Blending Cultures

Is the blending of cultures such a bad thing? Will we eventually become one homogenous block of humans who, whether in London, Mumbai, Brazil or China, will lead disgustingly uninteresting and similar lives? Mere shadows of one another?

Well, for starters we already do. Giving in to peer pressure, be it to people who belong to the same community or to different communities, is the same thing but on different scales. In fact, there is a subtle play of dominance – subjugation when someone insists and you capitulate (which you do, eagerly) to their demand that you look and sound exactly like them before they accept you. Youngsters are especially vulnerable. That, I suspect, is one of the main objections of people who insist on not giving up part of their cultural identity for something that might be more convenient or, horror of horrors, more enjoyable. Fact is, peer pressure aside and purely because we are human, we pick up things from other humans. It is a natural instinct. It stems from the desire for self preservation, safety and a sense of belonging. It makes us fashion ourselves along the lines of other humans we admire, enjoy or feel safe with, or, would like to call our inner circle. That is the other objection – how can someone like something from the other culture so much that they are willing to give up part of ours?

When we migrated to NZ, my family and I were following a dream. We wanted to be amongst people of various cultures, especially cultures that we didn’t see much of, in our own neighbourhood. We read about them, were fascinated by them and in some ways, identified with them. An objective outsider (or an insider from that other culture) would rightly say, we had romanticised notions of the different culture. When we did settle here we realised it was a mixed bag. Not everything (nor everyone) was as wonderful as we’d imagined. There was much that we thoroughly admired and wanted to absorb from the new culture. But there were things Indian that we realised we preferred.

Here’s some of our initial reactions – that the local kids weren’t able to shine as much as our Indian kids at studies; but they were really good at sports and music (which one couldn’t really earn a living off, could one? Heh, heh); that we enjoyed our culture of home cooked food versus fast food; stay-at-home mums who welcomed kids back home from school, helped them with their studies and generally provide stable home lives. But guess what?

Our perceptions began to change. We slowly began to understand that our kids were brilliant because of rote learning; that experimenting, researching and looking at knowledge from different angles, questioning the written word and drawing our own logical conclusions was brilliant too; that fresh air, the outdoors and enough play time was essential for our kids and not just mountains of homework; that besides being lawyers and doctors there were many fields they could follow; that one could actually link one’s extra-curricular activities and interests to one’s earnings.

Next, our ideas about stay-at-home mums started changing slightly. I suspect it started changing in India too. Sheer economics, a desire not to waste qualifications, to be out and about amongst peers, made us stay-at-home mums seek careers. Were we giving up our culture by going off to work? Perhaps to a degree – but it wasn’t because of pressure from the west. It had not only become a necessity, it was quite desirable too. Mums started working while their kids were away at school. Here in NZ we’d secretly felt sorry for kids who were sent to baby-sitters by their career oriented mothers. Now we were considering the same. What we began to understand and appreciate was that women here had managed to combine both, their profession and family life, with a tougher set of options than their counterparts in India. In India, we had the best babysitters in the world – grandparents, to nurture and supervise, as also cheap, paid help to do the hard housework. Over here the extreme anxiety of having to leave kids with relatively unknown people had produced a win-win outcome too – professional baby-sitters. They underwent training, learnt how to deal with emergencies, their houses were inspected for cleanliness and safety and, there was a strict ratio of the number of children to the number of trained sitters looking after them. And if we found someone who, over the months proved to be kindly and affectionate with our children, our anxiety gave way to relief. Another tradition sacrificed? To my mind, just two different but equally good choices made available – one from our traditions and one from theirs.

We appreciated the fact that we could earn a decent wage working part time. So some of us chose to be back in time to welcome kids home from school. Whether we did so or stayed longer at work, when we got home, there was no paid help to do our cleaning, washing, cooking, repairing, building, painting and gardening. We – both partners – did most of it ourselves. Or, if we got paid help, they charged a good rate by the hour.

Continued as Part II

The Power of Culture and Engagement: An Apple and Its Amazing Story (Reflections on Steve Jobs)

Take a look at a company logo. What do you see? An image? A story? A brand? A way of living?

A logo is a powerful thing. I vividly remember, after hearing about the sad news of Steve Jobs’ passing, taking my iPhone and just staring at the apple logo. For the first time, I saw much more than a simple design, an image, or just a brand: I saw an incredible story.

I saw the creation of a visionary leader, decades of hard work, passion, drive, failures and victories. In essence, I saw entrepreneurialism for what I always intended it to be: bold, courageous, inspiring, innovative, driven by the desire of making the world a better place, without ever losing sight of the end user – our clients.

I also saw a wonderful reminder of the kind of impact that a single human being is capable of achieving within his/her lifetime.


Jobs demonstrated that power and conformity were not necessary to becoming the number 1 company in the world. The almost flat, untraditional organisational culture that he shaped as a leader was so strong and consistent that it became perceptible in every aspect of the business. I found myself often surprised as to how he would introduce the most incredible and awaited products in front of a world audience wearing a humble pair of jeans and a jumper. But it did not end at a board level: go to any Apple store today and you will find an amazing diversity in the workforce, whether this concerns style, age or backgrounds. You will also see the “artefacts” that embody Steve’s vision, style and impeccable standards.

“Impossible” was a word that clearly did not exist in Jobs’ dictionary – he would simply use his influence, drive and determination to make the “impossible”, well, “possible”. Accounts of “working with Jobs”, narrated by colleagues old and new, describe a tough, nit-picking and often temperamental leader – but also a leader who consistently (and unconditionally) lived and worked by his business values.

In this unconditional culture, some may argue, you were either in or out. But clearly he possessed the ability to build and maintain a high performing team, to “drag” people into his vision without compromising on the quality of his work.

But how did he achieve that?

He did not act without integrity. Yes, Jobs pursued near-impossible standards – and never ever attempted to cut corners. But the more he demanded of others, the more he demanded of himself. When projects or products were axed, he shared his reasoning with his colleagues. When saying: “This is the most amazing product we ever made”, he genuinely believed that. Authenticity in leadership is exhilarating, contagious and can be felt across the organisation. Though tough and intimidating at times, he surely “talked the talk and walked the walk”, leading by example.

When employees experience the level of engagement described by those who have worked with Jobs, they happily walk the extra mile and put the extra hour in not because they have to – but because they want to. They will go back to the drawing board when their ideas get axed instead of leaving the organisation. When employees work towards a greater, collective purpose individual differences are more easily understood rather than rejected.

To quote a previous Apple employee: ” The quest to make the world a better place doesn’t happen by coddling egos or releasing mediocre products. The culture of excellence and attention to detail was rooted at the top”.

So thank you Steve for reminding us that the road to excellence is not an easy one, but one that is so rewarding once we reach our destination. And thank you for reminding us that, while imperfection is a part of leadership, authenticity is much more of a rare find.

But when found, it can really make the “impossible”, well, “possible”.