Friday, December 11, 2009

You've Been Brainwashed

Yes, I’m talking about you. You’ve been brainwashed by the bedtime stories your parents told you as a child, by your favorite superhero movies, by your history textbooks.

Well, as brainwashed connotes the intention of evil, maybe isn’t the most appropriate word. But, I want you to grasp … to really, really get how much of YOU is shaped by your upbringing and your current experiences.

Now, I’m a firm believer that we’re all born unique – with certain personalities, strengths and talents. We’re not solely products of our environments. And I believe that there exists some level of universal truth and goodness in the world. But I also believe that the boundaries are really quite fuzzy when we cross cultural boarders … fuzzier than we’d really like them to be … fuzzier than we generally feel comfortable with.

In a fascinating TED talk, Devdutt Pattanaik speaks about cultural myths and legends in the East verses the West, and how they shape individuals' perceptions of the world. Every culture, he says, is seeking to explain the world as we know it. Why does the sun rise? Why were we born? What is the purpose of our lives? We answer these questions through stories, symbols and rituals – which continuously shape the members of society.

"There is my world and there is your world,” Pattanaik says, “And my world is ALWAYS better than your world. Because my world, you see, is rational and yours is superstition, yours is faith, yours is illogical.” Isn’t that typically our view? We have our own guidelines for logic, for what makes sense, for how things ought to operate. The distinct line, in Western culture, between good and evil, between right and wrong, and even between the earthly and the supernatural – this leads us Westerners to create standards, processes, routines that are methodical, rooted in science and based on things we can see, touch and measure. In Eastern cultures, there is a different kind of logic. Often the cyclical logic of “it depends”, of “mostly”, of “maybe” and of “yes means no” rises up.

This understanding is vital in business. Belief drives behavior, and behavior drives business. While we can, perhaps, force compliance of Western policies, we can’t force adoption of our world view onto overseas entities and employees whose world views come in sharp contrast to our own. How can we adapt our practices and even leadership development techniques interculturally to facilitate the achievement of the desired business objectives? Pattanaik ends his talk with a touching story of how Indian culture and myths were integrated into a leadership development practice to to inspire newly promoted managers to rise up from individual contributers to leaders. Be inspired: watch the video to find out what he did.

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