Posts Tagged ‘worldviews’

Every Trip A New Beginning

Monday, December 13th, 2010

The phrase “Every Trip a New Beginning” is rattling around in my head as I sit quietly on my plane ride out of Hanoi.  I have been in Vietnam for the past seven days working with a group of brilliant young managers who had been selected from their respective companies as having outstanding potential as future leaders.  They hailed from four continents—Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America—and seven countries and my task was to help impart knowledge and insight about what it means to lead a 21st century global organization.  The classroom conversations that emerged throughout the week were stunningly illuminating.  These bright participants (they were called delegates in the program) were curious, challenging, and willing to be challenged by me and by each other.  But it wasn’t until after I witnessed their summary group presentations on the last day of the program that I was truly altered.

Being with the delegates in this program continually surprised me.  Each person I met had a story that challenged how I perceived the world.  One delegate from Norway talked to me about the ways in which the culture there was more private and that people don’t naturally congregate out in community gatherings, but rather come together in peoples’ home.  Another delegate from the Vietnam described how one’s province of birth in the country can influence how fair an opportunity that person has to be successful at work.  And yet another delegate shared the story of living an incredibly multicultural life which was stimulating and rewarding but also left one with a sense of wondering where you belong.

These stories captured me and widened my understanding of the variety of global realities.  But the delegates’ final presentations moved me even more deeply.  Six teams presented on challenges in their organizations and on how what they had been learning in the program shapes how those challenges can be engaged.  And each team created something that wholly surprised me.  One team created a large group drawing that captured the business realities facing the company.  Another group prepared a skit that creatively demonstrated the challenge of creating value for customers.  Yet another group offered a wordless, text-less, performance piece that challenged their peers to engage in ongoing discussion and learning as the program continues.

I think the root of my surprise was in how my interactions with the delegates prompted me to understand myself differently.  I saw my nationality and my professional identity in new ways:

  • A U.S. citizen—my many conversations with people from a variety of cultures reminded me of how narrow my day-to-day experience of culture and global realities really is.  Being immersed in so many discussions about world events taking place in Asia and Europe that did not necessarily reference anything about the U.S. reminded me how obsessed I am, typically, with my U.S. perspective.  I was reminded how my habit is to let the rest of the world’s issues become virtually invisible unless they somehow affect my sense of myself in the U.S.
  • A teacher—the delegates’ presentations served as a mirror to me of how they had internalized the lessons I had hoped to communicate throughout the week.  But the way they crafted the presentations defied any expectation of how I assumed they were learning.  By using multiple modes of communication—art, theater, movement—they helped me see how people learn and integrate new ideas into their worldviews.  I can’t wait to hear about what they do to change their companies in the coming weeks, months, and years.

My experience in a new land with new people who were also living in a new land created a context in which I could see myself differently.  And it reminded me of the value of examining the habits and assumptions I hold about other cultures, about other people, and about myself.