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Tyranny of the Urgent or The problem with putting out fires

It usually is said with a deep sigh of resignation: “I spent all day putting out fires!”

Leaders know they are supposed to be doing something “at 30,000 ft.” They know they should be casting vision and implementing strategy, but their days are spent with the crisis du jour; they are victims of the tyranny of the urgent.

Marketing 101, Day one:

“To sell your gizmo, or your idea, you have to be providing a solution to a problem your prospect has.” Simple as that. The rest of marketing is details.

When I think about cross-cultural engagement, and more specifically, Cultural Intelligence, I am offering a solution to one of the “less urgent” issues in an organization.

I struggled to articulate this, until I read a post from Dr. Catherine Wu on Linkedin. She describes the challenge of articulating the ‘problem’ that CQ ‘solves’ this way:

Of course we can talk about inefficiencies, miscommunication, delays, tension, conflict...


None of these sound like big problems.

They are more like lingering annoyances that people learn to deal with.

I think of it as chronic pain, mild, diffuse but that never goes away

It's unpleasant, irritating, debilitating at times but generally we learn to live with it.

Contrast this with acute pain

Sharp, cutting

The kind that makes you scream and lose your mind.

Here's a made up story. But not far from the truth; I experienced this quite a bit while working in Kenya.

The acute pain for Mr. D (D=Direct communicator).

He and Mr. I (I=indirect communicator) had agreed to meet at the office on Saturday to finish the report. Mr. D. is there, but Mr. I isn’t.

Friday morning’s conversation:

Mr. D: It looks like some of us are going to have to be here on Saturday to finish the sales report.

Mr. I: I see.

Mr. D: Can you join us on Saturday?

Mr. I: Uh, Yes, hmmm, I think so.

Mr. D: Good. That would be a great help.

Mr. I: Uh, Saturday is an important day.

Mr. D: Why is that?

Mr. I: It’s my daughter’s birthday.

Mr. D: That's nice. I hope you all enjoy it.

Mr. I: Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.

What’s your CQ?

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