Kristine Kawamura interview

Development and Learning in Organizations

ISSN: 1477-7282

Article publication date: 4 January 2016



(2016), "Kristine Kawamura interview", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 30 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Kristine Kawamura interview

Article Type: Leading Edge Interviews From: Development and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal, Volume 30, Issue 1

Kristine Marin Kawamura, PhD, is Professor of Management at St Georges University, Grenada, West Indies. A scholar, educator, writer, and consultant, she is founder and CEO of Yoomi Consulting Group, Inc. Her focus is on helping leaders and managers develop strategies and cultures that energize human and organizational potential and create financial, social, and human wealth and health.

She is co-author of Cross Cultural Competence which aims to provide a comprehensive, practical, and workshop-based program that allows facilitators and organizational change agents to help organizations and people develop cross cultural skills and global competence.

Learning to work together as one global community is obviously a major challenge in the 21st century. Will the challenges get tougher as the century unfolds?

People, organizations, and societies the world over face major challenges today, arising from four intersecting trends: 1) the increasing speed of communication and information flows; 2) an increasingly complex context of uncertainties, dualities, and paradoxes; 3) rising levels of anger and violence magnified by a lack self-esteem, emotional intelligence, sense of meaning, and care; and 4) transformative global forces that threaten the world order, including: the growing global population; an increasing level of migration and mega cities; a constant search for new ways of creating a de-cent life; the energy crises; infrastructure collapses; the growing global divide; unequal access to education and healthcare; and terrorism, fundamentalism, and war. These challenges all have the possibility to get tougher because they are systemically embedded, interconnected, and multi-level in scope. No single person, firm, or nation has the ability to solve any of these alone. Like with the game “whack-a-mole,” just as one mole, or problem, is addressed, another one related to it springs up!

With systemic level problems we need systemic level solutions that will only be solved by people knowing that they live in one global community and reaching across boundaries, borders, and fractures to work together. Learning to work – and think, and feel, and care – together is the only way we will be able to do this. We need to recognize that societies and organizations are made up of people – real human beings with real human needs and great potential. We need to therefore start within – to understand our own judgements, biases, stereotypes, and prejudices, our own propensities for anger and violence, and work to heal these. Look for the human values we all share and honour the cultural differences that bring a great richness to our world.

You have worked, studied, and travelled in more than 80 countries. What is the biggest lesson you have learnt

People the world over are generous, open, and kind.

I’ve also learned more about who I am, what it means to be an American, when travelling out of the country. I’ve learned that I’m not always right. I’ve learned that every single person in this world is a human being who feels, loves, suffers, laughs, and cares. Though we may look, sound, or dress differently, we all need the basics of life – safety, security, water, food, shelter, and education. We all deserve the opportunity to fully develop as individuals and contributors. Though our answers may all differ, we all seek to find a purpose and have a meaning to our work and lives. We all deserve the opportunity to thrive.

Reference is made to the rise of terrorism and fanaticism and a dire need for effective cultural understanding and communication. Is there a role for the business world in tackling this issue?

Yes. Terrorism and religious fanaticism are examples of very complex issues with deeply entrenched and layered systemic roots: poverty, religion/fundamentalism, lack of education, militarism, oil, political power, racism, gender inequality and sexism, among others. A global multiple-stakeholder approach is needed to tackle all these issues.

As part of the “business stakeholder” component, for-profit and non-profit firms, NGOs, and social enterprises can work together with governmental institutions to develop industries and jobs in the respective countries so that people have a stronger economic foundation. The business world can also play a role in in reducing violence. In Half the Sky (Vintage Books, 2009), Kristof and WuDunn state that some security experts have noted that the countries that nurture terrorists are disproportionally those where women are marginalized. When women gain a voice in society, there’s evidence of less violence. A major vehicle for change, therefore, would be to unleash the potential of girls and women by investments in education, micro-finance, and micro-enterprises by governments, NGOs, and corporations.

We also face a rise of disenfranchised youth in developed countries joining terrorist groups. In many of these societies, the long standing commitment to organized religion has diminished to the point that it no longer offers the experience and feeling of “belonging” – to people needing community. With the implicit contract of long-term employment broken in most societies and the focus on short-term profitability no longer motivating the full performance of individuals or firms, business, too, needs to evolve. In many firms, the “heart” and “soul” of business is moving from goals of short-term profitability to holistic goals of sustainability, value-based strategy, empathy, and care. These transformation may offer disenfranchised youth a place to find value and reward.

There are still positive attributes of business that may be applied to this issue. Terrorism and fundamentalism are both characterized by exclusion – trusting only those that are similar while keeping others who are different out through hatred, killing, et etcetera. The business world can actually serve as a model of inclusivity in which people with different mind sets, cultures, and goals can work together in a newly-defined and created ecosystem to achieve a common goal.

You suggest using music in a workshop. How key is the choice of music?

Music is a powerful tool for setting the cultural mood, invoking cultural awareness, and creating the learning environment in a workshop or classroom setting. In the book, we suggest that you use music to simulate the experience that people may gain by actually travelling in another culture, as music, like food, is different in almost every culture around the world. Music can help to “wake people up”, transporting them out of their normal, day-to-day lives and into the cross cultural learning experience – a space for reflection and growth.

With that said, it’s really important to select a broad range of music from a broad range of cultures: fast and slow, dreamy and staccato, instrumental and voice, and modern and traditional. You are using music to help people feel a broad range of feelings. They will probably connect and feel comfortable with familiar music. They may respond to new music – to even feel discomfort or reaction to unfamiliar music from different cultures. You want them to shift between the familiar and the discordant. You want to use the music as a doorway into helping them understand their perceptions of beauty, their own boundaries and culturally-bound limitations, and their own choices for comfort.

How difficult (or easy) is it to persuade people that short-term profitability is not a definition of success?

Change is hard for most people – especially when you are asking them to change their agreement to something that is deeply-entrenched not only in their culture but their economic, political, legal, and social systems as well as their overall world view. Short-term profitability is a value to many in the Western world, thus the real question is, how do you persuade people to change a culturally-bound, deeply-held value? I suggest you start with these steps:

1. Help people understand that their understanding of success (at personal and organizational levels) are grounded in history, culture, systems, values, and overall paradigm/world view.

2. Point out that both short-term and long-term profitability values are needed in business.

3. Guide them to identify the set of values important to them as leaders, organizational members, and firms – probing them for short- and long-term implications.

4. Build a business case for long-term measures of success through case studies, research, and analysis of globally-based competitors, especially those operating in Eastern cultures.

5. Bring in new leaders. As organizations take on the values of their leaders, it is often difficult to shift values without shifting leadership-at-the-top.

6. Educating people early in their lives (from grade school through high school, college, and business programs) on values, cross cultural competence, sustainability, and emotional intelligence so that they have the brain capacity for more flexible, holistic thinking.

The book promotes the idea of “consciously developing relationship with people who are different”. Is that something that be incorporated into a working environment?

Yes. Most work in organizations today is performed by teams. Research tells us that there is a great value in highly-diverse teams – those that are comprised of people with different backgrounds, experiences, cultures, skills, and even communication styles. When healthy and managed well, culturally diverse teams possess a breadth of resources, insights, perspectives, and experiences that facilitate the creation of new and better ideas. Diverse teams are more creative and come up with a wide range of solutions to a problem. They are especially valuable in the early stages of the innovation process.

People, therefore, need to learn how to work with people that are “different”. If people really understood that most companies are becoming increasingly team-based, global in nature, and culturally-diverse, then they could set personal and professional goals to stretch themselves – to seek out opportunities in which they may feel “uncomfortable” yet also show them their own unique value. People grow from both success and failure, thus the organizational culture must reward both outcomes. Managers can deliberately help workers develop relationships with mentors, teams, partners, coaches, or project buddies as well as cross-functional, cross-cultural projects. It would be important for managers to be trained as effective coaches so that they can help teams and individuals work and learn through any stresses or challenges that came up.

Is there a proverb to sum up the overall view of the book?

Please regard these three together: 1) “It takes all sorts to make a world.” (English Proverb); 2) “When the sun rises, it rises for everyone.” (Cuban Proverb); and 3) “Compassion is our deepest nature. It arises from our interconnection with all things.” (Buddhist Proverb)

What these three, in conjunction, say to me is that we are all different, but we are all human beings that, together, are sharing the same world. We need to use compassion – a universal value that we all share as well as something we can learn and develop, and that comes out of our shared and deep interconnection as human beings – to live and work together in our culturally-complex world.

How counter-productive is ethnocentrism?

Ethnocentrisms means that a person is judging another culture or group solely by the standards and values of his or her own culture. Though it helps a person to feel part of his or her group, it immediately reduces his or her ability to connect with someone that is different. This kind of judgement builds walls, perpetuates stereotypes and bias, and creates prejudice – especially when the judgement is laced with the emotion of “better than” or “power over” the other. Ethnocentrism underlies fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism and leads to hatred, violence, and the death of people, cultures, and whole societies. How do we “heal” ethnocentrism? Through teaching people of all ages – especially children – the skills of empathy, caring, curiosity, and values-based living.

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