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To formula or not to formula—that is the question…

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

“That’s why we invited you to come and train,” She said matter-of-factly. “You Americans have a formula for everything.”

I was a little taken aback and didn’t know if I should be complimented, insulted or something in between. I was doing a number of trainings for a group in Bogota, Columbia a few weeks ago. Their desire was to establish mentoring relationships between a group of entrepreneurs and mentors who are experts in their field to advise their mentees through their business start-up. I do believe in structure for some aspects of the mentoring relationship—setting expectations, and utilizing certain skills—and I had just proceeded with the aspects I felt in my experience transferred cross-culturally. But looking back on the content, it did come across as pretty formulaic. And I also had to agree, we as Americans and I myself do have a formula for many things. I know for me formulas give me comfort in knowing expectations and how to plan. But I think the difficulty comes when life doesn’t fit neatly in a formula as we expect. Columbians are much more spontaneous, taking cues from relational signals and cultural norms in a real time action, rather than following formulas.

She said “we are much less rigid but in this case we know we need more structure or this mentoring initiative won’t work.” I smiled realizing that this is exactly why I love working in other cultures—the marriage of differing ways of doing things can produce something so much more effective than a singular, myopic approach. Some structure combined with the spontaneous Columbian way of doing things would make for a very dynamic mentoring relationship for the people involved in the program. 

So what about you? Are formulas working for you or are they possibly preventing you from more fully living out your personal and professional potential?

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