As trainers, coaches, and educators, knowing which “tool” (theory, training method,
teaching technique) to use requires we first being willing to use – and having a working
knowledge of – a variety of theories, methods, and practices that can be applied to diverse
I began my career just over forty years ago, working solely in the space of
positivism. Over the years, I added helpful insights to my toolkit from various disciplines:
nonlinear dynamics, hermeneutics, cognitive-behavior therapy, history, theology, and
existentialism. 1 Whenever I get the feeling that “I know enough,” I realize that is a sign of danger
for me – it is a signal that I have stopped learning and have halted the expansion of my
The Blind Men and The Elephant
If I feel that internal “red flag,” I return to the ancient parable, “The Blind Men and the
Elephant.” There are many variations of the parable, and it appears in various traditions (Hindu,
Buddhist, Jain, Sufi, and Baháʼí). The essential theme is that a ruler invites several blind men
who have never before encountered an elephant to describe the true form of the animal by
touching only one part of the elephant’s body. In the parable, the person who touches a leg
contends that “an elephant is like a tree.” The individual who touches the trunk declares an
elephant is like a rope or a snake.” Another who touches the elephant’s ear states that “an
elephant is like a ship’s sail.” They then begin to argue with one another and in some forms of the
parable come to blows over their disagreements. A common moral derived from this ancient
wisdom text is that “our individual views of the universe may be different from one another’s
because we each encounter only one small part of what is there.”2
No Theory Or Practice Holds All Truth
For me, the parable is a way of reminding myself that no theory or practice in the social
sciences holds all truth within it. It reminds me that there are limitations to our favorite theories,
methods, and practices that we use as intercultural and DEI researchers, consultants, trainers, and
educators. I have observed that when one becomes too wedded to “one way of doing or seeing
things,” dysfunctional outcomes tend to follow. 3
Rigidity in mindset and methodology tends to dampen creativity, flexibility in reaction to the needs of learners, and the curiosity necessary to find new insights. Thus, “one-size-fits-all” in training program design, coaching practices, or research methods is not the answer.
The key is to have many tools in one’s tool kit and to use the tool that best fits the situation.
Useful Tools For Your Toolkit
The inventories we have created at The Kozai Group are not “truth” but are based on
current findings in the social science research literature. As research proceeds in the future, we
fully expect that revising our inventories, The Global Competencies Inventory, The Intercultural
Effectiveness Scale, and The Inclusive Competencies Inventory will be necessary based on new findings. In fact, we look forward to doing that! We consistently track the competency research
literature in global leadership, intercultural effectiveness, and inclusion to see if discoveries,
insights, and findings should drive revisions in our inventories.
Though these three inventories are not “truth” they are very useful tools for one’s toolkit.
Why? First, they allow for assessing competencies that the current research literature shows to be
particularly important for productive interaction and inclusion with individuals who culturally
differ from each other in global, intercultural, and diverse contexts.
Second, they provide consultants, trainers, and educators with measures to help them create a baseline of self-awareness about the current levels of intercultural and inclusion competencies of those they teach and coach.
And third, this baseline of self-awareness usefully acts as a platform from which individuals can mutually explore with their trainers, coaches, and teachers – using various methods and means – concrete, pragmatic “next steps” they can take to enhance their competencies. I and many others have found them to be valuable tools in our toolkits to help people develop their intercultural and inclusion competencies.
1 Mendenhall, M. (1999). On the need for paradigmatic integration in international human
resource management. Management International Review, 39(3): 65-87.
2 Goldstein, E.B. (2010). Encyclopedia of Perception. SAGE Publications. p. 492
3 Mendenhall, M.E. & Hippler, T. (2020). On paradigm tolerance in cross-cultural management
research. In Szkudlarek, B., Romani, L., Caprar, D.V., & Osland, J.S. (eds), The SAGE
Handbook of Contemporary Cross-Cultural Management. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE