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.

Walking towards intercultural competence

Today I would like to take some time to talk about the so-called “Bennett scale” also
known as the DMIS, the “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity“. This model, developed by Dr. Milton Bennett in the late 80s, serves as a framework to explain the reactions of people to cultural

As shown above, the experience of difference as a function of your own perception moves through different stages, from “ethnocentrism” to “ethnorelativism“. The first term simply means that you experience your own culture as central and the second that you actually experience your culture in the context of other cultures. The more interculturally competent you are, the more you would find yourself on the right side of the diagram.

The six distinct kinds of experiences on the continuum of development are called (following Dr. Bennett’s explanations which can be found here):

  • Denial: one’s own culture is experienced as the only real one. Other cultures are either not noticed at all, or they are perceived as rather vague associated with a kind of undifferentiated other such as “foreigner”.
  • Defence: one’s own culture (or an adopted culture) is experienced as the only viable one. Cultural differences experienced by people in this perspective are stereotypical.
  • Minimalization: one’s own cultural worldview is experienced as universal. The threat associated with cultural differences experienced in Defense is neutralized by subsuming the differences into familiar categories. Somebody in this position would for example assume that typologies (personality, learning style, etc.) apply equally well in all cultures.
  • Acceptance: one’s own culture is experienced as just one of a number of equally complex worldviews. People with this worldview are able to experience others as different from themselves, but equally human.
  • Adaptation: one’s worldview is expanded to include relevant constructs from other cultural worldviews. People here can engage in empathy and are able to express their alternative cultural experience in culturally appropriate feelings and behavior.
  • Integration: one’s experience of self is expanded to include the movement in and out of different cultural worldviews. Here, people construe their identities at the margins of two or more cultures and central to none.

    After reading this you might want to challenge yourself and find out where you would be in this model. Which perception of yourself and others around you do you have and how competent do you deal with cultural difference?

    When I was in Milano with Dr. Bennett a couple of weeks ago, it struck me that this model allowed me to finally understand what I had experienced during the course of my life and why I had felt the way I did. I actually went through all of the different perspectives myself, learning and changing views, to finally aquire competence and by that a kind of “peace” and acceptance within myself.
    If you are reading my blog since a while you might know that I grew up in Belgium with German parents and wthin a completely European and multilingal environment as I went to the European School. Subsequently I then chose a European study path and an international career which now make me to a sellf-declared “chameleon“.
    As it did for me, maybe this model can help you too, on your path to understanding who you are and where you want to be! The good news is that intercultural competence can be learned. As an intercultural coach and a mindful leader I can accompany you on that path if you want to….
    Looking forward to reading your comments and/or to hearing from you! Jenny