Connecting the dots – Furthering Creative Innovation through Diversity

Just coming out of an excellent three-day course in Milan with Milton Bennett and Lee Knefelkamp, I could not help myself but to write these couple of sentences down, now that they are still fresh.

I learned that a person’s view on ethics depends heavily on his/her developmental status of learning or knowledge as identified in the so-called “Perry Scheme”.[1] The different positions in this scheme can in turn be very nicely integrated into M. Bennet’s “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity” (DMIS). The more a person moves up the Perry scheme, the more he/she is open, able to deal with ambiguity and a critical thinker making conscious choices based on active reasoning. The more a person moves from enthnocentrism to ethnorelativism in the DMIS, the more the cultural context will be included in his/her decision making processes and the more culturally appropriate behavior will be part of his/her cultural identity.

Thus in the ultimate stage of development in both models (DMIS and Perry Scheme), considered choices are made in face of legitimate alternatives; the person acts with contextual ethical commitment.

For me, this connection between learning/knowledge, ethics and intercultural communication certainly makes sense and opens up many different ways of exploring the field. Once a group is for example able to deal with difference, which normally happens between “minimization” and “acceptance” in the DMIS and position 5 in the Perry Scheme (constructing meaning), it will certainly add value to sustained innovation and creativity simply by bringing different perspectives into the discussion. Research has indeed shown that heterogeneous, diverse teams who are able to effectively work together (which requires a certain level of intercultural competence) produce much better results than when the teams are composed homogeneously, with people from the same background or with the same values.

Creative innovation is indeed something that many companies nowadays are striving for. The increasing acceleration of technology obsolescence with shrinking lifecycles – paired with an increasingly strict regulatory environment in the medical industry for example – is impacting already the way companies operate. Recent surveys are pointing out that currently the most innovative industries are the ones, which are able to better connect the commercial and technical dots.

And how do you connect these dots? Well, firstly by enabling cross-functional, virtual and multinational teams to effectively communicate and work together. Secondly, companies have to encourage dialogue and creative thinking by signaling that ideas can be tested out, even if sometimes in the end, they are not successful. Incentives and means have to be found to include and anchor not only intercultural competence criteria but also a reward mechanism for constructive disagreement as well as creative idea generation in policies, job descriptions and performance evaluations so that new impulses can be generated.

There is still much to be done here…I am ready, are you?



[1] Perry, W. (1970, 1998) Forms of Cognitive & Ethical Development in the College Years : Knefelkamp, L. « Introduction » ; Moore, W. Overview of the Perry Scheme.

Intercultural Competence – Can it be measured?

While in Tallinn I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Milton Bennett’s speech: “Culture is not like an Iceberg, and Competence is not like Intelligence: The Ravages of Reification in Intercultural Theory & Research”[1]. As expected the temperature in the room directly rose and animated discussions followed the presentation. What sparked so many reactions was the fact that Dr. Bennett pointed towards the idea that intercultural competence is not a ‘thing’  – and therefore cannot be measured and/or ranked – as one cannot assume that it is normally distributed within a given population.

In his recent Blog post: “The Mismeasure of Intercultural Competence” he even goes a little further drawing a parallel between intelligence (IQ) and Intercultural Competence (IC). He says: “IQ was (…) devised as a system to rank people in terms of how much g[2] they had, and it is still with us today. The point here is that g (and consequently IQ) has no identifiable existence outside of our measurement.” When originally observing Intercultural Competence in behavior, whereby some people obviously had more of it than others, we directly assumed that the ones “(…) more competent had some set of measurable inherent qualities and characteristics that accounted for their competence”, hence something that could be measured.

One can easily understand why these statements cause so many reactions… it leaves HR professionals, trainers, coaches, consultants etc. with a big ‘question mark’, meaning a gap where the traditional measurement tools normally would have been situated. Exactly as in other domains – like communications for example – if you cannot prove in numbers how the situation was before your intervention and where it stands after, how can you show the ROI and show your value to the organization?

Concerning IQ, it is generally assumed that it is not the only factor determining how well a person will function in international or national teams, with employees or as a manager/supervisor. Whereas technical skills are important, different ways are found nowadays to express a persons’ skill levels; emotional intelligence with its different aspects for instance, well described by Daniel Goleman, is one example of a ‘new’ way of analyzing people’s competences when working together.

I guess in the case of Intercultural Competence, new ways have to be found to express how well a person adapts and others don’t. Certainly interesting new ground for research!




[1] You can find his slides here

[2] General Intelligence Factor

Intercultural competence begins with self-awareness

Have you already encountered your first intercultural issue during your holidays? Maybe it was in a restaurant where the waiter did not serve you exactly what you wanted; or maybe your neighbours in your holiday resort are awake when you normally sleep and vice versa. How do you deal with these problems? Do you walk away angry, do you change rooms and hope it won’t happen again?

Intercultural competence begins with knowing who you are and being sensitive to your own values and beliefs. What are your triggers and how do you behave? Where does this come from? How open are you to other views, cultures, habits etc.? A good way to start, is the Bennett scale or “Development Model of Intercultural Sensitivity” (DMIS). You can find more info about it here (as I explained it in one of my previous posts). This scale is actually a good starting point to examine where you are so that you can become aware of your own actions/reactions. If you are in one of the ethnocentric stages for example, you will be more likely to think in stereotypes and not be able to appreciate different worldviews as you would feel threatened by these.

I personally always find that Europe during the summer is an excellent place to practice intercultural competence and skills. Why? Many people from different backgrounds are coming together in major touristic hubs so that you can not only hear and listen to many different languages but also observe different cultural behaviours all in one spot. What a great potpourri of people…

By the way: as I am now on and not anymore on, and if you don’t want to follow me with your e-mail address, you can simply click ‘edit’ in your wordpress reader and enter my URL ( in the text box at the top of the page. All my new posts will start appearing in your reader immediately! Happy reading! Jenny