When a clinical psychologist examines the growing breed of borderless executives, one can expect a plethora of amusing life anecdotes. More surprising is the finding that global cosmopolitans also bring unique managerial skills to their employment tables.

(Part 1 of 3)

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

INSEAD professor Linda Brimm (click here for bio) did not have to search far and wide for the subject of her book: the new breed of people raised here and there, then working here and there, and finally settling down here or sometimes there. She herself was a species of that globe-trotting breed, and spends a good part of her days teaching the breed at INSEAD business school, or advising members of the breed through her psychology practice in Paris.

What is this breed of so-called ‘Global Cosmopolitans’? Although the author devotes almost 240 pages to explaining this breed, her in-a-nutshell definition is “a talented population of highly educated, multi-lingual people that have lived, worked and studied for extensive periods in different cultures.” (Page 4 of the book)

Why devote a book to the topic? As the author writes (page 8): “There is massive work to be done to maximize the value that Global Cosmopolitans can contribute. Many organizations do not fully understand the assets they have created by investing in their global workforce.”

Yet both car manufacturer Renault and the American public seem to have gotten the message. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn is pure product Global Cosmopolitan. He can claim – depending on the work location or day of the week – antecedents from Lebanon, France, Brazil, and probably even Japan these days. And Barack Obama’s upbringing between American heartland, Indonesia and Hawaii is another example.

Starting points and common traits
Global Cosmopolitans are often born that way. The chromosome may be parents of different nationalities or from different cultures. Or it may be moving from one country to another because for family reasons.

Yet, other Global Cosmopolitans are driven to the leap into multi-culturalism. For some it may be escape from repression, sheer economic survival, or perhaps yielding to an urge or a dream.

No matter what the cause, Linda Brimm’s extensive interviews with Global Cosmopolitans point to five oft-found common characteristics that help define the species.

 

For the author, a constant source of surprise is how often companies do not realize that these traits – and countless others that Global Cosmopolitans display – constitute invaluable assets. “Alas, multinational companies often only see the tip of the iceberg: the language skills and the knowledge of foreign markets,” she explains in our interview (click here for box). “Companies do not realize that these globe-trotting transplants hold the keys to far greater managerial and human skills; skills that can prove useful even in headquarters roles.”

Learning as a lifelong pursuit
According to the author, Global Cosmopolitans possess the paramount trump card: what she calls the creative edge of difference. This ‘killer application’ is not limited to a single talent or skill. It is a combination of personal strengths that are distilled over time and over the odyssey of the manager’s curriculum.

What is the most important skill? Is it openness of mind? Or rather the strong perceptual skills that are developed over pan-cultural negotiations or late-night karaoke sessions? Or perhaps the Global Cosmopolitan’s ability to stand back and draw conclusions, including on themselves and their relationships?

 

No matter what the reply, the author peppers her book with intriguing life story narratives lifted from her conversations with managers and business school students. So Global Cosmopolitans reads not like a treatise of clinical psychology, but rather as a novel with hundreds of personal threads, and some over-arching conclusions to help Global Cosmopolitans, their families, their friends and even their bosses.

By Chris Fodor, published April 2011.

Our next installment will appear on April 20 and will cover some of the difficulties that are strewn on the Global Cosmopolitan’s path.

Author profile

Linda Brimm
Linda Brimm is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, teaching both in the MBA and executive programs. Along with her teaching responsibilities, she created and ran the psychological service for the MBA program at INSEAD.

Trained as a clinical psychologist, she also works with both individuals and families at a center she co-founded in Paris.

She received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Psychoanalysis from the Université of Paris. Her undergraduate degree is from Cornell University, her Master’s Degree is from Northeastern University, and she completed a postgraduate program in clinical psychology at Hebrew University in Israel.

Identity Development, Diversity and Change have been an interest in her research, consulting and teaching over the years. Her initial research focused on managing work force diversity and the development of people’s lives and careers. Dr. Brimm’s research and consulting interests currently focuses on Global Cosmopolitans. Her book, Global Cosmopolitans, The Creative Edge of Difference, published in September 2010, combines her study of identity development and change in the lives of the next generation of global leaders and the use of narrative writing and analysis. Her work has been described as presenting “a whole new concept of careers, and thereby, becomes one of the most important career development books published in the last decade.”

While her earlier work focused on competence and challenges affecting identity for people in relatively early career and life stages, her current research focuses on people that are in a different life stage and have experienced significant success in their professional lives. Her current research examines the lives of Global Cosmopolitan senior executives and entrepreneurs. Using a narrative approach she is pulling together through their stories and analysis, the impact of different life stages on the lives of Global Cosmopolitans and the impact of growing up in a different generation and in a different global Context. This work should also afford an understanding of the ways people find to manage what appear to the outsider to be seamless transitions from one world to another.