Wangu Chafuwa portrait

Written by Wangu Chafuwa

As a first generation immigrant, Wangu’s vantage as an insider-outsider led to a fascination in people, social relations and culture, which led to advocacy work with the British Youth Council. Wangu now uses his social consciousness and anthropological perspectives to bring human centred insights to the world of work.

Culture – and how we move through it – has also become one of the tabloids’ favourite news beats. How often do we see articles bemoaning the rise of cancel culture or so called culture wars? It’s understandable why lots of us feel nervous about approaching culture. 

Even in itself culture is a difficult term to define. The Oxford English Dictionary contains 6 distinctly separate definitions of it: ranging from ‘the civilization, customs, artistic achievements, etc., of a people’; to ‘the artificial development of microscopic organisms, esp. bacteria, in specially prepared media’;  to ‘the training, development, and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners’

Culture is one of those funny little terms we all vaguely seem to understand but struggle to pin a precise meaning to.  Which poses a problem as we’re routinely expected to navigate increasingly complex cultural environments. 

It’s the reason why Cultural Intelligence (or CQ, like IQ) has been described as one of the essential leadership skills of the future. But how well do we understand what that really means? 

There’s a phrase that’s probably misquoted to Einstein that says ‘intelligence is not the ability to store information, but to know where to find it’. Often when people hear Cultural Intelligence they think that it means having an itinerary of do’s and don’ts for cross cultural 

interactions. Having this knowledge is obviously helpful, but the thing about Cultural Intelligence is that it is a practice – it has to be applied. 

“But how?”, I hear you utter in anguish from beyond the screen. 

In his 2011 book, “The Cultural Intelligence Difference,” Dr David Livermore highlights four capabilities to develop to effectively practise Cultural Intelligence: 

CQ Knowledge relating to knowing different cultural expectations and the nuances of intersectional cultural expressions.  

CQ Strategy relating to your ability to plan and prepare for multicultural interactions. 

CQ Action relating to how appropriately you adapt your behaviour to accommodate different cultural contexts. 

CQ Drive your interest and motivation to keep finding out more about different cultures.

Cultural Intelligence is the acknowledgement of the fact we all come from different places that hold deep meaning to us and a respect for how this shapes our individual  perspectives. No one wants to be treated in aggregate. Practising Cultural Intelligence allows us to see people in their rich difference rather than one in an anonymous blob. 

Our struggle to get to a singular definition of culture isn’t a failure to express, it’s a representation of the living, transforming and always shared experience that is culture. 

We can see this buzzing diversity inherent in culture in the sheer number of different cultural expressions living around us. In all this contrast and colour is an infinity of possibilities. And the ever-present potential of friction. 

The capabilities underpinning Cultural Intelligence may sound a bit jargony but luckily underpinning them is an innate capability to navigate our inherent differences. We are social creatures –  all possessing empathy muscles that hardwire us to build bridges between us. 

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