Cultural Detective has accomplished more in this world than I ever dreamed. We have an incredibly talented team of skilled professionals, and still the only tool/process that I know of proven using the IDI to develop intercultural competence. CD is used in so many different contexts: from governments and NGOs to universities and private enterprise, by religious and peace groups, international and multicultural education and even in marriage counseling. THANK YOU! You have loved this tool, you have put it to great effect, and we have thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
As principal I am ready for new ventures. CD is a lot of work, most of it virtual. I need other energy in my life. Greg, our COO, and I spent two years vetting organizations to find the best new home for Cultural Detective. And we did, we found a perfect new home for it. Then COVID hit. We decided that we will continue with our plans and, rather than turn CD over to new owners on January 1, 2022, we will be shutting it down.
However, you STILL HAVE SIX MONTHS to enjoy this remarkable tool! We have a special offer of US$39 for a subscription to everything contained in our CD Online system through the closing of our doors. Obviously, the sooner you subscribe, the longer you get for your money. For those of you with subscriptions, I urge you to log in and save your Personal Values Lenses, self-loaded Critical Incidents and Sample Debriefs, and all your Notes as PDFs. That way once we shut down you will still have all your content available.
Many thanks for the wonderful journey, and please keep up the good work in this world!!
I am of the “old school” of intercultural communication—you know, the one that evolved from the work of folks in anthropology, communication, sociology, psychology, and other social scientists after World War II. My educational and personal background “trained” me to try and figure out the underlying conflict in cultural values that leads to communication breaking down.
In more recent years, the field of intercultural communication has moved toward a social justice focus. I don’t see that as being antithetical to the original value/behavior focus of intercultural communication. Rather, it can give context to values and behaviors.
At their core, both are talking about sets of values that support different points of view. One’s values underlie one’s perception or how one views a situation. However, that doesn’t mean that perceptions cannot change. And they do change with experience—we all know that. None of us perceive the world in exactly the same way we did a year ago. Or even five months ago. Our experience has altered the way we look at situations, the way we perceive things.
Language is important; language and perception are inter-related. Are people assembling called “demonstrators” or “peaceful protestors” or “rioters”? Are police “holding their ground” or “enforcing the law” or “perpetrating violence on peaceful protesters”? Is COVID-19 a “bad flu” or a “highly contagious virus”? Is wearing a mask “being respectful of others” or “impinging on constitutional rights”? How you label something is a reflection of what you see, your perception of a situation.
As interculturalists, it would seem that our job in these times is to recognize that we are dealing with cultural differences in experience, perception, and appropriate behavior. And while we each have our own views and reactions to the current situation, it is important that we try to remove judgment, step back and be descriptive as we try to understand what different people see and what different people see needs to change.
You will recognize that this is the basis of the Cultural Detective Method. But how hard it is to suspend judgment in the midst of a global pandemic, societal turmoil, and overwhelming emotions. All the more reason we need to help others learn the skills the Cultural Detective Method teaches.
Cultural Detective Online offers a practical approach to cultural competency using real-life examples of misunderstandings and exploring possible solutions. These skills can be applied immediately to a variety of situations calling for a social justice approach. Listening for the values that are important to different sides of the conversation, looking at desired outcomes in terms of behaviors and actions, trying not to place blame but to build bridges across huge divides to reach a more fair and equitable world—while no easy task, this is what interculturalists can bring to the conversation.
Cultural Detective has been used with a variety of groups from corporate to government, community-based organizations, educational facilities, consultants, and individuals. Want to learn how to use Cultural Detective with your group, support your organization’s development of cultural sensitivity, or help your community organization move forward in a way that reduces conflict and supports conversation? Give us a call and explore how we can help you and your organization gain the skills so important to successfully navigating this changing world.
Lionel Laroche, co-author of Cultural Detective Canada, is sought-after for his expertise and insight at helping new Canadian immigrants find jobs that use their expertise, education, and experience. He is a popular speaker, educator, author, and consultant. Recently he said to me, “Nearly half of our planet is in lockdown and they are participating in a giant simulation of an immigrant experience.”
Say again? I must admit that until Lionel said this, I hadn’t given a second thought to the parallels between “shelter at home” mandates and the immigrant experience. But he is most definitely on to something! I recently chatted with Lionel about this topic, and share with you the video of that conversation.
The pandemic has meant that rules have changed. At first no one was quite sure what the rules were or how to abide by them. New guidelines for the new reality have to be agreed upon, just as they do in multicultural teams, and we have to teach these new practices so that we can succeed together. We frequently hear both those sheltering at home and immigrants say things like:
“I’m missing ____ (my favorite meal/my friends and family).”
“I can’t ____ (eat out, exercise, go to the movies or a concert).”
Gratefully such needs can result in new and wonderful innovations: online concerts, museum tours, and celebrations with friends and family, to name just a few.
Many of those at home now are either not working or are doing so with diminished hours, earning less than they are used to. What immigrant hasn’t experienced unemployment or under-employment? Talk about taxing one’s creativity; try putting a meal on the family table without an income.
Immigrants and those sheltering at home go through a transition process, a learning and adaptation process. Change—living with what is new and different—can bring on anxiety, lack of confidence, and the loss of feeling competent. Both immigrants and those confined to home experience culture shock. We have had to learn new vocabulary and new ways of connecting during physical distancing. For many, it’s been their first time on Zoom or Google Hangout. Before we left home, or before we became confined to home, we didn’t know we’d need to learn so much, or that so many aspects of our lives would change so quickly and perhaps permanently!
We try to find or create a new rhythm, a new comfort zone within this new reality. None of the rules by themselves are showstoppers, but there are so many to learn that there is a loss of personal efficiency. As an immigrant, I knew the codes back home, but not here, not during the pandemic. In my former life I may have been a highly respected professional. But now, it may take me five times as long to do something from home as it would have taken me to do that back at my workplace. It’s frustrating. It’s a constant learning curve. It brings frequent doubt, second-guessing, and can lead to irritability. Thus, we have seen heartbreaking increases in domestic violence and mental health problems.
Immigrants who are technical professionals may think their work is universal; science is science, math is math. They may think they are doing a good job, as measured by their home country standards, but in their newly adopted home they use different criteria to measure performance. The experience is quite similar for those working during stay-at-home orders. So many are learning the new rules of working remotely: how to dress appropriately, how to check in with the boss remotely, how to partner with their team across physical distance, how to teach online. Some of us adapt while kicking and screaming, others grin and bear it, still others rejoice at the opportunity.
What Can We Learn From the Migrant Experience to Help Us Through Survive COVID-19?
Lionel shared with us five characteristics that make the difference between successful and unsuccessful immigrants. Most of these are also among the twelve Cultural Detective Best Practices. Here is his list:
Drive: Keep trying, don’t give up. We may be overwhelmed in many ways from Skype, FaceTime, MS Meetings, to shops closed so we have to order delivery from groceries and restaurants. It can seem to be more than we can manage, but we need to find our groove, maintain our mental health, and keep going.
Adaptability: Those who drive without adaptability are those who keep sending out the same resume even though they had no response the first 300 times they sent it. We all do this; insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Some of us pick up more quickly than others. Adaptability keeps us happier and more successful.
Positive attitude: Easier said than done; we all have down days. How we complain also varies by culture. In Canada, Lionel tells us, you can complain endlessly about the weather; otherwise, you best keep complaints to yourself. The wise will find emotional outlets with family, friends, or a counselor.
Sense of ownership: We can’t do anything about the virus, but we can manage how we respond to our circumstances. Those with a sense of ownership will learn or do something new during quarantine and come out stronger on the other side.
Ability to see the world in shades of grey vs. black and white: When people move from one country to another, feeling that there is one right way of doing things is a recipe for disaster. Culture, by definition, means there is more than one way to get to the same result.
I asked Lionel if he has any advice for diversity and equity professionals, interculturalists, and social justice practitioners during this pandemic. He shared two thoughts:
Don’t start from the premise that diversity is inherently good and will bring good results. Diversity is a double-edged sword that brings benefits and challenges. The challenges come first and the benefits later. For the average front-line manager, diversity is a pain in the butt. We need to give our customers the benefit of the doubt the way we teach them to do. Intercultural competence is needed to harvest the advantages of diversity.
There is an inverse correlation between unemployment and people’s ability to accept differences. The higher the unemployment rate, the less people accept immigrants on a societal level. People’s ability to welcome and be inclusive diminishes. Thus, professionals need to recognize where people are and deal with it, meet them there. The pandemic has aggravated so many societal inequities and injustices.
Please, share with me in the comments similarities that you see between these two experiences. How might we reflect on our pandemic experience and use to to build empathy and understanding of the immigrant experience? How might we use this opportunity to develop our intercultural competence?
Experiencing another culture is meant to be fun, adventurous, and mind-opening. But what happens when you mix the joys of living or traveling abroad with the struggles of having a physical, intellectual, medical, or other special need?
In 2015, our family prepared for our sixth international move, knowing that images and realities do not always agree. We moved to the tiny South American country of Uruguay expecting to be limited with ways to support our twins on the autism spectrum, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that in Uruguay’s harmonious culture with its emphasis on social relationships, our twins were embraced, understood, and even admired. At that point in their development, they didn’t need structured speech and occupational therapy as in years past, but they did need positive interactions with people. For example, rather than working with a certified occupational therapist, we found Sebastián — an amazing Uruguayan personal trainer who had my twins running wacky obstacle courses, tossing weighted balls and playing agility games on the beach. The twins loved these training sessions, and Sebastián became a mentor and a big part of why we loved Uruguay. I realized that just because a country doesn’t have top-notch services, it doesn’t mean it won’t be a good fit for my children.
And from there, the idea for a book came to me. I wondered if others had the same sense of curiosity as I did as to whether countries and cultures, regardless of how “developed” or not they are, can be receptive to expats with special needs. I hoped to find common denominators – clues – to help me determine if a country we were considering would not only provide the services my special-needs children require, but would have the right formula in other ways to make it a successful move for us. Would the culture be patient, tolerant and kind to my quirky kids? Would I find the resources I needed to meet my children’s physical, emotional, and social needs? Would the medical professionals share my values and goals for my children? Would the expat community surrounding me be supportive?
It took over three years and many hours of work to bring such a special collection of stories together into book form. Now I know I’m not alone in wanting to share the news that the world provides us with more open doors than closed ones. While there’s no way to guarantee our overseas adventures will always be good, there are things we can do and ways we can approach our experiences living or traveling overseas with special needs.
Extraordinary Experiences: Tales of Special Needs Abroad is not a how-to manual, but a book of real-life experiences in which you will find inspiration, guidance and insights from ordinary people who have made extraordinary adjustments to their experiences far from home. I believe that every reader can gain something within these pages, whether it be the insight they’re looking for, the sense that there is a tribe of like-minded people who believe a disability doesn’t have to hold them back, or just some good, heartfelt stories from a distinctive population of expats.
The book is available through Amazon in paperback or Kindle format and all proceeds go to the non-profit organization Tales from a Small Planet.
Kathi Silva grew up in Texas with a fascination for other cultures. In addition to advocating for inclusion and quality of life issues for her children and others with special needs, she works as a freelance editor while completing her master’s degree in education. She is proud of the small seeds of kindness and light she and her family have planted wherever they go, and is grateful that her children have taught her how truly beautiful diversity can be. She has lived most of her adult life overseas in Ecuador, France, South Africa, Venezuela, Serbia, Uruguay, and Uganda.
Yesterday I learned that one student was unable to participate in the virtual MBA class. The professor, therefore, assigned the student homework: make a video summarizing the experience that you missed. The student interviewed his colleagues and used photos from previous live-and-in-person playing of Ecotonos at his university to put together the video below. It is in Spanish as this all took place at Sergio Arboleda University in Bogotá, Colombia. I believe he did a powerful job. What do you think?
The professor, Fernando Parrado, co-author of Cultural Detective Colombia, has adapted Ecotonos for his international negotiation classes. Rather than using random cards as game instructions advise, he combines Ecotonos rule cards into sets and assigns them to specific countries of interest to his students. He found Ecotonos worked even better online, with students playing from their homes, than it does in the face-to-face classroom!
If you are looking for an enjoyable method for improving decision making, problem solving, and collaboration online, a method that provides immediate results, give Ecotonos a go. It is affordable and can be played several times with the same group if you wish, as there is no “trick.”
The need to deal with the CoViD19 induced uncertainty, the feeling of no longer being in control or being able to reliably predict the future, has prompted new behaviors and drastic change in Austria, much like anywhere else. Not surprisingly, in many ways the response was in line with Austrian cultural values.
Regarding the political reaction to the pandemic, restrictions came early and were extremely rigorous. Similarly, after World War II when all political parties joined forces to work together towards a common goal—a free Austria—in this crisis we can see the same measures taken to reach desired health standards. The ambivalence toward authority seemed temporarily suspended. The public would not have cooperated and accepted the strict measures had it not seen the worrisome pictures and concerning data from neighboring Northern Italy. Not all of Austria was initially concerned by the critical situation in Northern Italy, however. In the beginning, Ischgl, a well-known Tyrolean ski resort, ignored the mounting evidence and kept its slopes open, only to become one of the epicenters for the spread of the virus within Europe. The so-called “Ischgl Gate” however, made it clear to the rest of Austria what exponential growth looks like and aided adherence to the government’s lockdown rules. In comparison, the capital of Vienna, with around two million inhabitants, accounted only for roughly 2.300 (officially) infected cases—proof of a strong West-East gradient.
It appears the rather Austrian “The Hammer and the Dance” approach has worked again. The chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, very quickly and unmistakably stated, “Soon each one of us will know of someone who died from the virus.” Austrians accepted and understood this martial warning. Within that framework of rules, people soon started to waltz again, finding creative ways to enjoy themselves and party true to “A Gaudi muss sein” … it has to be fun! The morbid Austrian sense of humor also raised its head, when the funeral museum’s facemasks with “Aushuastverhüterli” (“cough condoms”) written on them became a bestseller. Making fun of death is very Austrian.
Kurz united the majority of Austrians with the intention of protecting everyone’s health and economic stability. Concrete information, sometimes negative, has been communicated in a crystal clear and honest way. Informing the public via daily press-conferences about processes, expectations, and consequences including back-up plans outlining what will happen if plans should not develop as expected.
The general public was never under the impression that they had not been sufficiently informed. This culture of honesty and trust enabled everyone to think, talk, share, and make informed decisions. The acceptance of authority (in this case of a young and charismatic Sebastian Kurz) enveloped varieties of interaction. No anti-lockdown protests occurred like in some other countries. Even those who did not vote Kurz accepted his leadership.
From a medical point of view, Austria has different prerequisites than neighboring Italy or Spain. Over the past 40 years considerable investments has gone into the health care system. It could very well be the trust in this system that is the reason for the notorious Austrian “Alt aber Gut” (Old but Good). Even if Austrians love to whine and complain, deep down they trust in the established institutions and know that all will be fine and that the system will back them up.
“Alles für meine Leute” (All for my tribe) came through again. The Austrian public TV and radio quickly changed programming to allow artists, who had lost all their income from their concerts, a platform to perform and entertain those stuck at home. As always in times of crisis the platform of volunteers called “Team Österreicher” established in 2007 sprang into action right away in their local areas. The military was stocking goods in supermarkets to reassure the general public that there would be no food shortages and to promote the slogan of “we are all in this together.”
It might be worthwhile to mention that the patience and acceptance rate of the public may be also explained by the spatial and geographical structure of the country. Austria is still a largely rural country. Even in Vienna, the only largely metropolitan city, numerous green spaces prevail including parks, surrounding woods, and fields along the Danube. The lockdown measure never touched upon the value “Natur pur” as at all times Austrians were allowed to go for their much-loved walks, hikes, and to enjoy nature within their family units. The fact that less traffic and travel meant clear skies and fresh air was widely appreciated and aided the general positive feeling towards the measures taken.
Now that Austria is relaxing its lockdown measures, it will be interesting to see in what ways the “reflection time at home” will show up in cultural norms and behaviors. But let’s make this the content of future blog posts.
Hopefully this collaborative article will provide some interesting perspectives into Austrian values and therefore be a contradiction of the Austrian proverb: “Viele Köche verderben den Brei” (Many cooks will spoil the porridge). If you want to deep dive on some of the values or events mentioned here please consult the CD Austria Values Lens by subscribing to Cultural Detective Online, and/or contact the authors.
The COVID-19 pandemic is uniting our planet as well as dividing it in powerful ways. Many of us now share the common experiences of travel bans, hand washing, masks, quarantine, job loss or working from home, and economic uncertainty. Many of us are worried, trying our best to stay positive, doing constructive projects around the house, including exercise to stay in shape and online classes. Neighbors are reaching out to neighbors in life-affirming ways, making sure disadvantaged children and elderly shut-ins get sustenance and feel cared for, singing and playing with one another across balconies. We’ve had the privilege of enjoying gorgeous online concerts from some of the world’s best performing artists, playing in unison from the privacy of their homes directly into ours through the wonders of technology. “Light it Blue” united much of our world to thank healthcare workers and essential service providers.
Those who were already marginalized before the coronavirus due to our inequitable systems are suffering horribly now: the homeless, those barely subsisting in “normal” times, those without access to healthcare, those without internet to keep them connected or rooms in which to isolate people infected. Racial disparities show horrifying differences in survival rates, and many nations’ deplorable treatment of migrants and indigenous communities has had negative repercussions during the pandemic. Many disbelieve, convinced COVID-19 is a hoax, accusing politicians and the media of over-hyping the situation. We’ve all received loads of life-threateningly dangerous fake news, rumors and home remedies in our cell phones. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
Countries worldwide have had broadly differing responses to COVID-19 ranging from eradication (Taiwan) to containment (Australia) and extremely centralized authority (China) to trusting individuals to make the best decisions (Sweden). I recently read that the six countries with the most effective responses to the pandemic thus far (Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and New Zealand) are all led by women! And that article doesn’t include the East Asian poster child—Taiwan, also led by a woman. Most credit these nations’ proactive decision making, persistence, meaning making, swift action, empathy building, coordinated efforts, and the fact that they were better prepared in terms of medical care and protective equipment (check out the Cultural Detective Women’s Values Lens and you might get some clues as to why).
I’ve collected artifacts (posters, videos, slogans, images) from our worldwide response to the pandemic, and urge you to log into Cultural Detective Online, bring up the Values Lenses for the cultures in question, and use those values to help decipher the cultural influences at play in the messaging you see in this article. Osnat Lautman wrote an article on Israeli values and response to coronavirus that may give you an idea how to connect values to behavior.
To begin, I think it could be helpful to work with a collection of Chinese posters on COVID-19 with English translations. Focusing on one national culture as a first step will be an easy way to get started. Read the posters below and think about the underlying values at play in these attempts to motivate citizens. Then, use the Cultural Detective China Values Lens to help you go deeper.
Every nation, of course, has huge cultural diversity: regional, ethnic, socio-economic, gender, generational… Once you’ve analyzed the messaging from a national cultural viewpoint, pull up a complementary Cultural Detective Values Lens for gender, generation, sexual orientation, or spiritual tradition and see how someone with those values might respond to the messaging. And, remember, each of us are unique individuals, with multiple layers of cultural influences on our behavior.
That trend continues across other official COVID-19 messaging. While most governments encourage citizens to wash their hands frequently, use antibacterial gel, cover their sneezes and coughs, stay home, and not touch their faces, how those messages are communicated does vary by culture. Most attempt to find a balance between calm, instructive encouragement and a sense of urgency about the seriousness of the situation. Some posters use cartoons, others simple symbols, others data and facts. What cultural similarities and differences do you note in the posters below?
Government of India
Italy leading up to the crisis
Italy lockdown announcement
Government of South Africa
Public signage in South Korea
National Park Service, USA
Quite a few nations have put out catchy tunes to inform the public how to stay safe during the pandemic. One of the most popular, with nearly 40 million views, is Vietnam’s Ghen Cô Vy—which equates the coronavirus to a troublemaker who jealously tries to break up a couple. The song even inspired a dance challenge on social media app TikTok. The cute animation includes a bit of national pride, with an animated Vietnamese flag waving with the words: “Vietnam is determined to beat this disease.”
One of my favorites is a music video performed by the employees of Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain:
Below is Philippines’ very popular song about coronavirus. I sadly couldn’t find a version with English subtitles; if you do, please let me know and I’ll substitute it in.
My absolute favorite, however, is Bobi Wine and Nubian’s effort to help fellow Ugandans. In a true spirit of collaboration, they’ve openly licensed the track, encouraging musicians worldwide to “sing our song in your language and for your people!”
Speaking of music videos, we can’t forget Bollywood. Muskurayega India (India Will Smile) has 10 million views on YouTube.
Iranian comedian Danial Kherikhan wins my award for world’s best hand washing technique:
What culture-specific values and behaviors do you see in the videos above? Which are you attracted to and why? Most probably, it resonates with one or more of the values you hold dear. Which video disinterests you the most? Again, that probably tells you something about your personal and cultural values. Open your subscription to Cultural Detective Online, go to the Self Discovery package, and create a Personal Values Lens.
In Mexico where I live, people greet with big bear hugs and kissing. It’s incredibly rude not to properly greet or take leave, so the national government came up with an inspired campaign to give people permission not to greet.
Once the cartoon superhero called “Susana Distancia” (translates to “your safe distance”) came on the scene, it very quickly became common for Mexican friends to hold up their arms or pucker their lips from a distance and refer to Susana. Intercultural competence is crucial in our world today, and particularly so during a crisis, when the difference between engagement and disengagement can mean life and death.
MASKS One of the most visible cultural differences in response to COVID-19 has been in the wearing of masks. East Asians have a tradition of wearing masks during illnesses and to protect against pollution, while most of the West has been much slower to adopt this practice. The Czech Republic mandated the wearing of masks in public on March 18th; their results no doubt have helped other western nations to adopt the practice. Face masks first made it to fashion runways in China in 2014, and masks were well represented this year at Paris Fashion Week. It is interesting to watch cultural resistance fade and behavior change in such a large and important way.
Many of us have not only learned to wear masks, but we’ve also picked up new vocabulary during this crisis, via the popularization of words such as “PPE/Personal protective equipment” and the recycling of valuable-yet-neglected terms like “common good.” Many of us have also re-learned elementary and middle school biology lessons about the difference between a bacterium and a virus and how to kill them.
TECHNOLOGY: HELP LINES, APPS, QUIZZES AND COORDINATED MEDIA
Many communities leveraged technology to help citizens. We have seen apps for COVID-19 tracking, quizzes to help diagnose, telephone helplines, and united messaging across newspapers, radio and television and, in Latin America at least, across countries. While the use of technology favors the higher socio-demographics and the young, public visual and performance art are much more inclusive (at least before we isolated at home, if we have one).
Street artists around the world have pitched in to help get the word out. Street performances, visual art, and the songs mentioned above are particularly helpful with largely illiterate populations, but I believe if we researched it a bit, we’d find the multi-sensory learning advantages of these methods work well everywhere. I especially loved this collection of beautiful images from Senegal:
In Indonesia a youth drama troupe took to the streets to scare citizens into staying home.
COMMUNITY-SPECIFIC MESSAGING The differing histories and heritages of our world populations mean that cultural communities have to tailor their responses to the pandemic. Native Americans, for example, suffered germ warfare not so very long ago. This latest virus resurrects that inter-generational trauma, and has led to responses ranging from connecting with tradition to innovative world-class field hospitals.
Ashley Lawrence and her sign language-friendly masks
Response to COVID from a Diné/Navajo community member
There are so many cultural universals and cultural differences on display right now, as our world faces a shared enemy in a small but lethal virus. Will we learn from the time many of us have had to reflect, and change our behavior going forward? Will we act as better stewards of our environment? Will we act to create more equitable systems in which all are fed, housed, educated and receive medical care? I sure hope so! We are in this together, we share one planet, everyone’s participation and expertise is crucial, and collaboration is our future.
Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures is a classic in the intercultural and diversity fields. Learners work in groups to solve problems and complete tasks, improving their ability to work effectively in diverse multicultural teams in the process. The simulation can be played repeatedly for incremental learning and practice, as in contrast to most other simulation, play is different each time.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, most of our world is either quarantined or socially isolated. We are having to work, learn and socialize virtually, online. Yesterday I received a message from Fernando Parrado, head of Global Minds a professor at universities in Bogotá, Colombia. He has used Cultural Detective with his undergraduate and graduate students for ten years, and Ecotonos for the last four. He texted me to share his delight that his first online play of the simulation went extremely well. He played Ecotonos during his normal evening class with his masters students and there were many advantages to the online learning, he told me. I asked him if we could speak and record his explanation of what he did, so that others might find inspiration. Below is that video and following that I’ll summarize in words what Fernando says.
Interesting to me is that Fernando plays Ecotonos as described in the boxed set, with a few customizations—a practice highly recommended with any tool so that it best suits the audience. He chooses five rules cards from the Ecotonos kit for each of the three cultural groups, but instead of Ecotonos-standard naming (Delphinius, Zante…), with these working professionals in the Masters in International Commerce evening program he names each group after a real country (Saudi Arabia, Japan and USA) and combines the Ecotonos rule cards with the Cultural Detective Values Lenses for that culture. I love this adaptation, to combine with a CD Values Lens! Genius!
Hundreds of universities worldwide have for over a decade used Cultural Detective Online in the classroom and now, increasingly and out of necessity they are using it for the purpose for which it was designed—in their online learning. It is proven effective, developmental and engaging. Fernando says he’s facilitated Ecotonos about eighteen times in the face-to-face classroom; yesterday was his first time to do so online. In his opinion, it had far better results.
Fernando used three different publicly available, free of cost online tools to run Ecotonos virtually.
He used WhatsApp to share instructions and answer questions, particularly with group leaders (leaders were chosen for each cultural group, a practice often not done when playing face-to-face).
The main class, with full attendance, was held in Zoom. Fernando gave out initial instructions, shared rule cards and Values Lenses, and later conducted the debriefing in Zoom.
Each of the three cultural groups worked independently in their own Google Hangout. Fernando was able to drop into each team to monitor its progress and to facilitate as needed.
Fernando talked to me about flexible Latin time, and the online environment very much helped him with that. He was able to allow the students as much time as they needed to get their technology working, and to make sure that they spent sufficient time in each phase of the simulation (acculturation, monocultural work, multicultural work, debriefing). He reported to me that sometimes in a classroom situation it can feel rushed. His class normally ends at 9:30 pm, and Bogotá at that hour can be a bit dangerous. Since his students were in their own homes, in quarantine, he was able to stretch his class to 10:00 pm and the students were overjoyed at their learning and the fact they didn’t have the trek home after class.
More importantly and surprisingly, Fernando told me, was how much more immersive the virtual Ecotonos experience was. Fernando instructed the students to “make your Google Hangout feel like” Saudi, Japan or the USA. How the students would do that was up to them, but Fer told me that their creativity was amazing. Because they were at home, they used props, changed their attire, and jumped fully into the experience.
Debriefing is of course the key to any learning activity; it’s where we help the students make sense of the experience—make meaning and create knowledge and skill. Fernando’s group did the standard Ecotonos debrief, including drawing out the decision-making process used by their multicultural group and answering the reflection questions, summarizing them into a PowerPoint that was shared with the instructor and the class.
All in all, it seems Fernando sees more depth of learning and positive outcome in the online Ecotonos, though he says once things return to normal, he’ll of course continue to use the simulation and Cultural Detective Online in his face-to-face classes as well.
A second online course to learn EPIC (Essential Practice for Intercultural Competence, dovetail of Cultural Detective and Personal Leadership), offered by CultureCrux, will open for registration on March 16th.
If you would like to receive information about the course and registration please contact Debbie Bayes (email@example.com).
Interculturalists are familiar with the range of approaches to culture in the social sciences and the intercultural field itself. Many of us started with the rather positivist and essentialist studies that provided initial insights, first best guesses into the behavior of cultural groups, but were also a slippery slope in the direction of bias and stereotyping. Subsequently, we have been turning our attention toward the iconic, memes, linguistic, performative and social constructionist approaches and storytelling as elements and theories for understanding and using culture, as well as teaching about it and applying it to the challenges we face. These can often show up as disparate and unintegrated perspectives.
Mai Nguyen’s book could best be described as “turning the page” on intercultural research, learning and practice, not because it negates these earlier and continuing efforts, but because it puts them into perspective. It clarifies both where they may remain useful and where they no longer serve us, or even fail us in the light of what neuroscientific research and cognitive science are revealing about the integral nature of human beings and how we function. We have landed on a “fresh page” in the face of long centuries of dichotomist thinking and credence that divided us into mind vs. meat, spirit vs. matter, body vs. soul, and so forth.
This can be hard to digest, but accepting our human integrity opens the door to a more holistic view of the genesis, development and creation of the elements of culture in and around us. Culture is the result and the agent in our unique capacity to create what we need on all levels to survive and succeed in existing and newly developing environments. It is the unique, agile, adaptive human capability that has largely taken over from, though it interacts with our slow genetic evolutionary development found in us and in the rest of nature. This in turn offers us new levels of awareness and self-understanding, as well as fresh and effective ways of managing self, relationships, communities, organizations, commerce and the ecological environment we are immersed in. In the words of the author, “Culture is not just socially learned, but geographically influenced, genetically inherited, and neurally enabled.”
This is a large book with an enormous range of content, providing insight, consequences and tools for management of organizations, leadership, collaboration and even marketing, along with solid documentation and references. But it is far more than an academic publication or a business book, as it is able to identify the role of and integrate neuroscience into how we see globalization and manage diversity, how we motivate self and others and how we communicate and negotiate. The agenda is formidable. Going forward, there is much to unpack, explore and try out as we root ourselves in our new sense of human integrity. At the same time, we become alert to the power of investigative neurobiology and psychological ventures that will more and more involve artificial intelligence and elements that have already begun to “hack” our human systems. We see a potential for great good, health and new potential as well as possibilities for manipulation, control and exploitation. As we navigate in both opportune and dangerous times, the understanding and support found in these pages make the book a “must read” for opening avenues for reworking our social, personal and work lives.
With the insights and tips furnished by the author, one can easily implement insightful approaches to communication and negotiation, creating new levels of understanding and more effective decisions and settlements. For example, one highly functional model, STREAP-Be, offers a path that addresses the fundamental aspects of a change process. The acronym stands for: Safety, Trigger, Reward, Emotion, Alignment, People, and Behavior. It applies neuroscientific savvy, instructions for creating the trust, the actions, the motivation, the essential human reactions and social behaviors needed for solid progress in new directions. The model contains step-by-step the path toward effective change by paying careful attention to the simple human dynamics of perception, feeling, framing ideas, releasing energy, telling and aligning personal and cultural stories that provide a common context for facing and meeting a change challenge. STREAP-Be delivers the antidote to the lazy brain’s need to wake up, to its “control freak” resistance to the unfamiliar and the uncertain, and to its slothful tendency to replicate the past rather than innovating a desirable future.
When approaching culture as we seek to manage diversity, the book provides two very essential perspectives. First, we need to develop contextual awareness about how culture is created, used and interpreted. Context, not culture itself, is the software of the mind, the operational environment of culture’s interpretation, application and development. Secondly, in approaching intercultural learning and cultural competence, we need to assume a positive rather than a problematic perspective, curiosity rather than fear of mistakes. Culture, seen as an iceberg, is cold, formidable, a hazard. It is easy to get frozen into the do’s and don’ts and catastrophic what if’s, rather than connecting via our sameness while recognizing difference as a trove of treasures to be explored, a bowl of cherries to be shared.