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Culture is Like an IceBerg

Organizational psychologists often describe culture as an iceberg.  There are a few cultural traits that we can see or feel from the surface, such as language, skin tone, body type, accent, surname, and personal mannerisms.  Yet the more substantive aspects of culture are hidden in the water at various depths just like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, and not knowing about them can harm us.  Finding ways to understand those hidden aspects of culture can save your business deal or idea, relationship, communication gone array, and most importantly it can teach you things about yourself and those you interact with. When combined with the “immigrant perspective” it can turn on a sixth sense that most people are unaware of thus inspiring creativity. 

At one point or another in our ancestry we were all immigrants, yet we are often not of the same fresh mindset of a person who recently immigrated to the United States or somewhere else.  If you cannot think of a close first-generation relative who immigrated than you need to be reminded of the “immigrant perspective”.  According to Center for Hispanic Leadership Founder, Glenn Llopis the “immigrant perspective” helps us to creatively see opportunities everywhere.  Imagine a person who immigrated to the U.S. with only a few dollars in their pocket, developing English skills, and no friends or family; this person has a healthy curiosity, zeal to learn, and optimism about his or her new culture which can be a catalyst for business innovation and cross cultural collaboration.  

No one owns culture, yours or anyone’s.  Culture is adaptive, experiential, you can learn it, and it is ok if others seem to know your own culture better than you because the real question is do you know and learn from other peoples cultures?  When you embrace the “immigrant perspective” you are forced to answer yes to this question.  You are your culture no matter what, but your culture should evolve over time with many diverse socio-economic factors that are specific to you and no amount of words can accurately describe what you are - culturally and beyond.  Yet this evolution is a type of change and change is hard for most people.  The mere fact that you are or once were an immigrant means that you are or were open to new cultures and interpersonal risk, and that is ok and healthy in-conjunction with but not mutually exclusive to the world becoming more connected via social media, 24 hour news, smart phones and tablets, and high speed fiber optic cable.  This allows more business outsourcing and global entrepreneurship, and according to a recent Forbes article, “40% Of the Largest U.S. Companies Founded by Immigrants or Their Children.”

Yet for all the technological and economic advancements provided by globalization -- many organizations and people still do not go deep enough into the waters surrounding the iceberg of culture.  Like the captain of the Titanic, they float along on the surface and hope for the best not knowing what they don’t know.  To melt the iceberg of culture you must look beneath the surface to discover the deeper meaning.  After going deeper you will find clues about collectivism vs. individualism, gender, saving face vs. being correct, laissez-faire time orientation vs. punctual time orientation, eye contact, family structure, high context or low context communication, forms of acceptable social risks, dining etiquette, when to shake hands vs. hug or kiss, and much more.  Even when observing these clues, when you are invited to a religious, community, medical, or matrimonial event you must act within and learn from the confines of the culture where you are not necessarily convert for life. 

Lastly, always embrace “your” immigrant perspective with authentic emotion as the emotion will help you feel the story behind your cultural evolution and it will give you a sense of unique pride with the vision to know you will never need to assimilate.  This world is no more anyone else’s than it is yours and there is no true beauty or innovation without true diversity.

By Jeremy Swenson

Jeremy Swenson, MBA, is an experienced marketer, marketing manager, writer, sales person, and business analyst. He has extensive product marketing experience with financial products and retail electronics products (State Farm, U.S. Bank, and Intel at Best Buy).  He additionally has experience enhancing software, and has also served on the social media committee of the MN AMA (Minnesota American Marketing Association) and is the current Marketing Chair of the Minneapolis St. Paul chapter of NSHMBA (National Society of Hispanic MBAs).

Connect with Jeremy at:
Twitter: @jer_swenson
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremyswenson00001
E-mail: jer.swenson@live.com  



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