Sherpa Hossainy's Blog

Your perception is your truth, but it’s not “the” truth

Posted in Bangladesh, Celebrity, Dhaka, Gurus, Interviews by Sherpa Hossainy on December 23, 2011

Published in Friday Features in The Independent on 23 December 2011

Read the article in Independent website

Digital print version (Page 25 and Page 31)

When we stumble upon a custom from another culture that does not tally with our proclivity we might indulge ourselves into thinking “What on earth is that?” and simply discard it as nonsense. It’s hard not to judge others and be sanctimonious rather than digging deeper or sparing a moment to understand others’ standpoints. However, while being pejorative and reaching a hasty conclusion appears to solve a dilemma quicker, it leaves a bitter taste in our mouth when it comes to cross-cultural communication.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, renowned expert on cultural awareness and motivation, Pellegrino Riccardi, shared how empathy and understanding holds the key to successful cross-cultural communication. “Your perception is your truth, but it’s not ‘the’ truth. It’s easy to use our own standards to make a conclusion, but being judgmental doesn’t help any communication,” he said. To overcome cultural barriers, start looking for positives in other cultures, he added.

Pellegrino has had his fair share of cross-cultural exposure, as he was born to an Italian family, raised in the UK and lived and worked in Norway for the last 16 years. He recalled how he had to “switch” and “re-programme” to Italian culture after coming from a “British” school. “It was a conflict growing up as a child.  But later in life I learned it was a great advantage.” The cross-cultural communication expert travels around the world providing services for international companies and groups.

Pellegrino Riccardi at a lecture session in Ericsson office (Photo: Arild Klokkerhaug)

It was his first visit to Bangladesh, following an invitation from the Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) in Bangladesh. While here, he shared his experiences and expertise with members of top multinational companies about how culture and nationality affects communication. Pellegrino uses “edutainment”, which he believes is the magic formula for teaching along with a mixture of humor and theory.

According to Pellegrino, we have four basic needs, regardless of nationality: certainty, significance, relationship/connection, and, surprisingly, uncertainty (problems and surprises as life would be tedious if we always knew what’s coming). “While working with other cultures we react when we come across people’s actions and words that we are not prepared for,” he said, adding that people are surprised when they hear his British accent after seeing his “very Italian” name. Pellegrino said, “As humans we like our expectations to be met, we like to know what’s coming — more than we think we do.”

When people work in global companies they come across a lot of surprises, which makes international work exciting but too many surprises stress the body. Pellegrino said, “People who are culturally intelligent are good at tolerating and dealing with uncertainties.” Cultural intelligence consists of cultural knowledge, tolerating uncertainty, behavioural flexibility, being non-judgemental and self-questioning, he added.

Here’s an interesting scenario to understand the difference of interpretation of some core human values. Imagine you are in a car, which your best friend is driving. Suddenly s/he hits a pedestrian. It was purely an accident, but the pedestrian gets killed. Although it was an accident, you knew your friend was driving at 40km in a 30km zone. The case goes to court and the lawyer said that telling the court that your friend was driving at 30kmh would save her/him. The question is (answer in yes or no): Will you ‘lie’ to save your friend?

In this case, a study revealed that the percentage of people saying “no” was highest in Germany, Sweden, Norway, USA and UK; Poland, France, Italy had a lower percentage of “no” and India, Russia and Nigeria had few saying “yes”. After more extensive research Richard Lewis Communications, a communication research center, developed a cultural behaviour model, which categorises cultures in three groups — Blue, Red and Yellow — and found attributes that define a specific culture. However, a culture could also be in between these colours due to the diversity of human personalities. The colours themselves aren’t significant except as a point of reference.

Blue culture was found to be based on individualism, equality, freedom and very much linear and fact-oriented while Red culture was based on emotion, collectivism, hierarchy and more people-oriented. Yellow culture was found to be about obedience, harmony and intuition. Switzerland, Norway, Germany, USA were found to have Blue cultures while Denmark, Ireland and Australia have Blue with a touch of Red. Israel, South Africa, France, Russia were more close to Red while Portugal, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Nigeria were found to be Red. In the spectrum, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iran, India and Pakistan were close to Red with a touch of Yellow. UK, Sweden, Finland and Canada are also close to Blue and Korea, Thailand, China and Vietnam belong to Yellow.

Pellegrino Riccardi at a lecture session (Photo: Arild Klokkerhaug)

Truth or integrity in some cultures may be interpreted in a different way than another, none of which are necessarily bad. It depends on perspective. “About flexible truth you have to get around the cultural aspect and understand there is a positive intention,” Pellegrino said. The perception of Blue culture about the Reds is that you can’t trust them but to think from a Red perspective, Blues can’t be trusted because they’ll not be there for you in a difficult situation like the car accident scenario. But we are programmed to do our best and behind any behaviour there is usually a positive intention, Pellegrino said.

System, institution and rules play an important part in Blue life and there is a policy of “zero tolerance”. Blues believe systems work and they can be perfect, though pragmatically they never are. The important commodity in Red culture is “people” whereas Blues choose personal attachments carefully because it gets harder saying no, if you are too close. In order to make the Blue system work there has to be a distance maintained. “Blues communicate in a straight line, when there is unpredictability they become insecure. The recent financial crisis is all about Blue cultures getting nervous about volatility and that is very infectious,” Pellegrino said.

In cross-cultural communication, body language plays a crucial role. Research has shown that when people communicate, as much as 55 per cent of the message is communicated through body language and 38 per cent through tone of voice. Only 7 per cent is through words. Thus, without tone and body language the chances of misunderstanding and misinterpretation increase dramatically. For reds, it is important to make clear how they feel and for blues it’s about control and composure. “Some things considered normal in Red culture would be regarded as violent outburst in Blue societies. So there could be lot of misinterpretation between the Reds and Blues,” Pellegrino said.

Another important trait of Red culture is collectivism, which the individualist blue culture perceives rather negatively, thinking it makes everyone slow. There was an interesting poster from an anti-Obama campaign when he tried to introduce the welfare system where everybody pays tax and the money goes for the ones who need it. The anti-Obama slogan read: “Collectivism is slavery”.

Nevertheless, the communication skills trainer thinks there’s way for both the cultures to work in cohesion by understanding each other’s strength. Individualists are innovators; they are good at pushing forward, while collectivists are great team workers, which says a lot about having more production in Asia, Pellegrino said. “Blues seem to have forgotten how to be collective, how to work together.” However, Pellegrino thinks “money has a lot to do with individualism” and it is hard to say if Red cultures like India or Bangladesh would lose collectivism if people start earning more. The recent financial crisis, however, has dealt a blow to individualism, he thinks.

Pellegrino Riccardi speaking at a lecture session in Ericsson office (Photo: Arild Klokkerhaug)

Pellegrino also shared his views about the extreme power distance and hierarchical structure that exists in Red culture that he says works as a “fear factor”. “In a Red culture it is very difficult to be honest upwards. It creates friction and an underlying communication problem,” he said. “It’s a basic need for human to be able to say what they think. By that you get to know each other better,” Pellegrino said.

In Red cultures “togetherness” also leads to nepotism but Pellegrino said the Blue cultures should not feel too self-righteous. “It’s everywhere. In Germany two-thirds of all jobs are acquired through personal contact. Reciprocity in Blue culture is ‘corruption’ or ‘networking’ at best. It’s all the same, just different labels.” Pellegrino thinks there is a greater need for multinational companies to find out how corporate values differ around the world. “The values created in Stockholm would not always translate completely in a Red culture — there will always be a local flavour,” he said.

Pellegrino also provides training on motivation and negotiation skills. He said negotiation focuses on understanding others’ perceptions. “We should try to see others’ problems from their point of view. The question is are we willing to go there and take the risk of understanding how others see it?” He said negotiators sometimes think they are right and understanding others would make them weak. “But negotiation is not about winning, it’s about finding a common solution,” he said.

Pellegrino hopes that people will understand more about cultural differences after his sessions and they will learn to appreciate different ways of interacting and thinking of different people. You can even disagree but once you start judging people, you cease to communicate, he said. “People find it difficult to change, unless they have to; they still have to adapt to every culture they work around.”

Stressing the need to give significance to others, Pellegrino said: “Sometimes while communicating we forget to give importance to others, which we should do to be better connected. When we stop giving each other significance, relationships fail. We have to learn to coexist and try to understand one another; that’s the only way to grow.”  Pellegrino thinks some become conceited thinking that they are from a supposedly better culture and they have seen it all, but this approach never helps — the onus is always on an individual to learn about other cultures. “Whoever is coming to Bangladesh has to learn about Bangladeshi culture, it is not the other way around,” he said. “Every culture has its ‘good’, ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ side. End of the day we all have similarities as well, lest we forget that.”


Global expert calls for effective cross cultural communication

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Celebrity, Dhaka, Gurus by Sherpa Hossainy on December 6, 2011

Published in The Independent on 6 December 2011

Read the article on Independent website

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Multinational companies has to nurture their employees and work on overcoming cross cultural barriers in a bid to perform better, a renowned cross cultural communication expert said.

“Communication is so important nowadays, so many business deals don’t see the light of day because of failed communications,” said Pellegrino Riccardi, an expert on cultural awareness and motivation.

Pellegrino Riccardi in a workshop in Ericsson office in Dhaka

Riccardi said that rather than judging what’s wrong with people, companies should try to make cross cultural relationships work. “We have to learn to coexist and try to understand one another; that’s the only way to grow.”

The Norway-based communication skills trainer said that multi national companies’ staffs have already got the competency and the strength; the companies have to nurture them and give them “significance”.  “Find out what they have to offer, boost their confidence. They want certainty, significance and reward,” Riccardi urged.

Pellegrino Riccardi is visiting Dhaka following an invitation from Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) in Bangladesh. Currently there are many Nordic business ventures in Bangladesh such as Telenor (Grameenphone), Ericsson and Novo Nordisk.

Arild Klokkerhaug, president of NCCI in Bangladesh, said, “NCCI is trying to serve its members by providing insight into cross cultural communication and help them work better in Bangladesh.” Riccardi’s workshops will harness effective cross cultural communication in companies, he added.

Riccardi discussed different aspects of cross cultural communication to give a better understanding of how to work in a cross cultural atmosphere and learn to respect others’ views and opinions without judging them, at his first workshop in Ericsson on Monday.

He said, “Sometimes while communicating we forget to give importance to others. That’s what we should do to be more connected. Different cultures teach you to be more open and communicative. When we stop giving each other significance the relationship fails.”

Pellegrino Riccardi speaking in a workshop at Ericsson office in Dhaka

Pellegrino observed that Bangladesh holds better prospect than China in terms of becoming an economic giant. Better communication ability of the workforce and superior product quality will give Bangladesh an edge over China, he said. “Quality is very important to Europeans and China hasn’t been able to produce quality products to that extent.”

“Whether you are in India, Bangladesh, Egypt or Norway the only way to change people’s perception is by being good at what you do,” he added.

Pellegrino Riccardi, one of Scandinavia’s leading cross-cultural experts, was born and raised in the UK in an Italian family and has lived and worked in Norway for the past 16 years. His clients include some of Norway’s largest international organisations including Statoil, Telenor, Aker Solutions, Nycomed, The Norwegian School of Management BI, Statkraft, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Det Norske Veritas. Pellegrino is a published author in Norway and also a co-presenter of a new prime-time television program on NRK1 channel.

Marketing guru asks youth to go global

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Celebrity, Corporate, Dhaka, Economy, Gurus by Sherpa Hossainy on June 11, 2011

Published in The Independent on 9 June, 2011

Read the article on Independent website

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Marketing legend Philip Kotler, on Wednesday, asked the Bangladeshi youth to embark into the global marketing scenario to enhance the brand image of the country.

“I want all of you to be crusaders in the international marketing field and create some pioneer Bangladeshi brands,” said Professor Philip Kotler.

He was speaking at a lecture session for the youth titled “Inspiring the future minds”, organised by Bangladesh Brand Forum in Mirpur Indoor Stadium in Dhaka.

“Doing your product’s marketing in a different country is risky and could become difficult. You should have the knowledge of the culture, language and the philosophy of that place. You might want a local partner to do business with,” said the professor of international marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.

Kotler told some 2,500 future leaders to think out of the box and be involved in every aspects of marketing to promote quality products from Bangladesh.

“You should be able to think horizontally, not vertically. If you are not thinking horizontally, you are not thinking about your business as a whole. You’ll get stuck,” said Kotler, widely regarded as the father of modern marketing.

The marketing guru also advised the youth that he would like all of them to study finance besides marketing to move up the ladder in an organisation.

“Sometimes finance could be boring with all the numbers, but a blend of marketing and finance is the key to make a company successful,” he said.

Dr Philip Kotler giving his lecture to the youth at Mirpur indoor stadium, Dhaka on 8 June, 2011

Kotler said the major global companies are increasingly using social media like facebook and twitter for marketing and they need young professionals who can apply their skills there.

“Social media is especially important for companies that want to reach young people. You will be needed as social media experts because the youth are better at it than the seniors,” he said.

Although Kotler remained sceptical about 100 per cent social media based companies saying that would be “a disaster”.

“I would advise, 90 per cent advertisement based and 10 per cent social media based companies. They can research and learn the latter’s impact and make plans on how to use it effectively,” he said.

He predicted that there will be a certain point in the future when there will only be good companies, as the bad ones will be eliminated by the customers’ social media campaign.

Professor Kotler, consistently ranked amongst the top 10 business thinkers of the world, stressed the need for more customer engagement and structured customer relationship management.

“A brand is a promise, it is the way you manage expectations of the customers. So get close and know your customers, build customer database and focus on their needs,” he said.

Kotler said the previous marketing theory of infinite resources and infinite needs is redundant in the contemporary world. The theory has now changed into “finite resources and finite needs.”

Professor Kotler, the author of ‘Marketing Management’, which is the most widely used marketing textbook in graduate schools of business around the globe with 20 million plus copies sold, also stressed on poverty alleviation through social marketing.

“Besides product, price, place and promotion there’s a fifth ‘P’ now – ‘purpose’. You have to put together these five ‘P’s and implement them for social marketing,” Kotler said.

Kotler advises Bangladesh to set focal points for growth

Posted in Bangladesh, Business, Celebrity, Corporate, Dhaka, Gurus by Sherpa Hossainy on June 8, 2011

Published in The Independent on 8 June, 2011

Read the article on Independent website

Digital print version

International marketing guru Philip Kotler yesterday advised Bangladesh to identify its priority sectors to become a developed nation.

“Study the best companies in each industry, chose industries that you want to be best in and then reach out,” said Kotler, revered as the father of modern marketing.

Philip Kotler said that Bangladesh is doing well in ready made garment products, pharmaceuticals and food production but it still has not worked out in which sector it wants to be a pioneer.

“It is up to the government to help figure out what industries are the future and which one should be nurtured,” Kotler, professor of international marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said.

Dr Philip Kotler, the father of modern marketing

Kotler cited the examples of Japan and Singapore’s rise as economic superpowers and advised Bangladesh to follow the same strategy.

“Japan started by copying US products, but they made them better and hence came the term ‘made in Japan’. Now the USA envies Japan as their products are superior.

“Singapore is only a city, even smaller than Dhaka. They decided they are good at three basic things: education, health service and finance. Now they have become a financial capital for the region,” the professor said.

He said Bangladesh has to promote the brand “Made in Bangladesh”. He also recommended making industries that can generate foreign currencies, and attract foreign companies.

Kotler said that Bangladesh should be included in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as it is a big country in terms of population.

He also asked Bangladesh to learn from the examples of India and China in poverty alleviation.

Kotler said: “Your neighbours India and China is working hard on finding ways how to make things cheaper so they can be afforded by the poor people. You should be doing the same.”

Kotler also expressed his keen interest in Bangladesh economy and market and lauded Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank for their efforts in social marketing.

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