Tag Archives: global

12 Things I Learnt at the Washington Conference

Just back from the wonderful FIGT (Families in Global Transition) Conference in Washington DC http://www.figt.org/2011_conference and I am sitting in groggy but rapt contemplation of all that I have seen, heard, encountered and learnt.   I feel somewhat like a boa constrictor who has just swallowed a very large animal and now needs a bit of time to digest.

Conference logo

Washington DC. March 17-19

Here are just a few of the small and big revelations of the past five days, in no particular order:

1) American conferences are slick, well-organised and colour-coordinated, even when run by volunteers.  But yes, the air conditioning is fierce…

2) With concurrent sessions, there will always be clashes between two or even three or four sessions that you really, really want to attend.  Resign yourself to the fact that you cannot possibly see them all.  Or, even better, go with a friend, divide up the sessions and ensure both take copious notes.

3) Interculturalists love to talk and meet people!  It was the friendliest atmosphere I have ever experienced at a conference.  The emphasis seemed to be upon collaboration rather than competition (which, having been to some academic conferences, is not always the case).

4) Despite your good intentions, you will come home loaded with books.  Yes, I could have bought them afterwards on Amazon and had them delivered to my house, but what would I have read on the plane?  And how else would I have got the authors to sign them?  Expect some book reviews shortly.

5) You’ll get a lifetime’s worth of memorable quotes.

6) Everyone hates the term ‘trailing spouse’.  Thanks to Jo Parfitt, writer,  publisher and global nomad http://www.joparfitt.com/ ,who suggested that maybe we should refer to this category as STARs (spouses travelling and relocating) and STUDs (spouses transitioning under duress).

Now, excuse me while I settle back to digest some more….

Ah, I hear you say, but where are the remaining 6 things you have learnt?  There will be another blog post later this week about this, I promise!


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The Cross-Cultural Wizard

The Times called him ‘the ultimate hybrid’, which sounds rather strange and robotic until you remember that this man does run two of the biggest car manufacturers in the world, Nissan and Renault.  But to me he is a cross-cultural wizard.  Who am I talking about?  Carlos Ghosn, of course!

Carlos Ghosn in Action

So am I just adding to the column inches of all the journalists and even market analysts who have fallen under his spell, even if they don’t quite fall in love with the first mass-market electric car, the Nissan Leaf?  Well, I think he is a remarkable example of that new breed of ‘global leader’ and we are going to need many more of those in the future.

Born in Brazil to a French mother and Lebanese father, he spent part of his childhood in Lebanon, then went to study in Paris and started his working life as a trainee at Michelin.  I remember when he took over as president of Nissan in 2000, my Japanese contacts (and many others) were predicting failure.  There was no way Nissan would accept to play second fiddle to Ghosn’s Renault responsibilities and loyalties.  But ten years later, he has surprised them all. 

He has managed to avoid a full merger of the two companies, and I do genuinely believe that is not because it wouldn’t be good for the stock price or market share or marketing strategies.  Because it might well benefit all of those, at least in the short term.  But I think he has listened to his employees and understood the different cultures and the strong sense of identity that each company has.  There is no point in creating synergy by enforcing sameness.  Instead he shares his time, but I believe above all his listening skills and his enthusiasm, very skillfully between the two companies, navigating easily between the two national and corporate cultures and even languages.  He learnt Japanese, which is by no means an easy language, quite late in life.

What other examples of such leaders can you think of?  Not many.  I am hopeful, however, that the younger generation will think Ghosn’s trajectory is not exceptional, but the norm.

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Giving too much away

I was honoured to be part of a discussion panel on BlogTalkRadio last night.  Together with two fantastic women entrepreneurs, Mala Shah and Maggie Currie, as well as our host, Lillian Ogbogoh, we discussed whether women entrepreneurs (and some men too) feel obliged to give too much away for free in order to attract clients.  How can we value what we do and make sure our clients value it too?

Have a listen and see what you think.

Do You Have Value or Are You For Free?

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Entrepreneurialism: What Does It Mean?

The word ‘entrepreneur’ was coined back in the 18th century and has since entered our common understanding as ‘someone who risks things in order to purse an opportunity’.  It is the backbone of the capitalist society and I associate it with Weber’s Protestant work ethic, although you can have an excellent work ethic and still be short of ideas and passion… and thus not an entrepreneur.   Or at least not quite what we imagine an entrepreneur to be.  Long live our images of the ‘ideal entrepreneurs’, such as Richard Branson, Anita Roddick, Bill Gates and so on.

However, Stanford Professor Kathleen M. Eisenhardt’s definition of ‘entrepreneurship’ is more interesting: it’s about ‘organising and strategising in disequillibrium’.

Prof. Eisenhardt on Entrepreneurship

  Which seems to me to be a pretty good definition of great global leadership.  A nascent market, as Prof. Eisenhardt calls new, unproven markets, is very much like a new culture that you are trying to enter.   It’s like being taken out of your nice warm bubble-bath and plunged somewhere in the middle of the ocean.  In the dark.  In a fog.  You don’t know where you are, you can’t find your bearings, you can barely make out the sounds around you or know how to interpret them. 

Entrepreneurship is all about finding that market, giving it shape and clearly demarcating it.   Likewise, global leadership is about finding your limbs when plunged in that ocean, learning to navigate and starting to enjoy the swim.

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St. Nicholas Is an Unfair Racist

In our (very international) house St. Nicholas arrives in the early hours of the 6th of December and puts chocolates and fruit in the neatly-polished shoes of the good children, while the naughty children get charcoals and sticks.  If the shoes aren’t polished and tidy, he may not leave anything, so it’s a good strategy to get children to confront the scuff marks on their school shoes at least once a year.

This is the Central and East European heritage in our family.  Since we have a number of Christmas traditions to choose from, we do a real pick and mix, to the utter enjoyment of the children and complete exhaustion of the parents.  In addition to St. Nicholas on the 6th of December, we put up our tree on Christmas Eve and  get a visit from Santa during the night of the 24th of December, find a figure in our galette on the 5th of January and have to take down the decorations by the 6th of January, when the Three Kings finally make their appearance.  We have renounced the Austrian Christkind on the evening of the 24th for obvious going to bed reasons, and the Greek Agios Vassilis on the 1st of January, but only because it coincides with a family birthday.

Normally this works well, although we do get the occasional protest that everyone else seems to have their tree up and outside lights on for weeks before us.  On the whole, the children enjoy having more than one set of celebrations to look forward to.  This year, however, my elder son (the one who is getting suspicious of Santa’s ability to be in multiple places simultaneously) conducted a survey among his school friends and discovered no one else had received treats in their boots from St. Nicholas.  ‘Not even Jack, Mummy, and he is a really good boy.’

So how to explain?  Surely I couldn’t get away with saying that all British children had unpolished boots?  I tried to suggest that St. Nicholas only checks up on Continental European children to make sure they are behaving and then hands over the list to Santa, while Santa deals with the British children directly.  (Amazing what proficient liers we become just to boost the reputation of a bearded fellow dressed in red, whom we would nowadays ban from playgrounds if he started handing out sweets to our children!)

‘But that’s not FAIR!  That’s not very nice of St. Nicholas at all, to ignore children here in Britain…’  Apparently, having to deal with Santa directly, without the benefit of a mediator, is not a bonus, but a raw deal.

So there we have it, St. Nicholas is a racist, Santa is a scary, excessive multi-tasker and why can’t we write Christmas cards for our friends Indu, Aman, Raja, Fatima, Karim…?

How do you explain different Christmas customs to children without destroying the magic of Santa?  Or the fact that some children do not celebrate Christmas at all?  Or should we just forget the whole ‘naughty and nice’ thing?

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So… where do you come from?

How I dreaded this question when I was younger! It always meant going into far too much detail or turning the question around: ‘Do you mean where I was born or where I am living now or…?’

But now I relish it, as I find that more and more of my friends are in a similar position. We are what is known as ‘third culture kids.’

Personally, I don’t like that phrase. First of all, many of us are no longer kids (although we probably were when we first got exposed to foreign cultures). Secondly, many of the people I know are actually fifth or sixth culture individuals, that is, they operate within more than just two cultures (their parents’ culture and the culture of the country they are growing up in). I much prefer the term ‘global nomads’ (although that makes us sound a bit shifty and feckless) or ‘global citizens’.

James Gannon, 13, who has personal experience of growing up in several cultures, argues that it is a very different experience from growing up in a multicultural environment. There has to be more than just some influence from other cultures, it has to be complete immersion in one culture after another to the point where ‘the differences don’t matter any more and what becomes most important are the similarities’.

As I look around at the growing number of second-generation nomads that I am meeting, I think the definition needs to be expanded. First of all, many of these children are growing up in households where the parents were exposed later to different cultures, but have nevertheless wholeheartedly embraced them and can never go back to being monocultural.

What do I mean?

Well, a lot of us went to study abroad and met our life partners there (who were also from a different country). So we got married, settled in the country where we met or perhaps yet another country, and had children who belonged to perhaps 3-4 cultures simply by virtue of their birth.

What do I call the daughter of a French father, Chinese mother, who is growing up in England but spending her summers in France? What about the children of the half-Spanish, half-Australian mother and German father, whose household language is English, but are now living in Greece?  Maybe these children are even more immersed in the local culture than the children of diplomats and other expats, because they do not attend expensive international schools and grow up in gated communities. They have that immediate relationship with the local society, warts and all, that only having relatives and friends in that society can confer you.  And they spend quite a good portion of the year in other countries as well.

Perhaps the best way to test if someone is a global nomad is by asking the question: ‘Where are you from?’.  If they hesitate and launch into lengthy and complicated explanations, then they probably are.

So I tested this on my own children.  OK, they are only 4 and 6, but they weren’t sure what to answer, other than their current street and house number. I know they will never view Greece or Romania as tourists, but as insiders. They also feel a special attachment to France and Switzerland, where we lived for nearly two years. They are British citizens and speak English among themselves.

Oh, they may be restless and footloose later on in life… (Then again, they may crave stability and become really conservative.) But they will have choices. They will love several countries and be able to mediate between different cultures. They may be a bit stumped as to which national football team to support in the World Cup.  Then again – more choice, less chances of going out in the first round!. But I am pretty sure they won’t be brainwashed by nationalistic rhetoric and will always be able to see the other side in an argument.

That’s got to be worth something, hasn’t it?


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