What is the idea of cultural intelligence?
We start by defining what cultural intelligence is not. It is not: something derived from clever marketing tools; an myriad of digital insights that inform marketing practices; a device that is on standby and called on when needed.
We begin by understanding cultural intelligence as the air that brings life to humans, the core of what informs daily human decisions, an underlying sense of connectedness and belonging innately placed before the idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs creeps into an adolescent youth on their path to existential inquiry.
Cultural intelligence is the idea that culture inherently is and of itself a sentient being, a living, breathing thing, in other words human; one with thoughts, ideas and basic survival instincts. To push the envelope, the idea of its own existence in the broader category of other social nuances.
Cultural insights is a more passive and evasive stance in understanding the makeup of a tribe.
Consider this, Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO advocates for a new model of living, the circular economy – the need to move away from linear movement of raw materials along an assembly line to a more distributed and democratic model of bending the assembly line into a circular flow where the output of the system now informs how the system is built. The notion that people comes before process.
This is not a new idea when one traces the harmony of man and nature, something very characteristic of indigenous tribes in Afrika. Intelligence speaks to the holistic need for change and balancing, insights is represented in the change process.
To expand on the idea of cultural intelligence, let’s take a closer look at indigenous knowledge systems, a more digestible and pragmatic way to understand it.
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. Indigenous knowledge contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education: natural resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities.
Flavier. De Jesus and Navarro (1995:10) state that:
Indigenous knowledge is the information base for a society. which facilitates communication and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic. and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems.
To propose a new idea of design thinking re-framed for Afrika appeals to the former stance of internal creativity and experimentation. By design, design thinking prompts the ‘innateness’ to surface. Afrikan design thinking means reverting back to dynamic communal structures and nuances and interrogate those means to which we can interpret the world and its problems.
With design firms such as IDEO and Frog Design, they have had the mileage in producing methodologies that systematically find themselves adopted into similar societies and externalities, offering a plug-and-play approach to design thinking.
Reframing for Afrika means beginning with the end in mind, starting with the understanding that systems change in Afrika rests with the information base from indigenous rural areas like Sauri, Kenya; Adet, Ethiopia; Chibuto, Mozambique and how these knowledge reserves play themselves out and inform the rural, peri-urban and urban migrant as they carry them into urban spaces.
Reframing urban dilemmas emphatically using peri-rural intelligence over insight.
There is keen debate amongst indigenous communities, government officials, public negotiators and academic commentators alike over whether intellectual property rights are appropriate for the preservation and legal protection of traditional cultural expressions. These debates need to be understood in relation to the intrinsic nature of traditional cultural expressions, and how they carry with them ‘shared, symbolic meanings, which may represent for a community a link with the sacred…its history, or an attribute of its identity’
In reframing design thinking for Afrika we begin with the idea that cultures, inherently carry with them a sense of expressions and being. To this end, we employ devices as empathy and resign preconceived notions of systems challenges in communal structures.
How might we preserve Afrikan traditional systems? How might we use cultural systems thinking to inform design thinking?
Mancala is one of oldest games in the world, dating back thousands of years. Pits have been found carved into the roofs of ancient Egyptian tombs in Luxor and Thebes.
How might we build a culture for Afrikan design thinking?
- Isintu (empathy)Design and innovation are geared to solving problems, problems experienced by humans.
Derived from Ubuntu, isintu suggests consistent and genuine human values being a part of everyday life gathered from “umthombo”, the essence of being human.
- Context driven learningMany tools are used by design thinking practitioners locally. While functional, how many of those tools have been informed by indigenous knowledge systems?
The idea of a deep, native narrative creeps up in the learning. Learning from folklore practice and oral storytelling and charging this into the facilitation.
- Content driven ideationAs suggested by the context driven learning point above, practitioners ought to move into a space of iterative content ideation, the aim of creating unique design tools and innovation methodologies.
- “Cultural misappropriation”Although counterintuitive to the main idea carried by this piece, cultural appropriation suggest being unapologetic and disruptive jeering of cultural intelligence in design practice. Instead of using insights and layering them onto an appropriate medium that advertising and marketing types place on campaigns (ready-placed frameworks), a deliberate celebration and highlighting of innate cultural qualities needs to surface.
The idea of Afrika with a “K” and not a “C”
- Deep dives and immersionDriving a culture that all are ethnographers, that every team member once given enough latitude can relate to a situation and personalities and not treating the challenge from a passive stance.
Mindfulness, that every moment presents an opportunity for observation and learning.
- GamificationUsing Afrikan games as a point of assimilating and expounding on new approaches to design and innovation.
What are the impacts of reframing for Afrika?
Seeking first to be understood and then to understand
For the better part of this thought piece, reference to the marketing and advertising arena is made, not to take away from its impact however to highlight approaches to problem-solving where corporate Afrika relies heavily to solve problems of understanding people to gain market traction.
Design thinking over-emphasizes the human.
Reframing design thinking places a deeper need to understand the human, wholly, from a point of their decision-making.
With an invigorated approach, this contextual with content backed by evidence and facts-based intelligence and the creative confidence to implement to problems, Afrikan design thinking is a host to new innovations.