Julien S. Bourrelle: How Culture Drives Behaviours at TEDxTrondheim (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Mondå founder Julien S. Bourrelle’s TEDx Talk: How Culture Drives Behaviours at TEDxTrondheim conference. This event occurred on May 31, 2015. Julien Bourrelle is the author of the best seller series “The Social Guidebook to Norway.” To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.

Julien S. Bourrelle – Founder, Mondå

I was in Brussels. I was sitting on La Grand-Place, which is a beautiful square in the center of the town. Suddenly, a man came and sat next to me, and started talking to me, so I turned to him and I answered. Then I turned back and I asked myself, “Why is he talking to me?” Suddenly, I realized, “Julien, you’re becoming Norwegian.”

So I turned to the man and I said, “Sorry, I live in a country where people don’t speak to each other.” The thing is, in Norway, it is not that people don’t speak to each other; it’s that socialization takes part in a much more framed and organized manner. I was not expecting this man as a stranger to come and talk to me.

However, this is surprising, because I come from the French-speaking part of Canada where that type of behavior is totally normal. However, my mental programming has changed. My brain has been rewired, because during the last five years I’ve lived in a tiny little country in the north of Europe which is called Norway. When you move to a different country, there are three ways that you can relate to the culture: you can confront, complain, or conform. When you confront, you believe that your behaviors are the right behaviors.

When you complain, what happens is that you will isolate yourself into social bubbles of foreigners living in segregation with the society. When you adapt your way to behave, when you conform to the whole society, then you can truly benefit from diversity. But that implies that you are observing, learning, understanding the behaviors of others, and adapting your own, so that it fits with the behaviors of the society you’re in.

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I was in the north-east of Spain, in a beautiful region of Catalonia, and I was there with a very good friend of mine. He is two-meters tall, blond hair, and blue eyes. We were visiting the beautiful region where they’re making the cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. After the guided tour, we asked some more questions to the very charming guide that was there, and she was explaining us with passion about what she was doing, and then suddenly she stopped.

She took a step aside, she took my friend, and she shook him. And then she looked at me and said, “Why is he not interested in what I’m saying?” Because she was not getting the emotional feedback she was used to. She was seeing his emotional feedback through her own cultural glasses, meaning that she was interpreting the fact that he had a neutral face on what it would mean if someone from her culture would have that face, and that would mean that the person was not interested or didn’t want to be there.

And we all see the world through cultural glasses. The lens through which your brain sees the world shapes your reality. If you can change the lens, not only can you change the way your brain perceives behaviors, but you can change the way people relate to cultural differences. Embedded within that statement is the key to benefiting from diversity.

Three years ago, I was sitting on the board of directors of one major university in Northern Europe and I was representing 2,000 academic staff, and I wanted to become a better leader. So I’ve looked around the whole university for a leadership class that would be suited to my position, and I found one, and I was thrilled, because not only would I learn about leadership, but because I would also learn about how women lead, because the class was called “Leadership for women.”

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And so, as naive as I was, I’ve registered for the class. The next morning, the gender equality adviser of the university calls me and says, “Julien, this is leadership for women. You’re a man. You cannot attend.” It was the first time in my life that I was denied education based on my gender. This is my cultural perspective about what happened there.

However, why is the university doing this? Because the government had been putting in place a scheme that allowed the university to take candidates in full academic position before someone that has higher academic training if the candidates can document leadership training. By offering leadership training only to women, the university was fast forwarding the track of women into full professorship position at a place where less than 20% of women had professorship; I call this equality of result.

Not equality of opportunity; equality of results. I did not have the same opportunity to flourish to my full potential, but the result is that we have a balance in society. We enforce diversity, and there is a good reason to do this. Studies show that boards composed of both genders will perform 15% better then boards that are composed of mainly one gender. But studies also show that boards that are composed of different cultures will perform 35% better than boards that are composed of only one culture.

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