ISS Reads: Summer 2016
This summer, ISS launched a book group to foster conversation among the ISS staff about issues important to our work. Given our strategic focus on promoting a more global perspective, we chose as the first book, The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business by Erin Meyer, a professor at INSEAD. In the book, Meyer argues that to communicate and work effectively in today’s global environment, it’s important to understand cultural as well as individual differences. She describes eight scales with notable cultural differences, including communicating, evaluating, persuading leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling. What matters is not where your culture absolutely falls on each scale, but rather where your culture is located relative to the cultures of the people with whom you are working. The book is packed with memorable stories and good advice for how to bridge cultural differences.
In the chapter on persuasion, Meyer describes ingenious studies by Professors Richard Nisbett and Takahiko Masuda demonstrating how people from different cultures see and frame situations. When shown pictures of animals in their typical habitats, Americans tend to focus on the objects in the foreground, whereas Asians focus more on objects in the background, which explains Asians’ attention to the context of a situation and Americans emphasis on the actors. In his book, The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About it, Joshua Cooper Ramo cites the same studies as one of many reasons why we need to take a holistic view of the world. Ramo recently wrote a sequel to that book, The Seventh Sense, that describes why connections are essential in the revolutionary Age of the Network we are experiencing. Both of Ramo’s books range across many fields, from security to education, from art history to science and computing, and provide valuable insights for understanding and thriving in our interconnected, global world.
Many of the anecdotes in Meyer’s and Ramo’s books about cultural misunderstandings also remind me of a concept called “place lag” that Mark Vanhoenacker coins in his book Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot. A former historian then consultant turned pilot, Vanhoenacker shares his deep love and knowledge of long distant flight. Whereas time lag is the physical feeling of discomfort you get when you cross time zones, place lag is the emotional sense of dislocation you experience when you travel too quickly from one place or culture to another without sufficient time to adjust. Imagine boarding a flight at JFK in New York City on a snowy winter day and landing 24 hours later in hot humid Bangkok. It takes a while to adjust to your new environs. While you don’t have to travel around the world to experience place lag (taking a train into the city from the suburbs can engender a similar effect), Vanhoenacker’s book is primarily focused on international travel and a fun read for anyone who flies long distances, as many international educators do.
So, the next time you’re taking a long distance flight, pack one of these recommended books. The next book column will focus on the science of learning, including the winter ISS Book Club selection, Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown.
ISS Reads: Winter 2017
Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger, III, and Mark A. McDaniel is the Winter ISS Reads book selection. In their book, Brown et al. summarize the many recent insights from cognitive science about how people learn. In addition to describing how the brain makes, stores and retrieves memories, Brown et al. outline key strategies for making teaching and learning both more productive and more enduring. Many of the research-based strategies they recommend—such as free recall, spacing, and interleaving— run counter to common study habits and contradict the widely-held belief that learning should be made as easy as possible.
Among the research that Brown et al. cite in their book is the work of Carol S. Dweck on learning mindsets. In her aptly named book, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, Dweck distinguishes between people with growth mindsets, who believe that qualities such as intelligence can be cultivated through effort, and those with fixed mindsets, who think that you are born with traits such as intelligence. As Dweck illustrates, your mindset impacts learning, because it affects how you view effort, failure and success and how you respond to critical feedback. Fortunately, fixed mindsets, which inhibit learning, can be changed, and like many changes, the first step is understanding the phenomena clearly laid out in Dweck’s book.
Just as mindsets can affect learning, so too can a sense of belonging—or a lack of such feeling. In his book, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, Claude M. Steele describes his groundbreaking research on how pervasive societal stereotypes, such as girls aren’t good at math, can influence behavior and performance, even if the person doesn’t believe the stereotype and especially if the person cares about his/her performance. Steele traces the evolution of his research over decades, beginning with his identification of the link between identity and intellectual performance, though the many physical, psychological and performance manifestations of the phenomena, and ending with proven strategies for reducing stereotype threat.
Brown’s, Dweck’s and Steele’s books are all compelling texts and essential reading for educators committed to optimizing the learning of all their students.