World Culture: Experiences and trying new things

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

― St. Augustine


I remember the very first time I saw and felt snow. It was a wonder, different from anything I had experienced before then. Not because it is something spectacular, though it was in a sense, but because for a very long time I had read books, seen movies and listened to songs in which snow was central to the tale… Christmas was always ‘white’, as was the description from the eponymous ‘Snow White’. For me, snow represented something far away, magical and fantastic. That was a long time ago. Nowadays, whenever it snows, I think of the fact that it can be quite treacherous and dangerous to walk or drive on once it turns to black ice. Something you never read about in the fairy tales. To me, this simplistically exemplifies the marked differences that might exist between an idealized version and reality of something.


To a greater degree, such differences also exist between what we might read or hear about, and the reality of a people or place. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once wrote that there is a danger to a single story. ” … the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” In my experience every place I have been to, and people I met there, has been quite different from the reality. My experience of the Middle East, including some of the apparently most conservatively religious countries there, has been markedly different from the preconceived ideas, shaped by the narrative pushed by the media, I had prior to my going there. I have fond memories of Jeddah and Riyadh, including eating Kabsa with my hands and drinking very sweet Turkish coffee, whilst sitting on the floor in a tradition Arab setting. I have come to make friends of people that I might have feared as the bogeyman ‘other’. The most fun part (besides the amazing food and shopping!) of traveling is meeting new people and making new friends. You meet people from different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. You will learn valuable lessons and stories from each person you meet that will make the trip even more memorable. You’ll gain insights into their way of life and their beliefs. Not only will you gain tons of knowledge, but your personality will also develop. You’ll come to see and appreciate your own culture from a different perspective. You can even keep in touch with them when you come back home and continue to experience and share from across the world.


It is interesting to note how preconceived notions and generalisations, often imbibed from our family and friends as we grow up, are torn down once we get to meet and experience the very ‘other’ people the notions target. Some might think that bigotry is only a white versus black thing. I would argue that tribalism is a facet of bigotry. Ask any detribalised Nigerian, and he will tell you that he/she is well travelled across the nation. Ditto anyone who has travelled the world. You learn to become more social, flexible, open minded, and independent. Exposure to different cultures or diversity will lead to better judgment; you will meet people of different religions, colour, race, educational and professional backgrounds as well as points of view and political persuasions. In case you needed a scientific reason for traveling, studies show that individuals who experience or adopt new cultures have enhanced creativity than individuals who hadn’t experienced a new culture. These interactions facilitate idea flexibility, increase awareness of underlying connections and associations, and helps to overcome functional fixedness.


So, do yourself some good, go to the ranch at Obudu, go snorkelling in the Maldives, shop at a souk and visit the massive 17th-century Blue Mosque and the circa-1460 Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, go see the Taj Mahal or visit a night market in Bali. Wherever you go, do yourself a favour and go explore the world. It will be more beneficial than you might think.


Diversity in the workplace – A new perspective to team working


One of the key attributes for organisations in the digital era, is the ability to respond in a nimble way to the requirements of the marketplace in which they operate. To do this successfully, organisations have to adequately understand the issues their customers face, and proffer solutions that tackle them; whilst keeping in view the wide variations in the life experiences of their customer base, which impact on how acceptable a solution might or might not be. Diversity in the workplace often provides the basis for which a wide range of views and solutions can be provided.


Ask anyone what they understand diversity in the workplace to mean, and the response would typically be about ensuring gender, ethnic or race balance among staff, but might include, depending on the location of the organisation, religious plurality and blindness to sexual orientation. While these are indeed important dimensions that need addressing through appropriate human capital recruitment strategies, an important element that is currently receiving attention, is diversity of thought within organisations as a whole, but teams in particular.


A recent Harvard Business Review publication considers the effect of cognitive diversity on the success or failure of teams. It defines cognitive diversity as “differences in perspective or information processing styles”. Essentially, this relates to the differences in how people consider and address challenges, based on their individual life experiences, backgrounds and culture, and how these translate into how they might consume information or proffer/create solutions to problems.


Cognitive diversity presents itself in ways that are easy to overlook. People hire from sources they are familiar with, for example a lot of hires are alumni of the same schools (where the same way of thinking is typically taught), and of similar backgrounds as those that recruit them. More importantly, people hire or build teams of those who think like them, ensuring that there is very little conflict as a result of diversity of thought, but limiting the likelihood of ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions to problems.


Having teams with people from different disciplines offers one solution to diversity in the workplace and helps in remediating this issue. However, ensuring that there is diversity in the life experiences of members of teams and organisations, by hiring differently, reduces the inclination to conform to fixed norms, and the improves the likelihood of having successful teams and organisations.