Holiday Reading – What’s good and worth tracking down

‘Indonesia, etc.: Exploring the improbable nation’ by Elizabeth Pisani.

PisaniIndonesia etc was a correspondent in Indonesia in the late 1980’s, returned a decade later as a medical researcher, and for a third time in 2011 to spend a year travelling the country. In her words “to look through the eyes of enough people in enough places…to piece the fragments together in to a portrait of the nation as a whole, to understand better the threads that tied the glorious disparity together”. To achieve this goal, Pisani committed to follow only one rule, to ‘Just say yes’. ‘Yes’ to invitations to tea with the Sultan, to sleep under a tree with a family of nomads, to join a wedding procession, etc.. And, as she says “because Indonesians are the among the most hospitable people on earth, this made for a lot of yesses…”. The result is a slice of Indonesia, the complex mix of islands, languages and ethnicities that makes up this improbable entity.

The book is written in a very engaging style, with fun and fascinating stories to keep things light while exploring themes of politics, change, globalisation and culture. Pisani’s humour, humility and genuine respect for the many cultures of Indonesia, and her fondness for the people she meets shines through in every chapter. I’d put it on top of my list.  But don’t just take my word for it, the Wall St Journal cite it as one of their ten best books of the year, The Economist also chose it as one of the nine best books on politics and current affairs.

‘From Vienna to Yogyakarta: the life of Herb Feith’ by Jemma Purdey

From ViennaWhat a fascinating man, and what a full life. Herb Feith has been a significant contributor to the Australia – Indonesia relationship. Herb’s family were WWII Austrian Jewish migrants to Australia, and the experience of his family contributed to his ongoing commitment to human rights and peace building. Herb first studied Bahasa Indonesia as a student in Melbourne in the early 1950’s and through a lifetime of academic work and commitment became one of Australia’s leading academics in the field of Asian studies and political science.

Herb worked tirelessly to further people-to-people relationships between Australia and Indonesia. He was the first Australian Volunteer to Indonesia, and a founding member of Australian Volunteers International, also being called upon to advise on the establishment of the Peace Corps in the United States.

The unsung hero in Herb’s life who really shines in the book is his wife Betty. The book is a fascinating look at the evolution and ebbs and flows of Indonesian studies in Australia. At 576 pages long it is lengthy, however an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

‘Wrong about Japan’ by Peter Carey

wrong about japanThis is by no means a new publication, published in 2004, however a recent discovery on my behalf.  Carey travels to Japan with his teenage son, Charley to explore the worlds of anime and manga. He meets leading filmmakers and experts in Japan, and attempts to delve into the deeper motivations and themes within the genre.   Carey also writes of the connection his son, an avid fan of manga has with a Japanese friend Takashi.

Carey, due to his fame, was able to access many of the leading players in the realm of anime and manga. Unfortunately he simply didn’t have the cultural, linguistic or interpersonal capabilities to make the most of these opportunities, in one interview explaining

“Mr Kitakubo responded to my written questions in the same style as every other damn Japanese I’d questioned. That is, he made it clear that nothing in this country was as I thought it was My misunderstandings were very interesting, he said.” ( p112)

Having travelled in Japan with my daughters recently, and visited Studio Ghibli which is featured, little of the magic was conveyed in this book. His exploration of his son’s connections and understanding of the genre and teenage friendship with Takashi are more insightful.

While it is one of Carey’s lesser-known and lighter works, this piece of writing provides a classic insight into the blunders, miscommunication, confusion and lack of understanding of Westerners in Japan.

Stakeholder engagement – How to make it work!

The challenge to find out what’s really going on and what people really think

incense1.jpgEnabling stakeholder feedback and two-way information flows can be challenging. However, intercultural communication skills and appropriate process are vital when engaging in stakeholder consultations with culturally diverse groups.

People in different organisational and cultural contexts have vastly different ways of interacting and engaging, and if you want to get feedback and know what people really think, there are some key strategies to ensure greater success:

1. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve

Don’t underestimate the power of thoroughly working through this with your team. Before embarking on stakeholder dialogue, ensure your team have a shared understanding of why  this is necessary and the process which will occur.  It can be immensely confusing to stakeholders and minimise trust if different reasons are mentioned by different representatives from the organiser.

2.  Engage with a representational group

Knowing who to engage with is critical. In many cultural contexts, the most accessible people may not be the most representational. They may be the most available, be the gender who are traditionally ‘spokespeople’ or the best English speakers.

Sometimes it’s better to use various engagement strategies for people at different levels. For example, a Country representative may meet for a formal lunch with senior Ministers or bureaucrats, while country staff meet with mid-level managers over a more formal casual lunch or small meetings.

3. Know how your intent might be perceived

In non-democratic political contexts, sharing information without permission can be risky.  What may be perceived as ‘sharing opinions’ in a Western context may be seen as criticism of the government in other cultures with potentially damaging personal consequences.

Don’t assume trust is a given or transparency and disclosure are easy.  In communist or socialist governments and in very hierarchical cultures, information is power and rarely shared openly. Instead it travels through trusted networks as a tradeable commodity and source of favour.

4.  Negotiate a process which meets everyone’s needs

When asking stakeholders what their needs are, sometimes it’s best to consult those with experience and knowledge of what works best.

For instance in most Asian cultures, putting people from different levels an organisation in a room and asking ‘what they think’ is highly ineffective. In many cases, the boss will speak on behalf of their team who will remain silent and share only positive information.

Often it’s more effective to have multiple smaller consultations rather than one large gathering. Wherever possible, ensure your stakeholders are in their comfort zone. Go to their world and where they feel comfortable.

5.  Ensure language is inclusive and relevant

Wherever possible, ensure stakeholders are speaking their first and most fluent language.  There are significant risks in conducting stakeholder engagement in English in non-English speaking countries.

Effectively engaging with local stakeholders can provide information to significantly influence project success and minimise the potential for violation of safeguards. Knowing in advance how your actions may be perceived, likely challenges and pitfalls and strategies to avoid them can minimise cost overruns, poor management choices and reduce risk.

The people ‘on the ground’ are the usually the most valuable resource in terms of insight and knowledge. Development of staff and employing specialist facilitators with the intercultural essentials of awareness, perspective, knowledge and capability, is critical.

Balancing the Global and the Local – the ‘What’ and the ‘How’

Balancing the need for consistency of process globally with the need to adapt to and respect local culture is a common challenge in global workplaces. However, this is not as simple as an either/or proposition. Sometimes there is the expectation that ‘When in Rome’ you should do as the Romans do.

mining safety-534517_ORIGINALWhen we are managing global workforces, the ‘what’ is often non-negotiable and universal. For example, in the mining industry, safety is a non-negotiable ‘what’ or practice. Yet, ‘how’ we achieve safety needs to be adjusted to fit into the local cultural context. In some cultures, there is a belief that nothing is ‘real’ or mandated until it is put in writing from management, and key safety processes need to be documented and distributed. In other more oral cultures, nothing is considered ‘real’ or significant unless it is heard from the mouth of a trusted friend or colleague. In such cultures, safety processes need to be discussed on a regular basis among teams.

What motivates is also a highly culturally specific thing. For example, avoidance of bringing shame onto ones’ own group will motivate appropriate behavior in some cultural contexts, whereas in other cultures such as that in Australia individual responsibility is emphasized. Particularly when it comes to performance incentives and motivation, cultural differences can have a huge impact on what works and what doesn’t. To try to introduce 360 degree feedback into a hierarchical culture can be disastrous and be a disincentive rather than engendering positive feedback.

So to ensure your global workforce is achieving, don’t forget – the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. And if you’re not sure ‘how’ and to adapt to local cultural norms, ensure you get specialist advice.

What’s wrong with the world? Can you see it in this clip?

Watch the clip and see if you can work out what’s wrong with the world…

Recently, while searching for video for our new website, this clip was the best we could find.  I thought I’d found what we’d needed in finally locating a globe that didn’t start and end on the USA or Europe, only to discover some fairly significant issues.  Did you notice them? Tasmania is missing, as is half of Indonesia, and some rather strange things have happened to the Malaysian peninsula.

compass_imageIt is all too easy to overlook the local, or to define the world in the eyes of the beholder with scant regard to the ‘detail’ on the ground.  What did you do when you looked at the map?  Typically we first locate our home.  Once we have oriented ourselves, only then do we scan the periphery and ‘other’ spaces.  If our home space isn’t accurately defined, recognised, acknowledged and respected we turn off, log off, or react with anger.  Our respect for those who have ignored or misrepresented us is greatly diminished.  We can feel ‘unseen’ and invisible in the eyes of the other.

When operating globally it is critical we recognise, engage with and respect the local.  This does not only require defining the ‘boundaries’ accurately and seeing what is local, but engaging with local perspectives, opinions and ensuring collaborative and two-way engagement.  Such engagement enables honest feedback and the challenging of (mis) perceptions and an essential education on what’s really going on at the local level.

As was discovered by the US forces in Afghanistan, and as is so often discovered by multinational companies attempting to sell standard products in local markets,  the local matters.  The capacity to ensure local participation, engagement, collaboration and partnership can make or break a mission, project or business.  Skills in intercultural collaboration, cross-cultural engagement and partnership are critical and must be front and centre of any effective global/local engagement.

Overcoming Unconscious Bias and Getting to Yes

One of the biggest challenges we face when working with diversity is the capacity to engage in dialogue with people we disagree with, without demonising the other.  As demonstrated so clearly by the impasse in the Australian parliament this week regarding the asylum seeker issue, our capacity to negotiate with, and reach agreement with people we may not agree with can be a matter of life and death.

As we learn more about neurology and perception, we know all of us are unconsciously biased in some way towards others who are ‘different’ to us.  Race, gender, sexual preference, disAbility, hair colour, political party – you name it, there is a bias towards it.  Test the theory by taking the Implicit Association Testhttp://www.iat.org .

There is always a risk of patronizing lecturing and ‘you should’ in conversations with ‘the other’.  Recent brain research also shows us that we look for reinforcement of our world view and discount evidence to the contrary.  Unfortunately, we are far less rational than we think.

What works to minimise bias, and assist in overcoming difference

  1. The capacity to empathise and relate on a human level, despite disagreement.  Jonothan Haidt in his new book ‘The Righteous Mind’ describes how politicians whose children are at the same school and are required to interact on a personal level are able to better distinguish between the person and their job.  Once the capacity to empathise on a one to one level is removed, politics gets nastier and less functional.
  2. The capacity to resist labeling, demonizing and judging.  To simply be able to say “I disagree with you on this” and accept that it is not necessary to demolish the other person’s credibility or attack their world-view and values is critical.  Attacking the world-view or values (regardless of the evidence base or logic) of the other person serves to reinforce their position.  When under threat, human beings reinforce their position, bunker down, look for allies and may attack in response.
  3. Taking an Appreciative Inquiry approach.  A willingness to put aside partisan perspectives and think rigorously about options often works best when we start with what we agree upon and what could be done. To focus on what doesn’t work, or what can’t be done, or critiquing other options from the beginning shuts down productive problem solving capacity.
  4. Engaging in values based negotiation – In other words, a recognition that if we collaborate together, we can make the pie bigger for all of us, rather than fighting over our half of the pie now.  Either/or win/lose negotiations are destined to be limited in results for all parties.  Values based negotiation takes a long term approach and looks for mutual benefit.
  5. Testing the validity of our approach through reversal.   Would it be appropriate if we were to be recipients of the approach we are recommending others take?  Really?  Think about their political and broader stakeholders.

Of course, for any of these strategies to be implemented or succeed, there must be: the genuine intention to address whatever issue is at hand, the self-esteem to acknowledge that we are not 100% right 100% of the time, and the interest in achieving a mutually beneficial outcome.

BI Update – What we’ve been up to lately…

It’s been a while – our silence has been caused by the busiest two months ever in the history of BI.  A good thing, but we are looking forward to a little time to digest the experiences of the last few months and do some writing and publishing.  The BI team has been constantly travelling and we’re looking forward to the Easter break to spend some time with friends and family.

Tom and his China map!

What we’ve been up to:

– Rolling out ‘Unconscious Bias’ training to the entire staff of a large financial institution focusing on the skills to engage with and leverage diversity

–  Delivering ‘Global Virtual Team Effectiveness’ Programs to corporate clients

– Delivering the Parents Understanding  Asia Literacy program around Australia.   I also went to Canberra to meet with Peter Garrett to discuss business needs for an Asia literate workforce.  Click here to see his related press release

– Meeting with the Review Team to provide input, and writing our submission into the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ Government Review. Click here to read.

–  Delivering ‘Re-entry’ de-briefings, ‘Pre-posting Training’, ‘Intercultural Effectiveness’ training and ‘Working with Local Staff’ training for internationally engaged government departments

–  Advising the CEO’s and Senior Leadership teams of three large companies who are navigating key challenges in Asia

Tom, Judy, John and Ramona at BI Planning Session

–  Working with the leadership team and staff involved at a corporate client to facilitate transitioning key work to Malaysia

–  Submitting a tender to renew our preferred provider status with the Dept of Immigration & Citizenship

–  Working with a highly diverse team of an International NGO in SEAsia focusing on enabling better intercultural collaboration, dialogue and engagement

–  Planning for the Australia Thailand Business Council key event on 28 May, and the 14th International Conference on Thai Studies

Phew!  I promise our next blog post will be a review of the great books and podcasts we’ve enjoyed over the Easter break.  Hope you have a good one.

Tamerlaine

My Favourite Poem – To an English Friend in Africa, by Ben Okri

Be grateful for the freedom to see other dreams. Bless your loneliness as much as you drank of your former companionships. All that you are experiencing now will become moods of future joys. So bless it all.

Do not think your way superior to another’s. Do not venture to judge, but see things with fresh and open eyes. Do not condemn, but praise when you can, and when you can’t, be silent.

Time now is a gift for you. A gift of freedom to think and remember and understand the ever perplexing past and to recreate yourself anew in order to transform time.

Live while you are alive. Learn the ways of silence and wisdom. Learn to act, learn a new speech. Learn to be what you are in the seed of your spirit. Learn to free yourself from all the things that have moulded you and which limit your secret and undiscovered road.

Remember that all things which happen to you are raw materials. Endlessly fertile. Endlessly yielding of thoughts that could change your life and go on doing so forever.

Never forget to pray and be thankful for all things good or bad on the rich road; for everything is changeable so long as you live while you are alive.

Fear not, but be full of light and love. Fear not, but be alert and receptive. Fear not, but act decisively when you should. Fear not, but know when to stop. Fear not, for you are loved by me. Fear not, for death is not the real terror, but life magically is.

Be joyful in your silence, be strong in your patience. Do not try to wrestle with the universe, but be sometimes like water or air, sometimes like fire, and constant like the earth.

Live slowly, think slowly, for time is a mystery. Never forget that love requires always that you be the greatest person you are capable of being, self-regenerating and strong and gentle–your own hero and star.

Love demands the best in us. To always and in time oversome the worst and lowest in our souls. Love the world wisely.  It is love alone that is the greatest weapon and the deepest and hardest secret.

So fear not, my friend. The darkness is gentler than you think. Be grateful for the manifold, dreams of creation, and the many ways of the unnumbered peoples.

Be grateful for life as you live it. And may a wonderful light always guide you on the unfolding road.

An Ode to the Local…

“Who are the people in your neighbourhood?…the people that you meet each day”

Our new office

We talk so frequently about the joys and realities of the global, yet an equal and necessary counterbalance is that of the local.  To belong and be a part of a community is so very important in this world of mobility, speed and change.  The capacity to connect and to be grounded in relationships that matter is essential for our wellbeing.  For our clients, the capacity to get involved with and belong to healthy communities, whether they be global or local, is essential.

What a joy to now have our business situated in the heart of a community of connected people who live and work in the one place. The capacity to have everything you need within a short walk, and so many close friends nearby is an absolute delight.  I travel interstate or internationally on an almost weekly basis, and there is nothing more special than coming ‘home’ to the community where our business resides.

The Marrickville main street is a vibrant mix of locally owned and run businesses.  McDonalds and KFC have both gone out of business here, and to sample some of the local food is to know just why. I often start the day with a coffee made by Sascha at Marrickville Road café – the guy who knows my family, and my kids. At the café, I’m guaranteed to bump into a few locals, our real estate agent, the beauticians from the local salon, or parents from the school. The alternative is Coffee Alchemy, known as ‘The Temple’ – a place where people come to wait and pay homage to the best coffee in Sydney.   At the time of day I was previously spending travelling to our city office in packed trains of cranky commuters, I now take my daughter to the local school.  At the assembly I, and a gaggle of other parents are greeted by 150 kids chorusing “good morning, parents up the back”.  The school teaches Vietnamese, Greek and Mandarin and is another hub of the local community.

At Beasley Intercultural we assist clients negotiate the challenges of traversing, engaging and working with highly complex and diverse communities. In recent months we have been fortunate to work with individuals involved in the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, also worked with senior corporate leaders in a multinational accounting company focusing on client engagement in complex, global contexts, and are preparing to facilitate discussions with the Community Detention Network in Australia with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Red Cross, The theme cutting across these contexts is that in our businesses and our organisations, we neglect the local, and the community at our peril.  The thread that binds, is the necessity of engaging with and acknowledging the existing strengths and resilience of diverse communities.

Community is what grounds us, what feeds our soul, and what enables us to be at our best.  Our capacity to get involved in, and connect with our community matters.

Our Parliamentary Submission & Global Leadership

Click here to read our submission to the recent Australian Joint Standing Committee on Migration.

I have been really enjoying reading Geoff Aigner’s book ‘Leadership beyond good intentions – what it takes to really make a difference’    So many of his points resonate with the experiences many of our clients are having with leadership in complex global contexts.  Aigner tells it how it is – leadership these days can be tough!  Leaders are faced with both the ‘fantasy’ version of the leader as ‘rescuer’ or ‘hero’ which is simply impossible to live up to, while being required to lead in a context where there are numerous complex and adaptive systems changes required.  While tempting, it is not possible to simply work harder and technically excel in such contexts.  Rather, leaders are required to: engage and connect with people who have very different world-views and ways of operating, navigate increasingly complex and dynamic markets and global systems; and concurrently transform the core systems of their organisation to ‘work’ within the new context.

Aigner explores the dynamics of power/compassion, authority/freedom, betrayal/trust/and identity among others.  I found a lot of parallels with the core Beasley Intercultural model which anchors so much of our work.  In globalising organisations and complex intercultural situations, we use our model SURF™

Stop & suspend judgement

Use your observation & listening skills

Recognise & respect common ground

Find common ground & be flexible in your approach

So much of the core skill required to perform in these contexts really comes down the the personal capacity of individuals to connect with others and be self-aware enough to negotiate difference.

 

Freedom of Expression in Asia – ‘What Can I Say?’


Workshop discussion

Last week I facilitated a forum in Jakarta on  ‘Freedom of Expression’ in Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia.  Beasley Intercultural were supporters of the event alongside the ABC, BBC, PPMN (Indonesian Association for Media Development), the Ford Foundation and the Australian Government.  The gathering brought together media, journalists and bloggers from across the region.  The event coincided with the launch of the podcast/radio series ‘What Can I Say’ on BBC and ABC.  It is always deeply satisfying to facilitate dialogue among groups of people with great depth of personal knowledge and experience, and such important topics to discuss.  Click the links below to listen to the podcasts/programs:

‘What Can I Say?’ Thailand

‘What Can I Say?’ Cambodia

What Can I Say?  Indonesia

‘What Can I Say?’ Singapore

It was interesting timing, with events in Tahir square in Egypt unfolding at the same time.  The BBC broadcast live from the conference venue in Jakarta (albeit at 1am Jakarta time), interviewing panelists and crossing live to Tahir square to speak to fellow bloggers and social media specialists.  Concurrently, events relating to reactions to freedom of expression were also unfolding near Jakarta with the burning of two churches and the killings of three members of the Ahmadiyya movement.  Such developments focused conversations on the potential to mobilise groups through the immediacy of social networks, and the inherent freedoms and risks involved.

Key elements of the workshop discussion I found most interesting were the focus on the tension between ‘Freedom of Expression’ and ‘Freedom of Religion’ – what

Bambang Harymurti, CEO/Publisher Tempo Magazine

happens when expression challenges local religious truths?  Participants in the workshop explored the cultural sensitivities around interpretation and analysis and the necessity for understanding the audience.  Cultural change was also a key topic – how cultures are dynamic and do change, and an insightful discussion of power structures driving and benefiting from change ensued.

An insightful keynote presentation was provided by Mr Bambang Harymurti, CEO and Publisher of the Tempo magazine in Indonesia who reminded the audience of the importance of exploring alternate perspectives free of judgement.  Other speakers included: Mick Bunworth Executive Producer Al Jazeera English Asia-Pacific; Nezar Patria, Chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists in Indonesia; AlexAu Waipang and Supinya Klangnarong, political bloggers from Singapore and Thailand.  The most eye opening of presentations was on the depth of twitter and facebook penetration of Indonesia.  Indonesia is the biggest ‘twitter’ population on the planet, and the second largest Facebook, and the use of the platforms are having some fascinating impacts on social movements.

As one participant so eloquently put it – “Just because we have new platforms for communicating, it doesn’t change who we are.  A computer is just a vehicle, a piece of technology.  It is the human being who is the driver that makes the difference.  What we say, why and how we say it is what matters.  It is easy to forget with the proliferation of social networking that ultimately it is people, with human fears, needs and concerns which utilise these platforms”.

Tamerlaine.