July 5, 2019

Outlook in intercultural organizations

Application of the 12 Dimensions: Exploring the impact of innovation and tradition on how we look to the future

Outlook is the third of the 12 Dimensions of Culture that KnowledgeWorkx uses to map out the intercultural terrain. If you haven’t already, you should read our article introducing the 12 Dimensions.

In many cultures, tradition is very important. The historical trail of your family, your tribe, your business, your nation is an integral part of your personal and corporate identity, and considering that trail plays a big part in the decisions you make.

In other cultures, you might spend most of your attention on the present, while in still others you focus on the future. The terms KnowledgeWorkx decided to use for “Past” and “Future” focus are Tradition and Innovation.

Tradition and Innovation

This dimensions reaches into many areas of an international school. Depending on the outlook of the teacher, will he or she focus more on a traditional view within curriculum or any given subject area, or value innovation more and teach with that bias. How the school is seen in a community and the values it upholds about itself will depend on this outlook. And pedagogically, the way a leadership team chooses to adopt the new way or stay with the tried and true educational practices is based in part on this cultural dimension. Do we stick with pencil and paper or ditch handwriting and go the iPad for everything? If both work, do we stick with extrinsic motivation or do we move toward to an intrinsic love of learning approach?

Someone with a more Tradition oriented outlook needs to get a full understanding of the past as a reference point and a starting point for thinking about the future. Meanwhile, the person with a more Innovation-oriented outlook spend little time on the past, and dive straight into the present and the future.

How to Engage a Tradition-Oriented Culture

When you are engaging in a culture where tradition oriented outlook is the main driver, you should make sure that you present yourself with that same outlook. Spend a significant amount of time on your school’s history; the founders, who was involved, how it has an impact on society. You walk through the complete historical record before saying, “and because of this rich history in our international school, we are now sitting here at the table to engage with you in the hope that together we can continue the rich history that we have.”

Diving straight into the present and the future could cause friction, because people who are tradition-oriented in their outlook validate the present and the future through the past.

New Principals can give the impression that they don’t care about the past, and that they don’t want to learn from their predecessors. However, this can create a strong negative atmosphere among teachers and staff members who have a tradition-oriented outlook. They might think that the new principal is disrespectful, or even incompetent, because “a good leader learns from the past and uses that learning to plot the future.”

This may be surprising to people who have a strong future-orientation! Sometimes innovation has nothing to do with the past, but at other times the past has a lot to tell about a new idea. So it is very important to keep both of those dimensions in mind. When working in a tradition-oriented culture, make sure that innovation is always validated. Consider similar things that the school has already tried, and ask, “What can we learn from that?” This is crucial for developing the support you will need to move forward.

Marketing is another area where it is extremely important to take both Tradition and Innovation outlooks into account. If there is a longstanding history between the school and the community or with certain families of importance in the host culture, your new marketing person needs to have studied that history, and understand it, before engaging with prospective families. It would be perceived as disrespectful if a marketing person or a new key administrator does not know the rich history that both the school and the learning community as a whole have together.

f you find out where you stand on the Tradition vs Innovation scale, and learn to read where the people around you fall, you can modify your behavior to interact appropriately with them at any given time. You can also strengthen the links between Innovation and Tradition in your thought process to make better decisions about education in general and what you choose to emphasize in a lesson to create a balanced view for your “future leader” students.

Editor’s Note: This article scratches the surface of rapidly changing outlooks towards ‘Innovation’ and ‘Tradition’ in the globalized economy. A mere list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” like some of the advice given in this article is not sufficient; people in the international school circuit need to understand the underlying principles in order to keep up with the complex interaction between these two polarities.

You can find out where your key stakeholders and Administration stand on the ‘outlook’ dimension, as well as eleven other dimensions of culture by using the Cultural Mapping Inventory, as part of a holistic program to develop Inter-Cultural Intelligence in your organization.

Check out more articles on our KnowledgeWorkx Resource  page.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.