In order to survive and thrive in 21st century business you need to embody this form of intelligence


Embody cross cultural intelligence

Embody cross cultural intelligence

Economies are more and more global, and so are our customers, employees and opportunities. But that means that our challenges have also gone global. A common mistake is that people want to do [business] exactly the same way they did before. We cannot afford to apply the same local solutions to very different, global, problems. – SAFRA CATZ, CEO, Oracle

Let me put it this way:

The good news is that the exponential development of technology allows many of us access to amazing opportunities. People, products and services are brought together in ways that have never happened before.

The bad news is that the growing interdependence of different regions and communities around the world also has a great potential to produce conflict, ranging from global refugee and financial crises to missed business opportunities.

Why you need cultural intelligence

One of the (still) commonly held beliefs, even here in the highly innovative Silicon Valley, is that doing business across the globe means simply replicating the models that have already brought financial prosperity in a certain country or region. I lost count of how many times I heard or read about how the solution to global business is to clone Silicon Valley in various places around the world.

There is one issue with this strategy: it does not work. A business strategy does not, and cannot, exist independently of the people and circumstances that made it possible. There is no one single way of doing business, and the reason for that can be summarized in one word: culture.

Culture forms the matrix of all human interactions. As social beings, we tend to interact and associate with people who hold similar values, beliefs, expectations and symbols.

It is only normal to prefer the safety of the known, and to reject those with whom we have a hard time identifying. That worked relatively well when the cultures of the world were neatly separated into national, ethnic, and geographical communities, and only communicated with each other in a very slow and prescribed manner.

Technology is blurring geographical borders

Technology, however, is now blurring and even blowing up those lines, by facilitating instantaneous communication and exchanges across geographic borders.

For this reason, being successful in the 21st century business environment requires specific knowledge and a set of skills which we at ICQ Consulting define as cultural intelligence.

A few entrepreneurs and leaders have that naturally. But most of us simply behave (often unconsciously or subconsciously) according to values and beliefs we’ve acquired from our culture of origin.

What fascinates me is how few people, especially people in power, are willing to admit that their choices and decisions are seriously influenced by their cultural values and beliefs.

Of course, in certain circumstances, some of us are able to be more objective than others. But deep down within us are beliefs and symbols that are imprinted, branded at an emotional level. And from there they often dictate how we behave.

If we put this in the global context, we see why cultural intelligence is crucial. Globalization now forces us to interact in ways that we have never had to before. We need to interact not only with businesses from different countries, but also with our own multicultural, multigenerational and multi-ethnic organizations and teams.

We are now trying to acquire and service customers all over the world. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, over 135 different cultures live and work among each other.

Diversity + Inclusion = Success

According to Cisco, if a diverse team is managed and trained well, they produce results 6 times higher than homogeneous teams. What Cisco research shows is that not only is diversity important, but that diversity in itself is not enough. What gives diversity 6 times more value is something called inclusion.

Thus, in order to reap all the benefits of diversity, we need to create an optimal inclusion environment. And given the pace of technology and globalization, diversity is not a choice anymore. Diversity has become unavoidable, and that makes inclusion through cultural and organizational intelligence an absolute necessity.

The best way to figure out how to optimize interactions within or between diverse groups is to assess the needs, values, beliefs and expectations of each member of the group.

There are various tools (such as the Intercultural DISC™) that assess key cultural metrics, which are even more helpful in an organization with employees who have lived and/or worked in multiple cultures.

Cultural intelligence is a paradigm shift in both business interaction and organizational culture, and it is one of the central pieces of Culture Influencer™ training.

What makes cultural intelligence different is that it addresses core dynamics of the human psyche. It takes into account not only the differences between individuals, but also the similarities that make us all humans.

How is your business working to build cultural intelligence? Has diversity changed your business?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forum for International Trade Training.

About the author

Author: Cosmin Gheorghe

Cosmin Gheorghe, MD is a Culture Influencer™, speaker and author. He uses Cultural Intelligence, Global Leadership and Unconscious Bias assessments, training & coaching to address what Deloitte calls “the sweeping global forces that are reshaping the workforce, the workplace, and work itself”.

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