“Aren’t you cold?” a friendly stranger asked me as I straightened up from attending to my toddler while supporting my large baby belly. I sighed and answered with a friendly “no, but thanks” and wiped the sweat from my brow. I knew what this was all about: shoes. I had none. It was a beautiful spring day and my feet were enjoying a bit of freedom after the long winter months, yet no matter the weather I’ve found the Swiss tend to be shocked at the sight of bare feet.
Cultural context is a common barrier we will face when choosing to eliminate – even if that culture is our own. “It’s just not done” is a natural, if not thoughtful, response when we’re faced with something we’ve never seen before. When creating our own Blue Ocean we’ll have to get used to facing the natural, but wearying questions of strangers. We might well want to count the cost before we cut. The Swiss don’t bother me more than saying “Aren’t you cold?” so I’m okay with occasionally eliminating the industry standard of shoe-wearing. I’ve also eliminated make-up yet have never gotten a comment about it. It might be different if I lived in Texas, where make-up is considered an integral part of womanhood. I might choose to start wearing make-up just so I wouldn’t have to explain myself. Consciously deciding to fit in is a valid Blue Ocean choice, too. We need to consider our cultural environment and choose our battles.
On the flip side, knowing other cultures is a great way to get ideas for elimination. When we get out of our own cultural waters we can observe how many people do without something our own culture considers essential. For example, the Swiss don’t expect parents to watch their kids every moment of the day. In fact, it’s considered an important developmental exercise in independence for kindergartners to walk to school without adult supervision. It still may not be wise for an American to let her kindergartner walk to school alone, but knowing that somewhere else in the world young children do, and turn out just fine, can free the imagination to find other ways of helping our children exercise their independence.
What cultural context do you struggle with? Have you adopted a cultural norm from a place you’ve visited or lived? Please share!