Puzzle Break Skills: Thinking with a Global Perspective

July 27, 2021 by Nate Martin

It’s been a minute since we discussed the skills we teach in Puzzle Break’s team-building experiences; over the past few months we’ve discussed must-have skills such as working under a veil of ambiguity, being active collaborators with our teammates, and developing good information analysis techniques. With the world continuing its slow re-opening after the global shut-down of 2020, and with more and more of us working on distributed remote or hybrid teams, it seems very apropos to discuss the concept of thinking with a global perspective.

The concept of cultivating a global perspective has been floating around the educational and professional spheres for decades; one of the first – if not THE first – articulation of the concept was presented by author Robert Hanvey on behalf of the University of Denver and the Center for War/Peace Studies all the way back in 1975 in his essay, “An Attainable Global Perspective”! At the time of its publication he was writing for an audience of students of international relations, during an era of rapidly evolving global politics still in the shadow of the Vietnam War. The principles of his text remain relevant today, nearly 50 years later; in his writing he advocated for students to develop a keen awareness of cultural standards, material conditions and public perspectives around the world, and then apply that awareness to communication and problem-solving when working with individuals and groups from outside the students’ own cultural sphere.

Actual satellite imagery of the Earth.

Actual satellite imagery of the Earth.

To put it more simply, the goal of this process, then and now, is to develop the ability to see things from the viewpoint of someone whose culture and circumstances are significantly different from our own, and approach problem-solving with those differences in mind. While this concept was developed for the sphere of international relations, it’s just as valuable in the world of business. In fact, thanks to our ever-more connected world, it’s arguably more important now than ever before.

For example, in many larger companies the various stakeholders – both customers and employees – are spread across the globe. When addressing their global teams, leaders need to be mindful of differences as obvious as language barriers and time zones, and as subtle as national politics and cultural mores. Likewise, when teams address challenges in their normal workflow, they must be cognizant of the entire audience for whom they are developing solutions. This could be as simple as taking care to provide translations of changelogs for audiences that speak a different language than the team, or it could be as nuanced as developing solutions that will work for audiences with a dramatically different level of access to resources than the team themselves.

Train not quite to scale

Train not quite to scale

This all begs the question, how does one teach people to develop a global perspective? Our solution is elegant in its simplicity: make people tackle challenges that rely on information from outside their sphere of influence. This takes many different forms at Puzzle Break, and while we don’t want to ruin any of our puzzles for prospective guests, what I will say is that they all revolve around the idea of forcing people to examine a problem from a different perspective than their own. Something as simple as presenting information in an unfamiliar language can compel people to step outside of what they know and how they believe the world operates. This effect is only compounded by exposing people to unfamiliar cultures, traditions and modes of thought; the more we step out of our comfort zones, the more appreciation we have for the true depth and breadth of the human experience.

Like I said at the beginning, this exposure to other cultures, other ways of life is more and more a necessity in our professional and personal lives. We exist in a connected world, and quite often work in a global environment. The better we are collectively at understanding the needs and necessities of people in cultures unlike our own, the better we are at working together to find solutions that don’t leave anyone behind. The better we are at visualizing our impact on people we’ve never met face to face, the more likely we are to make choices that don’t impact others negatively. The more we understand one another, the more likely we are to come together and unify in the face of adversity.

This, ultimately, is the real value of thinking with a global perspective: it doesn’t just make better workers, it makes better people.


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