The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset: Lessons from the New Global Leaders
INSEAD Professor’s New Book explains the unique competencies and complex issues facing multi-national, multi-cultural “citizens of the world.”
A global mindset is essential in international business and in solving complex problems says Linda Brimm. A rapidly increasing number of people have multiple passports or live outside their country of citizenship. By accident, by design or necessity, people are moving across the world in greater numbers, despite the backlash against “citizens of the world”. Given their life and work experience across borders, “they have a great deal to teach us about the new ways to address some of the complicated challenges of today” says Linda Brimm, an Emeritus Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, in her latest book, The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset.
“Many of them come from humble immigrant backgrounds, growing up in multiple countries, languages and cultures so have had to work very hard to get where they are today. Some are simply from bi-cultural families and have been born into a world of globalization and change”, adds Brimm. Others have opted for such changes in choice of schools or early employment. The book tells the stories of hundreds of Global Cosmopolitans Brimm has researched throughout her career. While every story is different, Brimm draws them together to find commonalities to understand what makes people successful when they cross borders and what others, especially managers in organizations, can learn from such individuals.
The new book is the sequel to her first book Global Cosmopolitans: The Creative Edge of Difference, which introduced the famous “7Cs Model of Change and Development” that helps people understand and approach the changes they’re likely to face on a global journey. Her new book delves deeper into the mindset that Global Cosmopolitans develop, the identities they form for themselves and what they have to consider when they want to return home or retire.
Brimm structures the book around three main areas.
Part 1 explains how Global Cosmopolitans learn from their global lives to develop a mindset and a skillset they use to help them. Brimm characterizes the Global Cosmopolitan Mindset as a combination of learning and growth with a global perspective and creativity. For instance, along their journeys, they face unpredictable situations such as learning new ways of communicating, new ways of relating to people, even the most mundane things such as how to seek medical care in a foreign land. “Those with attitudes of learning and flexibility are able to better learn from their experience and articulate it in constructive ways”, says Brimm.
A Global Cosmopolitan Mindset, Brimm says “is a culmination of a growth mindset, a global mindset and a creative mindset.” Crucially, “their cognitive flexibility also enables Global Cosmopolitans to think locally while remaining global”, adds Brimm, an important skill to have as the world increasingly looks for new solutions to local challenges.
Part 2 is looks at how Global Cosmopolitans form their identities throughout their lives. Brimm acknowledges that “Some of the classic ways that individuals present themselves as part of their identity story are as relevant for Global Cosmopolitans as for anyone else. But Global Cosmopolitans add levels of complexity when facing a major challenge… they author and understand who they are, what they can change, and what must remain the same… black and white perspectives are rarely found in a global mindset.”
Brimm suggests that internal monitoring is a necessary skill for Global Cosmopolitans and using the image of a “life mosaic” helps them describe a sense of self that travels over time and through change. This helps them manage differences and gives them an acute sensitivity to local vs global norms in the workplace allowing them to feel at home with people of different backgrounds. She also illustrates the unique dilemmas faced by these individuals as they develop their own sense of identity.
Part 3 explains how Global Cosmopolitans make sense of their journeys by dividing their lives into chapters. “They write new chapters in their developing lives, which define them as individuals, as well as providing examples of answers to some universal questions, such as how to satisfy the need to belong, what gives a sense of meaning to life, or how to have an impact,” says Brimm. “‘If you are used to questioning your life and your possibilities, reflection and personal growth will continue’, is what Global Cosmopolitans have taught me”, adds Brimm.
While nationalism and a resistance to globalization are ascendant, Brimm believes that it is becoming increasingly clear that solving issues of trade, immigration and climate change transcend any one country or individual. “The Global Cosmopolitans who have obtained experience in moving skillfully across borders are a major source of energy and expertise to build the coalitions that can address such cross national, cross cultural issues,” she concludes.
Chapter 1: Introduction – Welcome to the Age of the Global Cosmopolitan
Part I: Learning from a global life
Chapter 2: The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset (GCM)
Chapter 3: The Global Cosmopolitan Skillset
Part II: Composing a global life – Navigating the challenges and benefits along the way
Chapter 4: Who am I? Identity and the Global Cosmopolitan
Chapter 5: The Professional Me
Chapter 6: The Relational Me
Chapter 7: Making It Work as a Global Cosmopolitan Couple
Chapter 8: Raising the Next Generation
Chapter 9: Creating or Re-creating Home
Chapter 10: Embracing Complex Change
Part III: Creating New Chapters in an Already Interesting Life
Chapter 11: The Global Cosmopolitan Odyssey
Chapter 12: Choosing a Place to Call Home – Why Not Here?
Chapter 13: Who Says This is the Last Chapter?
My journey continues… – from the Preface
I have been immersed in the world of Global Cosmopolitans of late. More specifically, I have been looking for a way to tell their story from the point of view of more seasoned travelers than I studied for my initial book on the subject, Global Cosmopolitans: The Creative Edge of Difference. The stories told by people with significant life and professional experience help us understand how they have developed their minds and their skills over time.
The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset: Lessons from the new Global Leaders gives the reader the opportunity to learn from anecdotes and stories shared by leaders of both organizations and change. By understanding how they have created their own career paths and built lives that they never could have imagined when they first started their journeys, many others can benefit.
Living globally sounds like some sort of peripatetic paradise. For some, it is. But it also raises many fundamental social and psychological issues. Where is home, if you were born in one country, live in another, and work worldwide? What is it like to spend your working life in one country and then return to where you grew up? What nationality should your children be? Does it matter?
These issues – the human side of global living – are the subjects of this book, which attempts to answer some increasingly relevant questions. What attitudes do people need to work successfully in an international landscape? What knowledge and skills do they acquire from the day-to-day reality of coming face-to-face with difference? How do they re-interpret their own values and traits? What is the nature of the challenges and opportunities they face as they develop on their global adventures?
The first section of the book presents the Global Cosmopolitan Mindset and Skillset. These two chapters introduce the lenses and some of the skills that Global Cosmopolitans use to navigate the challenges that they so often transform into personal and professional opportunities. Given their lifestyle and the nature of the challenges they face, they develop the very attitudes, knowledge, and skills that global leaders need.
The second section of the book gives the reader an opportunity to look in more depth at the nature of the challenges that they face as they compose their lives around the world. While these are similar to issues encountered by all human beings, including those who live local lives, there is no doubt that they are made more complex by global mobility.
The last section of the book gives the reader an opportunity to see how Global Cosmopolitans continue to compose chapters to their lives as they mature. There is no set pathway for people who live globally. While they understand the tension of finding a balance between being rooted and staying cosmopolitan, each new adventure is an opportunity to reflect on what gives meaning and value to their lives.
Every chapter could be a book on its own. I decided not to cover every possible subtopic, but to share stories that exemplified aspects of the issues, such as identity, that Global Cosmopolitans frequently raise. I have simply tried to give the reader a flavor of what people describe as relevant. Given that no two lives are ever the same, the stories do not provide formulas or solutions, but exemplify what people have a tendency to share.
The book should help the reader gain insight into how people develop lives over time, and how they benefit from their knowledge, attitudes, and skills. Whether you are considering starting a global move or wondering whether to continue your journey, their insights should be useful. If, on the other hand, you are trying to create or develop a global organization, this is the population that you need to learn from and work with. Global Cosmopolitans have been learning life skills and appropriate lessons that have contributed to their success. Their stories can also boost your success.
For global organizations looking for the most appropriate hire, I will not present a checklist of character traits that a person should have to work and lead across borders or cultures. Instead I invite you to get to know this population and to understand what they have learned – and are continuing to learn – from their personal and professional experiences. The lessons from life are not universal, yet the potential for skills that can lead to success is always worth considering. While there are many ways to look at what it takes to be successful and many theories of leadership, this book turns the focus onto what can be learned from life and, in particular, a global life.
From The Global Cosmopolitan Skillset
‘A life lived on the move has greatly affected me in ways I am still trying to understand. I believe that for Global Cosmopolitans, the complexity of the world becomes reflected within ourselves and we must learn to be adaptable to both deal with and harness this potential.' A Swiss consultant and entrepreneur currently living between Peru, Brazil, and Switzerland
Humility and empathy might feel like survival tactics initially, but they can be lifelong lessons and skills to be built on. For many people, early-career forays into very different cultures started out as failures because of arrogance and lack of sensitivity to local norms.
Liam describes a key turning point when a professor told him to get out there in the world and learn about life, and at the ripe old age of 21, he did just that.
For Liam, this step was much bigger than he imagined at the time. He did not even understand the extent of his arrogance until he was confronted with a completely different reality. While his world had been limited to his relatively elite environment in the UK, he saw the multiplicity of opportunities in learning about the world and learning about himself. The greatest gift of his first experience, working in Africa, was becoming humble.
‘From the first month of working in a small village in Africa, I learned the limits of my knowledge and my ability to get something done,’ he says. ‘Success for me was marked by becoming humble and respectful of people who were very different. I also learned that this skill would help me for years when faced with new and complex projects in countries that I did not really know or understand.’
From Composing a global Life: Navigating the challenges and benefits along the way
Professional and financial success – a mink-lined trap
For certain Global Cosmopolitans, professional success has also been heaped with financial reward. While money might not have been an important part of their earlier life story, once they are used to having it, it can become essential. Perks, such as paid school fees and affordable domestic help, have facilitated family life for many people. They acknowledge how comfortable all this can become but sometimes feel they have to weigh comfort against other life goals.
For Stuart, a major promotion that meant significantly more financial security and a leap into a very cosmopolitan lifestyle had many benefits. Yet, over the years, he started to feel trapped in Hong Kong, a city that did not feel like home. He could see the strain it put on his wife and children, one of whom had a learning disability. He was traveling all the time, and wondering why he kept running so fast. A move back to Europe would be better for them, and an excellent offer came his way.
While this new situation sounded ideal, it came with some of the old constraints, including increased responsibility and international travel. He had never seen himself as someone who needed great financial success, but how could he turn it down? It was one thing to jet around Asia, but going back to Europe would mean that he had accepted being part of a high-flying community of Global Cosmopolitans. Was this the person that he felt he was or wanted to be?
The Complex Circle of Family of Origin
Many Global Cosmopolitans begin their story with the experience of their parents or grandparents, or through the many stories that they have been told during their formative years. ‘Where did my immigrant parents really come from?’ and ‘how important are their stories to me?’ can become important questions as they develop their relational self. Ann, for example, has read a lot about the immigration of Vietnamese refugees to Canada and the US, but she is only slowly learning about her family story,
They wanted me to succeed in their chosen country, Canada, with such a vengeance that they never helped me understand the importance of their history in Vietnam on who they were and why they acted the way they did. It took me years to have the courage to explore their link between their past and mine. Knowing their stories has helped explain so much about how they related to me, what they left behind, and how they related to their newfound country. I feel much closer to them now that I understand their behavior and their attitudes. Recently, they talked about moving back to Vietnam, which touched a deep fear of losing my parents as I know them and of losing my roots in Canada. I cannot imagine changing my deep connection to Canada. In spite of the many years I have been away. I have been spending vacations there with my family. If they leave, will I still consider Canada home?
My wife and I are French. My summer home in the South of France was home to me and now it is home to my children. They go there every year and spend time with their grandparents and extended family. Even though they go to a French-speaking school in Singapore, it is in the South of France that they learn about the importance of their roots and their cultural heritage. I could not live outside of France, if I didn’t feel that my children were experiencing these connections. While our evening meals include conversations about global issues, there is a respect that is developing for their roots as well as their wings.
I have loved our years living abroad. While I never knew if the friendships that I made along the way would be part of my life after I left, I always kept one or two people close to my heart – as I did with my friends that I grew up and I knew would always be there. I have kept in regular contact with those key people in my life, often vacationing together in Greece or Sicily. Last year, we finally moved back home to England, but we decided to live outside of London so that we could raise our children away from the big city. I no longer have easy access to the people that were close colleagues and friends when I lived here. Commuting to work gives me very little time to grow the close, intense relationships that I love. I assumed that coming home, I would no longer have to worry about making time for my old friends. I still remember the heart-wrenching feeling that I had when I left. My desire to return was based on my appreciation of my friends and family and how important it is to nurture those relationships. Many of my friends are in a similar situation of feeling overwhelmed by what we have to do just to get through a day, so I am hoping that we’ll eventually make more time for each other.
Who says this the last chapter?
Keiko is a woman with a mission. She is determined to bring some of her global lessons home to Japan.
With over 30 years of experience working and studying in Europe and the United States, Keiko thought long and hard about leaving her ‘big golden cage’ in investment banking. She was bored and tried other options, including commuting to advise an international organization, but soon realized that she wanted something else – and that was to go back to Japan and make a difference. It would mean lengthy separations from her husband, Hiro, which she knew would be painful. It was a self-made mission, and she was willing to sacrifice a few years to make it happen. The timing was right, her mother was aging and she wanted to be near her.
She says: ‘Given that I had spent most of my adult life away from Japan, I had many ideas about bringing change to Japan. I have developed what you call a Global Cosmopolitan Mindset and I want to share that in a constructive way. I wanted to help women in business, I wanted to help create student exchanges with other countries, and I really felt that I was well placed to help Japan become more global. When I first came back, I wanted to have an impact on many things, starting with the amount of time people spend in the office. Japan did not have flexible hours. People were judged more on being at their desk rather than on their performance.’
Keiko landed in Tokyo without a job to go to, which worried her greatly, but she knew that she had transferable skills and an attitude of not giving up. In addition, she had to learn new skills and, hardest of all, she had to face her own insecurities about reading the social codes among her peers. In spite of being Japanese, she had to re-learn what home was all about. Even while she was still adjusting to being back after all these years, she took risks, first by starting to write a column for a newspaper, and then by moving to another city and becoming a professor. ‘It was a terrific opportunity that has given me a lot of visibility and flexibility,’ she says. ‘I am also working on a government project and on a corporate board. I hope to continue writing.’
In the beginning, teaching was frightening, but she found that the students were much more appreciative than she had seen elsewhere. She found she could be successful by being different. Her classes liked her young attitude and open mind.
‘There are more changes on the horizon,’ she says today. ‘My teaching allows me to expand what I am doing. I can work until I am 65 at the university, so I can have five to six good years here.’ Keiko has established herself as a teacher and a writer in Japan. She is involved in a number of exciting projects that she hopes will model some of the changes she would like to see in Japan. And another big change is about to happen. Hiro will be moving to Japan. He has already planned his re-entry.
At the heart of globalization are people rather than products or corporations. Globalization is changing how people behave, how they relate to each other, what they dream of and how they live and work. Linda Brimm is the foremost chronicler of the new global cosmopolitan reality which is shaping and re-creating the worlds of work and home. Her latest thinking provides a compelling and humane take on the new globalized world order.
Linda Brimm has captured the essence of a new breed of Global Cosmopolitans that will provide key leadership in tomorrow’s world. Many of her insights are drawn from her teaching and research at INSEAD which attracts these future leaders because of its global orientation and aspires to prepare them for effective and responsible leadership in tomorrow’s organisations.
More and more people are living global lives, or aspire to do so. Based on a treasure trove of interviews with global cosmopolitans Linda Brimm’s wonderful new book describes the challenges, identity dilemmas, and mindsets needed to work and thrive in this multinational and multicultural landscape.
The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset provides a penetrating insight into the issues and dilemmas involved in the human side of global living and working. The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset by Linda Brimm is a must-read for leaders at all levels of society interested in leading a meaningful and successful global life.
Linda Brimm’s message spoke to thousands when, in her first book, she coined the now wildly popular term Global Cosmopolitans. Join her in her second book The Global Cosmopolitan Mindset for a fascinating journey into the skills necessary to succeed in today’s multi-cultural world. If your mother is from Pakistan, your father from Peru and you’ve spent the last decades living in Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Anchorage and Amman this book is for you. While many have written about how to help people from different cultures collaborate, Linda explores what it means to have all those cultural differences right inside yourself.
Globalism and multiculturalism are growing steadily so it is really helpful to have some meaningful research results from this study of global cosmopolitans, the cohort who are exploring what it takes to manage multiple cultures as a life style not just as a tourist. This book explores through multiples cases the mindset and skill set of this group of people and illuminates, thereby, some of the important characteristics of being able to live in our interconnected world.
Linda Brimm teaches us a new "way of life" in this world of escalating complexity and change using "stories." Her stories are about the whole person and what it is like to be a person from a different culture, gender, religion, or personality type. Welcome to the modern-day global world of Jane Austen.
- INSEAD Knowledge, 1 November 2019: Creating a Meaningful Life in Turbulent Times
- HBR France, 16 September 2019: Les « global cosmopolitans », des experts du changement complexe à valoriser
- INSEAD Knowledge, 28 June 2019: Composing a Life of Complex Change
- INSEAD Knowledge, 22 May 2019: The Challenges Faced by Global Cosmopolitan Women
- INSEAD Knowledge, 25 January 2019: The Skills That Global Cosmopolitans Bring to the Table
- CNBC, Yahoo, MSN, 19 December 2018: Top business authors share their greatest leadership advice
- Economy Chosun, South Korea, 19 October 2018: The Chosun Ilbo (in Korean)
- INSEAD Knowledge, 12 October 2018: The Gift of a Global Cosmopolitan Mindset
- South China Morning Post in World Living, 6 October 2018: A global mindset key to enjoying a cosmopolitan life
- HBR France, 10 September 2018: Réussir sa carrière à l’international quand on est une femme
- China, 7 September 2018: INSEAD’s new book on cross-border borders and culture: the unique competitiveness and challenges of global citizens (in Chinese)
- Work, a quarterly magazine from the Chartered institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD): Global challenges need global mindset
- Come back soon to find out about more recent events.
- New York City: March 2019
- Singapore: 2019 INSEAD Women at Work Conference, 1 March 2019
- Singapore: INSEAD events, 27 and 28 February 2019
- Paris: ICS, 8 November 2018
- Tokyo: INSEAD, 13–16 October 2018
- Seoul: World Knowledge Forum, October 2018
- Seoul: INSEAD, October 2018
- Tokyo: Showa University, October 2018
- Boston: INSEAD, September 2018
- Abu Dhabi: International Women’s Day, March 2018
- Dubai: INSEAD, March 2018