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Intercultural competence development is here to stay

While the saying continually changes, anything labeled „the new black” is (ironically) considered timeless, powerful, stylish. In this article, we suggest that intercultural competence development—as unsexy as it may sound—is the new black, and is here to stay for some time. In the training, coaching and consulting spaces that we share, intercultures—and other providers offering “goods” worth the purchase price—invites a process that goes beyond content knowledge; bows and handshakes; “dos” and “don’ts.” Together, we develop a mindset; deepen cognition about how to play well with others on the landscapes of our complex global realities; and ultimately strengthen one’s capacity to creatively solve problems and transition towards solutions. Balanced by relevant research and best practice, acting with intercultural competence can be considered a game of imagination[i] where context is our canvas and culture is all the colors with which we paint.

The power of imagination

“The power of imagination will become critical” to an emerging, “post-capitalist” global economy, foresees Paul Mason, whose article, „The End of Capitalism Has Begun,“ was published in The Guardian this past week. Post-capitalism weaves together ideas and information as a driving force of economy and society. Mason explains that information “wants to be free”; that post-capitalism (also termed “cognitive capitalism” and associated with “peer production” and “the sharing economy”) is a state of economy in which the infinite abundance of information made possible through information technology destroys our modern economy that vitally relies upon scarcity and an imbalance between supply and demand. The result is new economic transactions and forms of ownership and exchange—and successively, new forms of work, payment and “work-rest” balance. “By creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but with the whole of human intelligence one thumb-swipe away,” wrote Mason, “info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.” Imagination becomes critical as ideas become a common currency.

The value of intercultural competences

Take note: The new age change agent described in The Guardian article will limit themselves if s/he relies alone upon being a receptacle for information, making a living from organizing that information, or even generating new thought for the benefit of the marketplace. S/he will be able to transcend those limitations only by developing an agile, imaginative response to any range of data, and by knowing how to facilitate a process by which diverse players in that global marketplace can co-create, make value from, and exchange information. Content knowledge about the ins and outs of working interculturally, for instance, is ever-evolving and becomes outdated. What if those change agents made a step forward to learn to facilitate information processes among people—and understanding of the mindset, complex realities and creativity needed to lead that could be applied to any context and at any present time? To whatever extent we may or may not emerge into an era of post-capitalism, the imaginative quality of skills-based intercultural competence does not lose its value add in a more competitive or cooperative economy.

Embrace the power of imagination

Yet, like in the story of the hard-working, short-sighted wood chopper who did not make the time to sharpen his axe, some are too busy focusing upon the task at hand to learn to improve their process. We might fairly assume that the wood chopper was operating with the assumption of an economy that encouraged a harder, faster, stronger approach just like “millions of people…beginning to realise they have been sold a dream at odds with what reality can deliver” (Mason, „The End of Capitalism Has Begun“). What different picture might the wood chopper have painted if he had invested time in his own capacity to realize problems and possibilities? How might he have reexamined his understanding of a reality in competition or cooperation with himself or others? When might he have paused to practice a mindset sufficiently agile to meet and manage himself and the work?

Many may be unaware that the Albert Einstein, well known for his findings as a theoretical physicist, considered himself “enough of an artist to draw freely upon [his] imagination“. Imagination, he said, “is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Whatever your craft, intercultures encourages you to embrace the power of imagination, the new black.

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[i] Imagination is synonymous with “resourcefulness,” “ingenuity,” “vision,” “artistry,” and “intelligence.”

The above article was included in the July 2015 intercultures e-newsletter.

Picture Credit Title Picture: Malii Brown.