Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, Nov 2015 - Dec 2015

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Sustainable Business Conversation, December 3, 2015 Topic: Edges in a Multi-Cultural Context

  • Detroit is a culturally diverse city – like New Orleans. We need to learn about different cultures - Lifelong learning is part of being sustainable.
  • Some people have a lot of walls up and refuse to change. Every major civilization that has fallen had previously closed itself off to new ideas. Being closed off can lead to one’s own destruction.
  • Think of a diverse city as a salad bowl, not a melting pot. We want to value ethnic and religious diversity and not become one big blob of sameness.
  • In a multi-cultural society, we can still retain our identity and yet have permeable edges – open to new ideas and change.
  • To retain your identity, you need to know yourself to start with which is not always easy. An actor needs to know him or herself in order to be able to portray a character. You may need to dig deep sometimes.
  • Traveling and experiencing other cultures teaches us that you can’t impose your own values on others, a lesson that can be applied even within our own communities and through our work.
  • Observe but don't judge. Remember that It’s OK to ask basic questions.
  • Do some homework - try to learn about the people who populate the "edges" or beyond of your business.
  • Susan talked about CISV International (formerly Children’s International Summer Villages) who works with a group of students and leaders to build trust before sending them abroad. As people get to know each other more, prejudices and stereotypes are challenged and broken down.
  • Language is an expression of culture. Korean agencies want translation services but may not be aware that there are many varieties of English. These include International English, US English, British English, Australian English and more. Film actors in the 1930s and 40s were trained to speak English with a mid-Atlantic accent (blend of British English and US English). How we speak can really identify us to others. Some concepts don’t really translate from one language to another. Translators need to be careful not to change the meaning of something.
  • Having a good understanding of cultural differences is really important - and helpful! In Korea, for example, it is normal to tell someone that they need to lose weight. In the US, this would be terribly offensive. Different cultures also think about time differently. Some are really strict about punctuality – and other cultures are fine doing things mañana. Putting together an international supplier network – you need to find out who tells the truth, who delivers on time, who charges a fair price.

The culture inside a business is important. In a large firm there may be multiple cultures in different areas. Quicken Loans talks about their culture and ideals. Their ISMs book has good ideas about how to manage a creative company – although some think it may be overly zealous. If you have a dream and write it down – it becomes a goal. Someone who makes beautiful earrings may see herself as just a crafter – but really she’s an artist. You have to get beyond the point of being fearful and talk about your ideas. Fear can block you from opening up and having permeable edges. What is money? Money is a tool to get something done. There is a lot more equity in Detroit than just money. When big powerful people get too much power, bad things (shit) happens. Moving from the US to Chile at age 9 was the best thing that ever happened to me – although it was hard at the time. Having a different point of view – dealing with culture shock – lots of learning happened.