The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can't Do Without in Today's Global Economy

The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can't Do Without in Today's Global Economy

by David Livermore

ISBN: 9780814417065

Publisher AMACOM

Published in Business & Investing/International

Are you an AUTHOR? Click here to include your books on

Sample Chapter

Chapter One


Your success in today's globalized world requires an ability to adapt to a variety of cultural situations. Conventional wisdom has been telling us this for decades. But only in recent years have academics discovered a proven way to quantify and develop this ability. It's called cultural intelligence, or CQ, and it's defined as the capability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts. All kinds of people are discovering the possibilities that CQ opens up for them. But improving your cultural intelligence does require some commitment and intentionality on your part. Rest easy. The rewards are well worth the effort.

The world is shrinking. Today, we're connected to people from around the globe more than ever before. Fifty years ago, you could have lived most of your life surrounded by people who looked like you, believed like you, and saw the world pretty much the same way you do. A few individuals still manage to pull that off. But most of us encounter and work with people who look, believe, and think in radically different ways from us. We've learned that we don't need to become like whomever we're with. But our effectiveness and success is largely dependent on our ability to adapt to various cultural contexts. When we learn to effectively and respectfully interact with people from diverse cultures, we strike a gold mine of opportunity for personal and professional fulfillment.

The shifting realities of our rapidly globalized world are well documented in best-selling books like The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman and One World by Peter Singer. Most of us are well aware that globalization and worldwide connectivity are lunging forward with racing speed. Here are a few examples:

• 1 billion tourist visas are issued annually, and the number keeps rising. • General Electric calculates that 60 percent of its growth over the coming decade will come from the developing world, compared with 20 percent over the past decade. • 49 percent of U.S. kids five and younger are children of color. • China will soon be the number-one English-speaking country in the world. • 67 percent of international air travel revenue is generated by Asian and Middle Eastern airlines, and the percentage is growing annually. • More than 1 million university students study abroad annually. • 4.5 million North Americans participate in religious international mission trips each year.

I doubt you'd pick up a book on cultural intelligence if you weren't already convinced of our global and multicultural connectivity. But this is a book about you and your life in our borderless world. To what degree do you possess the capabilities needed to succeed in this cultural mosaic? Why do some of us succeed while others fail at cross-cultural effectiveness?

Intercultural success has little to do with your IQ or EQ (emotional intelligence). It's primarily dependent on your CQ. Everyone has a cultural intelligence quotient (CQ), and we can all improve our CQ. This book, along with the corresponding online CQ Self-Assessment, will enable you to understand your CQ and give you the latest tested strategies for improving it.


Again, cultural intelligence is the capability to function effectively across a variety of cultural contexts, such as ethnic, generational, and organizational cultures. CQ has some similarities with various approaches to cultural competence, but it differs in its specific ties to intelligence research. As a result, the emphasis is not only on understanding different cultures, but also on problem solving and effective adaptations for various cultural settings. By using the "intelligence" approach, the CQ model also acknowledges that your multicultural interactions are as much personal, individualized experiences as they are simply knowing about differences between Germans and Koreans. Even if you and I have the same cultural background, we'll experience new cross-cultural situations differently according to who we are as individuals.

CQ is an overall capability you can take with you anywhere. You can benefit from its insights even if you're experiencing a culture for the first time, unlike approaches that place primary emphasis on learning all the dos and don'ts of specific cultures. You can use CQ to become better relating to neighbors, classmates, and colleagues who come from another part of the world, or you can use it to increase the chances your meme goes viral throughout the world. You'll evaluate your CQ a little later when you complete the online CQ Self-Assessment included with the print edition of this book. High CQ doesn't come automatically, but anyone can develop it.

Throughout the last ten years, most of the discussion about cultural intelligence has been buried in academic journals. Some of these studies are really fascinating; unfortunately, most of us never see them. For example, one study found that an individual with multiple international working experiences, even if those experiences were relatively brief, is likely to have higher CQ than an individual who has lived overseas for several years in one or two locations. And neurological studies find that the brain gets wired differently depending upon one's intercultural experiences, which in turn impacts the way the individual approaches problem solving and day-to-day work. These kinds of findings have significant implications for how individuals and organizations maximize global opportunities. We'll look at many more of these findings in the chapters that follow.

During the last couple of years, CQ has started to go mainstream. Growing numbers of leaders in business, government, and nonprofit organizations are realizing the benefits that come from this intelligence-based approach to adapting and working cross-culturally. And many corporations, government agencies, and universities are tapping into the CQ difference to achieve results. A few specific examples are included in Chapter 7.

Your cultural intelligence is made up of four different capabilities, each of which is assessed in the online CQ Self-Assessment.

1. CQ Drive (motivation) is your interest and confidence in functioning effectively in culturally diverse settings. This often gets overlooked. Without the ample drive to take on the challenges that inevitably accompany multicultural situations, there's little evidence you'll be successful.

2. CQ Knowledge (cognition) is your knowledge about how cultures are similar and different. The emphasis is not on being an expert about every culture you encounter. That's overwhelming and impossible. Instead, to what extent do you understand some core cultural differences and their impact on you and others?

3. CQ Strategy (meta-cognition) is how you make sense of culturally diverse experiences. It occurs when you make judgments about your own thought processes and those of others. Can you plan effectively in light of cultural differences?

4. CQ Action (behavior) is your capability to adapt your behavior appropriately for different cultures. It involves having a flexible repertoire of responses to suit various situations while still remaining true to yourself.

Together, these four capabilities make up your overall cultural intelligence quotient. The online CQ Self-Assessment will reveal which of these capabilities is strongest and weakest for you. But what's your best guess? As you read the four descriptions, which one seems like it's the strongest for you? What about the weakest? After you complete the CQ Self-Assessment, you'll be able to tap into pinpointed strategies that are proven to enhance your CQ. Before you do so, here's a bit more about the CQ model.


Despite its academic origins, cultural intelligence is pretty easy to grasp. Everyone can improve their CQ. I want to help you become more successful as you pursue the things most important to you in our borderless world. Having a high CQ doesn't mean exhibiting flawless behavior in cross-cultural settings. Instead, it is personified by people with a strong sense of their own cultural identity. They know who they are and what they believe, but they're equally interested to discover that in others. And individuals with high CQ have an integrated view of the world that appreciates both the similarities and differences among people. Rather than being threatened by differences, they look for what they can learn from them.

Here's one way of thinking about the progression from low CQ (1.0) to high CQ (5.0):

1.0—You react to external stimuli (what you see and hear, etc., in a new cultural context) and you judge it based on what that means in your own cultural context.

Example: You observe that some individuals are silent during a meeting and you presume they're using the "silent treatment" to demonstrate they're bored and upset.

2.0—You begin to recognize other cultural norms. You're motivated to learn more about how cultures differ.

Example: You observe that some individuals are silent during a meeting and you wonder if remaining silent means the same thing in their culture as it means in yours.

3.0—You begin to accommodate other cultural norms into your thinking. You can explain how culture impacts the way people might respond differently to the same circumstances.

Example: You observe that some individuals are silent during a meeting and you decide to explore whether their silence is a form of respect, as it is in many cultures.

4.0—You adapt and adjust your thinking and behavior to other cultural norms.

Example: You observe that some individuals are silent during a meeting and you intentionally ask for their input, believing they might consider it disrespectful to offer it unless invited to give it.

5.0—You automatically adjust your thinking and behavior when you get appropriate cues, sometimes subconsciously.

Example: You observe that some individuals are silent during a meeting and, almost without thinking about it, you offer them alternative ways to offer input; you're subconsciously aware that their cultural background typically uses silence as a form of respect.

Nobody behaves flawlessly in cross-cultural interactions. And frankly, the mistakes we make are often the best teachers for improving our CQ. But with experience and intentional effort, we can move toward the CQ 5.0 description where we begin to automatically accommodate a variety of behaviors and strategies into the ways we work with people from different cultural backgrounds. As you grow your CQ, you'll gradually be able to interpret the behavior of people from unfamiliar cultures as if you were an insider in their cultures.

Low CQ is often easier to spot because faux pas are more interesting to talk about. For example, the Dairy Association led a wildly successful marketing campaign throughout the United States built on the slogan, "Got Milk?" Unfortunately, when the campaign was exported to Mexico, the translation read, "Are you lactating?"

People with low CQ will dismiss the seismic influence of culture on themselves and others. They may use overly simplistic approaches to working cross-culturally and make statements such as, "People are people. A smile and kind word work anywhere." Furthermore, many business leaders with lower levels of CQ use disjointed, slap-dash approaches to the myriad of cultural forces barraging them—whom to send overseas, how to create a more innovative culture, how to extend into more emerging markets, how to read trends in their own culture, HR policies, etc.

Low CQ is a primary reason many businesses continue to lose millions of dollars when expanding into culturally diverse markets. It explains why many charitable organizations get kicked out of developing nations because of their inability to work with local officials in addressing atrocities like HIV-AIDS or human trafficking. The globalization of every field is lunging forward at an unprecedented rate, yet 70 percent of international programs in business, government, and charity are largely ineffective and costly. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Individuals with high CQ have a repertoire of strategies and behaviors to orient themselves when they encounter unfamiliar behaviors and perspectives. When something seemingly bizarre or random happens, they have a mental frame to discern whether it's explained by culture or it's something unique to a particular person or organization. With enhanced CQ, you have the ability to encounter new cultural situations, think deeply about what's happening (or not happening), and make appropriate adjustments to how you should understand, relate, and behave in these otherwise-disorienting situations. For example:

• Teachers with high CQ learn how to adapt their teaching, assessment, and feedback strategies when working with students from various cultural backgrounds.

• Human resource managers with higher levels of CQ have a better sense of how to handle a Muslim employee's request to miss a sales conference during Ramadan.

• Hospitals led by culturally intelligent leaders are more effective at treating immigrant patients and have fewer lawsuits due to misdiagnosis of those patients.

• Students with higher CQ who volunteer or study abroad gain more long-term benefits from the experience.

• Liberals and conservatives with high CQ temper their broad, sweeping statements about one another, seek to understand the other party's position, and learn where the true differences lie rather than sensationalizing artificial polarities.

These kinds of adjustments involve a complex set of capabilities that stem from enhanced cultural intelligence. Anyone can grow his or her CQ. It doesn't happen automatically, but with a little effort, you can experience several benefits by increasing your CQ.


Sometimes capabilities like emotional and cultural intelligence get written off as soft skills with limited, tangible benefit for life in the real world. Business leaders with low CQ might see discussions about culture as far removed from the P&L sheets that determine their survival. A naive military leader might believe cultural intelligence has little impact on a strategic combat mission. And study-abroad students with low CQ may view conversations with locals as irrelevant to their purposes for being overseas. These attitudes miss the hard-core, bottom-line differences that exist for individuals who prioritize enhancing their cultural intelligence.

A growing number of individuals, however, are discovering the competitive edge that comes from enhancing their CQ. Scientific research reveals that the most predictable results you can expect from increasing your cultural intelligence are the following:

• Superior cross-cultural adjustment

• Improved job performance

• Enhanced personal well-being

• Greater profitability

Let's look further at these benefits.

Cross-Cultural Adjustment

Most twenty-first-century interests, jobs, and causes require adjustment to various cultures. The demand for this is going to grow exponentially over the next decade. What's your passion?

Business? Some of the most profitable opportunities lie in new offshore markets and stem from synergizing and motivating culturally diverse work teams.

Investment? Intercultural sensibilities are a huge asset for making the most of our globalized economy.

Teaching? Classrooms are increasingly filled with a diversity of students who need to be prepared for life in our globalized world.


Excerpted from "The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can't Do Without in Today's Global Economy" by David Livermore. Copyright © 0 by David Livermore. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Thanks for reading!

Join BookDaily now and receive featured titles to sample for free by email.
Reading a book excerpt is the best way to evaluate it before you spend your time or money.

Just enter your email address and password below to get started:


Your email address is safe with us. Privacy policy
By clicking ”Get Started“ you agree to the Terms of Use. All fields are required

Instant Bonus: Get immediate access to a daily updated listing of free ebooks from Amazon when you confirm your account!

Author Profile

Amazon Reviews