Book data
Title: Global Cosmopolitans
Sub-title: The creative edge of difference
Author: Linda Brimm
Publisher: Palgrave McMillan/INSEAD Business Press
Price: $40.00

Global Cosmopolitans become this intriguing breed because of the challenges they confront, or at least such is the hypothesis of author and INSEAD professor Linda Brimm (click here for bio). In the previous part we examined some of the qualities that Global Cosmopolitans bring to the table, namely for multinational companies. Let us now turn to how the breed developed these qualities.

The author points out that these Global Cosmopolitan creatures develop through a process of challenges. One is not born into this breed, but one develops by addressing three main issues: first an inner journey that answers some of the ‘Who am I ?’ questions; second, understanding the influences of one’s past, namely family and cultural voices; last, the role of connections and disconnections and relationships.

As you can see, dear reader, the author sends us into the realm of introspection. The first leg of this journey is understanding the five challenges that the average Global Cosmopolitan (is that a contradiction in terms?) confronts.

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This pentateuch of challenges can represent what the author calls ‘turning points’ for Global Cosmopolitans, points in time when they step back from the daily grind to ask themselves questions about their lives’ courses. These powerful moments help the Global Cosmopolitans change their self-understanding and can lead to personal re-definition.

You thought that Global Cosmopolitans had their plate full with personal challenges? Then wait until you learn of their lot when confronting relationship challenges! This breed needs to deal with the voices and rules of their past. This is where the social norms and cultural references of their upbringing come into play.

For the author four elements (‘cross-currents’ is her term) play key roles for the Global Cosmopolitan’s upbringing. These are socio-economic factors. On the socio-side, there are family values, religion and norms & expectations. One example? The Global Cosmopolitan who is put through higher education at great expense and then feels the need to ‘pay back’ her debt for her family’s sacrifice.

On the economic side, political context and economic scarcity play important roles in forming the mentality of a Global Cosmopolitan.

Perhaps the most daunting challenge for the Global Cosmopolitan is to listen and manage the invisible rules and silent voices of his or her past.

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For the Global Cosmopolitan breed, the difficulty lies in merging the inputs from their family culture(s) into their ongoing nomadic careers. Let us illustrate with an example. The author quotes a Global Cosmopolitan Dutch manager who had been raised on an expatriate Shell Oil regimen of paternal postings in Africa and South America. Several decades later, after his MBA and the birth of two children, this manager wonders whether his children should also catch the wanderlust bug. He decides against it and prefers settling in his native Holland.

Global Cosmopolitans thus confront the subconscious issues of their family past and the told or untold influences that exert pressure until they are confronted and discussed.

Up to now, the challenges have been quite self-centered. Finally, Global Cosmopolitans face the issue of relationships. Just like the rest of us, they face the ‘dynamic relationship puzzle’ that their worlds of work, love and family carry. What makes the Global Cosmopolitans diverse is the number of transitions they confront as they move from country to country, from culture to different culture.

Here the issues include one’s identity related to others; how to be competent at work or understanding different ways of relating to colleagues and people. According to the author, this connect-disconnect talent reflects a knack that Global Cosmopolitans have, in order to develop authentic relationships.

“Yet I know that I have become an excellent actress,” says one Global Cosmopolitan quoted by the author (page 58), “playing the roles so well that I am the only one that experiences the weight of the role.” And thus is evoked perhaps the trickiest part of the Global Cosmopolitan’s existence: where does the real identity stop and the adopted or host identity begin?

By Chris Fodor, published April 2011.
Our next installment will appear on May 4.