Diwali season is here. In Madrid, where I live, the Indian embassy had put together a Diwali Mela. What one would have noticed immediately about it was that the number of Spanish attending it massively outweighed the Indians. You could see the Spanish revel in the Indian food and craft stalls, try out bindis and henna, and make videos of the performances on stage. Learning about other cultures has always excited us as humans – it quenches our curiosity.
Being able to understand and adapt to other cultures has become a much sought-after skill. Students nowadays want to study and work abroad. Companies place a premium on people who have experience with working across countries. International MBA programs have a third language requirement as part of their graduation. Why? The world is increasingly becoming one. The idea of vasudhaiva kutumbakam - the world is a family – has never been more relevant. Companies are in constant search of new territories to expand. And with that, they need to send people who can smoothly transition into demands and challenges of the new locations – from understanding the way things work in those cultures to being able to communicate and get business done.
This actually isn’t an easy task. Take some simple things to begin with. A thumbs up isn’t considered a friendly gesture in middle east. If someone gives you a business card in Japan, putting it in your pocket is considered rude. Or even pouring your own drink.
Being on time for a dinner in Argentina can signify that you are greedy. In some parts of the world, slurping of soup is considered a sign that you are enjoying it. In Russia, it is not ok to give even number of flowers – they are reserved for grieving and funerals. Chewing gum is banned in Singapore. And the list goes on.
Developing a global mindset - to be able to navigate smoothly – involves three components.
Intellectual capital –the information that a person has of how the economies and societies work in other cultures. What does law and politics look like there? What are the religious beliefs? How does the person digest, absorb, and leverage that information and make decisions based on that?
Psychological capital is the emotional side of it. Do you enjoy interacting with people from other countries, are you curious to find out what happens in other cultures, and are you willingness to push yourself to try new things? Or is it the case that you are fixed on your one way of functioning and consider it superior to all others?
Finally, the third part is about social capital – how you interact and behave with people from other parts of the world. Do you listen actively, pay attention to the nuances, and are able to understand?
Do you get divergent views and accept them? Different people might have different ways to structuring their problem and so the solutions might also turn out to be different.
Knowing about the dimensions of a global mindset, one can employ several techniques to build it. It starts with self-awareness. First, understand and become aware of your own cultural systems and values. This will help identify your own point of view and your biases and help in opening up your own mind. Second, know yourself in terms of what your personality is – are you curious, can you adapt to change and newness easily, are to open to trying out the new?
Third, build up your knowledge of other cultures and countries. This has become rather easy given the vast pool of information we have today through books, videos, documentaries, etc. Travel to new places – not just as a tourist but live with the locals and talk to them. Learn a new language. Make connections with people from different backgrounds. It helps to get immersed in the new culture you are trying to understand – try the local dance, theatre, and food. Fourth, develop strategies to adjust. Change is not easy for anyone. Be sensitive to your own needs as well. Have a mentor who can provide you feedback. Someone who can keep you from being lost. Finally – still hold strong to your basic values.
Continuously adapting to other societies might make you lose your ground and push you into moving into unethical territories – remember where to draw the line. So, do you aspire to become the next generation of global cosmopolitan? Then be curious and always ready for change.