Author Archive

Look, Listen, Read

Look: Life, work, travel, spouse, kids, ambition, boss, in-laws, bills… feeling stressed? Feeling concerned about being stressed? (And what modern businessperson isn’t?) Stress is a killer, after all, right? Well, it turns—and here’s the good news—stress isn’t a killer. Stress can actually be good for you! It’s actually our thoughts about stress that make stress stressful and dangerous. Great talk. Worth watching.

Listen: In a wonderful bit of cultural mash-up, Elvis is alive and well, singing and strumming in—Nairobi, Kenya. It’s a pure country music story – one continent removed. Small town boy, son of a minister, grew up listening to gospel music, sets off to see the world, lives in Norway, visits the US, then returns home to become Kenyan’s first country music star, in place with no country music! (And he’s really good, too!)

Read: Do you dread the weekly office meeting? Or maybe you’re tasked with organizing it? Either way, here’s a great little primer on rethinking and reinvigorating that perfunctory weekly obligation and maximizing your your team’s time and productivity.

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Look, Listen, Read

Look: Think you might never live to see the day that Gaudi’s Basilica de La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona will ever be finished? We’ll, you’re not alone, which is why the architects now in charge of the project have released an incredible animated video of the planned construction. (Listen to the short interview then scroll down to watch the magic unfold. Amazing!)

Listen: There’s a reason why This American Life is one of the best radio programs on the planet—because of stories like this one by NYTimes Best Selling author and journalist Michael Lewis. “How I Got Into College;” an amazing tale about a Bosnian immigrant who meets the guardian angel who saves his life, or so he liked to believe.

Read: An Argentine in Russia; An American in Germany; A Brit in Singapore and An Aussie in Dubai: Four Exapts share their stories and wisdom from years spent living and working abroad.

Drinking Across Cultures: A Survival Guide

Headed across borders for a meeting or new assignment? Wondering if your new colleagues will expect you to drink with them? Wondering how to tactfully handle this? We’ve compiled some great advice from the Art of Manliness Guide to Drinking for the Teetotaler and our own RW3 Master Trainer, Barry Spaulding.

1. Don’t Fall off the Wagon. If you suffer from alcoholism, no business deal or new work relationship is worth jeopardizing your health and wellbeing. If you are not comfortable telling your colleagues the truth, a teetotaler CEO has found that claiming to be, “just getting over a terrible stomach flu,” or expressing some other relatively serious health issue that prevents you from drinking alcohol usual does the trick, “particularly those of a digestive nature.” However, if you’re going to use illness as an excuse, consistency is key. Don’t say you have stomach issues and order a spicy dish the same night. Still concerned? We’ve pulled some tips from The Art of Manliness’ Guide and our own cultural experts at RW3 CultureWizard.

2. When in Rome. The old adage of doing as the Romans is still your best guide on how to approach drinking with international colleagues. If the locals partake and it’s a part of their cultural process of after work bonding, go ahead and partake, but don’t over-indulge. Most cultures frown upon getting drunk in a work environment.

3. Know What You’re Drinking. The libation of choice for many cultures can really pack a punch, so know what you’re drinking beforehand and adjust accordingly. For instance, that Belgian beer might have an alcohol content over 10% so don’t drink on an empty stomach, especially if one or two drinks tends to do you in.

4. When Booze is the Bond. In countries like China, Korea, Russia and Poland drinking with your colleagues is serious business and they consider it an opportunity to get to know you better. Your best advice here is to understand the cultural importance placed upon drinking beforehand and what you might be in for. Eating a lot is another good defense mechanism. Countering the onslaught of alcohol by keeping your mouth full of food and showing great appreciation for the local cuisine might distract your hosts enough to pay more attention to your empty plate than your half empty cup.

5. Special Considerations for Women. Women should feel free to have just as much fun as the boys but will not be expected to match them shot for shot in most cultures. However, partaking at least a little is always appreciated and can be a great equalizer in relationship building. That said; special caution should be exercised for safety and health. Most women tend to be smaller than men and carry on average, 10% more body fat, which means there’s less water to dilute alcohol. RW3 Master Trainer, Barry Spaulding has some great cultural drinking tips for specifically for women doing business in China and Japan that CultureWizard clients can access on “Ask CultureWizard”.

6. In Muslim Countries. Even if your host offers you an alcoholic beverage it is still probably best to abstain. Drinking alcohol in many Muslim countries is a punishable offense and no drink is worth the potential penalty and embarrassment.

If those are the basic guidelines, what advice or stories might you have about mixing (or not-mixing) business and alcohol when working inter-culturally?

RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

©RW3 CultureWizard LLC, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to RW3 CultureWizard LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stanford Study: Cultural Activities Key to Reducing Bias

Can we reduce our own implicit prejudices? A surprising study by Stanford University psychologists claims that attitudes toward different groups can show lasting improvement with even brief participation in a different culture’s activities. At first glance, this hardly seems revelatory, but as the study reveals, a reduction in cultural bias occurs not just by interacting with people from different cultures, but more so by participating in cultural activities with them.

Perhaps most surprising, is how these brief interactions had long-lasting effects on the attitudes of participants. Six months after the study, the researchers found that cultural activity participants maintained more positive attitudes about different groups and some even voiced support for political policies to benefit them.

The study found that in order to have lasting affects on empathy and attitude, the activity should be something that includes aspects of the other’s culture. When individuals of different cultures did activities that didn’t involve cultural themes, it still reinforced positive feelings toward their activity partner, but there was no reduction in bias towards their ethnic or cultural group. (E.g. If you’re a Canadian, it’s great to have a Mexican friend, but if you want to have more empathy for Mexican people, try participating in some of her cultural traditions.)

Importantly, the study also supports that engaging in the culture of the peers you are teamed with or actively engaging in the foreign culture you work in is the “key to interest, engagement and more positive intergroup attitudes.”

So, how does the Stanford Study translate to working across cultures? What does it have to teach us?

Look, Listen and Read

Look: Think you’re in control of the decisions you make? According to MIT Professor Dan Ariely, not nearly as much as you might think. Great TED Talk on why we make the choices we make and how a simple matter of phrasing can drastically affect answers and outcomes. Good stuff for managers looking to shape and motivate their workforce.

Listen: China? … India? … Brazil? Nope, forget it! It’s the Finn’s who are soon to rule the world. They’re producing the smartest and happiest kids on the planet. What’s their secret? Recess. Turns out a bit of play of fresh air might be just the thing you need to keep you happy, motivated and smart whether you’re 5 or 55.

Read: Wonderful interview with Rudy Karsan from Kenexa, an IBM company, on how a Smarter Workforce is helping reinvent the way employees work and businesses operate.

Look, Listen, Read

Look: Do you look at an argument like a war? Is it about strategy, defense, offense, tactics and, ultimately winning to you? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, which is why we found this TED lecture by philosophy professor Ted Cohen so interesting and ultimately beneficial to the workplace and working interculturally.

Listen: Talk about a surreal expatriate story. Here’s the story of an American woman who falls in love and marries a Mexican man who’s illegally in the United States. Problem is, the man was already once deported from the United States so the only way the couple can legally live together in the United States is by living together for 10 years outside of the country. So, for love, an American woman and her husband relocate to Juarez, Mexico for ten years!

Read: Words of intercultural insight from a Cleveland born brewer of craft beer – in China! This is an insightful, short interview about the changing face of Chinese culture and what it takes for an expat to get a business brewing in Shanghai.


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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Culture and Air Safety

Korean Air Crash of 1997 in Guam

A good deal has been made of late as to whether the hierarchical nature of Korean culture played a role in the recent, tragic crash of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco on July 6. Most of the culture-based line of questioning stems from a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 bestseller, Outliers. It examines how the hierarchical and deferential nature of Korean culture, where underlings aren’t wont to question their elders and superiors, played a role in the 1997 fatal crash of a Korean Air Boeing 747 into a hillside in Guam. However, and to their great credit, as Gladwell’s book points out, once Korean Air realized that culture might be undermining their cockpit communication, they quickly remedied the problem.

Interestingly, one of the steps Korean Air made was to teach all their pilots and ground crew American English and to make that the official language in which all flight proceedings took place. Korean Air did this for two main reasons: 1) American English is a particularly non-hierarchical language and 2) in making their flight teams speak in English, they were able to set up a drastically different set of spoken protocols that side-stepped many of the cultural trappings of Korean hierarchy and allowed their crews to communicate in more direct fashion — one where junior employees and co-pilots were much freer to directly question their superiors. For over a decade now, Korean Air has had an exemplary safety record.

In light of this story, the recent questioning of Korean culture as it relates to the Asiana crash seems all the more suspect (read this Politico article) because it ignores the more relevant issue of teamwork and how “many crashes involve pilots who have never flown together before, which was also true on the Asiana jet.” It appears that the sad events surrounding the crash of Asiana flight 214 was more a question of faulty teamwork and oversight, than that of Korean hierarchical values.

What is your perspective?


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

How to Beat the Homebound Blues

So, you thought taking that overseas assignment was a necessary, albeit challenging, step up the corporate ladder? Well, think again. According to a recent article from the BBC, your time spent abroad might be less appreciated in your native country and your home office than you might have ever imagined. You also might find yourself downright depressed upon return.

When moving somewhere new, the lack of familiarity tends to breed a certain emotional openness, which levels your sense of expectation because you don’t know what you don’t know. When an expat returns from a lengthy stay abroad, they often return home with a very strong notion of what life will be like (based on what it was like when they departed). They also expect to be seen as a person of interest, having accrued a whole new set of skills and insights. They often expect to return to a higher level position from the one they left and maybe even higher pay. They expect their colleagues and co-workers to be anxious to hear their stories of life abroad, and they expect to slide right back into the way things used to be.

These notions can lead to a serious crash, which makes repats home sick for the once-foreign land they left. Feelings get hurt as old friends and co-workers show about three minutes of interest in their stories of life abroad, and the home office seems more concerned with what they missed rather than what they learned.

According to Michael Schell, CEO of RW3 CultureWizard, you need a repatriation plan:

1. Prepare for repatriation as you did for expatriation. Ask yourself the same questions about how life would be different, or similar, before repatriating.
2. Make a concerted effort to stay in touch with friends and family in your home country and use social media to keep people abreast of your adventures while abroad. They’ll feel more involved in your adventure through what you share online.
3. Stay in touch with your old colleagues and bosses from the home office. It’s wise to keep up with what’s happening at home so you’re not to out of the loop upon return. If rules or policies changed, it’s best to familiarize yourself before returning.
4. Let people know several months in advance of your return date so they start to put you back on their radar to avoid missing special programs, social events and even promotions.
5. Prepare short and exciting answers for all the typical “How was it abroad?” questions you might get at work. The less you bore co-workers with long answers, the less likely you are to get hurt when they seem distracted or uninterested.
6. If you’re a bit depressed, get help. Find a therapist, coach or really good friend to share your feelings instead of moping around the office. Most co-workers won’t fully understand what you’re going through. Sharing your repatriation turmoil might only make you and them uncomfortable.
7. Don’t wait around for someone to throw you a “Welcome Home” party. Take initiative and throw your own party. Invite friends and colleagues and let them know you’re back in a personal, emphatic style.


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

Re-thinking Tipping

Having put myself through graduate school while working as a waiter at a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, recent news regarding a handful of US restaurants adopting a no-tipping policy strikes a personal chord (or worse, stories of restaurant owners absconding with the gratuities due to their staff). I largely lived off tips for the better part of four years and now, when I go out to eat, if the service is at least half-way competent, I take satisfaction in leaving a nice tip. Many people, even segments of the US, still struggle with the idea of tipping and are now beginning to rethink the practice altogether according to this BBC News Magazine story.

The custom arrived in the US from Europe in the late 1800s but early in the 20th Century, an anti-tipping campaign gathered pace, driven by the view it was undemocratic and a means to create a servant class.

‘Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape,’ wrote William Rufus Scott in 1916.

Cultural norms around tipping are discussed at length in just about every travel book, and for good reason. I remember well from years of waiting tables when I would debate with myself whether it was worth the embarrassment and awkwardness to explain to Brits that in the US it’s customary to tip more than ten percent, or with Japanese diners that you’re supposed to actually leave a tip.

One mistakenly assumes that if a foreign visitor has the savvy to locate a city’s top restaurant, where they spend $200 on dinner for two, they’d at least get themselves a little familiar with local protocol around gratuity. In my experience, and the experience of many friends in the hospitality business, many patrons don’t understand what to do in the US.

Many cultural tendencies, even when immersed in other cultures, are hard to break. Tipping is so ingrained in US attitudes toward dining out that even as certain restaurants raise their prices to adopt a no-tipping policy, many diners ostensibly leave feeling bad that they didn’t tip. Or, they leave one anyway.

What’s your thinking on tipping in general? What do you think of the idea that the patron helps pay the waitstaff’s wages directly through tips, instead of putting the onus on the employer to pay a higher wage?


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

Look, Listen, Read

Look: Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know, but most managers don’t: traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. As you watch, think about how the RW3 cultural dimension for Motivation plays a role. In some cultures, work / life balance is prized, while in others, individuals live to work and attain status through workplace achievement more than anything.

Listen: Ever wonder why China has more full-scale copycat villages and world monuments than any other country? The answer, it turns out, has nothing to do with lack of creativity or architectural inspiration: PRI’s The World explains.

Read: Peter Bregman is a top-notch executive coach whose latest book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, offers up a slew of insight in this article, A Personal Approach to Organizational Time Management.


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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Cultural Training for NYPD

It’s pretty well understood these days that countries are diverse. Regionalism can often make the north and south, east and west feel like entirely different countries (does anyone know an Italian, or any European, who would argue with that?). Ethnic and immigrant enclaves in urban areas are like microcosms of foreign countries, pockets that feel wildly different in terms of people’s behavior, language and culture. Cultural diversity is much of what makes cities so wonderful. But what struck me this week, in the most encouraging of ways, was an article in the New York Times detailing how cultural training is now a formal part of the New York Police Department’s training. Their guide is called “Policing a Multicultural Society”.

Many of the pages offer the breezy read of a travel guide, offering advice to help police officers navigate a patchwork of foreign cultures across the five boroughs…Taken together, the tips illustrate the challenges of policing a city as diverse as New York…and is endlessly fascinating in its portrait of New Yorkers.

Beyond the fascinating insight into New York City’s ethnic diversity, the NYPD training manual illuminates the critical role that cultural training plays in diffusing conflict and avoiding miscommunication — which can be applied effectively in life or death situations. Here are a few of the insights:

Arab immigrants often speak loudly, even by New York standards, so what sounds like an argument could be just a family discussion. Chinese immigrants are uncomfortable asking strangers for help. And immigrants from rural Mexico generally avoid making eye contact with authority figures.

It’s a strong case study for the benefits of developing cultural fluency, regardless if you’re a cop walking a local beat or a busy exec heading to Shanghai for two days of meetings. How do you prepare for your interactions across cultures?


RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

How to Listen for “No” in India

A short, intercultural dialogue (inspired by, and integrating the strategies from, this article on Accelerance)

  • Mark: Chief Technology Officer of a Seattle-based education company
  • Raj: Project manager for a Mumbai-based programming company
  • Setting: A phone conversation on April 15th at 7am in Seattle / 7:30pm in Mumbai. Mark and Raj have never met in person, but have successfully worked together on another project.
  • Raj – Good morning, Mark. Early your time, no?
    Mark – Not if you’ve already had 3 espressos.

    Raj laughs.

    Mark – Raj, sorry to cut straight to the chase, but I have a meeting fast approaching, so I need to get to business.
    Raj – Of course. Go ahead.
    Mark – Thanks. Did you get my notes that I sent Friday? The project outline?
    Raj – Yes. Reviewed it over the weekend.
    Mark – Great. So is this something you think your firm can handle?
    Raj – Of course. Delighted to.
    Mark – And the timeline? I know it’s pretty steep. Can you make it by May 15th?

    Raj is silent.

    (1. A moment of silence often hides a problem or a NO.)

    Mark – Raj, are you there?
    Raj – Yes. Yes. Sorry. The line must have dropped.
    Mark – The timeline? Will it be a problem?
    Raj – Will it be a problem?

    (2. Repeating the question often masks a NO.)

    Mark – I really need this by May 15.
    Raj – I will get back to you on this. We have a staff meeting every Tuesday morning. I will discuss with my team.

    (3. Postponing an answer is often a NO in hiding.)

    Mark – Come on, Raj, you gotta make this happen for us. Your team’s work is the first piece of the puzzle.
    Raj – It might be very difficult. But it is not out of the realm of possible.

    (4. A conditional YES is usually a NO.)

    Mark – Raj, you’re the best! Our CEO will be thrilled. Thank you!

    (Mark is only listening for what he wants to hear, not what Raj is communicating.)

    Raj – Thank you.
    Mark – How about the change in programming language? Can your team handle C++?

    Raj delays a moment before answering. A heavy breath is heard on the line.

    (5. Delaying in India often masks a problem or a hidden NO.)

    Raj – You do not want to use Java, like we did last time?

    (6. Answering a question with a question is often used in lieu of a NO.)

    Mark – No. This project and the other three teams I’m coordinating are all using C++.
    Raj – Have you not seen the latest Java platform? Huge memory and no problem with leakage. I just met with head of Java’s India office last week, Executive Vice President B.K.S. Shankar. Have you ever met him before?

    (7. Changing the subject is usually a sign of a problem and a NO.)

    Cut to: June 15, 4 weeks after due date.

    Mark – Raj, my team and I just reviewed all the work your crew did and it’s wonderful. Top-notch!
    Raj – Oh, thank goodness. So glad to hear.
    Mark – But 4 weeks late? Raj, if we’re going to be able to use your firm again, you can’t be late like that.
    Raj – I do not foresee us having any more problems.
    Mark – What were all the delays about, after all?

    Raj pauses, thinks for a moment.

    Raj – I needed a few extra weeks for my team to learn C++.

    Stunned, Mark gasps.

    Mark – You’re telling me that your team didn’t know C++ and you still said yes to the project and, even more amazingly, got it done?
    Raj – Thank you, sir.


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

    Look, Listen & Read

    Look: Font too small, wrist aching from scrolling through page after page? NYTimes Tech Columnist David Pogue has a solution. His six minute Ted Talk, 10 Time Saving Tech Tips, is definitely worth watching.

    Listen: “There are no rules when it comes to a knife fight or when trying to make money in China.” The best line of the week goes to LA Times Film Writer, John Horn in describing the hoops Hollywood jumps through for a chance to tap the Chinese market. Hear what it took to bring Iron Man 3 to the Chinese market a week ahead of its US premiere.

    Read: In case you were thinking about laying out a few grand for some technical workshop you’re hoping might make you a bit smarter, save the money. A new study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shows that the best way to improve your aptitude and focus, even your sleep, is by practicing a few minutes of Mindfulness Meditation every day.

    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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    Meaning Versus Monotony

    As a young man recently out of university, my first years of professional life were spent as a chef at a swank catering outfit. It was an incredible company that did parties from 2 to 20,000, anywhere from private homes to the most beautiful museums, parks and performance spaces. We used the best ingredients, prepared foods from the world over, served the finest wines and catered to a jaw-dropping list of power brokers, celebrities and socialites.

    However, seeming glamour aside, the kitchen itself was a downright mean, negativity magnet of a place. In keeping with many kitchen stereotypes, the executive chefs tended to be obsessive, dictatorial and mean-spirited, with furious tempers, feared for their vicious tongue-lashings.

    Why is it that so many professional kitchens are known to be such ruthless environments? I never fully understood why, until I recently saw this TED lecture by Dan Ariely, an Argentine sociologist. According to him, the thing that makes a chef mean and kitchens ruthless is important for any business manager or team leader to know: most chefs and cooks toil in obscurity, doing the same thing over and over again – prepping, cooking, plating ad infinitum. Even if the plating is gorgeous and food delicious, it’s devoured in minutes without so much as a glance from the person who ate it — from art to leftovers in a matter of mouthfuls with little acknowledgment.

    As the Ted lecture explores, monotony makes humans mean. Work that is devoid of meaning, regardless of compensation levels, with no time to collectively recognize accomplishment causes organizations to break down, employees losing inspiration. Fascinating concepts to mull over and think about how you can keep your company and teams away from these workplace dilemmas.

    The larger, global question is: how can multinational organizations inspire its workforce across cultures that derive motivation from very different sources?


    RW3 CultureWizard is a leading provider of cross cultural training and information through the CultureWizard intercultural learning platform.

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    Look, Listen & Read

    This is CultureWizard’s take on the best culturally oriented trivia, fun and insights of the week.

    Look: Have you ever eaten a Chinese meal in China and wondered why you didn’t get a fortune cookie with the check? It’s because Chinese fortune cookies are actually from Japan. The Little Known History of Chinese Takeout in America.

    Listen: Ever wondered why that work associate of yours who claims to be descended from European royalty is so darn odd? Turns out, their odd behavior just might prove that they really are telling the truth about being the second cousin once removed of the Duke of Earl.

    What’s it like to be a stand-up comic in Beijing? Listen to this story about an American grad student in China (studying, off all things, Chinese Stand up comedy), and how his little spoof video of Gangnam Style went viral, turned him into a Chinese sensation and taught him a lesson on not only Chinese comedy, but censorship.

    Read: What if Margaret Thatcher had never been? Much has been said and written on the life and death of Margaret Thatcher, but this is best piece CultureWizard came across all week. A nuanced, balanced and intriguing look at the woman Great Britain (and much of the rest of the world) either loved or hated.


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