Once a month, we bring you an update from a few Hackers on things we’ve been reading, enjoying, and learning that month, whether that’s fiction, non-fiction, an interesting article, or a series of social media posts. We hope you’ll join along with us and share your most interesting reads in the comments!
This is an assigned text for a summer course I’m taking on global libraries, but it’s more interesting than ‘assigned text’ makes it sound. Erin Meyer has made a career out of teaching how to work with people from other cultures. It’s based entirely in the business world, and all the examples revolve around for-profit companies either expanding into other countries or recruiting employees from other cultures, but the principles can extend to other scenarios. Meyer concentrates on eight different topics – for example, how different cultures offer and accept criticism of their work and ideas – and plots out a handful of countries on a ‘map’ (hence the title) based on how similar or different they are to one another in their approach. In my favorite chapter, on how different cultures perceive time, the U.S. and the U.K. are much stricter in regards to punctuality than are India or Nigeria, but not quite so strict as Germany or Switzerland.
Meyer reminds us multiple times that everyone is different, and no two people, even if they grew up in the same part of the world, are going to be exactly alike, but at the same time we also have innate cultural biases (neither wrong nor right!) that tell us ‘this is the correct way to do things’ and ‘this other way is not my way, therefore it is wrong’. The goal of this book is to point out overarching tendencies, and offer tangible tips for working with someone from a culture where, perhaps, meetings should be conducted in a way very different than the one you grew up with.
I found it striking how often I found myself agreeing with where Meyer placed typical ‘American’ behavior on the maps. I nodded along as she talked about expecting meetings and presentations to start and end on time, that it’s totally normal to be asked today to choose which meal option I would like to be served at a conference I’m going to six months from now, that the point of meetings is to decide on a direction to go on a particular issue, and that (crucially) it’s more important to make a decision and try something, even if it doesn’t end up working out and you have to backtrack later, than it is to keep chipping away at something until you come to the perfect solution six months from now. These, according to Meyer’s experience, are not universal ideas! I wouldn’t have known that without reading this book, though.