Through the telling of his immersive life experiences in a variety of different cultures and locales, David Clive Price delivers practical advice on how to develop your cultural intelligence.
As businesses increasingly look overseas in their unending search for growth, the market for training and advice for business people navigating cross-cultural differences in new countries is highly competitive. In a field populated by cowboys and people seeking a quick buck (trust me, I’ve met a lot of them), David Clive Price stands head and shoulders above most of his competitors. He has been guiding businesses in cultural matters for decades, and his books and courses have helped thousands of people to develop their cultural intelligence.
For people working in countries far from their homes or within unfamiliar cultures a great deal of learning needs to occur, and reading books is often a good place to start. There are many books on the market today that provide lists of “do’s and don’ts” when operating abroad, and David’s Master Key to Asia is my go-to book in this regard, but as I wrote in Cultural immersion trumps theoretical knowledge in international business, such books have their limitations. This is because:
No books or courses exist that can detail every single theoretical detail about what a group of people like or don’t like… Any generalisation about a national culture can’t be true for everybody that lives within that country. There are also regional variations on cultural norms within any country, and even within cities and towns. Theoretical learning about cultural norms from courses and books can be a poor substitute to on-the-ground, in-country, cultural immersion learning
Refreshingly, Bamboo Strong is more about developing a mindset, a cultural intelligence (CQ as opposed to IQ) mindset, and one of the key messages in the book is about the importance of immersing yourself in your new culture.
David’s enthusiasm for and knowledge about CQ is evident throughout Bamboo Strong. With a highly diverse range of life experiences that have taken him to all corners of the globe, David has become a sought after expert on CQ and is well qualified to speak, write about and advise on matters pertaining to it. As a highly regarded public speaker and the owner of a golden voice, I hope that an audiobook version is released too! (If you want to hear his dulcet tones bounce off of my own ocker Aussie ones, click here).
It is largely through the telling of his immersive life experiences in a variety of different cultures and locales that he explains how to develop CQ, and Bamboo Strong, with many side-trips along the way, takes us from his formal education at English grammar schools and universities in Cambridge and Bologna through to his farm life in Italy, the gay subcultures of New York and to the international banking sector of Hong Kong. Having lived in a number of countries, thrived among various cultures and learned to speak multiple languages, David takes an autobiographical approach to guiding his readers in developing CQ, allowing them to learn from his intercultural experiences, mistakes and successes. With his ability to tell a good travel story and his prolific and diverse written output, David comes across as a less-closeted modern-day Somerset Maugham, and Bamboo Strong is an enjoyable, insightful and humorous read.
David explains how he chose the name of his book, Bamboo Strong, “from the giant, woody grass that grows and transforms so rapidly when it is cut down”, pointing out that “Bamboo easily withstands the harshness of winter. It is incredibly strong and yet flexes and bends with the force of the wind or rain”. He says that the characteristics of Bamboo are the same traits that people who work abroad need to develop to succeed in an inter-cultural sense. “The ancient Chinese” says David “regarded the bamboo as a symbol of strength, courage, and resilience”.
Although David is further along the path than I am, the direction in which my own life is heading is similar in many ways to David’s, so the topics on which he writes resonate strongly with me. By my mid-thirties, I’d been fortunate enough to have lived and worked on four continents, traveled to many countries and learned three languages. Many stay-at-home-types think that the lifestyle that people like David or myself live is unusual, but it’s not. The world’s cities are packed with tens of thousands of expatriate workers living this exciting type of life, and in Globalise Yourself, I wrote about the benefits of becoming a globalised individual.
Perhaps the most important life lesson that many globalised individuals eventually learn is something that David puts forward very clearly, that “beyond the cultural differences, we often find that people are the same all over the world”, we all “have the same needs, and insecurities, and loves, and dreams.” Which is why developing your CQ as a mental and emotional framework from which to guide your actions is beneficial for not only your professional cross-cultural interactions, but also as a mindset for life. As David says “Cultural intelligence starts with the personal”.
Personal encounters. That’s what it’s all about, getting in amongst it and meeting people and taking risks. As I wrote in Rolling with it:
If you want to succeed in working across international borders and cultures, you will find yourself in some bizarre circumstances. If you want to succeed, you’ll often have to go with the flow.
And David has often found himself in bizarre circumstances, from evading armed soldiers in communist Burma or visiting S&M clubs in New York, all of which adds to the fun of the book. With openness to new experiences and encounters being a key theme of Bamboo Strong, David’s tips for building CQ includes walking down the world’s back alleys and taking on the approach of a spy, which given his background, travels and exploits, just like Somerset Maugham, I suspect he’s probably been!
Learning from personal encounters and being observant (like a spy) are two of the key messages of Bamboo Strong. As David writes:
If we are always chatting amongst ourselves in English at the hotel swimming pool, it is unlikely that we will develop this essential part of our CQ. However, when we really travel and encounter Otherness, we learn a lot more about ourselves and about the new culture we are experiencing.
I was delighted that David referred to my own corporate cultural diplomacy work in Bamboo Strong and we both agree that people can become united through greater cultural understanding and culture based interactions. One of the most interesting aspects that David writes about is CQ’s potential to unify people and make the world a better place, and in many ways, the recent release of Bamboo Strong is a timely one. As he succinctly observes,
we are living in a time when there is a definite groundswell, a clash of ideologies, between those who view greater cultural understanding and intelligence as an enormous benefit to mankind and those who would retreat into the bunkers of intolerance, stereotype, and xenophobia.
With Brexit and the political rise of Donald Trump being key indicators, cultural intelligence is needed more now than ever, and not only in a business sense, but also in regards to building global peace and prosperity. In this, David’s arguments are both passionate and compelling; “cultural intelligence”, he says, has the “power to grow and change the world”.
In the thickets of stereotype, indifference, and blind hatred that we see all around us, it is the green shoots of cultural understanding, rapport, and sympathy that have the greatest chance of transforming the globe’s political and spiritual ecosystem.
We can all hope!
I thoroughly enjoyed Bamboo Strong and recommend it to those interested in working abroad or across cultures, looking for antidotes to the current destructive ideologies that thrive on dividing people into groups of “us” and “them”, or people who simply enjoy reading good travel stories.
Review by Grant Hall