Today we had our third company visit at Guinness Enterprise Centre, a company that rents office space to entrepreneurs and other emerging firms. When asked what trait creates successful startups, our speaker from Guinness was a little stumped but after some contemplation concluded that the ability to be flexible was the common thread among Guinness’ success stories.
Before and during our trip to Ireland, we learned about high vs. low context cultures and where Ireland fits into the spectrum. Compared to the US, Ireland is much lower context where interactions are assumed to be “contexted” and the listener does not need to be given much background information. In the workplace, this might translate to an intern being given more general tasks rather than specific bullets of their expected duties. This was a bit of a culture shock for me last year when I participated in the GBI remote global internship program based out of Dublin. I remember when I had my first meeting with my supervisor, we ended up talking about our favorite places to vacation and shop before she asked me what I would personally like to work on throughout the internship. I essentially was able to create my own job position when at all my jobs prior, I was used to being given very specific tasks.
In my personal relationships, I actually really do appreciate and feel a sense of familiarity with low context and trust-based cultures like Ireland since it’s a similar environment to how I grew up at home. I always hated getting straight to work on a semester long project with a group of strangers before having the chance to learn where everyone is from. However, when it comes to work and completing general tasks like cooking, I do feel more comfortable with a set of specific directions. What I thought was funny during Dr. Kelly’s lecture comparing how an American vs Irish style of cooking was that the Irish perspective of choosing the ingredients before the recipe is exactly what my mom does. I’ve asked her for years for a book of her recipes for Christmas and she still refuses to give it to me — she simply doesn’t believe in them. At this point, I’ve given up on such a formal approach and instead have tried to absorb knowledge through cooking with her or through having casual conversations at home, dinner, or on the phone.
I honestly had (and still sometimes have) a lot of trouble having such little direction, but I have proved to myself that I can eventually acclimate. I think growing up in the US yet in a foreign household, I have always had to balance two national identities that hold two very different cultural values. I feel the balance is reflected in myself, in that I like specific directions at first, but once I get the hang of it, I like the room to experiment.
In the US, I’ve noticed that some professors have adopted SPECS grading, essentially meaning that assignments are graded on a pass/fail basis. I had a class called Writing and Design that was graded using this system and when talking to my professor for that course, she said that students actually produce better work when with looser guidelines that SPECS grading grants to students. I think adopting a more low-context way of thinking that gives workers more room for creativity would help workers in all industries, but especially ones in design and entrepreneurship.