Before setting out to explore the Holy Land in March of this year, there were two books that I decided to read in preparation of my trip overseas. These books included Dr. David Livermore’s Leading with Cultural Intelligence and Dan Senor’s Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. This journal serves as a testament to the key concepts, principles, and ideals that were most striking to me as I prepared to journey to Israel.
Leading with Cultural Intelligence
Having traveled to more than thirty different countries, I have had the privilege to experience customs, colors, smells, foods, and peoples around the globe. Sadly, there have been times when I have allowed myself an attitude of arrogance in thinking that I am well versed in travel and thus have nothing left to learn. Some of this arrogance stems from accolade I have received while overseas as I have been told on multiple occasions that I am different than many foreign travelers. The difference is often cited in the sense that I have a deep appreciation and respect for the customs and cultures I am immersed in. This often is portrayed through a willingness to try and do everything and anything put in front of me. I have a personality that is adventurous, relaxed, and confident. But while I enjoy finding myself absorbed in a new journey, I am often humbled by the fact that, despite all my experiences, I have a great deal to be educated on. This rang true even as I prepared for the trip to Israel by reading Livermore’s Leading with Cultural Intelligence.
Livermore’s book, though relatively short, had a myriad of advice regarding travel preparation and cultural planning. The premise of the text is that the world is flattening and we are finding ourselves interacting with people who represent a plethora of cultures and countries worldwide. For example, at my university, I not only work with students who live in the United States, but I also have the privilege of working with international students from as many as forty other countries. There are days where I literally could be answering an email from a student in Turkey, Skyping with a student in China, and having a student visit from Guatemala. Certainly with as many students I work with from diverse backgrounds, the ability to understand each culture could be overwhelming, especially for someone with little international experience. Instead of feeling overcome though, Dr. Livermore explains, “cultural intelligence is an ability uniquely suited for the barrage of cultures faced by most contemporary leaders. Rather than expecting individuals to master all the norms of the various cultures encountered, cultural intelligence helps a leader develop an overall repertoire and perspective that results in effective leadership (or interaction),” (Livermore, 2010). In other words, the point of cultural intelligence is not to know and understand every custom of every culture, but to have a framework to intelligently interact with people across the cultural spectrum.
Beyond this initial premise, Dr. Livermore developed his book on the Four Dimensional Model of Cultural Intelligence, which includes an individual’s drive (motivation CQ), knowledge (cognitive CQ), strategy (metacognitive CQ) and action (behavioral CQ) in order to reap the benefits of cross-cultural interaction. The initial principle, CQ drive, which “includes three sub-imensions: intrinsic motivation -the degree to which you derive enjoyment from culturally diverse situations; extrinsic motivation-the tangible benefits you gain from culturally diverse experiences; and self-efficacy-the confidence that you will be effective in a cross-cultural encounter,” is the concept that stands out to me to the greatest degree (Livermore, 2010). Just like Dr. Livermore, I am completely energized in cross-cultural environments. To some degree, I would argue I am comfortable and invigorated in a diverse environment because I was raised in an extended family that is biracial, both in terms of marriages and in terms of children that have been adopted from all around the globe. As a result, I grew up celebrating ethnic, racial, and cultural differences. Arguably my motivation or cultural drive is a combination of nature and nurture, regarding this area of strength in my cultural intelligence.
While motivational CQ might very well be my strength, strategic CQ could very well be my weakness. “The three subdimensions of CQ strategy are awareness, planning, and checking. Awareness means being in tune with what’s going on in ourselves and others. Planning is taking time to prepare for a cross-cultural encounter-anticipating how to approach the people, topic, and situation. Checking is monitoring our interactions to see if our plans and expectations were appropriate (Livermore, 2010). The most significant area of weakness for me would be during the planning stage of strategic CQ. I think the issue is twofold. First, since I have done a fair amount of traveling, I find myself feeling as though my general knowledge is suitable for every situation. Thus I find myself asking the question as to why I would spend a significant amount of time preparing when I am confident in my abilities. This certainly can be a prideful and arrogant excuse. Second, I think there is a part of me that can be so relaxed that it could almost be considered laziness. Obviously I am not perfect with every cross-cultural interaction and there could very well be times when I have ignorantly treated someone inappropriately because I was too lazy to aptly plan. But reflecting on this stage, and knowing I need to improve in this area, I think there are two areas I can specifically develop. These areas include preparation in understanding a cultures history and learning more of a country’s language. Too often, for example, I find myself dependent on either translators or nationals knowing English. And there have been occasions when that language barrier has placed me into some difficult or challenging circumstances. An instance where this occurred was when I was last in Thailand. After flagging down three taxis, I finally found a driver who knew enough English to navigate me to my hotel on the other side of Bangkok. But after roughly a thirty-minute drive, I found myself in front of the wrong hotel. Fortunately, I have always been good at charades, so after fifteen minutes of gesturing, the driver finally understood where I needed to be. Of course this scenario was somewhat a part of the journey or experience for me as I can be a bit of an adrenaline junkie. But if ever a situation were to turn sour, I could have really been caught in a terrible bind and knowing at least a bit of the language could potentially ease some of the tension.
The final concept I want to highlight from Livermore’s book is the importance of food. Growing up in the Baptist denomination, there has always been a high priority placed on food. I remember many of my Sunday evenings included gatherings around potlucks, or finger-food-fellowships, as I like to affectionately refer to them. Scripture is not silent on the topic of food either. For example, Christians remember Christ’s sacrifice through the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine. While the Last Supper is certainly symbolic and vital to the Christian faith, Dr. Livermore notes, “In most cultures, eating together has far more symbolic value than simply ‘grabbing a bite to eat.’ Sharing a meal together can often be viewed as a sacred event,” (Livermore, 2010). The first time I truly understood this concept was when a friend I met in Singapore had invited me over to her home to have a prepared meal. Prior to my visit, I found out that her mother had taken the entire day off of work to cook an authentic Chinese meal, complete with stingray, black chicken soup, rice, broccoli, and many other dishes. When I arrived for dinner an entire feast had been prepared. I certainly noticed the sacrifice this family made to have me for dinner, as they were a family of very modest means. To them, this dinner was very sacred and meant for social interaction, not the typical dine-and-dash that we are so accustomed to in the United States.
Overall, I felt that Livermore’s book was an eye opening read that has challenged me to become a more thoughtful international traveler. My overseas experiences have vaulted me forward in my cultural intelligence, but there is a great deal that I have yet to be educated on.
Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle
Having lived in both the United States and Singapore, I have become very familiar with countries of economic strength, noting that the might is often derivative of the nation’s business industry and capitalist policy. When it comes to start-ups though, my attention is immediately directed to Silicon Valley, which is known for the billions of dollars in tech start-up investments that flow through the San Franciscan city.
Before reading Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, I would have never had guessed that the tiny Jewish nation would have such a vibrant business industry with an economic climate that incentivizes and stimulates innovation. Certainly some of my ignorance stems from former knowledge that Israel is a country that is not much bigger than the state of New Jersey and that Israel literally has no natural resources. So it has always seemed to me as a country with very little economically to offer. Combine that with the fact that they are constantly in a state of war and one would ask how anything could be accomplished in such an oppressive environment. Despite these negative valuations though, Dan Senor does a masterful job assessing the nation’s tech savvy and inventive culture.
The astonishing success of Israel’s start-up industry, according to Senor, is based on a number of factors. One of these factors is in regards to the requirement of all citizens of Israel to gain multidisciplinary military training, whether male or female. Of course one of the reasons Israel requires military training of its citizens is due to the fact that the country is surrounded by nations on every border that would like to see the nation completely wiped from the map of the earth. But despite that obvious implication, the mandatory military training provides an excellent and disciplined skillset for the people of Israel. Second, from a cultural perspective, the Jewish people embrace the ideal that failure breeds education. In other words, the culture within Israel leaves plenty of room for individuals to learn from their mistakes. And another observation made by Senor is in regards to the diverse history of the people of Israel. Since Israel was not officially formed, in modern history, as a nation until after World War II, the Jewish people were spread around the globe in countries such as the United States, Russia, and Ireland. These people immigrated back to their homeland, bringing with them various degrees of higher education, diverse cultural perspectives related to the countries they once lived, and even a great deal of financial capital, which is a result of their innate ingenuity.
Speaking of ingenuity, one example of the nation’s start-up industry, more in terms of innovative spirit, is in regards to our MBA group visit to the Golan Olive Oil Mill. It is no surprise that Israel is known for their olives and olive oil industry. Even in ancient times, olive oil was produced in Israel. But for thousands of years, the pulp of the olive, which is what remains after the oil has been meticulously extracted, is left to waste, often-discarded back into the environment. Unfortunately, the remnants of the olive after production can lead to poor environmental impacts, such as polluting valuable water supplies. So in an effort to waste less of the olive and eliminate the harmful affects of olive waste, the Golan Olive Mill found alternative uses for the whole olive, which include the development of external application skin-care products. And it is this resourcefulness that resounds throughout Israel to make them known as a start-up nation.
Overall, I found Senor’s work to be very educational. As I noted previously, I had little understanding of the business environment, let alone the innovative side, of Israel. And I think there is a lot to be learned from Israel’s people and their economic environment, especially as it relates to the future vitality of the United States.
Livermore, D.A. (2010). Leading with cultural intelligence: The new secret to
success. NY: AMACOM. ISBN: 978-0-8144-1487-3
Senor, Dan. (2011). Start-up nation: The story of Israel’s economic miracle.
NY: Twelve. ISBN: 978-0-446-54146-6