Motivation is Motivation is Motivation

My photo of white board written by M. Li

In my management classes, I always start with definitions and quite often with the etymology of the words in the title of the lecture. For example, the word motivation is originated in latin’s MOVERE, which means to move and to push.

Being lucky enough to teach a group of Chinese master students during this semester in the course „Leadership coaching“, I asked them to translate the word MOTIVATION in Mandarin. After a certain period of discussion I was obviously not able to follow, they said, there are two possibilities to translate MOTIVATION, with two hieroglyphs respectively. One is the combination of „Stimulation & Inner Power“, another „Movement and Reason“ (s. picture).

So there was no need to explain the difference between Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation! These two different kinds of factors are already shown as different concepts in Chinese. Is it about internal desire („Inner Power“) to achieve something or even enjoying the process (e.g. learning) itself or is it the impulse coming from outside, giving you the „Reason“ to move forwards – rewards, appreciation, money at last!

It took quite a long time in the western cultures to realize this distinction; somewhen in the 1970s, this psychological idea infiltrated the management science. And it seems that ignoring the intrinsic motivation factors, which seem to affect longer and stronger, is not „effective“. So could it be the advantage of my Chinese students to understand this distinction rather naturally, based on their language? And is it maybe one of the reasons why they are so motivated in the classes?

The Sense and Nonsense of Specialization

Are the consequences of specialization good or bad? Yes, it depends on tasks; and yes, it depends on people. However, maybe the general discussion about job rotations and organizational structure can benefit from a historical example: Local autonomy of the knights of St. John in Malta.

The knights of this order were born in different countries (pre-national regions) of Europe. When the order came to Malta in 1530, there were eight so-called “languages”: Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, England, Germany, and Castile—including Portugal. Each of these groups (or rather, sub-organizations?) had their own building, or auberge, as a meeting space and welcoming point for new compatriots. Every “language” as a division was responsible for a certain subject in the administration of the whole city, sending the head as a minister to the city government under the Grand Master, who was appointed by the order. For example, French knights were responsible for medical care and hospitals, Brits were responsible for maritime defense, and German knights were responsible for the army (ironically though, the Auberge d’Allemagne in the former capital city of Malta, Birgu, was destroyed by German forces in the second world war).

Unfortunately, we have no chance to interview the knights about the benefits and “dark sides” of such a structure. Fact is, the structure was stable (for 300 years), and there were highly educated and experienced experts in each area of governance due to the “predestination” of new members and maybe cultural “strains” and long-term experience. But, such a structure did exist on the island for the isolated cities by being “sponsored” by old Europe, and in the end, destroyed in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte—better known as the generalist!

“Nothing is new under the sun!” as King Solomon said. The specialization in the last decades in our industry and in education reaches its limits of innovation and effectiveness. Perhaps the (undoubted!) benefits of deep specialization are losing against general approach and interdisciplinarity once again nowadays?

Foto: Which talent is hidden here?

Source: Wikimedia Commons: Armour of Jean Parisot, La Valette Palace Armoury Valletta

Please read in German about benefits of interdisciplinarity:


I love Erasmus!

Erasmus? Of course, there are many reasons to love the European Program of Knowledge exchange via traveling students and traveling teachers. My personal, unique experience so far was teaching at the private business school in Bordeaux, including – bien sure! – a trip to a traditional Chateau complete with organic wine production.

In Chateau in Bordeaux

Nevertheless, this declaration of love might have been seconded by Erasmus of Rotterdam, a humanist and scholar of the Renaissance era. He was traveling a lot – as a student as well as a teacher – to England, France, Italy, and Spain until he died in Basel. To quote himself: “I am a citizen of the world, known to all and to all a stranger.”

But this is still not a reason for my declaration of love. I fell in love with him reading his letters full of deep philosophical ideas, always a decent critic of others, and including some self-ironical remarks. His stoic refusal to take the position pro- or anti-Luther shows his independent character and also his understanding of being a scholar by keeping a mental distance from everyday politics (with the result of financial disaster for him). His work with the Latin language transformed it into the real lingua franca of that time and made interchange between scientists in Europe easy and fruitful.

Not in Latin, but in German, I did read his “The Complaint of Peace.” The original title, Querela Pacis, includes the female Roman (and not Christian) Goddess of Peace: Pax, the successor of the Grecian Goddess Eirene (the name I myself am happy to have). Here (in the link behind) you can find the text of this little and great book. The arguments of Erasmus towards peace started with comparing human beings and animals: if animals do not kill others from the same species, why do people? To quote Erasmus: “peace is the mother and nurse of all that is good for humanity.”

Then he focused on the part of Christianity. There is no room for war in this religion, due to the peaceful character of Jesus – so the arguments continued. He fulminates again bishops and even popes who do not prevent war, but rather support the enmity between different groups of Christians. In this context, the reader can find even rhetorical questions of whether the European Christians let themselves be influenced by Mongolians and their aggressive spirit. The text ends surprisingly with the appeal that if the nature of mankind generally needs war and distortion, the Christians in Europe must channel it towards Turks! Ironically, Erasmus published his appeal for peace at the beginning of 1517, which ended with the proclamation of Luther’s Theses which coursed the inter-Christian wars.

But still – there are a lot of reasons to love Erasmus, to read him more and also to travel to Rotterdam and Basel – maybe as an Erasmus-Teacher?

Intercultural Skills for Health Institutions:

Great venue for interdisciplinary intercultural workshop: bauhaus model in Dessau

Working in the health care system becomes an increasingly  multicultural experience. The following examples illustrate this claim: medical  cooperation within the NATO; “Doctors Without Borders”; medical professionals  who leave their country of origin to work in other regions, with patients (and  colleagues) from other countries and cultures.

This can cause misunderstandings, conflicts and, in the worst-case,  even errors of diagnosis or treatment mistakes. However, beyond unknown  behavioural patterns and clichés, which might cause dissent, cultures can be  compared objectively.

IKWW developed a system of intercultural interactions for people  involved in the health care system. It is based on 10 cultural dimensions – four  by the American cultural anthropologist Edward Hall and six by the Dutch social  scientist Geert Hofstede and has been measured for 91 countries. It works in all  “combinations” regardless of the cultural roots of patients, medical  professionals, doctors, medicine managers….and between doctors from different  cultures too.

The IKWW-workshop for intercultural competence is  certified by the Ärtzekammer Berlin (8 points for half a day – seems to be a  record!) and takes place in Berlin in German language. The same workshop in  English and personal coaching can be tailored to your needs and help you master  the intercultural challenges you face. Please contact us for a non-binding  consultation via email: irina<at>



Vogue – It is not just style, it is culture

Example for particularism-strategy of an international  company

vogue china
What do  USA, United Kingdom, France, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Turkey, India, Russia,  Brazil, Italy, Australia, South Korea and China have in common? Not too much,  indeed, but all of them – and some more – have their own Vogue. The company, founded in 1892 and  still based in the US, started the international exploration in 1920 with  independent editions in GB and France. In 2013 people in Thailand and Ukraine  had received their own Vouge, in 2012  Vogue had to stop publishing in  Greece. Vogue as a mirror of  politics? Not only! Vogue is also a mirror of cultures! The genius decision made  about 100 years ago to let the local editors create their own issues, especially  content, made it possible that every issue has a close connection to readers in  every different country. It is also a beautiful visual example for different  cultures for me as a trainer and lecturer for intercultural competence. And that  always up to date!

Every globalizing company has to make the decision, how much  competence the branches and affiliates in the local markets will have. The  cultural dimension particularism versus universalism can be understood not only  for national cultures but also for the cultures of organizations. Vogue, as described above, is a good  example for the particularism-strategy. The opposite example – for universalism  – can be named IKEA: The same products, the same design of stores, the same  communication rules (First name and informal style between colleagues and with  customers, regardless of cultural preferences).

What  is always “universal” is compliance: It must work in any and all parts of the  company’s “universe”.

Blended reality

Known the world over as the father of the „Fraternal Kiss“ graffiti painting on the Berlin Wall in 1990, Dmitry Vrubel created many more exciting works before and after this epochal piece. Since 1995 he has been working with Victoria Timofeeva, his artistic partner, wife and – sorry for this old fashioned but precise labelling – “muse”. I am happy to know both well since the exhibition I organized for them on behalf of the Berlin city government entitled “Moscow-Art-Berlin” in 2005. Thereafter I was „allowed“ to just call them Vica and Dima (I am Ira to them instead of Irina).

Vernissage of the exhibition Moskau-Kunst-Berlin

So as Vica told me, they have stopped running their open gallery in Berlin’s “Kulturbraurei”, where almost every Saturday intelligencia from all over the world used to meet, to chat and to philosophize about God, the world and, of course, art. They have decided to change the way they present their work by moving it into virtual reality. I was immediately interested in accepting their invitation to check out this concept. The same venue was not recognizable: instead of a hall full of furniture and people, I found allmost empty room with only Vica and Dima present. The bar, in the past difficult to reach because of the crowd around it, was there for me and my tea – alone. This tasty tea was my farewell to physical reality and my „one-for-the-road“ towards virtual reality.

And what did I find there? After putting on the VR goggles, it is difficult to explain the experience of VR with words and linguistic prototypes we use for physical reality – learned from parents and language teachers before VR was born. It was comparable with touring a museum, but much more extensive, diverse and comprehensive. I started the VR tour with a step into the past – the unofficial exhibition of 1993 in Vica and Dima’s Moscow apartment. While viewing the works which the Centre Pompidou bought from them recently, I moved forward along the timeline, towards future exhibitions, which will take place one day, somewhere. I did enjoy the absence of security personnel which used to talk about gardens or weather or politics, ignoring and at the same time annoying visitors. I did enjoy the personal explanations and exchanges with Dima (which were real, but technically possible online/virtually, too). And I did enjoy freedom to travel in my own time, to zoom, to skip, to immerse myself into the images I really knew before – in real time.

And this reality, new and not simply an „additional“ experience, gives me the reason to name this art project BLENDED REALITY. It is not simply the dichotomy of real and unreal. It is all and one, interwoven and something indeed blended not in the sense of „mixed“ but in the sense of a new quality. A blended format is my favorite system for my e-teaching at the university: not online courses INSTEAD of lectures and not present PURE teaching just because „we all learned in this way and we all will continue learning in this way“, but the interaction between these formats to bring the learning process into new dimension.

This comparison between VR-art and e-teaching brought up two questions I had after I was “released” from the VR-glasses and while I was drinking my welcome-back tea: Does the new „technique of presentation“ influence the process of creation itself, concisely or unconcisely? „Yes, – both Vica and Dima answer – “it is exactly what we reflect after getting into this VR-world. And not only the manner of working, the manner of painting, but also the way of thinking“. And thinking back to my half-a-year course of e-teaching, where at least one of the teachers and almost all other participants were quite young and theoretically could be my children, I made Vica and Dima a „compliment“, that they, as persons of a certain age and experience, would turn to such a modern method of working, and are taking part at the forefront of the art revolution. This was immediately countered by Vica: „An artist has no age“.

Allright, I said to myself, that would mean that creative thinking and innovative work does make you ageless and keeps you young. And this is one more reason for the journey towards VR and back and towards the use of both VR and real reality (s. venn diagram).

World Health Summit in Berlin

The press release sounds proud: “With more than 1,000 participants on site, the 9th World Health Summit kicked off on Sunday in Berlin. In his opening speech, German Federal Minister of Health, Hermann Gröhe, said that global health policy has become a hallmark of Germany’s international responsibility: ‘We will continue, in the future, to fulfill this international responsibility and actively shape global health policy. In this process, it is important to have close cooperation based on trust between politicians and civil society, foundations, scientists and business circles. The World Health Summit in Berlin is also a forum that is held in high international esteem and is dedicated to jointly furthering global health.’”
The aforementioned 1,000 participants came from 100 countries. Is that a lot? Or less than it should be? After all, it is much more than the May 2017 G20 health session in Hamburg. (Anyways, the results on global health security went down along with the “results” of the local insecurity in Hamburg.)

If 100 countries sending their medical, pharmaceutical, and microbiological experts and politicians to Berlin sounds big and promising, then how about we consider another figure: the general population of Berlin consists of people from 180 countries. Why not invite THEM to the brainstorming session on how to solve global health problems, or perhaps the more appropriate term, “challenges”? They may not be experts, but the innovation driven by the experts at the Health Summit hit a “dead end” (please excuse my macabre wordplay). In the end, the general public must accept the solutions (if any!) from experts and politicians. So why not help in preserving healthy, clean air by sparing 1,000 guests the to-and-from flights from their respective countries and reducing the enormous volume of CO2 coughed out by airplanes?

Oops! I forgot this is a field for other experts. The same experts that came to Paris last year and worked out the complicated contract which aims to reduce CO2 in our global atmosphere. Sadly, before the ideas and decisions from that meeting could even begin to be implemented, it was shot down by Mr. Trump. Who, might I add, is neither an expert, nor a real politician.
Please, let’s think globally, and act locally. How about a pilot “Design Thinking Workshop” with Berliners from different countries and – much more importantly – different professions and backgrounds? They will bring brilliant and practical ideas regarding how to improve global health without further distorting the global atmosphere. As an expert in Design Thinking, I pledge my honor on that…

Mario Draghi in Berlin

In only one of 28 countries within the EU has the recent monetary policy of low interest rates been strongly and settled criticized. That would be a little problem for the President of the ECB, but this country has the strongest economy in the EU and is one of the most important actors in political processes. So despite the affirmation, the ECB makes no politics which is very important for the ECB as a political player.

Mario Draghi, located in Frankfurt, visits Berlin quit often. Once he went to the Parliament Bundestag, had dinner with economic attachés, and went to a lecture in the German Scientific Institute of Economics (DIW Berlin). Last week was my chance to listen to Mr. Draghi live.

My reflections have two sides: rational and cultural. The graphs and the figures easily assured there are advantages of the monetary policy not only for „southern“ economies, but for the German economy and German households („For Germany, we can see that the government and non-financial corporations have made large windfall gains. The household sector, often thought to have lost out the most in Germany due to its large net saver position, has in fact only recorded a mild loss in net interest income, since the household borrowing rate has fallen more than the lending rate. And if one runs the same exercise from mid-2014, when our credit easing began, the household sector actually accrues a slight gain“). The stabilization of the labor market is also positive for the German economy as well as for households and – you could hear it between the lines – a merit of Mr. Draghi rather than of Mr. Gabriel.

To persuade Germans with facts is a good idea, but Mario Draghi did not avoid arguments from a cultural point of view. Without mentioning „German angst,“ he emphasized (and it was the only emotional point in his speech) that in 2014 the worse option was not acting at all. The reluctance of German politics to act in an unsure way would cause more significant problems compared to the semi-optimal action plan of Mr. Draghi (which, by the way, is not „trial and error”— another extreme like the „American style“ which is not suitable for the EU).

But cultures are inert. One speech, or even two or three, could not change the feeling of losses for the German population. The intervention on savings is emotionally more grave than gains from the rising economy because they are a part of the mentality measured by cultural dimensions like Long-Term-Orientation ( and even anchored in many German proverbs.

In the unconscious part of cultural programming, the patterns of thinking are inert. And this is the real dilemma for Mr. Draghi— and the challenge for his cultural advisers. I hope he has some…

Bye-bye Little Great Britain…

Everybody in Europe is talking about Brexit, including us, but I hope to add something new to the discussion outside of the common responses such as “how awful!“, “what a pity!“, or just “foolish Brits!”

Some months (a few televised debates and one politically-motivated murder) ago, two participants in my “cultural-conflicts” workshop decided to research the issue of Brexit. One participant came from Great Britain, and the other came from Greece. Using the Cultural Onion Model of G. Hofstede Jr. and the System of Cultural Dimensions by G. Hofstede Sr. and E. Hall, the pair cross-analyzed cultural dimensions between Great Britain and other EU countries and reached two conclusions.

The first conclusion is quite trivial and predictable: there is no “united European culture” comparable to other distinct cultures of countries. The second conclusion came as a shock to them and others in the group—including myself as a lecturer. From an emotional, cultural (and not from rational) perspective, Great Britain must leave the EU. The cultural dimensions of Great Britain differ greatly from all other 27 countries and cultures within the EU in nearly every cultural dimension as of the latest measurement in 2010 (

This discovery made waiting for the results of the vote on June 23rd more sufferable: either the Brits vote to stay in the EU, or not. The first potential outcome of the final vote would make me happy as a European;  the second potential outcome would make me glad as an expert in intercultural interaction. And it did.

So, what now? Here, Hofstede’s System of Cultural Dimensions, which had proven successful in resolving many cultural conflicts, is even useful as an instrument of prediction? And with an eye on the current dialogue in Edinburg and London, a significant paradox is possible: the desire to make Great Britain “great again” could ultimately diminish it. And that could make the BBC comedy series, Little Britain, even funnier and also profound.

I recommend the show to everybody at any given time, but especially for the next two years of the painful divorcing process.

So long, very dear, (and somewhat little) Great Britain!

P.S. For German speaking audiences – there is a pretty good translation.