Boost Your Cultural IQ

September 2019
Vecinos: information and advice for our American communities

by Germán Velasco

Is there something innately human about being able to understand something faster, more clearly and more deeply? I began to look into Cultural Intelligence (abbreviated CQ) and found myself reading texts from psychology, anthropology and sociology. These disciplines — to different degrees — all study culture’s influence on human beings. Delving into these studies quickly became a fascinating adventure for me.

At this point, I can attest to the fact that CQ is true intelligence and, perhaps, the most useful form of intelligence there is. It is accessible to all. We can be smarter if we want. To understand CQ, first it is important to understand the impact of “culture.” Imagine for a moment that a culture is a transparent bubble, invisible to the eyes, but real. The purpose of this bubble is to group people together, no matter where they are. This bubble has no specific shape or size.

As an example, let’s talk about a bubble that groups the female teens in a school. Now, let’s imagine another bubble grouping the boys from that same school. If you have lived in these bubbles in your own life, you remember that in your teenage bubble you and your friends had your own ways of expressing yourselves; you had your own jokes, keywords, and stories that nobody else understood.

A person can be part of the bubble called “men” and, at the same time, belong to a larger bubble called “nationality” – all the while also belonging to other smaller bubbles such as bubbles for the place where he works, the sport he likes, and so on. This man’s bubbles make him see life a little or even much more differently than does his wife, who sees life from within the “women” bubble. Yet both share a worldview from the perspective of the “nationality” and the “parents” bubbles that they have in common.

How precise would our thinking be if we could ascertain what someone from another bubble sees? But how difficult this is, given that we don’t know the codes for that other bubble.

The point of this bubble exercise is to illustrate that our vision of reality—almost inescapably—will have to be different to some extent depending upon our point of view. That is, the bubble of culture influences our vision just as if that invisible membrane had the distorting effect of a lens.

Cultural Intelligence is the ability to see reality from one bubble, jump to the next bubble, see reality from there and then perhaps from other bubbles, and be able to accomplish this feat in an instant. Imagine the difference in perspective between the person with highly developed CQ versus the person who only looks at the world from one point of view. Those who have lived in different situations at different stages of their lives tend to develop better CQ. That’s why I highly recommend reaching out beyond your comfort zone: meet new people, change jobs, live in different places, learn another language, or change professions. All this change will help you to build a higher CQ. And this world needs people—especially leaders—with high CQ.

German Velasco is the Executive Director of La Mano Amiga, an educational nonprofit organization based in Colorado.