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Right? or Wrong?


Shades of grey wherever I go

The More I find out the less that I know
Black and white is how it should be
But shades of gray are the colors I see.

~Bill Joel

I was giving a training presentation to a group today. The presentation was about working with people from another culture, one that is similar to ours in that it is Western based but is different enough that working with this culture represents a challenge for those of us raised in the US. I caught myself saying a few times that something was neither right nor wrong, it was just different, at times very different. And that difference might be difficult for us to understand but the difference did not make them, or us for that matter, right or wrong.
For a good part of my life, I grew up believing in yes and no, right and wrong, positive and negative. Life is pretty easy when everything can be stuffed into one of two categories, when all situations are black and white. I have a degree in Electrical Engineering and, in that world, things are either on or off, things either work or they don’t – black or white. Do I think that way because I was trained in an Engineering school or did I go into Engineering because I was a black and white kind of guy? Taken far enough, this concept of right and wrong can eventually lead one to the world view I once had that, simply stated, everything can be categorized into my way or the wrong way.
It took me a long time to realize that many of the decision we have to make in life cannot be safely tucked into one of those two boxes, that situations have countless nuances in which there is no clear cut right and wrong, that many situations have multiple right and multiple wrong answers.
My colleagues around the world work in a different cultural context than the one in which I was raised. Frequently, they go about performing work in a way that is different than I would have done. I am not always comfortable with their methods and decisions but I cannot argue with them because they also get good results in their product developments.
I leave for Switzerland tomorrow to meet with a team of colleagues from Germany, India, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland for a week of planning on the next phase of a software project being developed globally. As we go forward with our planning, I am going to have to keep in mind that the plans we make are going to have to work on three different continents. For the sake of the project, I will have to keep in mind that just because they are not doing things the American way that they are not doing things incorrectly. I will have to refrain from thinking in black and white. Thinking in shades of gray also will not be enough for us to come to an effective solution. We are all going to have to think in vivid color.
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