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Cultural Intelligence: Engineering Success For A Flat World

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

International Aspects of Civil Engineering

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.390.1 - 14.390.6



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Paper Authors

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Richard Gash United States Military Academy

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Stephen Ressler United States Military Academy

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Eric Crispino United States Military Academy

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Cultural Intelligence: Engineering Success for a Flat World Abstract The civil engineers we educate today will enter a truly global work force. Globalization, resultant from a proliferation of information technology, has increased the likely hood that civil engineers will find themselves working in cross-cultural situations. Success in such environments will require, in addition to classical engineer skills, the ability to work effectively in groups with different and often divergent values, norms, and behaviors. Organizational psychologists have recently defined this ability as "cultural intelligence". As engineering educators, it is important that we understand this emerging idea so we can best prepare our students for the challenges they will face. This paper offers a review of the pertinent literature on the subject of cultural intelligence and offers a discussion of how it pertains to our Body of Knowledge. Introduction In 2005, Thomas Friedman declared the world flat1. As civil engineers, we should have been thrilled. Construction on a flat earth ought to be much easier than construction on a round one! Of course, the renowned American journalist was not referring to a new understanding of geophysics. He was instead seeking to define the surging phenomenon of globalization. He observed that rapid advances in information and communication technologies have leveled, or "flattened", the playing field between traditional economic powers and emerging markets. An entrepreneur in Dakar with a lap-top computer and a satellite internet connection can now seamlessly do business with partners in London, Tokyo, or New York. What does this mean to us as engineers? It means we can expect ever increasing opportunities for cross-cultural cooperation. The surging economies in South America, Africa, and Asia are, and continue to be, coupled to corresponding development booms. Like never before, engineers will be asked to work outside their cultural comfort zones. Be it as expatriate representatives of global firms, members of multi-national design-build teams, or simply local practitioners relying on offshore estimators and detailers, success as engineers in a flat world will require much more than technical skill. It will entail a propensity to work effectively with people who talk, act, and think differently than we do. Leaders in the business world have recently teamed with organizational psychologists to define this unique ability as "cultural intelligence". As educators preparing engineers to enter the global workplace it is imperative that we understand this construct. The purpose of this paper is to do just that: to familiarize the civil engineering education community with the emerging concept of cultural intelligence through a review of pertinent literature and a discussion of how cultural intelligence pertains to our Body of Knowledge2. Intelligence over Awareness Culture is all around us. Nations, regions, ethnicities, and even corporations all evolve their own unique cultures. In general terms, a group's culture refers to the set of beliefs, values, and behaviors adhered to by its members. The concept of preparing people to work with different cultures is not new. Corporations routinely enlist consultants to conduct cross-cultural training. In the past, the focus of such training has been on cultural awareness. As the word awareness implies, such training primarily involved rote learning about the difference between the students' culture and the target culture. Unfortunately, being "aware" of cross-cultural


Gash, R., & Ressler, S., & Crispino, E. (2009, June), Cultural Intelligence: Engineering Success For A Flat World Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4951

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