Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Developing Global 'Expertise': 1

The issue my work primarily concerns with is how to develop the 'global expertise' of the people that learns with us. Often, this is a bit too woolly, what is global expertise indeed, as expertise is seen as an ability to do something specific. And, in that is our first challenge - working out a definition and explaining why it is important.

'Global Expertise' grows out of the common sense dealings with globalisation around us. It is about being able to work together with people from all over the world, who come to work in and with our businesses. It is about taking opportunities that may be available to develop our expertise, and to derive best value for them. This is about adjusting with transient communities - communities that change all the time around us - rather than clinging to nostalgia and some fixed ideas about how life should be. And, yet, within this melee, global expertise is about developing a sense of self, a set of values, a professional identity and integrity, that transcends the fluidity of the context.

So, essentially, global expertise deals with the transition that we are having to deal with: With globalisation, our communities are becoming less stable: Our businesses, our neighbourhoods, our professions and increasingly our places of worship and our families look different and diverse. We face two challenges with this: First, how do we make it work? And, second, what does this mean for us personally? 

And, often, lack of global expertise means two sets of answers, each opposite to other. The first is that this is all bad: A rejection of globalisation. This is not about right or left, conservative or liberal. This answer cuts across such boundaries: Whether one thinks that it's the wily bankers or the poor people eating his lunch is somewhat inconsequential for this discussion. What matters is the united reaction that we must go back to our roots, the fixed communities, and reject all of these influences. This, ironically, comes from the personal sense of uncertainty: It is not just that we feel under pressure, but also because we don't know what is right or wrong. Our value systems seem challenged, and surely, that's not a great thing.

The second reaction is precisely the opposite: That this means turning a chameleon. This means mastering what's called 'cross-cultural' expertise and doing as 'Romans do'. Just that it is impossible to draw a line and know one is in 'Rome', because such behaviour may be needed all the time. And, besides, because it is so difficult to change one's value systems and behave differently, most people are trained to fake it: 'Cross-cultural' working is often about being politically correct, flaunting superficial knowledge and respect for other cultures and modes of behaviour. Such expediency may help in some negotiations and win orders for salesmen, but this indeed has one of the two long term effects: Either such superficial behaviour consolidates the objections one has to alien culture and turn them more a bigot (hence, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, more and more of global bankers and businessmen are exposed to be closet racists) or such sustained behaviour convince someone that there is no fixed standard of ethic or integrity at all - a slippery slope! 

Global Expertise is what one needs to push back against both of these tendencies. It starts with the acceptance that we are in a new phase of history and we should accept this changing communities as our own. This is not just about knowledge, but also understanding and behaviour. The fixed patterns of behaviour so encouraged by stable communities may need to be revisited, both for the changing nature of the communities and changing nature of life. However, the big challenge is that we have to do this without losing a sense of self, our commitments and our values. This, in turn, means that we have to transcend the system of identities that we have grown up with and adopt a new one.

Lovable ideas such as Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants have been around for a while and people have somewhat accepted them (though they raise mostly similar issues). The idea of being the second global generation, particularly after a 100 year interruption (the first one ended somewhat around 1913), is more difficult. But this is what it is - one would hope that there will be no rude interruption like the last time - and we don't have much choice but to globalise our lives, our work and our thinking. Developing global expertise is to be able to do so without losing our sense of self. 

Indeed, there is a big question how exactly one does this though: This is not the kind of thing one could teach through a set of instructions of some kind. Unfortunately, even universities and colleges don't do a good job - because they are built around 'national' value systems, of one way of thinking being better than the other. They see the 'foreign students' as more of a confirmation of their own value superiority rather than an impending call to arms to start thinking globally. Building this expertise needs careful exposure to global cultures backed by considerate exploration of questions of values, ethics and professional standards, and often, as it happens, remaking quite a few of them. Therein, indeed, lies the challenge, and the opportunity, for us to do something unique.

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