Chairman and CEO, Transformation, LLC.
Changing the world for the better is a subject on the minds of many individuals and business organizations at this time. The pandemic has caused many of us to realize that the ways we live our daily lives and how we travel and use the earth’s resources could be matters of life and death; and we see more clearly now that pollution and climate change, the pandemic and even social injustice are arising from procedures in the laboratory that we call Planet Earth.
Travel is a source of inspiration as well as a furnace for burning precious resources. And as an additional dimension, travel has been, throughout human history, a catalyst for cultural change.
Travel As A Catalyst
In human history, the travels of Alexander the Great, Marco Polo and the New World Explorers were all preludes to migrations and cultural chemistry that produced new civilizations. And even in the history of the modern world, travel was the platform for the British Commonwealth, the birth and settlement of Louisiana and the Gold Rush in the U.S. (which led to a new and different kind of wealth). And we all know many lives today shaped by the World Wars, which exposed people to places they would have never visited in peacetime. Even the birth of the Renaissance was depicted as the Journey of the Magi on the frescoes of the Chapel of the Palazzo Medici in Florence.
Travel As Innovation
Travel challenges the human mind to innovate. At the same time, travel forces all of us to think about how our travel is consuming precious resources. Innovation and sustainability are becoming exponentially more essential for organizations and, at the same time, intertwined in our destiny.
Sustainability has become a growing business imperative as well as an ethical call for action. At the root of this prerequisite for doing business today is highly informed customers, new ways of thinking and the constant rise of new global competitors in the market, making it crucial to develop creative but consistent solutions to retain and strengthen competitive advantage.
Travel As Immigration
Globalization has also led to an increase in immigration and created more cultural diversity in organizations. Travel causes people to rethink where they wish to live. Leaders, managers and employees are all facing the new challenges, incentives and opportunities of thriving in multinational teams.
Culturally diverse teams often generate more innovative solutions to organizational challenges. Because of the various perspectives they bring, creative new ideas can contribute to competitive advantage. Research has also shown that diverse teams are able to respond quickly and imaginatively to changing environments and emerging customer demand.
The Beginning Of The Journey
At the beginning of a person’s journey as a student, studying abroad can be a powerful and unique opportunity to gain insight into different cultures. Such insight can later be applied in a business environment and help a leader recognize and leverage diversity within an organization. This is especially true if the organization is international. Having studied abroad can give candidates a competitive advantage in the job market. Recruiting from a talent pool of applicants who have the unique perspective that international travel provides can allow companies to deepen the creative and innovative strength of their bench.
Even though people are impatient to see immediate solutions to the crisis, the reality is that changing the world for the better is the gradual result of a long-term process requiring vision, understanding, patience and respect for science, and changing the human mind and soul can begin with education.
When I look at my life, the experience that caused the most significant long-term change was my cultural exchange to Italy through the Fulbright Scholarship. Today, I am honored to serve on the board of directors of The Fulbright Canada Foundation to give back to the program and pass along the gift of international cultural exchange.
The Importance Of Nuance
Most people visit countries for just a few days or maybe a week, but they don’t typically experience the depth of a country’s culture the way you do when you live there. I learned, for example, that in the small family-owned shops in Florence at that time, the goods were not marked with prices and that the owner was permitted to discriminate among his customers based on their ability to pay. If he understood that you were rich, you would be asked to pay more for the item than if you were poor. The other interesting thing is that you were often rewarded for your loyalty and longevity so that if the store owners think you’re a tourist passing through, they might charge you $20 for a haircut, but if you’re a long-term local resident, the price might be $2. In Italy, long-term residence and respect for history are integrated into the culture.
Understanding cultural nuances is, in many contexts, the key to success in international business. While the foundation of a business may be technology, ultimately, success is a function of marketing and sales. Success in marketing and sales is a direct result of understanding the local culture and the unwritten rules of cultural nuance. Whether you’re creating a joint venture, investing in a new company or building sustainable infrastructure in a foreign country, understanding and respecting the other person’s culture is the first step toward success in all cross-border business.
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