Thursday, November 28, 2013

Board games for the whole world

The holiday season is upon us. I grew up enjoying board games during vacations and have made many memories at home and abroad around some good fun with a game. But which games truly transend culture? I'd love to hear your ideas, but here some at the top of my list.

Uno. Classic card game.

Qwirkle. My newest favorite. Kinda like dominoes but much more interesting which six shapes and six colors.

Six. Takes 10 seconds to learn and involves hexagonal tiles in two colors...and quite a bit of strategy.

Othello. Like checkers on steriods.

Gobblet. Like checkers but in 3D.

Pass the Pigs. This could be offensive in certain religious cultures, but I've seen it produce many laughs from dozens of onlookers in a crowded train heading through India...

Dominoes. Numbers on tiles....or you can just set them up and knock them over.

In general, anything that mostly involves numbers and colors is highly likely to be cross-cultural. Surprisingly, I've seen Settlers of Catan played in a few countries. But the ones above can be played with a person from any educational or societal background, in my opinion, and learned very quickly on a train or plane. What great games did I miss?

Monday, November 18, 2013

On my reading list: Autumn 2013

Enjoying too many books lately! Part-way through all of these. Still about 50-50 on Kindle vs. hard copy...

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and at Work, by Chip and Dan Heath. Builds on the Nobel-prize winning work of Kahneman as well as other behavioral economists like Ariely. However, while those books give insights into how human make flawed decisions (usually too logical, or too emotional), the authors give a 4-step process and tons of practical tips and tricks for making decisions more likely to be successful. Easy read and very helpful! Authors used to write for Fast Company magazine and have two other books that I've not read but heard good things about.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business, by Patrick Lencioni. I've been reading and re-reading this for several months. Most Lencioni books are fables. This summarizes his main management and leadership principles from the last decade. Very pragmatic and covers the basics: forming a great leadership team, communication with clarity, great meetings, and more. As with many classic books, the concepts aren't new but it gives us a solid checklist or process to follow so we don't have blind spots.

Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential, by Gordon T. Smith. I've always distrusted people who say they knew exactly what career or even what country or community they wanted to serve. I like the "vocational" approach to life which Smith advocates. The idea is that you may have several different careers in life but there is a thread of commonality between them. This thread combines your unique design, temperment, interests, and, eventually, experiences. It becomes a vocation or a "calling" that will provide consistency -- and freedom -- to your life.

The World Is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good, by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. Just downloaded this one, but can't wait to read it. I've always worked with extremely visionary and idealistic organizations that are trying to do big things (i.e. reinvent computing, end caste-based discrimination, or stop poverty before it starts)! Looking forward to balancing this with a proper sense of my role in the world. As the book summary says, "...passionate enthusiasm can quickly give way to disillusionment, compassion fatigue or empty slacktivism. As we move from awareness to mobilization, we bump up against the complexities of global problems...Veteran activist Tyler Wigg-Stevenson identifies the...pitfalls that threaten much of today's cause-driven [approaches]."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

After a long silence, good news

I've always wondered about the plethora of cross-cultural assessments that exist. Are they all created equal? Which is most useful to accurately predict an individual's success in an intercultural situation? Are certain tests more appropriate for specific audiences (i.e. exchange students vs. professionals)?

Now there is an answer. Last week I was thrilled to hear about a paper published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology in July ("Assessing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Review of Available Tests" by David Matsumoto and Hyisung C. Hwang). It reviews 10 popular assessments. I was pleased to see that the CQ assessment, which I'm certified to facilitate, was in the top three!

I look forward to exploring the other two which were listed as highly reliable: MPQ (Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire) and ICAPS (Intercultural Adjustment Potential Scale). As for CQ, I just recently re-discovered this helpful video which summarizes the field's emergence since 2003: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EAZJrtV8GA#t=21

I'm hoping to blog more regularly. The last 9 months flew by with a move to a new house, lots of busyness with the family, and work trips to Rwanda, Turkey, England, and Lebanon. I'm continuing to enjoy consulting with two great non-profits -- both of which recognize the need for cultural intelligence!

Friday, November 30, 2012

On my reading list: Winter 2012

I've been enjoying the following books lately. Still find myself reading a lot of "print" books with the occasional Kindle book thrown in. The balance hasn't shifted for me yet!

Make Haste Slowly: Growing effective intercultural communication, by Donald Smith. Great little book about simple things that make complex situations (i.e. commmunicating cross-culturally) more understandable. Originally written in 1984, this was revised last year with some new examples, but the principles (i.e. 12 signal systems, the cultural onion (levels of culture), stimulating change, etc.) are timeless. Humanitarian relief and development groups are talking more and more about "theories of change" and "social norm change" these days. They would do well to learn from the experience (and, yes, a few mistakes) of faith-based organizations.

Uprising: How to build a brand -- and change the world -- by sparking cultural movements, by Scott Goodson. Just started this one, but looks good. Has a brief history section and plenty of examples from corporate America. Would love to see a book like this written by an African or Asia thinker. I do think that movements (think the "Occupy", "livestrong", etc.) and the different ways to create them is very important to analyze.

Free: The future of a radical Price, by Chris Anderson. I like this guy (Wired mag editor) and both his thinking and writing. Lots of great examples of how to make yourself or your organization more valuable by strategically giving stuff away. I think the principles and ideas here are especially important for non-profits who want to add value and attract a new kind of donor.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why cultural literacy doesn't really help

I've noticed during consulting with several organizations and through a few recent articles that cultural intelligence (CQ) is confused with cultural literacy or intercultural sensitivity. There is a huge missed opportunity here for organizations to improve!

In short, most organizations -- from businesses to humanitarian groups -- that do cross-cultural work seem to have little in the way of structures for educating people before their assignments or debriefing them upon return. But even if every employee with an intercultural role was forced to read my favorite book on the topic (the Art of Crossing Cultures by Storti), or even if the tactics of training and debriefing were done, I'm not sure we'd be better off. Why?

Business people and even humanitarian leaders (who often work on the same principles of delivering goods/services and reducing costs) are missing a foundational truth. In the words of David Hoopes from a 1981 article:
"The critical element in the expansion of intercultural learning is not the fullness with which one knows each culture, but the degree to which the process of cross-cultural learning, communication and human relations [has] been mastered."

In other words, cultural literacy (knowing how a people group eats, sits, etc.) or even intercultural sensitivity (being open to the differences in how people live) is not enough. A good debriefing, for example, shouldn't just measure the knowledge about a new culture. Instead it must assess whether the person is clearly pursuing a cultural learning process which will lead to correct conclusions.

The key is cultural intelligence (CQ) which is embracing the process that allows you to quickly enter any culture and learn accurately what is happening and then adapt. Some others call this intercultural competence or ethnorelativism, but I like CQ better.

A red flag that CQ isn't understood? People comment on the behaviors they see or don't see in another place without asking what motivates this behavior. Or people only talk about the similarities between cultures (i.e. "they love children just like we do"). This African case study caught my attention recently. A classic example of when people think they can blend in but don't realize they are viewed as fundamentally different by the host culture. CQ was low even though specific cultural knowledge was high.

By the way, I'm assuming people see the benefits for pursuing CQ so won't discuss it today, but I continue to discover how it clearly leads to, among other things, savings in money and time due to contracts being signed sooner, deadlines having common agreement, and high-quality deliverables being achieved. Not to mention there is less mental stress!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My cyclical, surprising challenges of cultural re-entry

Exactly a year ago, my family and I headed to the Hyderabad airport. We arrived in Portland about 38 hours later and began the re-entry journey.

We'd been in India for five and a half years (and I'd put in another 1.5 years before we got married). So we'd picked up many cultural behaviors (i.e. the head bobble) and even some values (i.e. I can now live with an unbelievable level of ambiguity, or what is a crisis to you is probably not a big deal to me).

Of course, the first few months back in the USA were dizzying and I've written about that herehere and here. People ask if we are over the cultural shock/stress or re-entry. Yes. And no. Some small examples include:
  • Two weeks ago I accused (nicely) a cashier in the Nike cafeteria of giving me the wrong change. Then I realized that I hadn't recognized the coins correctly (I thought the new one-dollar coins were quarters).
  • My children wash their mouths after meals "Indian style", assume we'll have mangoes tomorrow, still must be urged to use sidewalks, etc.
  • I still occasionally panic when we only have 10 minutes to get to an appointment, forgetting that traffic is generally good here and you rarely have to search hard for parking.
  • I sometimes call or email people on the day of an appointment because I suspect a crisis (a monsoon flood? an unannounced strike? illness of a relative?) might have forced them to cancel without telling me.
  • Several of the thank you notes I mailed after job interviews this spring had old "first class" stamps on them...so the recipients had to pay the extra $.06 postage. Um, yeah, oops.

Cultural re-entry is not an event. It is cyclical. And, good news, the gaps between "episodes" lengthen over time. I knew this intellectually, but to experience it is different.

The first few days back were constant re-learning and readjustment. Then, after a few months, episodes would only happen every week or so (i.e. an overwhelming moment in the proverbial cereal aisle). Now the episodes are once or twice a month. This is progress. This is normal. This is cultural re-entry.

Second, cultural re-entry surprises everyone. In some ways, it is more challenging than the adjustment to a different culture; when you return to your own land, you and people around you expect you to fit in...after all, you used to live here and function successfully! So everyone is doubly surprised when behaviors or feelings don't match expectations.

The danger is that we assume people go through cultural re-entry and then are done. But it is an ongoing cycle of episodes that really never finish, although they certainly become less frequent. Or we let surprise turn into judgment (i.e. "You did what? That is weird").

How can we show grace to people in our midst who may look like us on the surface -- even act like us most of the time -- but have a different cultural background, experiences, or orientation? It's a worthy challenge.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Damn Lies, Stats, and Global Confusion

During five months I lived in Washington, D.C., one of my favorite experiences was reading and discussing how statistics get twisted by diplomats, politicians, and more. A great article which I still have in my file cabinet is "The Truth but not the Whole Truth" by Peter Carlson. The subtitle? "In political Washington, statistics are weapons of war. That's why they get manipulated and massaged and twisted until any connection to reality is strictly coincidental."

With globalization and the increase of Internet tools such as Twitter, there are now more statistics available. This overload of information makes it even more difficult to find "truth" about issues. For example, I enjoyed this great blog from last week by the lead researcher for Oxfam about a confusing statistic on women and girls in poverty.

And here's the thing. Misused or inaccurate stats, especially in humanitarian efforts, can lead to serious consequences like not understanding where the real needs are and, thus, deaths of the most underserved.

I continue to monitor self-curated media like Twitter and occasionally find some gems. And even when I'm reading respected publications like The Economist or the Stanford Innovation Review, I still have to keep my skeptic hat on. Independent thinking, confirming facts through triangulation or cross-references, and asking questions beyond surface issues are still essential.

But I suspect that knowing what to ask is largely a product of having diverse life experiences, recognizing ambiguity and complexity in the world, and awareness of both extremes of any argument. Not easy work and very time consuming, but worthwhile.