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Global Cosmopolitans coverGlobal Cosmopolitans: The Creative Edge of Difference


Why you should read the book

Linda Brimm’s insightful book is designed to help all kinds of readers understand a complex, fast-growing, and influential group of people. Drawing on stories of individuals from around the world, the book explains how Global Cosmopolitans develop the skills and knowledge that make them so effective. It highlights the breadth and depth of their complex lives, including the challenges that they face. Above all, it offers a concrete way to uncover the hidden value of the Global Cosmopolitan experience so that organizations, families, friends, and Global Cosmopolitans themselves can make the most of it.

What the book is about

While their international identities have diverse starting points and experiences, Global Cosmopolitans’ views of the world and themselves are profoundly affected by both the realities of living in different cultures and their responses to the challenges that emerge.

Diversity and change, two of the watchwords of the modern world, are a fact of life for Global Cosmopolitans. They know what it’s like to come to a new country, a new school or a new job and feel that sudden loss of identity. They become experts at recreating themselves in light of new cultural conventions and relationships. They know how to adapt, to reinvent, and to bring about change.

Most people develop a filter throughout their lives by which to understand the world around them. Global Cosmopolitans develop a prism, a multifaceted view forged by their experiences with conflict, alternate belief systems, and new ways of understanding and behaving around people very different from themselves. Their view is a worldview with a complexity so deep that even they can have trouble articulating it.

Understanding Global Cosmopolitans requires looking beyond the résumé that typically serves to define an individual’s worth and identity. The missing piece of the equation is to pay careful attention to their silent, inner journey, to the strengths they have developed because of the challenges they have confronted over time. Global Cosmopolitans are an elite talent pool that businesses and governments are using to operate in every corner of the world. And, as Global Cosmopolitans assume significant leadership positions, they build management teams that include other Global Cosmopolitans. This book presents their voices and demonstrates how their international mobility has provided learning opportunities that have given them key skills for success.


Part I Global Cosmopolitans: Meeting the Masters of Complexity and Change introduces the Global Cosmopolitan phenomenon and its value to the world – and particularly to business.

Chapter 1 Introducing Global Cosmopolitans presents global leaders and discusses the importance of understanding Global Cosmopolitans in a new and deeper way.

Chapter 2 Exploring the Identity of Global Cosmopolitans introduces members of the emerging Global Cosmopolitan generation. It describes how Global Cosmopolitans have different starting points for their journeys and provides examples of the complexities they face.

Chapter 3 Strength and Competence: Learning from a Global Life introduces a set of crucial strengths that are often overlooked or not associated with international mobility.

Part II The Invisible Journey: the Roots of Strength and Resilience looks at how Global Cosmopolitans develop their valuable strengths through the complex challenges they face.

Chapter 4 Life Challenges and the Road to Identity describes a set of challenges that Global Cosmopolitans frequently encounter because of the constant change and uncommon complexity of internationally mobile lives.

Chapter 5 Relationship Challenges: Invisible Rules describes how the past is prologue to the present and the future and how the past can be a source of tangled knots or fresh insights. It also examines relationship challenges that emerge from the broader cultural and social context of Global Cosmopolitans, and describes how family and cultural stories influence the Global Cosmopolitan identity.

Chapter 6 Relationship Challenges: Connection and Disconnection focuses on relational challenges in the context of work and personal life.

Part III The Invisible Journey: New Pathways to Development looks at reasons why challenges don’t necessarily lead to creativity and positive change, and provides insights about removing these obstacles.

Chapter 7 Paradoxical Needs: Finding the Roots of Challenges explores the internal forces that underlie Global Cosmopolitan challenges.

Chapter 8 Two-Edged Swords: When Strengths Create New Challenges looks at how Global Cosmopolitan strengths associated with mobility can also have downsides.

Part IV Moving Forward: Bringing the Invisible Journey Out of the Dark explores how Global Cosmopolitans can give new value to their international experiences when they step back and look at their lives from a new perspective.

Chapter 9 Moving Forward: An Inner Portrait of the Crucial Decades assembles the pieces of the internal portrait of Global Cosmopolitans as they consider how to move forward at different stages in their lives.

Chapter 10 Global Cosmopolitans: Unlocking the Power of Stories and Change describes how the lessons presented in this book can be applied to all Global Cosmopolitans to help them reach their full potential. The chapter addresses not just Global Cosmopolitans themselves, but also people in the workplace, family, and friends. This Chapter ends by presenting an exciting new model: “The 7 C’s of Change and Development.”

Appendix: The Global Cosmopolitan Workbook is for readers who want to relate their own lives to the Global Cosmopolitan stories described in the book through a set of experiential exercises. It provides the tools to explore the personal implications of the ideas and frameworks in the book. It also affords an idea of how organizations, managers and others in the helping professions can build programs to maximize the effectiveness of Global Cosmopolitans as they confront the challenges outlined in the book.


Liv’s Story – from Chapter 3

Liv learned not to make assumptions about other people, because other people always made wrong assumptions about her.

She can “pass,” as she calls it, for a Moroccan, Indian, even for a member of the Shawnee Native American tribe. And with mastery of four languages, she fits seamlessly into many cultures.

But in fact, she is a blend of a Swedish father and a mother who is Indian but grew up in Kenya. Liv was born in Sweden and then moved to Ethiopia for a couple of years. She returned to Sweden then at age 7, she moved to Somalia for a couple of years. At age 9, she moved to Switzerland where she lived until she before finished high school.

“I never assume,” she says. “I make sure that I try to understand to learn about people.”

Having studied hotel management in the United States and worked in Switzerland, New York City, Sweden, Myanmar, Bora Bora, Wyoming, Thailand and Morocco, she now lives on the Indonesian island of Bali, where she is general manager of a top luxury hotel.

It would be easy but wrong to assume that Liv’s languages and cross-cultural knowledge explain her success in the tourism industry.

Certainly they play a role. But Liv’s art is that of understanding people.

She has a deep and genuine curiosity and soft, approachable style that have gained her respect and trust across the globe. Her knowledge comes from an ability to both observe and relate to the world around her.

Opening a hotel resort in Morocco, for example, Liv had to cross borders that are not marked on any map, everything from understanding the needs of the architect to the expectations of future guests to the maids who needed to clean facilities they had never seen before but that guests took for granted.

“As a young child, I had access to understanding different paths,” says Liv, “which helped me feel connected to the human experience.”

Liv was seven when her father, who worked for the Red Cross, moved the family to East Africa. She remembers traveling frequently to see relatives on her mother’s side in Kenya. During an uprising while she was with family in Kenya, she vividly remembers spending most of each day hidden in the cellar.

Some of her strongest childhood memories are about refugee camps that she visited when her family was stationed in Mogadishu. She wanted to do something to help. She wanted to take a child home. In a way she has come full circle; she just adopted a child from India.

She also brings caring and a sense of community to work, traits she attributes to her Swedish values. The children from her village, for example, take Balinese dancing and music lessons in the afternoons at the hotel.

As a teenager, Liv worked in Stockholm as a luxury hotel maid and in Geneva as a waitress at a hospital restaurant. She worked alongside Chilean political refugees who had been professionals such as doctors and teachers back home. She saw what it is like to stay motivated when doing the same job day after day.

Now she always asks her staff how they plan to grow with the work they are doing. “What’s important to me, she says, “is that you challenge yourself and stretch yourself.”

Over the years, Liv has had many learning opportunities to refine the skills she uses to understand the people she meets. She also has had many chances to rethink her identity, learn about herself and give meaning to her life.

“I have opened a number of resorts. Each is an opportunity to create windows,” says Liv. “I love what I do with my company. I can bring what is important to me to work—my values and the work ethic and, of course, who I am.”

Liv’s broad experiences are unique, but she exemplifies the competence and potential that Global Cosmopolitans bring to a business world in need of innovative, globally sensitive solutions.

And she foresees the emergence of more people like herself.

“I am a reflection of one part of the future of the world,” says Liv. “This is where we are headed.”

Note that this is based on a final proof of the book and may differ slightly from the published version.

Challenge: Transition and Change – from Chapter 4

While learning a new language and cultural skills are important for adapting across cultures, underlying challenges shape the Global Cosmopolitan experience. The first of these is the challenge of constant transition and change.

Change-management expert William Bridges draws a distinction between change and transition. “Change,” he says, “is a situational shift. Transition is the process of letting go of the way things used to be and then taking on the way they subsequently become.” 1 In his words, transition is the way that we all come to terms with change. But there are stages of transition that we have to go through–letting go, the neutral state and the new beginning–all, in retrospect, opportunities to learn and develop.

Transitions can also be defined simply as passages from one state, stage, and subject of place to another. They are so much a part of life that cultures have ceremonies to mark or celebrate them. The Balinese, for example, have tooth-filing ceremonies for adolescence. But transition in the context of a Global Cosmopolitan’s life is experienced without ceremony; it is the internal shock and dislocation of seeing a familiar world turned upside down.

Sometimes the dislocation is welcome.

I was fat, short and unpopular. I was miserable. “My parents decided over the summer to move from France to the U.S. I grew! And I grew. By the time I got to the U.S., I was seen as a beau mec (a handsome guy). Life changed for me.”

But the Global Cosmopolitan challenge of change and transition does not always resolve itself so naturally.

Too many key transitions at once can be highly stressful, yet Global Cosmopolitans routinely face multiple changes at the same time. Geographic transitions often coincide with other life transitions. Getting married, having children, changing schools or jobs while changing cultures is stressful even if it is welcome. It’s not surprising, then, that many Global Cosmopolitans feel both competent and yet ambivalent about change.

Mastery of change is a familiar feeling, but it can also be painful, like reopening a wound each time. The work of psychologists often involves helping people move through different stages of transition. Ambivalence about letting go or moving forward can leave someone trapped. Global Cosmopolitans can feel pulled in two directions by the needs of their new situation and one they left behind. Many feel pressured to move back to their families. Despite living in many countries, they can feel pressured to marry someone from what their family considers home. The ambivalence these pressures create makes it difficult for many people to make a commitment to a relationship or even to a career track.

The fundamental challenge of transition and change is loss. The theme of loss presents itself in many ways. Adults can suddenly find that they have lost the ability relate to people and to motivate them. They have lost the power they need to get things done. They can feel a loss of control, a loss of security, a loss of feeling anchored. They feel responsible for the losses their families experience because of the move. They can feel loss of knowing the most mundane things such as where to go shopping or where to find a good doctor.

Then there is the loss associated with command of the language and its cultural meaning. Even if they are comfortable with the language, they still can experience isolation because of a loss of humor. Puns or funny gestures do not communicate across the culture barrier. One of the important skills of living internationally, Global Cosmopolitans say, is the ability to bridge the humor gap. They can become particularly sensitive to finding humor even where there is no language link.

For children, loss can mean being one of the best in the class and suddenly finding they are the worst. It might be not knowing how to ask someone to play or different ways of doing math at school. It might be moving from a city that is warm, green and safe to one that is cold and too unsafe to do anything on ones own. It might mean living with extended family or with parents struggling to survive.

Note that this is based on a final proof of the book and may differ slightly from the published version.

The Cyclist – from Chapter 10

The cyclist is a useful image to describe Global Cosmopolitans that have been on unique voyage and are preparing for inner journeys of personal exploration. The image represents the potential of the learning environment in which Global Cosmopolitans live.

The nature of a bicycle journey is different from a plane or car. It requires effort, a will to push the pedals and propel oneself forward. It also requires balance; a cyclist who has lost her equilibrium needs to take the time to reestablish it or she will not get far for her struggles. Her journey is not about speeding through to a destination. It is about the journey itself, about being in contact with the people and surroundings. It is about being curious and aware of that which is unique and that which is universal. A cyclist can reach places that a plane and car cannot. Often the best learning experiences happen off the beaten path.

In return for her distinct efforts, the cyclist reaps distinct rewards. At times, she is sweaty and uncomfortable and wishes she’d never done it, but at other times the journey is the greatest joy imaginable. Such a journey requires cleverness, creativity and flexibility to handle the constant adaptation and learning at every stop. It requires an ability to forge relationships that count. The cyclist’s unique opportunity to take a closer look at each new place is what ultimately yields a broader outlook, a global perspective.

Finally, the cyclist’s journey can teach a unique set of life lessons. One important example among many is how much security a person is going to need—or not need. Sometimes after a journey of constant change, the cyclist discovers that she needs some stability and knowing that her life will not always be changing.

Each Global Cosmopolitan is the cyclist, with his or her distinctive journey marked with anxious moments and joys. If they want people at work or in their personal lives to value their experiences, Global Cosmopolitans have to define that value and figure out how to communicate it effectively. This need is particularly strong when Global Cosmopolitans have settled into a single country and are working in jobs without a direct international connection. Valuable skills and insights can easily disappear. The result is a feeling of unused capacity and job frustration.

It is not enough for Global Cosmopolitans to have a shapeless feeling of confidence and accomplishment or a collection of exotic snapshots and travel snippets. Other people will never understand what Global Cosmopolitans themselves cannot express; Global Cosmopolitans need to know why they feel the way they do. Along with all the other skills that they have learned from living globally, they need to develop their own personal power of knowing: knowing their own story, knowing the story that others tell about them and knowing how to communicate their story appropriately.

Global Cosmopolitans cannot always be relied upon to articulate their uniqueness on their own. They may be unaware of much of the intellectual and emotional work they have done. They consider it day-to-day living. Their belief in their ability to handle any situation can inhibit their ability to articulate why they feel the way they do about themselves. Capacities can remain buried or lost because Global Cosmopolitans don’t realize they have these abilities or can use them. The goal of effective dialogue in the workplace is to make sure that the company, colleagues and the individuals themselves understand these valuable differences and unique abilities.

Family and friends, too, can provide Global Cosmopolitans with the support and stability they need after a life of constant change and complexity. That connection works best when Global Cosmopolitans feel they are understood and accepted for the individuals they have become.

Note that this is based on a final proof of the book and may differ slightly from the published version.


This is a must-read book for anyone interested in globalization or, more precisely, how we can develop the ‘global mind.’ This book should be required reading for every MBA and anyone who would claim to be a ‘world citizen.’

Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business and author of the recently published Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership

Crossing cultures to communicate or do business with people whose identities are different from your own is now commonplace. If you have not yet met someone who could be identified as a Global Cosmopolitan, you will in due time. Linda Brimm smartly explores the complexity that exists among people whose identities and skills have been shaped by their global experiences, making this book interesting and relevant for anyone engaged in a multicultural business environment.

Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Renault-Nissan Alliance

This book presents a whole new concept of careers and, thereby, becomes one of the most important career development books published in the last decade. If we believe in a growing globalism, then it becomes essential to understand Global Cosmopolitans. This book is a clear and powerful presentation of the many young men and women who make up this new population. This is a must-read for managers and human resource professionals.

Ed Schein, Professor Emeritus, MIT Sloan School of Management

Global Cosmopolitans is a ground-breaking book that puts the spotlight on a very unique and important segment of the population, namely business leaders who embody multiple cultures and are uniquely qualified to lead in a multi-cultural global world. The book is a terrific blend of solid academic empirical and conceptual work, along with a handbook for helping Global Cosmopolitans reach their full potential.

Noel Tichy, Professor of Management and Organizations, University of Michigan and co-author with Warren Bennis of Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls

Linda Brimm offers a novel and insightful investigation of the developmental experiences of people in the corporate world whose life histories cross cultures and national borders. Written in lucid and highly readable prose, this book is filled with carefully observed stories of the people she has studied. It also considers practical means to maximize and make use of the strengths such people bring to their workplaces.

Ruthellen Josselson, PhD, Professor of clinical psychology, The Fielding Graduate University, and author of Playing Pygmalion: How People Create One Another

It is important for today’s organizations that face change and diversity at their center of management challenges to understand and maximize the value that Global Cosmopolitans can contribute. Linda Brimm’s book, Global Cosmopolitans, provides the compelling frameworks and stories to address this key issue. The book is provocative and insightful. It is a must-read.

W. Chan Kim, Professor of Strategy and International Management, INSEAD, and author of Blue Ocean Strategy, and Co-director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute


Selected previous press coverage

  • HBR, 2016: What the Best Cross-Cultural Managers Have in Common
  • HBR, September 2015: How to Embrace Complex Change
  • INSEAD Alumni Magazine, March 2015: Global Cosmopolitans: Why INSEAD graduates succeed everywhere
  • INSEAD Working Paper, December 2014: The 7 C’s of change and development
  • INSEAD Knowledge articles
  • Forbes, August 2013: Who are today’s citizens of the world?
  • Psychology Today: Blogs on Global Cosmopolitans
  • GlobeAsia, 2011: Interview
  • Business Executive, November 2011: Global Cosmopolitans – the new breed of international managers
  • Commerce in France, Summer 2011: Global Mobility: Meeting the Challenges of Living and Working Abroad
  • Dnevnik, May 2011: Interview in Bulgaria
  • Economic Times, May 2011: Today’s cosmopolitans can be global economic leaders


Upcoming events

  • Come back soon to find out about more recent events.

Selected previous events

  • New Delhi, INSEAD Masterclass and Information Session, October 2012
  • Mexico City, Mexico: INSEAD Masterclass and Information Session, 22 November 2011
  • Bogotá, Colombia: INSEAD Masterclass and Information Session, 21 November 2011
  • Lima, Peru: INSEAD Masterclass and Information Session, 18 November 2011
  • São Paulo, Brazil: INSEAD Masterclass and Information Session, 17 November 2011
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: INSEAD Masterclass and Information Session, 16 November 2011
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina: INSEAD Masterclass and Information Session, 14 November 2011
  • Santiago, Chile: INSEAD Masterclass and Information Session, 11 November 2011
  • Paris, France: American Library of Paris, 9 November 2011
  • London, UK: Wharton Alumni, 3 November 2011
  • Singapore: NUS conference on women in Asia, 29–30 September 2011
  • London, UK: ICAEW, Women in Finance, 21 September 2011
  • Paris, France: Village Voice Bookstore, 20 September 2011
  • Wellfleet, Massachusetts, USA: Public Library, August 2011
  • London, UK: INSEAD Alumni Presentation, June 2011
  • Fontainebleau, France: INSEAD Alumni Weekend, May 2011
  • Paris, France: INSEAD Alumni Presentation, May 2011
  • Bucharest, Romania, Masterclass and INSEAD Alumni Presentation, April 2011
  • Sofia, Bulgaria, Masterclass and INSEAD Alumni Presentation, April 2011
  • Presentations in Mumbai and Bangalore, India, March 2011
  • Presentation, Asia Society, Hong Kong, March 2011
  • An Evening with Professor Linda Brimm, Distinguished Universities Alumni League, Singapore, 21 February 2011.
  • Second Thought-leadership Conference on Understanding and Leveraging Biculturals and Multicultural Identity in Today’s Global Organizations, Abu Dhabi, UAE, 11–13 December 2010.
  • International Counseling Service, Paris, France, December 2010
  • INSEAD Masterclass and Alumni Presentation, New York, USA, 17 November 2010.
  • The World Knowledge Forum, Seoul, Korea, 12–15 October 2010