What is cultural intelligence? Cultural intelligence (CQ) is defined as the capability to function effectively across a variety of cultural contexts. It’s proven that your success today’s globalized world is strongly linked to your ability to adapt effectively in multicultural situations.

Many of us might immediately think “culture” refers to international cultures. After all, we know that the culture in Japan is different than Brazilian culture which is different than U.S. culture. In the global business world, increasing one’s cultural intelligence is linked to global potential and effectiveness which in turn leads to improved efficiencies, enhanced negotiations, better results and increased profit.

Expanding the above concept of “culture“, Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time”. We now appreciate that culture fits in a variety of contexts. Beliefs and customs can vary dramatically between generations, organizations, ethnicities, families as well as geographies.

Can improving your cultural intelligence (CQ) increase your effectiveness across different types of cultures? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

To understand how, let’s expand a little more on cultural intelligence. Similar to IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence), CQ is an academically-validated measurement of a capability within human beings. Cultural Intelligence (CQ) was introduced in 2003 by Professors P. Christopher Earley and Soon Ang. More recently, CQ has gone mainstream within corporations, non-profits, universities and government agencies. The increased global awareness of the tangible benefits of CQ can be attributed to the notable work of Dr. David Livermore at the Cultural Intelligence Center. Organizations are bringing CQ assessments and training to their leaders and employees because they recognize that high CQ proves to be a key differentiator and a competitive business edge.

There are 4 main components in the cultural intelligence quotient (CQ) construct.

  1. CQ Drive (motivation) is your interest, drive and confidence in functioning effectively in culturally diverse settings. This is a sometimes overlooked component. Without intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, the chances of being successful in a multicultural situation greatly diminish.
  2. CQ Knowledge (cognition) is your knowledge about how cultures are similar and different. It’s not about being an expert in every culture you encounter. It’s about the relativity of your differences. Also to what extent you understand the core cultural differences and their impact.
  3. CQ Strategy (meta-cognition) is how you make sense of culturally diverse experiences. It’s about how you plan effectively in light of cultural differences.
  4. CQ Action (behavior) is your capability to adapt your behavior appropriately for different cultures. While still remaining true to yourself, do you have the flexibility and repertoire of responses to adjust successfully in various cultural situations?

In the global business world, there are well-known examples of failures that are attributed to cultural gaps and disconnects. Remember the American Dairy Association’s 10-year advertising slogan, “Got Milk”? The ADA launched the “Got Milk” campaign into Mexico with a dismal outcome. “Got Milk” translated into Spanish as “Are you lactating?”

Another famous failure blamed on culture is the 1998 Daimler-Chrysler merger. Differences in German and American cultural viewpoints on hierarchy, decision making and lack of trust were deemed as major contributors to the overall failure. The Germany-based Daimler-Benz bought U.S.-based Chrysler for $38 billion and sold it in 2007 for $7.4 billion – loss of over $30 billion!

Through a 20-20 hindsight CQ lens, one can construe if the leaders of these two examples had prepared and deployed CQ interventions to address the dramatic, underlying cultural differences, possibly these failures could have been avoided. From these examples, it’s clear that before attempting cross-border ventures, business and marketing executives would benefit from increasing their CQ.

Unlike EQ and IQ which are considered to be relatively “fixed” capabilities, CQ can be developed and increased.

Who else would benefit from developing high CQ? The answer is easy. It’s anyone who interacts with people in multicultural situations such as university study-abroad students, tourists, teachers, managers, military personnel, health care and religious workers, business people in HR, Finance and technology workers. All can benefit and become more globally effective by increasing their cultural intelligence.

Note: This post was written to describe how cultural intelligence helps within a global business environment. In Part 2, I’ll share with you how applying CQ can help you in different multicultural situations with Millennials (generational) and with your in-laws (family / societal).

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