Finding the Motivation to Develop Cultural Intelligence

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

Russians love soup. That is why Campbell Soup Company decided to enter the Russian market in 2007. After surveying close to 10,000 consumers, Campbell’s decided the market was ripe for their products. But after just a few short years, they ended up pulling out of the country. The main reason for their failure? They didn’t understand that Russian tradition focuses not just on eating soups, but on making them from scratch as well.

In order to avoid failures like Campbell’s, it is important for global leaders to be motivated to increase their cultural intelligence. Without the proper motivation, interacting with different cultures and customs can be annoying, frustrating, and costly. Below are a few tips to help make learning about and relating to different cultures natural and enjoyable.

Internal Motivators

Learning about different cultures “will not only help you become more effective as a businessperson; it may even help you understand yourself more fully than ever before.” This quote from Erin Meyer’s book, The Culture Map, comes from insight she has gained from a lifetime of studying and learning about different cultures. Although she certainly hoped her studies would help her become a successful business leader, her desire to learn was also connected to an internal drive. She wanted to understand herself more fully.

Sadly, not everyone has that same internal drive to put energy into developing their cultural intelligence. Duolingo, a popular mobile app that focuses on helping individuals learn a second language, understands that need and knows how to create that drive when it’s lacking. Unlike traditional language learning services, users are given experience points upon completing one level, that help them unlock the next levels; they are also restricted to three chances before they are required to start a level over. This app uses a technique called gamification to incentivize users to educate themselves.

Gamification centers around the fact that all individuals are internally driven by competence, relatedness, autonomy, and purpose. Humans often set goals focused on what they want to accomplish but end up spending their free time on the activities that bring them the most joy. Thus, one trick to help increase the desire for something that may at first seem boring is to connect it to something humans naturally enjoy. That can be done by making learning a game, deciding to make it a personal challenge, or finding someone to do it with.

External Motivators

In 2015, Airbnb started a social media campaign they called their “global, social experiment.” They asked people in every community around the world to perform random acts of service for a stranger and then share them with the world. Their initiative engaged over three million people in just the first three weeks. By encouraging individuals in different communities to share their unique experiences, Airbnb became a well-known brand and is recognized as a global player. They now have locations available in over 34,000 cities in 190 different countries.

Airbnb’s initiative helped them become recognized by Forbes as possibly “the most global among Silicon Valley’s mega-unicorns.” For a company that relies on connecting people across cultures, the success of their business and the relationships with their suppliers depends on how well they understand and connect with different cultures. Although not every company is that reliant on global recognition, having that recognition will be a valuable asset for every entity and individual; reinforcing Meyer’s quote that developing cultural intelligence will “help [anyone] become more successful as a businessperson.” For those already leading in a global environment, what more external motivation is needed?


Motivational Cultural Intelligence is the driving factor behind effective cross-cultural adjustments necessary for successful global leadership. Without internal and external motivating factors to encourage leaders to become culturally savvy, unnecessary challenges and failures will persist into the future. Connect cultural education to natural motivators, make it a game, or set goals with a friend and recognize that to be a true player in the global environment, one can’t succeed without cultural intelligence.

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