Clearly, there is no way to encompass what culture is within just a few words. We have trouble defining culture because it’s all around us. It’s the food we eat. The music we listen to. The art we love. Our mannerisms. Language. Each part of the world has its respective acceptance of what’s “normal” and “familiar.” We aren’t born with a predefined culture–we learn it from our surroundings. When people meet me, I’m usually overlooked as being from a different country. Endlessly waiting on the where-are-you-from question. It doesn’t usually come up until you read my last name or hear a slur of Spanish words escape from my mouth. I’m a native Spanish speaker born in Venezuela, moved to Miami when I was six, and then moved again to Charlotte (NC) when I was 14. I’ve been extremely fortunate to grow up with two cultures. Everything my mom taught me from being on latin time (aka always late), to making arepas, and listening to Gaitas during the holidays wasn’t the norm for my peers and classmates (unless they were from Venezuela). While in Charlotte, I was exposed to Southern culture, I learned all about comfort food: gravy, casseroles, and fried chicken; and colloquialisms like bless your heart, ya’ll, and pecan (pronounced pee-can not peh-cahn).
But honestly, I feel like my main identity is a mix between Venezuela and Miami. Growing up in Miami, a city known for its mosaic of cultures with strong influences from a diversity of nationalities and backgrounds. Something you can see reflected in their sense of culture–from buildings to design to food. Being exposed to other cultures gives you the chance to have multiple perspectives or outlooks into problem-solving. To have the advantage of knowing what it’s like to assimilate gives you the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Going to the first grade in South Beach and not knowing a lick of English was an eye-opener for me. I had to make myself uncomfortable and learn to come out of my box in order to learn to be American. And after moving to Charlotte, it was like being exposed to a third culture.
Exploring other cultures is an experience that gives you a sense of understanding and openness into other people’s perspectives. You learn along the way there are a lot of ways to reach the same goal, and that there are many different goals and standards people find worth reaching–depending on their culture. Everyone has a different perspective and not one particular view is ever the correct over the other one. Cross-cultural awareness is essential to being able to get along with a diverse group of people.
In the Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley describes the innovation process at Ideo, the awarding design consultancy. At Ideo, they make an effort to create teams with diverse experiences, watching consumer behavior and taking into account multiple insights in order to create something unique. These insights are then used to inform creative thinking in a process that carries out integrative complexity. Integrative complexity is the ability to consider and combine multiple perspectives and points of view. Different points of view are what enhances individual creativity, and cross-culture communication could be used to learn how to target your brand to a particular key audience.
Cultural illiteracy isn’t an option anymore. Our demographics are constantly changing and we are a cross-cultural society. Becoming independent from external influences is extremely difficult in a culture that is constantly bombarding you with images, videos, memes, news, and articles. Opinions, opinions, opinions. Telling you how to dress, or how to act depending on your social genre. People are constantly searching for identification within products. And that’s where designers come in. They search for the experiences of other cultures, assimilating and reinterpreting them in order to provide benefits to their target audience. Cross-cultural design is becoming more relevant in our globalized society. This means that marketing to one social faction isn’t how it is done anymore. Cross-cultural marketing is the ability to cross over from one culture to the next. Multinational corporations are taking advantage of their brand positioning depending on the country they’re in. Each country gets its own set of products & marketing, appealing to the practices and beliefs of the area.
And more recently, Coca-Cola started the “Share a Coke” campaign in Australia; and sold 250 million named bottles and cans in a nation of just under 23 million people. The campaign has since made its way around the world for 5 summers in a row, reaching more than 70 countries. Coca-Cola teams from Great Britain, to Turkey to China–and, most recently, the United States–have put their own creative spin on the concept, while preserving the simple invitation to Share a Coke with (insert name). Coke made sure the campaign was inclusive, including names that ranged from Jose to Laura to Maya. And if someone’s name could not be found in stores, customers could personalize their own bottle online. Instead of doing diluted multicultural campaigns, Coke was able to target a mosaic of cultures with one campaign.
Cultural intelligence (CQ) is the key to success for any new business, companies gain a new edge when they bring in diverse perspectives into the team. CQ tells us how well we work with diverse groups of people. It’s something that is needed around the world. Not just in design, but in cooperation between people and countries.
Increase your Cultural Intelligence (CQ):
Don’t diminish someone else’s experience.
Acknowledge that because something isn’t happening to you, it doesn’t lose value.
Get out of your comfort zone.
Try new things. Go to a local Spanish Market. Eat at a new adventurous restaurant.
Insights & Inspirations.
The world is an unlimited possibility of perpetual learning. There will always be something to gain with so many new perspectives to learn and be inspired by.