When You Need Focus, Put a Lens On It:
A brief report on the use of
Cultural Detective Values Lenses
in training in Asia
by Dr. George Simons
Every few months for the last four years, Vanessa Landry-Claverie (currently completing a translation of the
CD Canada into French) and I have been training programs in "International Negotiation, Strategy and Tactics,"
as well as more recently "Culture and Teams," for a large Asian organization. Cultural Detective
Values Lenses have been playing a larger and larger part in this work.
The first program is for those who must negotiate with foreign entities as well as negotiate roles
and activities within the organization. The second program is for those new to the organization, coming to a
headquarters environment that has more than 60 nationalities working together in the same building, as well as
working virtually with colleagues abroad.
We start the activities with the Self-Discovery Lens for understanding oneself from a cultural perspective,
and we then use culture-specific Values Lenses to focus on critical incidents. Sometimes we draw cases from
the Cultural Detective series, but we also use the accounts provided by the participants, involving the challenges
One of the features of these programs is that this client insists on pre-training interviews and post-training
coaching sessions with the participants, which we deliver one-to-one and face-to-face. These allow us to build
participant familiarity and understand their expectations before entering into the program, as well as to
troubleshoot with them after the program is over. Often the pre-program interviews highlight for us the
Lenses that the participants may need during the program. The follow-up coaching sessions reveal further needs
for development of the type of intercultural understanding provided by the Lenses.
Besides the Self Discovery work, we generally provide at least three additional Lenses:
- The Lens of the host country in which the participants are working,
- The Lens that best corresponds to the participant's own background, as well as
- Lenses that may address a specific situation the participant is facing, e.g., cultural challenges with a boss
or subordinate, or with specific clients or transactions. In the post-program coaching sessions we can provide
further customized feedback around these real challenges. Often simply reading the Lens produces an, "Aha! Now I
understand" effect in the learner.
Currently we have a couple significant challenges in the use of the Lenses in our courses:
- First is the lack of adequate coverage. Most of the Cultural Detectives in the catalog have
been developed from client experience and demand in areas of the world where commerce has been traditionally strong, or
where we have talented interculturalists. Even though the CD series now includes material on over 125 cultures, there are close to 40
countries that our participants come from or serve in that are missing from our present catalog of packages.
In the past month we have had to say "No" to requests for Bangladesh, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste,
Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kyrgyz Republic, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Myanmar, Pakistan,
Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Who will be the authors for these
Cultural Detectives and the many others missing and possible?
- Secondly, despite our use of the Self Discovery process we can wind up with participants who still,
sometimes vociferously, resist the identification of values and behaviors as stereotyping, and we need to do damage
control, sometimes in class, sometimes in responding to feedback during our debriefing with the client. While we have
had lots of experience with this in the past and in other programs, the Self Discovery process reduces the
frequency of this reaction. However, we still need to discuss and discover better ways of responding to this challenge. We
have identified some sources of this challenge for participants.
In general the challenge can be associated with what we are starting to call "identity pain." Here are some examples of the kind of pain
people are experiencing, and some description of our attempts to respond. We would love to hear more from others dealing with this
- Immigrant experiences. Many people are or have been, in the last generation or two, immigrants to the countries
in which they grew up or in which they now live and work. They have suffered the pain of being identified and treated as outsiders.
In many cases they have had to bury or hide their hereditary cultural elements as well as their mother tongue to "fit
in" to the new environment. This dynamic may last well into the third generation. Personally, I recall the need,
when I was younger, to bury part of my identity, even though my grandparents were the immigrants to the USA. I talk about
this experience and my feelings about it with my participants as part of as a way of encouraging others who may be
reluctant to admit to parts of their own cultural identities and influences when we discuss the CD values sets.
- Third culture kid experiences. With growing international mobility, there are more and more young people who
have names and parentage that do not originate from the country in which they've grown up. They sometimes experience
repeated dislocations as the family is transferred from place to place. They are not the cultural beings they may
appear to be, or whom their family names may proclaim them to be. This results in the pain of outsider status in the
schoolyard and frequently biased treatment by teachers in the classroom. Fortunately in our team Vanessa has had a
good dose of the TCK experience. She articulates this pain in her story as a means of trying to connect with
participants who resist looking at or discussing cultural characteristics.
- Cultural shame. Many people are embarrassed by the history that their ethnicity has perpetrated or experienced.
Studies show that, for example, it has taken three generations since the demise of National Socialism for many Germans
to express pride in their culture. People from other countries and ethnicities and with differing histories may be
considered second-class citizens in other parts of the world. They may find the experience of highlighting cultural
values painful and resist it as yet another form of colonialism. Not infrequently this purports cultural anger as
well. Other than possibly discussing this dynamic, we are still looking for means of addressing it.
- Individualistic cultural framework or education. We find this particularly in US participants and those strongly
educated in the USA, and to some degree in individuals originating in other Western or Anglophone countries.
In the USA it is easy to pick up the prevailing message that everyone is "unique," and along with it the attitude
that cultural characteristics are false assertions or irrelevant. I believe this feature of US thinking, while it has
been generalized in the culture and on the surface is well intentioned, is also often related to the immigrant experience
and the need that many have had or currently have to be in the closet about their identity in order to "make it" into
the dominant culture. It is in a sense a protest.
The Cultural Detective Values Lenses have been an incredibly valuable tool for us in this project,
transforming the depth and quality of the participants' interactions and learnings. I trust sharing a bit of our design will help spur
your creativity. Please let us know if you or someone you know can help us develop some of the other cultural packages we need. I also
look forward to hearing how you deal with what we are calling "identity pain" in your projects.