How’s Your Cultural Competence?


Cultural competence helps in herding cats.

We’re all in this together.

My friend Milly jokes, “You’re the last white person I’m educating.” She’s referring to her role in developing my cultural competence. While this is funny, consider the serious issues that underlie her statement. Many people like me, who grow up white and privileged, make assumptions based on our own experience, or the lack thereof.

By “privileged” I don’t mean wealthy. I mean being able to walk into an expensive shop without worrying that the clerk will think you’re shoplifting. Or being able to assume your teenage son can come and go without being shot by police. People of color, on the other hand, don’t have this kind of privilege. Many grow up navigating two different worlds, the world of white privilege and the world of their less privileged, direct experience. They understand our world better than we understand theirs. This is a major handicap if we are unconscious of our privilege.

People of privilege sometimes make assumptions, attribute motivations, or come to conclusions that are inaccurate and possibly detrimental to our teams, projects, and organizations. I was lucky. I worked with people like Milly, who took the time to talk openly with me about issues of race, class, and privilege.

What’s more, we both worked in an organization–the Girl Scouts–whose leaders had the courage to offer safe, structured spaces for this kind of talk to take place. It was the early 1980s, when few workplaces made cultural competence a priority. We didn’t always get it right, and not everyone was on board, but many of us made an honest effort. It paid off for me, not just professionally, but in all aspects of my life.

Make it a point to educate yourself about how best to operate in today’s multicultural workforce. Whatever your racial, ethnic or cultural background, cultivate colleagues who can help you become a more effective teammate and manager by creating a work environment that values diversity. Cultural competence is no longer a skill that is nice to have. It is an attribute that is essential for success in a global economy, even if you never travel beyond the place you were born.

Sustainable Marketing: How We Got Here

1) In the beginning marketing was a simple exchange between two or more people. Beaver pelts for salt and nails. Wild berries for a bolt of calico cloth. It took place in a physical market: the big rock over by Joe’s cave or, later, the bazaar at Samarkand or, later still, the

Police protect profits

Traditional marketing is about generating and protecting profits

Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.

2) Once humans learned to produce excess stuff for trade, marketing came to include luxury goods for the elite. The place of exchange was the known world, reached via the Silk Road or the sea routes to ancient Britain.

3) Marx came along and said those who owned the means of production (capital) had all of this extra stuff that they had to sucker the masses into both creating (the workers) and, eventually, consuming (See Henry Ford).

4) Having to sell excess stuff begat advertising. Don Draper created clever ads that seduced us into consuming more and more stuff. Some countries got rich and consumed even more stuff. Eventually, even poor nations became consumers.

5) Philip Kotler made marketing seem scientific with his 4 Ps. More marketers with more stuff to sell used the Ps to create more demand and bigger markets.

6) Mass media fueled a lust for stuff by many rather than just a few. More stuff was produced and consumed by more people. Everything was growing except Earth’s ability to support all of us and our stuff.

Plastic in tree tops

Sustainable marketing keeps plastic out of tree tops.

7) Now, with our backs to the climate change wall, anyone with any sense (that’s us, folks) needs to figure out a kinder, gentler, more sustainable marketing system that is focused on only 3 Ps — people, planet, and yes, profits. But profits can’t come first any longer.

5 Classic Business Books for Millennials

So you just landed a great job in Big Law. Or you finally found your dream job in fashion, or filmmaking, or software development. Maybe you became an accidental accountant, discovered you love retailing, or figured out a way to take that museum job and still pay your rent. Whatever your circumstances, if you work in an organization, there are five classic business books you must read.

Prior to anyone “leaning in” or “thinking like a freak,” these writers were sharing wisdom the old fashioned way. Each one of these business books for Millennials will help you better understand how organizations work and how you can be productive within them, whatever the trends and times.

Business Books for Millennials

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, 1936
Long before your parents were born (or even your grandparents!), Dale Carnegie was telling business people how to succeed. His number one “Big Secret“ — Make people feel important. Not only does Carnegie give readers a handful of straightforward tips for gaining influence, he even starts his book off with nine suggestions on how to get the most out of reading it. There is no better way to spend $14 than to pick up a copy.

The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker, 1966
Forgive the exclusive use of male pronouns and the underlying assumption that its readers are men. Drucker wrote this gem of a book back in 1966, before feminism’s second wave. It’s chock full of great tips and advice for ways you can be effective, even in a dysfunctional organizational environment. You do it by focusing on what you are able to affect and ignoring what’s beyond your sphere of influence. My favorite nugget: “Do first things first, and second things not at all.”

Gods of Management by Charles Handy, 1978
In this brilliant little book Handy, considered one of the world’s most influential living management thinkers, presents four models that describe basic organizational structures and cultures. Each model is named for a Greek god whose characteristics are associated with a particular type of organization. Once you understand the four types, you will have a very useful tool for quickly sizing up any organization you walk into. This is one of the best little tricks you will ever pull out of your tool kit.

On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis, 1989
If Drucker is the father of management (and he is), the late Warren Bennis is the father of leadership. This early book on the topic asserted a hopeful idea — leaders are made, not born. If you wanted to become a leader, Bennis showed you how. He bemoaned the short-term thinking of contemporary CEOs but in 2009 said he was optimistic about Millennials, calling you “the Crucible Generation” because of the global environmental challenges you face.

Comparing Millennials to his own “Greatest Generation,” Bennis wrote, “The truth may be that history, in its kindness, gave this new generation a grand crucible challenge, as it did my own. The young of today have been summoned to receive that same kindness through the collective failures of their elders.”

The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman, 1999
When I finished the last page of The Lexus and the Olive Tree I knew one thing for sure: I would never read a newspaper the same way again. I didn’t mean that I would be using e-readers or apps; I meant that Friedman’s book had utterly changed the way I understood the world. It explained so much. The lay-offs and low wages. Crummy service jobs and cheap tee shirts. Why nothing was made in America anymore and why some people in the Middle East resorted to terrorism. Friedman’s analysis of globalization is still relevant, although I suggest that you temper his enthusiasm by reading another excellent book (almost a classic), Globalization and Its Discontents by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz (2003).