“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Chances are, this poignant little nugget of philosophy has graced your Facebook at some point over the past few years. There’s much more to this token of internet fame, though, because we are finally addressing the poor little fish’s predicament - a full 130 years after the quote was born - thanks to an expanding notion of what constitutes intelligence. And that expansion has just gotten a little bit larger thanks to the new field of cultural intelligence.
The quote’s critique stems from an essay published in the Journal of Education in 1898, designed to throw some serious shade at outdated educational practices of the time. Such practices favored a blanket approach to teaching and rigid standardized testing (sound familiar?), which is why poor fishes at that time would be ridiculously subject to tree-climbing courses and tests.
Curiously enough, this was also during the same years that the ever-fickle standardized IQ test was being formulated and rolled out. But gradually, the rigid notions behind the concept of intelligence and the IQ test were challenged and expanded to make room for additional qualities, like emotional intelligence. The latest breakthrough, however, is the one that best helps out our fishy friend. It’s called cultural intelligence, or CQ.
Cultural intelligence relates to how well people can interact with others in environments that are different to the one they were socialized within. While it may be tempting to think that CQ is only relevant for students who wish to study abroad, or managers who oversee international teams, it goes much further. Cultural intelligence applies to how well you get along with anyone who has grown up differently than you, which is pretty much everyone. Especially in the cultural melting pot of the United States.
After all, culture is something that penetrates every aspect of our lives, with people from different backgrounds unknowingly bombarding us with new and different mindsets to process. We navigate complex company cultures. We adapt our mannerisms when visiting home for the holidays. We speak to our children differently. We approach strangers and new acquaintances differently. All of these modifications to our behavior are a direct result of our cultural intelligence.
The Three Pillars of Cultural Intelligence
Since CQ is a new concept, perfect consensus has not yet been reached on the pillars that comprise this new field. However, the main tenets fall into three categories:
Different tests exist to help people understand and improve their own CQ.
The Six Profiles of Cultural Intelligence
Some academics have proposed different profiles of people that share a set of common strengths and weaknesses in the three different areas of cultural intelligence. These profiles are not absolutely fixed; it is argued that people can share traits and styles from a couple different profiles listed below, depending on the situation at hand. We’ve taken the liberty to assign relative and approximate scores under each profile relating to expertise in the three pillars of CQ.
Provincials may be smart and gifted interpersonal communicators, but falter in new environments because their contact with people of different backgrounds has been limited. They are the least likely to recognize cultural differences or to adapt their mannerisms and mindsets when dealing with others.
Analysts quickly understand when different cultures are at play in a situation, and respond by taking some time to observe their surroundings and other cues that can help them adapt as needed. Their approach is methodical but can take some time, and the final approach can be rigid.
Knowledge: 2 / 5
Meta-Cognition: 4 / 5
Adaptation: 3 / 5
Naturals rely completely on intuition when confronted with new and unknown situations or people. They can quickly size someone up and respond to cultural cues on the fly. Because their approach is not methodical, they can face difficulty when more complex and lasting strategies are required.
Knowledge: 3 / 5
Meta-Cognition: 2 / 5
Adaptation: 4 / 5
Ambassadors possess a healthy amount of confidence when interacting with other cultures, even when they do not know much about them. This allows Ambassadors to act assertively among people of different backgrounds - often in an effective manner - but they can also fall prey to faux pas and create tense situations.
Knowledge: 1 / 5
Meta-Cognition: 5 / 5
Adaptation: 2 / 5
Mimics excel at picking up on differences and adapting their communication style to others, even if they do not always understand the reasons behind these differences. Their practical approach to mimicking others’ behaviors can put people at ease and lead to positive interactions, but like the Naturals, they may fall short when more complex and long-term adaptations are needed.
Knowledge: 3 / 5
Meta-Cognition: 3 / 5
Adaptation: 5 / 5
Chameleons are masters at understanding other cultures, recognizing differences, and adapting not just their communication styles, but their mindsets, to be effective. They are - by far - the rarest among all the profiles.
Knowledge: 5 / 5
Meta-Cognition: 5 / 5
Adaptation: 5 / 5
Cultural intelligence is something that can be improved upon. By studying new cultures, paying attention to people’s body language, understanding differences in communication styles, increasing self awareness, and practicing a lot, you’ll find yourself improving your relationships with others not just when visiting other countries, but also at work, home, and practically everywhere else. Pruuf, launching soon, is also an excellent way to practice interacting with people you may not otherwise talk to.
Stay tuned for a new article on specific ways to improve your CQ, and for more news on Pruuf's beta app and how you can become an advisor.