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  • David Donaldson

Nothing is normal

My older siblings sang, "...and the times they are a changin'." My kids sang, "It's the end of the world as we know it." Yep!


As I study and do my work on intelligent cross cultural engagement, I also listen to pod-casts and watch videos about surviving and thriving in this new world. I think those who are saying that 1: those who can adapt quickly and creatively and 2: entrepreneurs with a healthy disregard to the "old ways" will lead this new economy -- this new world.


One of the proven benefits of a highly developed Cultural Intelligence is the ability to recognize what's going on, and to adapt productively. It's not as simple as:


but that's a start. Both these men are displaying two things; understanding of themselves and adapting to the other.


First, self-understanding is key. Across Cultural Consulting helps one understand themselves. Socrates said, "Know Thyself." St Paul said "don't think of yourself more highly than you ought." We have to know that the way we do things, might not be the way "he" does them. My "normal" isn't his.


To be fair, I know rather little about most of the world's cultures. But I don't think that's my job. My job is to help you understand yourself a bit better, then direct you to plan and act appropriately in the culture you need to engage. The first step in Cultural Intelligence is understand what we believe is normal. Remember, unless we intentionally examine ourselves, we assume that we are the arbiters of normal and strange.


I prefer an egalitarian (Low-Power Distance) authority structure. I thought it was the right way to lead and to grow. Then I began to teach a college class in Kenya. This experience leads me to the second thing the photo illustrates: adaptation. In the class room, I wanted to sit in a circle and engage the students as co-learners (all adults, and not many, so I thought my idea was brilliant). The students couldn't adjust and flatly (but politely) rejected my idea. I was to be at the head of the class, and they looked at me -- their mwalimu (teacher in Swahili.) Understanding then adapting to the normal that surrounds us is a strength of highly culturally intelligent people.


The times are, indeed, changing. Normal yesterday is not normal today, and may never be normal again. Can we understand ourselves enough to let go of "normal" and adapt to what is to come?

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