Being a CanDoo in the Other Culture

concerning being a CanDoo in an Other Culture . . .
The other night I was praying. I was facing some pretty tough issues that I hoped would go away . . . and I offered God money.

You are saying to yourself, “Seriously!?”

It’s true, no lie– and that’s the answer I heard in quick reply, “Seriously!?” What kind of fool am I? I tried to give God what He already owns—and an extremely tiny portion of it. I am glad I wasn’t struck dead immediately.

But this is what I am – I am a CanDoo. And my guess is that you also are a CanDoo.

For a few years we lived in an Indian-Pakistani section of London – about 95+% Indian-Pakistani, including some Somalis and Afghans – Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus. I was walking down my neighborhood street one day – this is after a couple years there – and I thought to myself, “These people really don’t like me. I don’t look or think like them. My core values and religion aren’t theirs. I probably make them really angry talking about Jesus.” I started to feel very unsafe. Then I began to think, “But I have the US Embassy. I could go there. And I have credit cards. And I started to list to myself the credit cards that were in my back pocket. I thought, “With those available to me right now, I can go get on a plane and just fly away.” I have ways to fix this if it really becomes a problem.

I am a CanDoo. And my guess is that you also are a CanDoo.

About 15 years ago, my missionary friend was locked up in an Asian prison. These are not nice places, and there was a lot of ambiguity about his sentence and how long he would be in there. I was in the US explaining this to a wealthy friend, who said, “Well, let’s go get him.” I looked confused and said, “What do you mean?” And he said (and I quote) “We’ll just get some guys and some helicopters, and go get him.” (He was talking mercenaries.) My wealthy friend is definitely a CanDoo. He’s got money and he CAN DO lots based on whatever that money will buy.

I visited an elementary school on the edge of the desert in West Africa, in Senegal. Because I used to be a public educator, a sort of expert in literacy and learning, I was very interested in what this Christian school with a majority Muslim population had going. I watched for a couple of days and made friends with the school’s Director. Then I said, “Here is what you CAN DO if you want these kids to learn better.” I was nice about it, but I just couldn’t help myself. I am a CanDoo.

I’m a pretty good observer. I’m a pretty good analyst. I was taught that way. I see most of the sides of an issue. I find root causes for problems. I think about solutions. And I project outcomes given a choice among various solutions. All this can go on in my head, and sometimes I can hold my tongue and not say anything, but usually I break my silence. I like my ideas. I have an idea, and I break my silence and suggest a direction, offer a proposal, point out a weakness, or talk about a better way. Essentially I say, “Look, this can be fixed. Here’s how.”

I am a CanDoo, and I know we can find a way to do this thing. Let’s roll.

There is something biblical about this. When I read my Bible, I saw what Paul did. I see Peter change and get it right. I see Moses become The Man. The Christians have got it and they are going somewhere; they can turn the world upside down.

When I read for relaxation, I read biographies about the founding fathers – this mix of a handful of very unique men, each different from the other, who managed to collaborate and lead a revolution that has led to the world’s most powerful nation. I grew up watching the first astronauts and all the subsequent movies about how they made it. Against gravity and malfunctions, a team of men conquered space and made it back alive. They were CanDoo’s.

When I watch TV, I enjoy seeing a crime solved in an hour, or even a problem in a sitcom resolved in half an hour. Even if a new difficulty is introduced to whet my appetite for the next episode, there’s a problem and a resolution, or at least some progress has been made. I expect progress.

This is how I have learned to see the world. It’s why I am speaking to you. We Can Do this. We can improve how we do things.

However, it’s a fact that many people, most people in the world, the majority, are not CanDoo’s. This raises a couple of questions:

  • Can we CanDoo’s get along with them? 
“Of course we can,” we think.
  • “Will they value us? Why wouldn’t they?” we say to ourselves. 
“We CanDoo’s can help.”

But if they are not CanDoo’s, what are they? How do THEY think about the world? 
What do they want to accomplish in life? Maybe, they don’t think about the world in terms of accomplishing anything. Maybe they think more about their relationship to past generations than about what is about to happen, about what’s coming next:

“Why solve a problem? Why plan for the future,” they say, “since
 we belong to what we have inherited. Our fathers have made us what we are. And we count on that. We cherish that and want to retain it.”  

“Problems,” they say, “-there have always been and will always be problems. Only God knows, and we are subject to whatever God brings along. Each day has enough worries of its own.”

But me? I am a CanDoo:
Born to get something done. Born to make the future a little brighter.

THEY seem quite different. They are different. (At least until I get hold of them.)


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With OPPORTUNITY for ALL! BAM in the New American City!

Making THAT connection with new “Other-culture” people in American communities provides at least five opportunities:
1) opportunity to welcome the stranger
2) opportunity to create jobs, adding value to communities
3) opportunity to find innovation through new eyes
4) opportunity to share the love of Christ
5) opportunity to learn Other cultures

Who knows what might emerge from partnerships, coaching, or co-development of business? Why not partner? It may mean profit all around.

New immigrants need help understanding American cultural ways– not just about knowing how to turn on electric appliances or how to ride a bus to the grocery store, but what makes Americans tick.

New immigrants bring with them new eyes that see differently and maybe see opportunities and innovation old American eyes can’t. “Immigrants are now more than twice as likely as the native-born to start a business.”*

See Mark Canavera’s recent article, subtitled, “Enabling immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs to take flight in their new economy.” He describes a model Philadelphia initiative that resources immigrant entrepreneurs.

Wow – what a story! What a model!

Where is BAM as it relates to the American immigrant/refugee communities? OPPORTUNITY ON OUR DOORSTEP!


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7 More Sources towards Commonsense in the Other Culture

This is the second in a multi-part series on selected SOURCES to inform crossing into Other Cultures. Here are a few more “book-sources.”

Stewart, Edward C. and Milton J. Bennett. American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Nicholas Brealey; 2nd Edition edition, 2005. This is a favorite. It is NOT a fact book on American culture; NOT a simple book. The route to Other-culture awareness crisscrosses the American sub-consciousness. A brilliant analysis that can put you on the road to commonsense in Other cultures.

I like this from an Amazon reviewer
“This book should be required reading for anyone attempting to understand American Cultural Patterns invisible to Americans belonging to the dominant culture. In other words, if you were born in another culture or belong to a subculture in the U.S. this book will explain why it is so hard to communicate with “rational white managers who have been in the same business for decades”. . . Individualism keeps the sense of future limited to one lifetime (or the next quarter earnings). Linguistic features of English lead toward linear chains of cause, effect and outcomes. Other cultures experience relationships as community, time as seasonal or celestial, truth as intuitive . . . It is worth the fifteen cents a page I paid for it.”

Pipher, Mary. The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community. Harcourt, Inc., 2002. An engaging book written 15 years ago, still timely. A best way to understand a culture that is foreign to you is to find and engage the owners of that culture, who now live down the street. In this sense, Pipher’s book is dual-pronged: a look at those of Other culture as they transition into “my” Home culture and a way to understand their culture.

Nydell, Margaret K. Understanding Arabs: A Contemporary Guide to Arab SocietyNicholas Brealey, 5 edition, 2012. From the expert.

Elmer, Duane, Cross-Cultural Connections. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press, 2002.  This is basic. While aimed at Christian ministry, it is universally applicable.

LeBaron, Michelle and Venashri Pillay. Conflict Across Cultures: A Unique Experience of Bridging Differences. Intercultural Press, 2006. Especially in the Other culture we’d like to avoid conflict, but of course culture is about difference and difference means conflict.

Maranz, David E. African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa. SIL International, Global Publishing; Second edition, 2015. The roots of culture exposed.

Boye Lafayette De Mente. Korean Etiquette and Ethics in Business. NTC Business Books, 2nd edition, 1994. There are others in this series I have not read, but this one is very insightful.


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What Business Needs to Know about Commonsense in Other Culture Workplaces: SELECTED BEST SOURCES

Here are some Best Sources about Commonsense in Other Culture Workplaces.

THE GAP. I’ve been reading on this subject for a couple years. Seems to me there are few if any sources that directly address this subject as related to BAM. The general consensus among business experts is that it is a very important area AND very, very neglected . . . with reportable negative consequences.

THE AMALGAM. Business and culture are inseparable. Business, as done in the America*, is done like Americans would do it. Business, as done in Other Cultures**, is done like Other Cultures would do it. (Are some of you trying to fit our square culture* into round culture** holes?)


Adler, Nancy J. International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, multiple editions.
This is the classic textbook.

Foster, Dean Allen. Bargaining Across Borders: How to Negotiate Business Successfully Anywhere in the World. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1992.
Very readable.
Amusingly, Foster says elsewhere: “Cross-cultural competency is not what happens after listening to, reading, or interacting with information about how to behave in a particular culture in a particular circumstance.  Sleep is usually what happens when one listens to, reads, or interacts with passively accessed information like this.”

Gundling, Ernest. working GlobeSmart: 12 People Skills for Doing Business Across Borders. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing, 2003.
By the founder of Aperian Global. Probably the best.

Lederleitner, Mary T. Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press, 2010.
Cultural difference and money matters seem to inevitably lead to conflicts. Sensitive and sensible help here.

Nolan, Riall W. Communicating and Adapting Across Cultures: Living and Working in the Global Village. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1999.
Start with Chapter 13 “At Work.”

Steers, Richard M., Carlos J. Sanchez-Runde and Luciara Nardon.  Management Across Cultures: Challenges and Strategies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press: 2010.
Dense with examples. From p. 79: “Managers must uncover hidden cultural assumptions to become aware of how culture is shaping the perceptions, expectations, and behaviors of all involved parties.”


“Workplace” refers to industry and commerce, or business practice in the broadest sense.

“Other culture” is any culture but your own.

“Commonsense” is how people in a culture think and act without much consideration for how to think and act; presumed expectation.

“BAM” is business as mission. For details, see]

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BAM’S Evil Twin is Your Business Partner!?

Is BAM’S Evil Twin Your Business Partner?

In this blog I usually consider BAM and talk about commonsense in the Other culture and how to get it. It’s time to talk about spiritual commonsense and how little we have.I know, I speak from experience.

The business of missions is always the work of Jesus’ followers.
The mission for which Jesus set himself apart is now ours (john 17.19, 20)- so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 john 2). We have the same attitude (phil 2) as Jesus. We are following Jesus outside the camp (heb 13). We are in Christ who is formed in us (gal 4.19)

We were a weighed down people, now resurrected in Christ and happily bowed down before our Father the King. Is this you? We are willing volunteers in this the day of His power (ps. 110:3). Not taken out of the world (jn 17 again) we daily feed on grace (heb 13 again) finding value at the altar, hoping to snatch some from the fire, sometimes forgetting but always turned again to remember that we ourselves have been and are being saved and delivered from evil.

In our day and culture, are we turned from that priority path of humility and grace by reconstructing missions as business? Our American task-orientation can be quickly fueled by self-reliance and ambition, or by mere tinkering to solve a problem and evolve a product or a process.twin-1

Men may rise to positions, but their power is not spiritual power. Boards with men of notoriety may give their stamp of approval to such business. The notion that WE are something (“good people”) was and still is often carved (like a dumb wooden idol) onto the landscape of so-called Evangelical endeavor. Do we develop plans and construct budgets and other infrastructures to support them, while lost on us is an infrastructure of the Spirit? Of prayer and the Word of life?

This is not about discarding business savvy or any utility within our culture that will advance the cause of Christ. To make missions as business, to effect missions from some source other than the current tap of Living Water is to work outside the Kingdom of God.

You can have this scheme or that – a compassionate and innovative enterprise that provides you entry into the devil’s domain in the wildest city—but if the power of Jesus’ resurrection is not in view, then it is likely that your calling is not to Jesus’ mission but to some other business altogether.

If we train by science and intuition so that there is every possible insight into the values, ways and intricacies of Other cultures, but we do not study the grace of God and the gracious God who extends His infinite goodness to us Cretans, then what business do we have?

You can write a strategic plan that seeks to lead a group of Jesus’ people into good works and gospel-spreading. It may seem a good plan in its scope and content and intent, including a spiritual component. It may win the approval of many and get financial support. It may seem the best of both mission as business and BAM. But, what of Christ? Where will He be? Will his Spirit stay or leave?

Will there be boasting of Christ in the Other culture? Yes, if we are found in a corner, in a closet, daily boasting of Christ. I say all this recognizing both my own inclinations to race TO DO and the Spirit who inclines me to be still and to devotion.

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4 Steps to Actuated Cultural Knowledge

Actuated Cultural Knowledge
We’re live in 4-3-2-1 . . .

“When Jesus returns, will he be a Capitalist!?

There was a pause and I looked over at Justin, wondering whether to feel pity or to laugh. The 45-year-old Muslim man looked at my younger Christian colleague with disdain and continued to hammer him:
“You can’t answer a simple question! You are out here on the street talking about Jesus and you can’t answer a simple question??”

I had spent hours on the streets of “globalized London,” and was not surprised to hear this man, who welcomed our conversation and was initially very congenial, turn adversarial. But Justin, as a newly graduated theology student, had been eager to be the lead as we engaged this man . . . so I watched for a while as Justin hung himself.

bam-silhouettes-582969_1280In the moment of the cultural encounter, you need more than a smart-topic degree, an MBA in International Business or the hutzpah to spearhead the foreign start-up.

How to be real:

1/ Become a Home-Culture Inspector and Know Your Own Cultural Habits. Operate from a conviction that even though you don’t always have access to a mirror, you are dressed in your Home-culture clothes. Make a habit of asking yourself WHY YOU DO WHAT YOU DO? Where does a fork come from? Why is “happiness” an entitlement and a goal in your culture? What is the source of your drive for efficiency and productivity? Try to be okay with not making yourself feel comfortable when you are on the scene in the cross-cultural context. This is an important platform if you want a view of reality.

2/ Make a Trusted Friend.
I didn’t much like Renaud when I first met him, but my friend told me he could be trusted. Renaud seemed a bit too sure of himself and his ability to get things done. But there I was a newbie, with rusty French, in an unfamiliar context, where local language was just as important. I needed to be led by the hand, at least for a few days. Insiders help.

Next level. I have come to know Rajesh and Nisha, Isaac and Joanna, Elrod and Elise, Rula, Mohamed, and others, as well or better than Home-culture friends. Their answers to my questions give me access to understand communities in and from four continents. These are more than “wiki-people,” doling out factoids, and more than temporary-Renaud. They are literally and intensely my shared humanity, co-weepers, co-rejoicers, and co-workers on the journey of life. When you sense and feel as they do, that’s actuated cultural knowledge.

3/ Designate TIME as your Agent.
Ask & Learn Why They do WHAT THEY DO-
 aka observe and listen.
Consciously designate Mr. Time as your agent to do this. Don’t expect immediate results and successes. Make time work for you and don’t be a slave to your Home-culture clock. I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought II had immediately connected to a new friend only to discover that I hadn’t. And, local practice is just that – no one is going to be heard who walks in off the street and straightaway tells them they have a better way. Nor can you negotiate (not right away) with a vendor who, for some (good but not apparent) reason, is bent on showing you his father-in-law’s town 40 miles away.

4/ Get to the Subsurface.
Use the superficial: No culture is going to show you its hand, you have to look for the “tells.” The operating systems of life and business in the Other Culture evolved, likely through centuries of tradition-building, politics, conflicts, and survival. You won’t find out what happened on the playground 20 years ago until you have been there for a while. But, make it a goal to dig deep into behaviors, decision-making, and what has honor. Discovering mindsets and worldviews will get you a seat at the table at the real party. Know your friends well and you will know their community, its hopes, goals and needs. There are no shortcuts to serious engagement. Blogs, books, and internet sites can only fill some needed informational gaps to you limit being the fool “over there.”

Cultural self-awareness,
Trusted local relationships, and
Your conscious investment of Time trying to
Get to the core of Other-culture habits will

These ADD UP to Actuated Cultural Knowledge.

Note: The people are real but the names used here have been fictionalized.


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The Lean Start-Up Door to Commonsense in the Other Culture

How is Lean Startup process like engaging in an Other culture?

If you know “Lean Startup,” that sense of process should open the door to Other-culture commonsense. This blog entry is aimed at helping you have commonsense in an Other culture.

[I am thinking of THIS COMPARISON (in this blog) as a MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT: Where I am in error, and you see a better way, send me a note, so I can write an improved blog.]

Lean Startup Process (LSP) < > Other-Culture Engagement (OCE)
What can we learn from Lean Startup Process that can transfer
to produce Other-Culture Engagement?

LSP PROPOSES > “looking for a business model” not executing one
OCE discovers Other-culture commonsense, you do not assume you can operate within the Other culture based on your mind’s map of the Other culture.

LSP PROPOSES > forming a value hypothesis
OCE says you bring with you a set of values and also preconceptions.

LSP PROPOSES > experimentation over elaborate planning
OCE values and grows by repeated real life cultural encounters not thought encounters (books, internet, hearsay) about cultural ways.

OCE accepts that participants with their own cultural baggage, do and can engage Other-culture actors, scenes, and activities, at entry level capability– while applying learned skills and evolving towards full engagement.

OCE requires data derived from observation and participation. It requires keeping records of recurring patterns in meetings, conversations, and everyday exchanges – while *identifying new hypotheses and key questions.

LSP VALUES > customer feedback over intuition
OCE emphasizes 1) non-judgmental observations, *drawing limited/”doubtable” conclusions from de-culturated data; and 2) feedback from proven sources, informants, providing insider points of view.

OCE asks repeatedly and often, ‘What makes sense to them?’

LSP PROPOSES > “PIVOT” to vary design
OCE adapts behaviors and adjusts attitudes in order to communicate in Other-culture ways, patterns that make sense to them

OCE requires constant data collection, testing of temporary conclusions, revising assumptions about the Other culture, and re-engaging Other-cultures insiders in ways that, as you the outsider understand more and more, make sense to them.

Steve Blank has said of Lean Startup, Using customers’ input to revise their assumptions, they start the cycle over again, testing redesigned offerings and making further small adjustments (iterations) or more substantive ones (pivots) to ideas that aren’t working.^

A very, very similar cycle of effort is required in Other Culture Engagement.

^direct/indirect references to Steve Blank’s Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything in Harvard Business Review, May 2013

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