Living and working across cultures

by Jörgen Eriksson on June 26, 2013

Kofi Annan“We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race."

Kofi Annan, born in 1938, secretary general of the United Nations from 1997 until December 31, 2006. Born in Ghana and educated in the United States, Annan was the first UN secretary general from sub-Saharan Africa.

Sometimes we write about cultural challenges in the global workplace on this blog. Bearing is an international, multi-cultural consulting firm so the topic comes naturally to us as we travel and work with our clients across national and cultural boundaries. My colleagues Anders Fogelström and Maria Sporre have written several, in my opinion, smart articles on this topic.

With globalisation we have entered a multi-cultural world where understanding of each others background and culture is more important than ever. Culture can be understood and experienced in many ways. The best is most likely to live in the alien culture and learn it from within, as Anders Fogelström wrote about in this text, but doing so is a time consuming process and it does not prepare us for the initial chock of moving there.

bookshelfMedia can help us understand foreign cultures. Recorded music, cinema and television has helped a lot. Historically, however, it is in written and oral tradition that culture has been transferred across generations and explained to foreigners. The greatest legacy we have is the wealth of written books that have been published since Johannes Gutenberg invented mechanical printing and started the Printing Revolution, widely regarded as the most important event of the modern historical period.

Written language presents an extraordinary opportunity for sharing powerful multicultural perspectives. Multicultural literature opens up the world, allowing us all to hear voices both different from and similar to our own, both from within our own community and beyond. I remember in 2006 when I was a student at the Stockholm School of Economics and the Nigerian writer Woyle Soyinka won the Nobel Prize of Literature that year.

Kongi's Harvest (play).jpgI was in the audience when Soyinka delivered his Nobel acceptance speech, "This Past Must Address Its Present", which was devoted to Nelson Mandela. Soyinka’s speech was a criticism of apartheid and the politics of racial segregation imposed on the majority by the nationalist South African government. I found a link to a recording of the speech tonight, at the Nobel Prize Academy´s home page.

The next day I bought and read Soyinka´s book Kongi´s Harvest, which describes an African dictator who tries to reach his goal of modernization by any means necessary and despite tribal resistance. That book was my first introduction to African culture.

Powerful literature can transport the readers into a world where they can feel the joys and struggles of others and where they can inhabit the cultural landscape the characters live in. However of all the  130 million (according to Google) books that have been published in all of modern history, most of them are written by and for the western culture.

Yesterday, my colleague and friend Mandla Sibeko showed me the video of a TED talk that made me realise the challenge we have with this. The talk was by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a female Nigerian writer.

In the talk she makes an extraordinary argument for how our lives and our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories, and how she found her authentic cultural voice. She also warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. Below is the talk. Enjoy!

The Danger of a Single Story

About Jörgen Eriksson :

Jörgen Eriksson is the founder of Bearing and is the Chairman of the firm since it was created. He has successfully expanded Bearing into covering projects on four continents. He is also Adjunct Professor of Innovation Management at the International University of Monaco and at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona and he is an active member of the Founders Alliance organisation.

Working with consulting engagements across Bearings practices, he has over the past fifteen years participated in and supervised a large number of client projects, from innovation system development and place development and branding, to merger and acquisition assignments and leading edge research and business development activities for key clients.

His new book, Branding for Hooligans, will be published in 2015. It is about how innovation and branding are key survival factors in our modern times of hyper competitive markets.

Prior to Bearing, he was Director of Europe, Middle East, and Africa for Trema Treasury Management, a technology and consulting services provider, supplying financial software solutions for the global financial industry, Clients included The European Central Bank, Citibank, SEB, South African reserve Bank, Deutsche Bank, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), as well as many other large financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies.

Early in his career Eriksson was educated at the Stockholm School of Economics, where he studied economics, financial economics and philosophy. He then worked in Scandinavian investment banks and also for the Swedish Institute of National Defense Research.

You can contact Jörgen on e-mail, connect on LinkedIn onörgen-eriksson/0/38/8a0/ and follow him on twitter on joreri508.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jorgen Poulsen June 27, 2013 at 05:15

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