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This is an outstanding video “Learning to Change, Changing to Learn.” It opens with a shocking statement, “The US Department of Commerce ranked 55 industry sectors by their level of IT intensiveness. Education was ranked number 55, the lowest. Below coal mining.”

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Favorite quotes:

“Education is focused on getting kids to produce vending machine answers. While after they leave school and begin employment, they will be doing work that calls on their artistic abilities, their ability to synthesize, to understanding context, and will require them to be multidisciplinary, multilingual, and multicultural.”
— Daniel Pink (“Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us“, http://www.danpink.com/, twitter: danielpink)

“The coin of the realm will be ‘do you know how to find information?’ Do you know how to synthesize it, how to leverage it, how to communicate it, to collaborate with it and to problem solve with it? These will be the new 21st century set of literacies.”
— Ken Kay (http://www.p21.org/, twitter: kenkayp21

In reflecting on yesterday’s blog post, I realized similar references to “questions” similar, but different in important ways, to the Gretchenfrage, in idiomatic Dutch and American English usage. Goethe’s “Faust” is a work that “remains a resonant parable on scientific learning and religion, passion and seduction, independence and love,” as well as other subjects, and is a justifiably proud influence not only on German arts and society, but on much of the “Western” world. The Dutch and American references are, how should we say, somewhat less noble in their lineage.

When the Dutch refer to a crucial question whose answer addresses the essence of a subject, the question is called the hamvraag, literally, the “ham question.” This is a reference to a radio game show that ran in the Netherlands from 1953 – 1957, in which contestants were asked a series of alternating questions. With every correct answer they were allowed to climb one rung higher on a ship’s mast that was placed in the studio. At the top of the mast the main prize was placed, a smoked ham. No, I’m not making this up. The last, and most important question, was thus called the “ham question,” as the correct answer won the contestant the ham.

Even though this construction may seem curious to those from other cultures, there are two important cultural references in this game setup. First of all, the ship’s mast. As being a people whose country is largely reclaimed from the sea and whose history is one in which the sea played an enormous role in its development, many of the cultural references in the Netherlands are in one way or another associated with water. Having a ship’s mast, instead of, say, an ordinary painter’s ladder, is culturally significant.

Secondly, this program took place starting in 1953, a short eight years after the end of WWII. At the end of the war, the Dutch suffered a terrible famine, the hongerwinter, eventually killing more than 18,000 people and resulting in generations of resulting sicknesses and diseases. Even though most likely apocryphal, the stories of people resorting to eating tulip bulbs are still told and retold by generations of survivors. Good quality food, therefore, took on a special significance. A nice, smoked ham symbolizes well being, nourishment for the family, and the comfort of being well fed. Far more appealing to the Calvinist values of the Dutch than would be cold, hard cash.

The American reference also refers to a game show, this one being “The $64,000 Question.” Again the saying “that’s the $64,000 question” refers to the final prize in a television show that ran from 1955 – 58. Current usage of the saying also refers to a question that’s answer is of prime importance. But, frankly, I can’t find any significant cultural references in the format of the show or the use of the phrase. When one watches videos of the show, one is struck with the impression of how blatantly  the game show was simply a vehicle for selling products. But something tying it to the roots of American culture . . . ?

“Gretchen am Spinnrade”

I’ve never seen Goethe’s “Faust” used to describe expat training, but this says a lot about Germany. It’s a description for expat and/or multicultural team training that refers to the “Gretchen question” in Goethe’s “Faust”. For those of you who have forgotten your college lit courses (or perhaps used one too many Cliff Notes instead of doing the required reading), the charachter Gretchen asks Faust if he believes in God and he does not know how to answer the question satisfactorily. The Gretchen Question (“Gretchenfrage”) is used ideomatically in modern German to refer to a question of great importance with a difficult answer.

But that’s not the point of this blog post. The point is: Germany has a great wealth of cultural heritage that they are justifiably proud of. In just about every art that you can think of, the greats that Germany produced throughout the centuries make one realize that there must have been something in the water, so to speak, that led to genius. This is not at all taken lightly by present-day Germans and, when doing business in Germany, is something to be respected, even revered.

This article, on Xing, is written by Robert Gibson, who has been responsible for intercultural training at Learning Campus, the educational organisation set up at Siemens AG. He very succinctly outlines what businesses see as necessary attributes of intercultural trainers.

Companies expect experience and expertise. No generalists! Not only do you have to talk the talk, you also need to walk the walk. In short: companies want their money’s worth. No surprise, perhaps, but good to get this advice from one of the pros inside the business.

It seems as though we have iPhone applications for pretty much everything these days. The spectrum runs from some outstanding business-related apps that can go a long way to improving your productivity, and some beautifully designed apps to enhance your creativity, to many apps that leave one wondering, “Why?”

Cultural dimensions iPhone app

Cultural differences app for iPhone

Where the CultureGPS app fits for you on this spectrum probably depends on how useful you find the cultural dimensions model of Prof. Geert Hofstede. For those unfamiliar with Prof. Hofstede’s work, you can read more here. But in brief, Prof. Hofstede, while employed as a researcher by IBM in the 1960’s, did studies comparing national and organizational cultures. The result was a 5-dimension model that has been used by culture and organizational experts for many years in classifying differences in culture. While still controversial, it nevertheless offers a modicum of structure for those looking for patterns in behavior that match to national differences. According to a Wall Street Journal ranking in 2008, Geert Hofstede is one of the top 20 most influential business thinkers.

The application, developed by Sales-Genetics Ltd & Co. KG of Düsseldorf. Germany, is currently available only for the iPhone. According to their website, other smartphone OS platforms are being developed.

Not only do 60& of Turkish small and medium enterprises don’t use email, 75% have no corporate website. When doing business with Turkey, check your assumptions regarding communication. More information: http://tiny.sm/dc

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