January 31, 2008

Cultural Quotient

In a recent post on this blog (roam2rome), "farfallina" introduced a new kind of "Q" that has recently entered the scene following in the footsteps of IQ and EQ, the CQ (Cultural Quotient). The concept was first presented three years ago in the Harvard Business Review as the “essential factor of our times” without which, “NO one is going to be even remotely successful in this Millennium”. The business community is getting all excited about it and is using the term more and more.

The post continued, "I would love to see Elizabeth tackle this subject in my favorite Rome blog “Cross Cultural Moments”. So, I take up the challenge.

To start, what is it? Wikipedia says,"Cultural Intelligence, Cultural Quotient or CQ, is a theory within management and organisational psychology, positing that understanding the impact of an individual's cultural background on their behaviour is essential for effective business, and measuring an individual's ability to engage successfully in any environment or social setting. First described by Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski in the October 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review and gaining acceptance throughout the business community, CQ teaches strategies to improve cultural perception in order to distinguish behaviours driven by culture from those specific to an individual, suggesting that allowing knowledge and appreciation of the difference to guide responses results in better business practice.

Golly gosh, someone has finally gotten it! Although with fancier words, it is what I have been talking about in my blog for over a year now (and in training workshops and presentations before that). For me, CQ is about understanding how your own culture background effects the success of your intercultural dealings and allowing an appreciating of the differences to guide your interactions.

I hope that the CQ concept will move the international business community away from preaching "adapting behaviors" as the solution to cross-cultural differences in doing business. Mocking behaviors only makes you look like a monkey unless there is a true and genuine understanding and respect behind them.

Roam2rome's post is quite timely. Just yesterday on the train to Trento, I threw out the text I had been finalizing for a website and started again from scratch. I am moving my emphasis from cross-cultural training and consulting to concentrate on intercultural and expat coaching. After my first month of teleclasses and readings, I am convinced that coaching is a much more effective way to support my vision of, "A world in which people have a deep understanding of, and respect for, the power of culture – they are humbled by, and marvel at, the wonder of cross-cultural differences." Cross-cultural training gives you tools, information and proper behaviors to follow, but coaching can help you achieve a true shift in perspective that is at the base of suspending judgement and successfully crossing cultures.

Whew! enough for today.

a domani (from Trento),

January 27, 2008

To be or not to be

I just received an invitation to a film event on Tuesday to recognise and celebrate the UN's decision to back the Italian call for a global moratorium on the death penalty.

During my last visit to my parents in Connecticut, I was sitting at the kitchen table, skimming the paper with a mug of American coffee in hand, when I noticed a letter to the editor against the death penalty. I thought about how much discussion goes on in US on the subject with strong forces arguing for and against it regularly in the public arena and the question of its implementation coming up over and over on political agendas. It suddenly hit me that this is a subject Italians never discuss -- it never comes up seriously on political agendas, and not even in the daily batter over your cappuccino at the bar. From the left to the right (excluding the farrrr right, who does raise the issue occasionally, only to have it quickly put in its place) the subject is taboo, the death penalty is not an option. punto e basta.

Catholic culture? Too many skeletons in the closet and hanging from the rafters (the shocking end to Mussolini)? Too many foreign rulers in Italy's past who used the gallows to maintain power? For whatever reason, the cultural roots in terms of values and beliefs are deep on both sides and the gap is wide. It would take a real shift in perspective for one to understand the other. Even those against the death penalty in the US accept that another position exists and that discussion is legitimate. That is the real difference -- here, all agree, across all political lines, that the subject is not even worthy of discussion.

In any case, the good news is that Connecticut is voting to take the death penalty off the books -- it hasn't been applied for over one hundred years anyway.

a domani,

Anyone in Rome that is interested, here is the information.
"In the spirit of collaboration the following organisations will be present: Nessuno Tocchi Caino, Comunita' S. Egidio, the Comitato Sacco e Vanzetti, Americans for Peace and Justice Abroad, the Comitato Paul Rougeau, and others.

There will be a screening of two short documentaries by La7 director Chiara Salvo, exploring the relationships between death row inmates and the Italians who correspond with them, who will be present, followed by an open forum for discussion of the next steps in the campaign.

When: Tuesday 29th January, 8.30pm
Where: Cineclub Detour, Via Urbana 44, metro Cavour"

January 22, 2008

Universal morals

Are you ready to stretch your mind today?

My "google-alert" for all things cross-cultural led me to this blog by Fawad, a techie based in California whose profile quote reads: "I have always imagined Paradise to be a kind of library" - Jorge Luis Borges

I have copied some of the post for you and strongly encourage anyone interested in cross-cultural differences to click through to the NY Times Magazine article below.

From the post:
"Steven Pinker, the hard to label Harvard Evolutionary Psycholgist is amongst one of the best examples of current scientists who can write well for a broader audience. This post was precipitated after reading his excellent essay titled "The Moral Instinct" in the January 13th, 2008 issue of The New York Times Sunday Magazine. It is hard to summarize the breadth of the essay's argument but in it Pinker explains the existing evidence for the biological (evolutionary) underpinnings of our morality. He examines many interesting examples about the universality of morals and tries to square them with the clearly observed differences across cultures. The essay is somewhat long but I couldn't recommend it any more strongly and urge people to read it. There are few popular pieces of writing that engage this deeply in reflecting on the sources of our deeply held moral beliefs.

When anthropologists like Richard Shweder and Alan Fiske survey moral concerns across the globe, they find that a few themes keep popping up from amid the diversity. People everywhere, at least in some circumstances and with certain other folks in mind, think it’s bad to harm others and good to help them. They have a sense of fairness: that one should reciprocate favors, reward benefactors and punish cheaters. They value loyalty to a group, sharing and solidarity among its members and conformity to its norms. They believe that it is right to defer to legitimate authorities and to respect people with high status. And they exalt purity, cleanliness and sanctity while loathing defilement, contamination and carnality.
The exact number of themes depends on whether you’re a lumper or a splitter, but Haidt counts five — harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity — and suggests that they are the primary colors of our moral sense. Not only do they keep reappearing in cross-cultural surveys, but each one tugs on the moral intuitions of people in our own culture.


All this brings us to a theory of how the moral sense can be universal and variable at the same time. The five moral spheres are universal, a legacy of evolution. But how they are ranked in importance, and which is brought in to moralize which area of social life — sex, government, commerce, religion, diet and so on — depends on the culture. Many of the flabbergasting practices in faraway places become more intelligible when you recognize that the same moralizing impulse that Western elites channel toward violations of harm and fairness (our moral obsessions) is channeled elsewhere to violations in the other spheres. Think of the Japanese fear of nonconformity (community), the holy ablutions and dietary restrictions of Hindus and Orthodox Jews (purity), the outrage at insulting the Prophet among Muslims (authority). In the West, we believe that in business and government, fairness should trump community and try to root out nepotism and cronyism. In other parts of the world this is incomprehensible — what heartless creep would favor a perfect stranger over his own brother?

Any thoughts?
I need a day to ponder...
a domani,

January 20, 2008

Surprisingly complicated

I have been doing some research on obstacles to foreign investment in Italy for an article I am preparing on cross-cultural challenges to doing business in Italy. This involved skimming a 163 document prepared by the commercial department of the US Embassy the other day. The opening paragraph introduced the Italian market as "surprisingly" complicated. Why "surprisingly"? As the sixth most important trade economy in the world and an active historic member of Western Europe, one would imagine it to be in line with its peers. I had not even started the document and already Italy stood out as being particolare.

Obstacles to foreign investment include: disparities between the North and the South in terms of distribution systems, a predominance of family-owned small and medium sized businesses (involving high distribution costs), a complex regulatory environment, a level of transparency that is not in line with other highly developed economies, uneven infastructure (guess where), low investment levels in R&D compared to other industrialized countries, lax enforcement of intellectual property laws and corporate governance that could be more "stringent".

Then there is, of course, inefficient delivery of public services (we all experience that), a slow judicial system (we all try to avoid this one), high corporate taxes, low labor flexibility with high labor taxes and last, but not least, bureaucratic red tape. Not to mention the unmentionble, corruption or bribes to tax officials when dealing with government procurement projects.

And everything has to be translated into Italian.

Italians are also very patriotic as we have seen with the Alitalia question, AT&T and a recent attempt by a Spanish company to enter into the Italian highway toll system. There is an underlying reluctance to allow foreign investment in large Italian government controlled companies, with what is called "golden share" regimes for privatized companies.

What do all of the above have in common? What are the underlying cultural perspectives? The "cultural challenges" to doing business in Italy?

Three areas come to mind:
Italians have learned at home, in school and in society to manage a quite high level of ambiguity that is intrinsic to their surrounding environment. Tolerance of ambiguity is not quite so developed in those coming from abroad.

Italians communicate with lots of meaning between the lines, the musicality of the language (both spoken and written) often takes priority over clearly projecting meaning to the other party -- who should instead understand through context. Anyone who has ever translated will agree.

Italians trust people they know, certainly not the system or foreigners. A low-trust culture constantly needs to negotiate rules and regulations and this in turn reduces cooperation. If a government changes in the middle of the negotiation of a large government sponsored project, you have to start the process all over again. The ball is not passed easily from one to the other -- which would involve trust.

Back to work!
a domani,

January 18, 2008

Migrating beans

My friend Gillian is on a roll. Following a recent link to an NPR program, yesterday she sent me a link to a blog coming out of Harare, Zimbabwe, written by a friend of a friend of hers from when she lived there for seven years. In this post our American expat in Zimbabwe talks about a book on the history of meals, relates it to her experience and ends with a South African recipe that reflects both South American and Indian elements.

"......It would seem, then, that for many thousands of years we have had a tendency to prefer the foods and preparations we are accustomed to, and to take these customs with us wherever we go. I know I do this. Every time I travel to the States, I bring back with me black beans, pine nuts, granola bars, and walnuts. I can live without these items, of course, but I don’t want to. On the weekend before Christmas, I made minestrone soup, just like my mom does, even though I had to make a couple substitutions. With these actions, I am mimicking a human tendency that has spanned millennia – migrants bringing their favorite foods with them, and modifying their cooking to fit their new environments."

All I know is that Italian immigrants populated Australia, Argentina and the East coast of the United States at the turn of the century, and they sure did take along their country's cuisine with them!

a domani,

January 16, 2008

The pope stayed home

Every once in a while, you wake up to suddenly realize that you are indeed living in a Catholic country. Today was one of those days. The front page of every newspaper and the opening lines of every TV newscast announce Papa Ratzinger's decision to stay home. He had been invited to speak at the opening ceremonies of the academic year (in January?) at the University of Rome "La Sapienza" but a letter of protest signed by over 60 professors (out of a total of 4,500) and rising tension among students, led him to change his mind at the last minute citing security concerns.

The President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the President of the university are asking his forgiveness. One side cries out, "lack of tollerance" and "a closure to dialogue" while the other claims a legitimate concern over the Vatican's not only continuing but growing interference in Italian public life. In any case, Papa Benedetto XVI is also the Bishop of Rome and should be able to preside over the people of the city in this capacity.

It was an historic day, a dividing of the waters between believers and non, even between the State and the Church. It was also a sad day for open and civil exchanges between people of differing opinions that characterize democracies.

a domani,

January 15, 2008

Comparative happiness

A friend just sent me this link to an NPR (National Public Radio)interview with the author of a new book called, The Geography of Bliss. In this book, Eric Weiner seeks out places in the world where people are reportedly the happiest -- and looks for the reasons why. I was intrigued, especially after a recent Italian survey that revealed an 80% "happiness rate", despite a rather negative take on the economy, personal safety and politics (see this post).

One particularly happy country was Switzerland: things work well, the trains run on time, the streets are clean. But more importantly, they vote seven or eight times a year in public referendum, and they have a say in what happens in their life. He says that they also make an effort to hide their extraordinary wealth, so as not to provoke envy in others -- a great enemy of happiness.

On the other side of the world, he met a man in Bhutan who told him that, "you need to set aside a few minutes a day to think about death" in order to live a happy life. (On this note, I would suggest my book clubs recent selection, Everyman by Philip Roth)

What did he finally learn at the end of his travels in search of happiness? That, when all is said and done, happiness isn't personal, but relational. Exactly what our Italian survey discovered! Despite all the problems, woes, lack of faith in the system or the future, 80% of those interviewed said that they led basically happy lives....with close ties to their family and friends.

Thanks Gillian!

a domani,

January 12, 2008

Tribal considerations

My Google alert for "cross-cultural moments" delivered a small gift to my inbox today that I would like to share. Horace and Anne Tipton are missionaries serving the Anglican Church in Kenya. They moved to Nairobi, Kenya with their two children from Memphis, Tennessee in January 2005 and keep a blog called, Planting Faith. In this post, Anne talks about the current situation and a personal experience that led to a cross-cultural moment and subsequent new understanding. Here is a small piece:

......(the woman) was curious about him. One of the first statements she made was, “With that hair, what tribe could he be?”
At the time, it struck me as curious thing to say, but I did not give it a lot of thought. Her question was one of those cross-cultural moments that I guess I am supposed to “understand that I might not understand”, but it is, I think, relevant to the struggles here. It is important to the people of Kenya to know who they are dealing with and where they are from. And it is somehow less of a curiosity that I am here from another country than someone of another Kenyan ethnic group being around.

Click here for the very well-written and interesting post.

a domani,

January 11, 2008

Bollo time

I paid the car "bollo" or tax today. At least that was the plan. Turns out that someone else had already paid it yesterday -- obviously a mistake. "So, what do I do?" I asked the woman behind the ACI desk. She didn't seem to know. We all assume that the person who inadvertently paid my car tax instead of his, will notice, eventually, maybe. Unless he happens to look at the receipt before filing it away at home, most likely this moment of awareness will come same time next year when he pays next year's tax, only to find this year's one unpaid and with a fine! Or he will receive a fine in the mail -- probably in five years time (says the woman at the bar to whom I told my story).

But what if he doesn't notice? What if it is a company car and in the midst of piles of accounts no one notices and just pays again.

My fellow cappuccino clients at the bar next door conferred and the general consensus was to wait and see....maybe I have won a kind of bureaucratic lottery -- "free car tax for one year, get your tickets here". No one said that I should do the right thing and pay so that my car would be covered twice over until the truth comes out. At worst, I will have to pay a modest fine for paying late.

Ah yes, the Italians do thrive in ambiguous situations, it gets their blood circulating, they come alive, full of ideas on how to beat the system. They loved the idea that I had done it, although by chance. I had made their day.

But it boils down to a question of "risk tolerance" and as I have seen on other occasions, I often fail this exam, pay up, park properly or whatever, just to reduce the anxiety of ambiguity.

a domani,

January 10, 2008

Reacting Italian style

I am going to be juggling two blogs for the year.

You can find the other blog on my "profile" listed as "Coaching Across Cultures". Yes, I have begun a course to become a fully certified professional coach, and I plan to integrate these skills to train, consult and coach thoughtful and curious people living, working and studying abroad.

The requirements include an online journal and I thought I would talk about my niche of coaching across cultures and comment on the classes and what I learn from this perspective.

I "sat" in on a teleclass yesterday on "reacting/responding" and since my cross-cultural observations may be of interest to my readers, I will leave you with this post for today. click here.

a domani,

January 7, 2008

Your words or mine?

I had a wander on the "expats in Italy" website forum (under culture shock) and found this thread:

I work in IT, and spend my days getting to grip with abstract concepts - real brain stretching stuff.
My Italian is good enough that language is rarely a problem, but what I have noticed is that it's much easier to understand a new concept when someone American, British etc. explains it to me.
Is it merely a difference in the way we think, or are Italians bad at explaining things?

The discussion was lively and interesting.

Language is not just a string of words, there is a cultural director orchestrating their ensemble. People living in English-speaking cultures are generally direct in the way they communicate, and it shows in the language itself -- anyone who has ever translated will confirm. English-speaking cultures have low-context communication styles -- you get what you hear, no interpreting the pauses and guessing at the what was left unsaid. The Italians instead, love the show and emphasize the musical component. The overall emotional message takes the stage -- the detail of the words is left to the orchestra pit.

I attended a Professional Women's Association meeting a few months back to hear a speaker from Johnson & Johnson on global virtual teams. Among the women, there were three Italian men who sat in the third row, very poshly dressed, chatting among themselves until the German woman in front of me turned and loudly gave them a "SHHHHH". Anyway, I spoke with Mauro at the post-speaker aperativo and he gave me his card, "dirigente" it said, for the Centro di Formazione Studi. I looked at the Italian site and then clicked on the EU international site. You must do the same, because someone was doing his/her homework and translated not only the words, but the presentation format. Gotta love those bullet points and action verbs!

Italian version of "chi siamo"
English version, "about us".

Tell me what you think.

a domani,

January 6, 2008

More on trash

A small, insignicant cog in the wheel of the Napolitan trash machine wrote a letter to the newspaper about his role in today's piles of mess.

He is an expert, not a politician, a trash-master and engineer who has written articles for foreign journals on tecnical aspects of trash management. A representative of an American-based global company that is a leader in the field, contacted him while in Naples, for his expertise. After presenting concrete and feasible solutions to the Naples trash question using modern equipment and techniques, the representative asked our Man in Naples to present a proposal through the appropriate channels, which he did. No response. Need we wonder why?

Unfortunately the American global company did not understand how to get a proposal examined, Neapolitan style. Certainly not with a practical, rational, technical approach. No one with decision making power would ever read a proposal sent up from the ranks, it would have to fall on his/her desk from above, with an "note of encouragement" attached.

Too bad for Naples. Too bad for the American company. Too bad for the technical expert.

a domani,

January 4, 2008

Up in smoke

I spent the morning between the doctor and the post office -- the first to liberate my (rather gruesome looking) thumb from its bandage (no cost) and the second to sign for a damaged Christmas package from a sister (items intact, just the envelope side ripped). Between one wait and another I read the newspaper where I found an analysis of Naples' current "garbage hell". Once again, Naples has managed to distinguish itself from the rest of Italy and the title reads, "Democracy Killed by Trash". Journalist Francesco Merlo expresses what many feel, that Naples is not capable of governing itself and that the State must intervene, even sending in the army, to confront the crisis. He says that we must finally do away with the idea that there is a soft way to govern and administrate the South, "The illusion that the whole county is like Tuscany has been trashed". Naples is controlled by organized crime and local politicians can't do much about it, even if they should want to. Money pours in and disappears. The problems remain and every so often go up in smoke as enormous mounds of trash alight.

Are Italians angry enough to actually do what one reader suggests? Eliminate all local political power and place Naples in the hands of the State. Maybe they are. A new level of indignation is in the air.

a domani,

January 3, 2008

Hope for 2008

Between December 17 and 19, La Repubblica newspaper engaged the Demos-Eurisko company to organize and conduct a survey of 1000 Italians representative of the adult population on the state of their lives. It turns out that Italians define themselves as "angry" (as has been discussed quite a bit these past few months among local expat bloggers following Bebbe Grillo's "VaFa" day). But beyond this anger and although Italians are unsatisfied with the economy, worried about personal safety and unhappy about politics, over 80% declared themselves to be happy with their lives.

How do they do it?

Family and friends. While Rome burns, Italians huddle up at home with their family or hang out in the piazza with their friends. That's all it takes to achieve a modest degree of happiness, and they even figured it out without resorting to endless shelves of self-help books -- the upside of a relationship-based society. The word Italians chose to best describe their feelings toward the future was "hope" (speranza). Where does that come from if not from their personal lives, as they are pretty negative about everything else.

If family and friends don't quite fill the gap, there is always hope to be found in sports -- nearly 75% of Italians surveyed believe that the Ferrari will win the Formula-1 championship, 66% are sure that the Italian national soccer team will win the European championship and 62% have faith that Valentino Rossi will win the world motorcycle racing title.

When asked, "What does Italy need to improve itself in the next year?" the number one response was, "More young people in places of power" with "Improve the schools and university" close behind.

So, despite the Italian "malessere" amply described in a recent New York Times article, there is room for hope and maybe this new sense of anger will set in motion change for the future.

a domani,

January 2, 2008

New Years resolutions

Only one more festivity to go -- La Befana on January 6 -- before we can close the holiday parenthesis and get on our way into 2008.

New Year resolutions:

Lose those 3 kili that have been creeping up over the last few years and keep up with my routine of regular exercise (sounds familiar, see this entry from the same time last year).

Gather together my various writing, training, speaking/presenting activities; add coaching skills; package it up into a "cross-cultural moments" business and take it on the road, with my blog in the passenger seat as a navigator and friend (I am starting a professional coach certificate program next week).

Support my children through their bi-cultural development to becoming who they are.

Be thoughtful and correct in my dealings with others, carry through on promises and perform small acts of friendship.

Leave space every day to be curious and creative while fine tuning critical sense (I like this definition of critical sense: "the ability to distinguish between those things that are commonplace and meaningless and those that are elegant and special").

Listen to others with the intention to understand.

and, read lots of good books.

Sounds like a good year to me, and yours?

a domani,

Here is a link to an acticle I wrote for The Roman Forum magazine last October on "Cross-Cultural Driving Lessons", and here is a rebuttal written by another TFR contributor, "Driving in Rome?: A second opinion". The contrast is fun to read.

Anyone out there follow professional volleyball? Here is an article on the M.Roma A-series team.