Defining Cross-Cultural Literacy Landscapes

Most people grow up using the word “literacy” to refer to an ability to recognize words on a page, or in the simplest vernacular, to read. Yet today, literacy has come to mean so much more. Our abilities as individuals and as a culture depend on our understanding of a continual growth toward literate thought and recognition of it in societal norms. It requires an understanding of cultural and literacy landscapes based on example and acquired knowledge from several areas in order to gain a global perspective. Robert Rosen in his book Global Literacies discusses the acquisition of business acumen as literacy on several levels including personal literacy, social literacy, business literacy and cultural literacy requiring a “collaborative individualism” to use the applied knowledge for the benefit of those around us.1

No longer is simply “getting along” good enough to be a world-class organization. It is acquired from acting in concert with personal beliefs derived from historical precedent and cultural expectations to grow an organization. Rosen believes that it is provided through executive leadership by which “good leadership is a major catalyst for growth; bad leadership can be the primary cause for business failure.”2 It is one of the hard realities of businesses that focus leadership efforts on the numbers of the business and cause them to overlook other areas, or literacies, that will advance the organization beyond average performance toward exceptional growth.How can these literacy theories be put into practice for businesses today? Rosen poses five good questions that are applicable to all businesses regardless of size, the market being served, or the country in which it operates. These five universal business questions are as follows:

1. Where are we going?
2. How do we get there?
3. How do we work together?
4. What resources do we need?
5. How do we measure success?

Corresponding with the questions as listed, the business must have and recognize why the business exits, or the purpose. The business requires a road map or plan to move it forward. The business must exploit internal and external relationships though networks to gain knowledge of competitive advantages and core competencies. The business must define and refine the resources that it will need in order to remain competitive through innovation and differentiation. Finally, it must know what has to be measured in order to be successful. Each element is a necessary part of becoming a globally literate company.3

Leaders today, more than ever, must be constant students of world economics. The focus on economic growth has for many years been the driving force behind the privatization or deregulation of many industries and markets. Many countries have allowed physical borders to disappear and politics to be secondary as national economies take shape and expand. This has required countries to recognize the steps needed to be taken to first, to become competitive and second, to stay competitive. Functional competitiveness relies on eight specific quantitative and qualitative factors which Rosen states as follows:

• Openness: Is the economy open to international trade and finance?
• Finance: How well developed are the financial markets?
• Technology: What is the quality of the technological infrastructure?
• Labor: Is the labor market efficient and flexible?
• Government: What is the level of government regulation of the economy?
• Infrastructure: What is the quality of the physical infrastructure (e.g., transportation and utilities)?• Management: Is the business management trained in modern techniques?
• Institutions: How impartial and stable are the judicial and political institutions?4

Assuming the recognition of the above areas listed, each area has a plethora of circumstances that must work in concert for the organization to gain and sustain momentum in the competitive marketplace. Which literacy is more important to understand and implement? The answer lies within certain aspects of every literacy discussed based on a sense of history. Without recognizing the past, it is difficult for companies today to recognize business patterns that are emerging. The world is providing a new and unprecedented chaos for leaders that has not had to be managed in quite some time, if ever. The chaos is forcing unprecedented change on organizations and their leadership requiring fast response time and flexibility to maneuver through the turbulence.Jason Jennings and Lawrence Haughton wrote a book that dealt with the speed requirements of today’s business organizations. They put it this way:

“Most businesspeople are so busy working for their business or in their business that they never find the time to wok on their business. Thus, they fail to anticipate what might happen or what they might be able to make happen.”5

It is with an understanding that leadership and organizations must recognize within their business literacy that navigating through the chaos requires a sense of history. Without historical precedent, future survival becomes difficult and future success an improbability. Rosen calls this being a “historical futurist”6 requiring “business-literate leaders…[to] explore and celebrate the past, understand and own the present, and imagine and create the future…each phase [building] on the next.”7

Does any single literacy outweigh the others? If so, which one, or must they all work together to drive the organization’s literacy quotient? Depending on the situation that arises, leaders have to determine the literacy landscape of the facts that govern decisions for their organizations. Many leaders may have indeed inherited a “leadership-resistant architecture” reflected by a “conspiracy of busyness”8 that provides multiple challenges for them. The associates that are part of the organization may appear to be working, or busy, but not necessarily providing the forward motion needed to create positive business inertia. As such, their organization will tend to behave more on the level of an “ecosystem where more have access to the whole, and [their] people support and nurture one another with trust”9 though the actual functionality of the organization is in question. This is in stark contract to the rugged individualism that was reflected in the growth fueled by technology companies over the last two decades.

Other leaders may have a completely different set of circumstances with which to work requiring not only creative approaches, but creative decisions that take into consideration the literacy biases of the organization. This may be based on any one of a number of factors suggesting that the type of leader at the top of the organization as well as the type of organization itself, are subject to a historical and social literacy bias. Only when the business performs a self-assessment as to the values and true culture that is part of the landscape will the organization ensure that decisions are indeed correct for on-going survival and forward progress of the business.

“Different cultures differ on several concepts embedded in pragmatic trust [which poses questions such as]: What is a promise? Should I define self-interest as the interest of myself or of my group? Should I place more value on relationship or on rules? Pragmatic trust requires disclosure.”10

Rosen states that “social literacy fosters the communication of knowledge” and to be effective the communication must first “clarify priorities and expectations” telling people what needs to be done and “to create the right tone” by making the people feels good about the decision.11


NOTES: 1Global Literacies by Robert Rosen, published by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY 10020 in 2000, Chapter 1.
2Ibid, page 25.
3Ibid, page 29.
4Global Literacies, page 42.
5It’s Not the Big that Eat the Small, It’s the Fast that Eat the Slow, by Jason Jennings and Lawrence Haughton, published by HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 2000, page 20.
6Global Literacies, Ibid, page 135.
7Ibid, page 139.
8Cultivating Leadership in School: Connecting People, Purpose, and Practice, by G.Donaldson, Jr., published by Teachers College Press, New York, NY 2001, pages 145-147.
9The Wounded Leader, by Richard Ackerman and Pat Maslin-Ostrowski, published by John Wiley & Sons, San Francisco, CA 2002, page 132.
10Global Literacies, Ibid, page 98.
11Ibid, page 98.

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