Globalization is an unavoidable truth. The world has changed a lot over the decades, and in that time we have transitioned from being a planet of fairly isolated industries to a global unit that crosses all borders and feeds off the people, resources, and cultures of countries that may not even be our neighbors. That’s the way of the world, and it is only getting smaller with every passing day.
For that very reason, leadership in every company needs an individual or individuals who fundamentally understand the varying differences between cultures and countries. The ability to look with great detail at the decision making ability and the cultural norms tied to a specific company is paramount to the success of your business. To truly understand the inner workings of your relationship with a particular business or community is a deal-making opportunity, and it’s one that no company can pass up if they want to succeed and grow.
The common misconception that cultures are isolated in today’s world is tied to a mentality that is flawed to its core. Many companies believe that they are an exception to globalization, all because they operate in a small area, they cater to a specific group, or they are restricted to working in one country, county, or community. Unfortunately for these organizations, they are heading down a path that leads them to falling very far behind, and possibly resulting in them losing touch with their customer base to a level that they will not be able to continue competing in the not-too-distant-future.
You see, the problem with believing that you are an exception to globalization is based on the flawed belief that globalization is only impacted by your personal social and professional reach. By saying “Well I only operate on the East Coast of the United States, so I only need to know about Americans that live on the East Coast” says two things: The first is that you do not recognize the fact that the East Coast is populated with countless thousands of cultures and sub cultures, all impacted by people coming and going from different parts of the country, and even entering and exiting from around the world. The second thing this says is that you, as a company, fail to recognize that the building-blocks of your business, no matter what it may be that you do, are pieced together from products, teachings, and practices provided by all parts of the planet.
“No, that’s not true, I am an American company!” Is that so? Well, let’s think about that for a second shall we? Let’s say you sell T-Shirts that say “Proud American!” which must be an american product, right? Not necessarily, actually. Your cotton could be coming from Brazil, your production done in Bangladesh or Indonesia, your shipping handled by a Chinese shipping vessel through an international channel, your customer service could be based in India, your marketing firm is from Australia, your investor capital is coming from Germany, and the final production piece, say a pocket on the front of the shirt and the label attached to the finished product, is done in the USA. Right there, you are touching seven different countries in a single sweep, just to build a single T-shirt, and each of those countries has its own cultures and subcultures, its own practices, its own form of manners, its own style of business, its own ethical values, its own legal values, and its own personal goals.
But lets pretend that isn’t the case shall we? Let’s pretend that you somehow got every single piece of your design from the United States, and no external hands touched it anywhere else along the way. When you distribute this item, who do you think is buying it? The most common misconception here, especially for First Culture Kids who have spent the majority of their lives, or all of their lives, in one city/town/state/county, is that they rarely realize their market. I say this out of personal experience; Your market is never what you expect. So, FCKs generally assume their market is people like them (continuing our T-shirt making company example), natural born Americans with a good strong accent from [insert location here] who love all things America. But what about everyone else? Not only was this country born on globalization, it has continued to be a hub for people from all over the world. In 2012, almost a million people became Americans, and this number does not include a single person born here. Those people are new citizens, people who came here from somewhere else, a great many of whom love America and want to show their support, a group of people with different backgrounds and different cultures to that of County X. These people are going to be a big part of your market.
And so we come to the point of it all: Why should I, as an HR Director or an owner of a small local company, care? What does a Third Culture Kid have to offer that the guy down the street doesn’t? Well, maybe nothing. People are all different. But, from a law of averages perspective, TCKs naturally offer your business the following skills that many FCKs do not:
- Cultural Bridging – TCKs have developed into natural cultural melting pots. They learn a culture quickly, fit into it easily, and have no problem mixing and mingling with cultures that would otherwise seem foreign or distant to an FCK. Why? Because TCKs have never had a single culture to latch onto, and so they have spent their whole lives building their own. This is a valuable commodity when you are trying to strike a deal with someone “foreign” or trying to communicate an idea to a potential customer that has different cultural values.
- Global Mindset – You may not be thinking about how many subcultures are impacted by your company or brand, but I can promise you your TCK partner is. While you’re paying attention to the big community in your area, the TCK is constantly looking at how to pull in all the other cultures, too.
- From Handshake to Bow – Business deals are struck all over the world. If you’re visiting a factory in Indonesia, or sitting around a conference room table in Shanghai, the cultural norms are going to be very different to what you’re used to. This is where a TCK really shines. If they don’t know the culture yet, they’ll have it down very very quickly. Their natural ability to pick up on cultural queues is unmatched, and they’ll rapidly have techniques for polite business transactions and authoritative stands alike down to a art.
- Manners are Key – Sometimes, something as simple as eating with your left hand can lose all the respect you have earned over the years. Remember, every community has different rules. And if you can’t remember, just ask your TCK. They’ve been silently learning how the culture works from watching people on the plane before you even landed outside of your element.
- Travel Away – Got a new facility opening up in a country 5,000+ miles away from home? Can’t find anyone who really wants to be on board with the move and help get things rolling? Well, you obviously haven’t asked the TCK you hired yet, have you? As natural movers, we’re the most likely to say yes, and we’ll blend exceptionally well with the new hires at our most recent branch of operations. It’s what we were raised to do!
- An Eye on Globalization – Globalization is only going to keep growing. That means that if you don’t stay with it, you’re going to fall behind. If you are going to remain a front runner, you need to get used to the fact that things are changing more and more every day, and the global-political discussions that are taking place right now mean a lot more than you think. Make sure you’re in the right position by having someone on board who understands this.
- Minority Thinking – If you haven’t noticed that offending people is becoming a rather consistent trend in the business world these days, that means you either don’t care about your customers, or you forgot social media existed. Regardless of the race, creed, or culture of a group, a TCK is very aware of your minority market. After all, we have spent most of our lives as a minority in the first place.
The world is a small place, and it’s only getting smaller. Remember that when you are looking at your next hire. TCKs have all different types of professional backgrounds. We are normal people with normally different desires and goals, so we are highly diverse in what we have to offer. So when you draft that letter asking for a person who can do X, Y, Z, why not throw in a little piece about wanting someone with international travel experience and a strong understanding of various cultures. See what happens.
I promise, you’ll be happy you did.
- Post by: James R. Mitchener
Couldn’t have said it better myself
Sometimes it can be rather confusing when you are the only one who knows those manners though … But yes, a TCK is not so stuck in a cultural role and tends to see the bigger picture much better … I grew up in a country that does not even exist anymore and lived in 8 differenct countries ever since. My children are growing up in South Africa, the most racist country in the world.
Africans are suspicious because we are white, Afrikaans people think we are not good enough Christians, British people ridicule us because we have German heritage. White think we are odd because we do humanitarian work to help blacks. Blacks mistake us for yet another ghetto tourist. And the Germans think we are weird because we adapted to the South African way. Now that’s a pot of challenges. As a mom, i am always trying extra hard to be the person in the room my child can be proud of …
Yes, this is so true and I agree wholeheartedly on every point. If only more people realized this and were aware of what an asset a TCK can be… Sadly, many companies still have little to no knowledge about TCKs and when they happen to have one in their midst, they don’t realize just how beneficial that can be in certain situations. I’ve even observed that sometimes there is even suspicion and insecurity at being confronted with someone so ‘global’ in a not so globalized company – even though the company deals with nations around the world and the TCK could prove extremely valuable. But I remain hopeful that this slowly get better and people will become more aware of the crucial role we can play.