Thursday, 30 July 2015

cultural singularities of "indianness"

Just appeared in the journal "Culture and Organizations" (2015), our paper "Understanding cultural singularities of ‘Indianness’ in an intercultural business setting" - by Francis Laleman, Vijay Pereira and Ashish Malik.

Analysing data from the Indian information technology (IT) industry, this paper advances an understanding of cultural singularities of ‘Indianness’. The research context of an intercultural meeting place of IT and business process outsourcing firms’ overseas subsidiaries, Belgium in this case, allows the authors to identify 10 cultural singularities that typify ‘Indianness’. 

This ethnographic, reflexive study is further validated by employing Ghoshal's ‘smell of the place’ metaphor through the authors collective experiences as consultants and researchers, and builds and extends upon the popular cultural dimension frameworks for understanding intercultural business and management. 

Existing cultural dimensions do not sufficiently describe the contemporary intercultural dynamics that typically take place in workplaces, especially so in offshore and outsourcing environments. A provisional set of parameters for understanding Indian culture, with its relevant impact on business life (customs and manners), business processes and business deliverables are proposed in this study.

Remarkedly, the data beyond this study were all taken from our daily practice as intercultural management consultants and training facilitators - and the methodolgy, including the 10 resulting cultural singularities of "indianness", represents the main themes and structures of the intercultural workshops we organize on the outsourcer's field - both for Indian and non-Indian clients.

For more information, please contact

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

beyond borders - a (c)lean new website

With March sending its first sunbeams into the garden of our offices at Bayt al-Andalus (Antwerpen, Belgium) - what better moment than today, to go live with a new website?

More than before, we have focused on Lean and Agile as cornerstones in our value proposition.

Because over the years, we have come to incorporate the Lean and Agile philosophies, approaches, concepts and tools in nearly everything we stand for and most of everything we do. Common zen(se), indeed.

More than before, we have become generators of leanification and agilification - whether it be in our approach to learning and development, in our view on instructional design, in our role as learning aid developers and/or project managers, in our ever-growing conviction that workplace diversity is (or can be, or should be) a driver of continuous betterment (kaizen) of work-related processes and enhanced overall output.

Also, step by step, we have come to consider the so-called intercultural competencies, from intercultural awareness to cross-cultural business solutions, as examples of supreme organisational agility.

For all these reasons, we have decided to synergize our value propositions, to leanify the overall package, to bring the diverse aspects of who we are, what we stand for and what we do into one stream of thought and activities.

For these reasons, you will find that our "dunya" and "india business support" brands are now an integral part of Beyond Borders.

Monday, 23 February 2015

diversity matters: ethics and deontology

In diversity matters just as much as in any other aspect of on-the-job behavioural expectations, the question of ethics versus deontology is sure to pop up at any moment. It happened to me again, this morning, when I was facilitating a forum on diversity, and more than one of the attendants pointed out that since we have a deontological code, in which our obligation towards nurturing diversity is clearly stipulated, any discussion on ethics must be considered superfluous.

Wait a minute. The situation is far from straightforward. I wish it would be easy, but wake up, it isn't.

(1) In the study of ethics, it is commonly accepted that deontology (aka deontological ethics) is a framework prescribing normative ethical positions. Where norm equals rules and regulations. It is, in other words, the question of the validity or non-validity of an action, based on the actor's adherence to legislation. In deontology, therefore, one chooses to do the right thing on account of the right thing being considered one's duty (δέον).

"I choose to cause you no harm, or offense, because I must make that choice. It is my duty".

(2) So much for Immanuel Kant, the18th century grandfather of modern ethics. It was soon discovered that Kant's unique focus on duty and choice of the agent left the door open for a whole variety of actions which were deontologically valid, but, by all means, obviously un-ethical. Think of no more than a murder (a beheading, maybe?) done under the scrupulous prescriptions of the law of the place and the day - but for no other reason than the victim's opinion, or religion, or sexual preference ... - and you will get the gist.

Clearly, ethics should be consequentialist. In consequentialism, the focus of the matter is shifted towards the consequence of the action, much rather that on the (duty of) the actor.

"I am doing this, or saying that, because it will make you (feel) better".

(3) But consequentalism, when applied in practice, brings problems of its own. If the consequence of one's action is what matters, does this imply that all means are permitted to get there? In other words, does the end justify the means? Or doesn't it, really? - Can one, for example, hit one's children, because one believes that this will make them see sense?

Aretaic ethics (aka virtue ethics) shifts the focus even further. So-called good or bad deeds should not be judged on account of lawfulness, and neither on account of whatever consequences they bring. The sole factor of judgement is the character of the actor, and the virtues that this character embodies.

"I choose not to cause you harm, or offend you, because I want to make that choice".

Let us consider the above three strands of ethics through an example

A consequentialist may argue that giving offense to individuals on account of their opinion, cultural background, religion, or whatever, is wrong because of the hurt it will cause for members of this or that community. Even so, a consequentialist might allow that offending, in a certain case, is acceptable - when the caused harm is seen in perspective of the greater harm that might be inflicted in another area.
A deontologist, on the other hand, will react quite straightforwardly: If, and only if, refraining from offense is deontologically mandatory, will (s)he choose to act as such, with pride and honour.
Yet, the virtue ethicist will take note of the deontological code, and then consider what it says about one's character and moral behaviour if cause for offensive is being given.

Implementation of ethics in diversity matters

For a diversity programme in your community or your company to succeed, it is essential that a great number of change agents be continuously at work in all levels of the organisation - and in order for these change agents to have any chance on success, it is imperative that they inscribe the organisation's diversity vision and mission into the coded language of their aretaic ethical convictions.

Plain and simply: 

Diversity efforts must be undertaken, because we want to.
Not because we have to.

Monday, 17 February 2014

जुगाड़ | jugaad in pernambuco

Solutions are at hand, always. Impossible does not exist. Impossible is temporary, leading to a myriad of possibilities. With some trust, opportunities become possibilities. Solutions do not need to be scalable, into a future indefinite. Solutions matter now. Of all the possibilities, the less expensive possible solution will probably turn out to be the most worthwhile.

All the above, are aspects of Jugaad, that most powerful of mind boggling concepts of heuristics, the Art of Problem Solving. And yet - what is called जुगाड़ -  Jugaad in India, and carries some kind of comparable name in most parts of the world, has yet to get caught by the same kind of powerful, sexy so-many-letter-word in most of the European tongues.

Fortunately, with so little words to grasp the meaning of Jugaad, one could stroll into the Amsterdam Tropenmuseum, where a temporary exhibition called MixMax Brasil invites the visitor to get deep into what Jugaad means in the non-European world.

At the heart of MixMax Brasil is the melting pot culture of Pernambuco, a state in the north-east of Brasil, with some traces of Dutch-ness embedded into it. But do not worry, of Dutch footsteps one soon stops to be wary, as one embarks on discovering the sense-overwhelming set of the smell-feel-hear-see-and-live-for-yourself theatrical exhibition displays.

The design of the Pernambucan labyrinth has been entrusted to the award-winning Brazilian art duo Aby Cohen and Lee Dawkins - and includes contributions by Pernambucan artists such as Derlon Almeida, Galo de Souza, Bezerra, Tiana Santos and DJ Dolores.

But most of all, what the visitor gets in touch and feel with, at MixMax Brasil, is a sense of all-encompassing jugaadness.

Come home, after MixMax Brasil, and you will see how you start doing things differently. How all of a sudden, you get to finding simple and inexpensive solutions for all your long over-due, hanging household issues.

Drop in, then, at the Tropenmuseum, for a genuine life-changer experience.

And see for yourself, how jugaad has taught you

> how to find opportunity in adversity
> how to do more with (much) less
> how to think and act in a flexible way
> how to keep things solid and simple
> how to include the margin in all that you come up with
> and how to follow your heart in everything you do.

Friday, 31 January 2014

priceless advice from mirza asadullah ghalib

In these days of blogs and numbered lists ("three ways to do this","eight things you should do when..."), looking back at "old" literature might be the shortest route to getting house-arrested in "Dude-istan".

In Belgium, where I have my roots and I spend a great deal of my time, few must be those who could name any of the local 19th century writers, let alone cite a verse or a couplet from their works. To go one step further, even, and publicly admit to appreciate what any of these dusty forefathers wrote, is nothing short of invoking complete social ex-communication, and, for that matter, a shower of additional condescendence and laughter.

And yet - whenever I update my LinkedIn profile with a preferred verse from the collected ghazals of Mirza Asadullah Ghalib, who, with a birth date in 1797, could actually be catalogued as an 18th (!) century poet, I am being liked by a variety of readers from all over the world - although, admittedly, mostly of Indian origin.

Of late, it happened again, when I dug up a piece of priceless advice, collected from an attractive-looking little Ghalib book I had picked up from one of  the multiple sidewalk book vendors at CP, New Delhi. The booklet (available here), which contains exactly 200 verses, is the second Ghalib output of OP Kejariwal, an author and a historian, who is currently a director at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.

Even with the above credentials, with Ghalib, Kejariwal is clearly as much of a dilettante as I am - but his selection of verses is more delightful than I could ever muster. Standard nor extravagant. Out-of-the-boxish and expected at the same time. Faut le faire.

But it is in Kejariwal's translations that the collection really excels.

Look at the gem in the picture above. What an exquisite and priceless advice of the old poet! And how neatly rendered in the language of the Bard. How timeless, also. Could have been written with any modern manager or public figure in mind.

When I read this, all I wanted was to rush home ay-es-ay-pee.
And pull them down, these idols. Gone with vanity! Gone with pride.
Clear the mind. And, once more, walk the streets that invite reproof.

Thank you, Ghalib!
Thank, you, OP.

the year of the horse

Today, with the first new moon of the calendar year, the official 15 days festive season for the Chinese year gets on the track.

The Chinese zodiac calendar system (Shēngxiào) has been in use since the days of the Han dynasty (206-220BC). It has a recurrent 12 year cycle, with every year named after an animal: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, in that order. According to Shēngxiào, the universe is made up of five elements – earth, water, fire, wood and metal – which interact with the 12 animals, resulting in the specific character of the year ahead. Today, Jan 31 2014, goes the snake, enters the horse.

With this, I wish to send all our Chinese friends and colleagues our best wishes for a great and very successful year.

It goes without saying that the horse is full of symbolisms and has a great power of metaphor. One of my favourite horse-related storybooks is Dennis Haseley's absolutely delightful Twenty Heartbeats, with illustrations done by brush master Ed Young (Roaring Brook Press, 01 Apr 2008). This 32 page gem, typically classified as "juvenile fiction", has proved to be an excellent sourcebook for training purposes in a great variety of environments.
At Dunya (Intercultural Management), we use the book to capture some of the traits we might expect when dealing with Chinese business counterparts and/or colleagues, and at Beyond Borders, the story is the framework in which we learn how to deal with a project and how to manage a project timeline in order to guarantee on time delivery and create a seemless match between deliverables and business requirements.

Moreover, in this Year of the Horse, we intend to create and come up with a wide range of affiliated horse-related stories, metaphors and training materials.

So far so good. In the meantime: 新年快乐!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

the dunya group

The Dunya Group is a serendipitous gang of talent developers and trainers, covering a wide variety of skills and competences, and representing all corners of the world, from South America to Europe to Asia, and all shades of age between May and September.

At Beyond Borders, find out what we do in learning and development, instructional design, competence management, Agile methodologies, intercultural management, diversity management and community development programs.

At Dunya, read more on our intercultural management (Dunya) and diversity (Asmaan) portfolio.

For country specific intercultural services, read our country specific pages, and most in particular, revert to India Business Support to learn more about what we do as intermediaries between Europe and India.

For our community development mprograms in Bodhgaya (Bihar, India), find our Anand web pages.

The Dunya Group consists of Francis Laleman with associated freelancers and subject-related experts, a/o Michaela Broeckx (the Arab World, Agile methodologies, SCRUM, software implementation, technical writing), Kawaljeet Kaur (Germany, India, instructional design, intercultural training), Amrita Joerawan (HRD, training, instructional design), and Barbara Boumans (social media, yoga).