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Kentucky’s Cultural Agility Development

Episode 2:  Today, President and CEO of the World Trade Center Kentucky Dr. Omar Ayyash interviews Marco Blankenburgh, Founder and Director of Knowledgeworkx.  We’ll discuss the how Knowledgeworkx assists businesses operation on an international or global basis.  We’ll then focus on 3 key questions regarding culture and the role it plays in developing successful ventures in other countries.

Knowledgeworkx – Your Key to Cultural Understanding

Marco has a global business background.  He’s lived in Dubai for the past 20 years.  Knowledgeworkx helps people to succeed relationally and thrive in a global economy.  Marco’s team has helped businesses in 70 countries.

Dr. Ayyash asks Marco about the initial goal for starting Knowledgeworkx.  Marco begins by stating something many entrepreneurs understand.  The initial vision evolves over time and will continue to adapt as opportunities arise.  The core focus has remained constant.  For Knowledgeworkx, that means working with individuals to help them succeed in a complex world in terms of trade, government and mobile talent.  The team engages with governments, academic institutions, corporation and NGOs.  Clients approach Knowledgeworkx because they understand the need and value of becoming more culturally agile.

Solving the Cultural Dilemma

Marco describes an early interaction with a client who initially had broad aspirations to do business “everywhere.”  He helped them to realize the DNA of the company might not be ready to expand that aggressively into new regions of the world operating with vastly different cultures, customs and languages.  The transition to a truly global business can challenge businesses in many ways, including the way it works to preserve its core brand.

Dr. Ayyash Interviews Marco Blankenburgh on Kentucky's Cultural Agility Development

Understanding Your Own Cultural Wiring

Everyone has their own way of viewing the world based on our personal experience and culture.  Realizing you have a lens through which you view the world can become a powerful advantage.  Being self-aware of your cultural biases is an important step in understanding how best to navigate that collision with new and interesting cultures.  By the way, the person sitting across the table from you also has their own cultural wiring.

Marco discusses the problem of thinking in terms of “the average German” or “the average South Korean” or “the average Brazilian.”  So many people have grown up cross-culturally and are living in countries different from where they were born.  The days of having a quick list of cultural characteristics and do’s/don’ts is outdated.  Knowledgeworkx assists by equipping professional to “speed-read people culturally.”

The process begins with self-cultural analysis.  It recognizes that you, as an individual, are both unique psychologically and culturally.  Making assumptions based superficially on a person’s ethnicity, nationality or race are important, but not always helpful in business.  The best path forward begins by treating people as unique, cultural human beings.

Knowledgeworkx provides you with the skills to notice characteristics you’ll add to your blank sheet of paper, as it relates to truly understanding another person.  This is how you effectively begin to build a relationship with him/her.

Dr. Ayyash comments how the World Trade Center Kentucky has adapted its approach.  Many Kentucky companies now have global operations in various countries, or may actually be owned by foreign-based companies.

Marco describes the process as having many layers.  While picking up surface-level clues about someone down the street may suffice, it won’t work internationally.  Your perception-management needs to be heightened.  It’s about what you are perceiving about yourself, the other person, the context around the interaction and even the location in which it took place.  However, Marco acknowledges most people simply don’t know what to look for.

The next step is a framework for observation that Knowledgeworkx gives the individual.  Tools such as the Cultural Mapping Inventory, the 12 Dimensions of Culture and others are ways to better understand someone’s personal, cultural preferences.

Marco uses the example of understanding whether a person is more likely to follow the rules or to deviate from the rules in favor of preserving the relationship.  It’s a classical challenge in international negotiations and contract management.  The key is to realize no everyone is viewing the situation through the same lens as you, if you are going to be successful on a global scale.

The 3 World Views

Dr. Ayyash prompts Marco to explain the 3 world views as it relates to cultural intelligence.  Marco begins by pointing out everyone brings their own cultural drivers into a relationship.  These drivers include innocence vs guilt (doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong).  Another driver focuses on honor and avoiding shame.  The final driver is about positional power (e.g. the hierarchy).

When two people are negotiating, it’s quite possible they’re using different world views.  It sets up a clash of motivations.  The clash may determine whether the deal actually gets done either based on overt actions or cultural misunderstandings.

Dr. Ayyash shares a perspective he’s often used: “You teach the way you’ve been taught and you raise the way you’ve been raised.”  Parents impart their world views to their children.  It’s a natural mode of understanding the world around you.  However, in global business environments, it’ll require more effort and a far deeper understanding to be successful.

The Importance of Your Cultural Strategy

Companies focused competing on a global basis must have their business strategy ready to go, but equally as important, they need to have their cultural strategy in place.

The cultural strategy will play a role in your success on many level.  Marco observes the majority of the world operates on a relational level, rather than on a transactional level.  Sustainability requires cultural agility while building your relationships.

When those relationships are intact, your global partners will feel comfortable sharing valuable insights and information about local markets you might not be exposed to if you’re working on a transactional level.

Cultural Agility Training Opportunity

Dr. Ayyash announces the World Trade Center Kentucky has an agreement with Knowledgeworkx to provide this cultural training to its member organizations.  A new partnership promoting cultural agility begins in late September and runs through November 1st, 2023.  Click here for more information and to register for this upcoming event.

Should Your Kentucky Business Consider Dubai?

Dr. Ayyash and Marco conclude the episode with a few comments about Dubai.  Dubai has phenomenal infrastructure.  Marco comments that virtually every emerging market is located roughly within 8-hours of Dubai, by plane.  It’s easy to start a business there.  It’s close to Saudi Arabia and only a 3-hour flight to India.  Dubai can be your launching pad to Africa, the Middle East and Asia.


Contact Marco Blankenburgh at Knowledgeworkx





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