Sunday, March 15, 2015

Looking beyond stereotypes and generalizations!

I was onboard Aeroflot flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Had dozed off and woke up with a start as the plane landed. As it taxied through the runway, instead of standing up and reaching out for their baggages as they do in India, to my surprise passenger on the flight started clapping. I was clueless as to what just happened.

Had it been just few weeks earlier, I'd have formed some opinion about this event and moved on. But today I'm an enlightened man. After attending the Cross-Cultural Management course, I know its important to know, why does it happen? Peculiarities of each country, their eccentricities, whims and fancies! It all happens for a reason.

Why are Indian always late? Why do Saudis treat women.. erm so badly? Why are Danes known for innovation?

All these and more can be explained. Cultural dimensions. It is possible to analyse each and every country's DNA using these dimensions and understand the nuances of their cultures.

Such learnings form CCM have been immense, though like any other MBA course, once you know them you feel like they are common sense. But as they say common sense is not so common after all. The classroom was in itself a very interesting composition of various cultures. You could just sit back and observe people and learn a lot. Something I'm sure I did very well. European students would argue and challenge things that Indian students would accept as facts, just because they were being told by the Professor. This is the effect of difference between power distance in the two cultures.

Having participated in Prof. Viji's another course earlier, my initial expectations from this course were that it will be jam packed by activities conducted by her that will help us understand various theories etc. They make the whole course experience fun. Contrary to this, this time around the classes were more of experience sharing sessions, discussions were usually led by the students, instead of relying heavily on PowerPoints. This made them more engaging. As you had to keep thinking and introspecting throughout to understand and validate with personal examples whether what was being said was right or wrong!

Apart from the classes another very important value addition from this course was the group assignment. Sticking with the same group for so many activities helped us understand each other better. Here too, the method of group formation ensured that there was sufficient diversity within the group. We had a good time preparing for the final presentation. There were idea and ego clashes. Social loafers were confronted for the first time by the group in my 2 years at DoMS. People were shouted upon. The German obsession for quality made us actually rehearse our presentation with a stopwatch on. Indians who love to present impromptu had to carry cards to ensure they speak only what they are supposed to. Germans who reach to meetings 5 minutes earlier to be on time, would come 20 minutes after the scheduled time to ensure that they reach together with their Indian counterparts.

Probably not needed in this blog, but I have had some very valuable takeways from this course that I would like to enumerate for my own record:

  • Being honest with yourself about the biases that you hold about other cultures is the first step to actually overcoming them. I personally had so many of them, I'd judge each and everyone on the basis of their background, state, region, country or culture. Our behaviour changes subconsciously towards due to these biases and we do not realise it. During the various activities and interactions in this course I understood that Cross-Cultural Management is all about being unbiased and non-judgemental. Instead of holding the bias that you shouldn't trust people of Bihar or U. P. which people have in their subconscious mind, if you actually interact with them without the prejudice, maybe you'd start to think differently. 
  • Life is easier if you research ahead of time. The final presentations for Cross-Cultural training left me with so many insights about specific cultures that I have decided to make it a habit of doing a brief reading before I immerse myself into a new culture. It helps. You don't want to go to Russia and bad mouth Putin. Souvenirs shops sell T-shirts with Putin printed on them to tourists, they are so proud of him.
  • Individuals are Individuals. They are always different from their cultures in someway. Not all Muslims are terrorists, neither are all Indians rapists. Generalisations positive or negative shouldn't be whitewashed across an entire community.
  • Smile is a universal language, it means the same in all cultures. It has helped me get out of tight spots while I backpacked across Tamil Nadu without speaking even a single word of Tamil.
  • No matter how different we're, we're still the same. Though our differences are real and they makes us experience the same world differently, but at the core all of us are humans with similar needs, desires and instincts.
  • Can we celebrate the ethnic day differently? Probably on culture gets a 15 minutes on a particular day, by staggering the food and dresses through the course, they'll get the much deserved attention. On a single day it was all so jam-packed I feel bad on missing out on so many interesting things I could have learned.
  • A language module can be introduced. Students from each linguistic group get 15 minutes to teach some frequently used words and phrases to others. Personal experience say illa and teriyaada can be used in 500 different forms to make things work in Chennai!
To conclude, I'd like to thank Prof. Viji for another unique experience, Cross-Cultural Management helped me gain valuable exposure into new cultures.

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