My test for cultural intelligence — don’t argue with an All Brown

My colleague, friend, and founder of Mahana Culture, Tavale Ilalio, arranged for me to undertake a cultural intelligence assessment. He’s a Samoan Scottish Kiwi rugby player, an All Brown. You don’t argue.

At my age, the fear that haunted me in exams fizzled long ago. When it comes to tests, I usually as laid back as a nanna’s nap. Instead, anxiety growled in my guts, like a dog made brave by its fence.

I’m average enough in IQ to make me outwardly humble and inwardly ashamed. (I dreamt stories in school when I should have been learning algebra.) But some of the brightest people I’ve met — folk whose IQ embarrasses the Himalayas — are social amoebas.

Top of my EQ class

Years in corporates, consulting, and business have taught me a native emotional intelligence (EQ). It often has the drop on MBAs and PhDs when creativity and teamwork matter more than brains and qualifications. I won’t share my EQ score, but when I made up my own EQ test, I topped my class of one by a handsome margin. (I call that pure and applied IQ!)

Now I faced a dilemma. Tavale, a seasoned and empathetic social worker, had convinced me that emotional intelligence takes over where mental intelligence stops. What’s more, cultural intelligence continues the race when emotional intelligence hands over the baton.

What is cultural intelligence?

But what exactly is cultural intelligence. Is it the obvious recognition of racial and ethnic difference? Linguistic and religious variations? Even some questionable eating and drinking habits?

I think of myself as a reasonably well-adjusted fellow. I live in Australia, one of the world’s more successful post World War Two multi-cultural experiments.

Now that I think of it, maybe the culture I grew up in could have had its mysteries for others. My religious school signed up to original sin as a life policy. I was guilty from birth. I was too young to figure out what I’d done wrong. Was kicking in utero an indictable offence?

Then we had the golden rule — when the kid next door kicks his footy over your fence, kick it back. Why didn’t he reciprocate?

Two black eyes

Finally, we always had to turn the other cheek. I guess two black eyes are a kind of balance.

These days, I’m an Anglo Saxon, middle class, Australian male. Lucky you, some would say. But I haven’t always been easy in my cultural skin.

This country’s 19th and 20th century immigration and integration programs enjoy worldwide acclaim. But our early colonial history and even today’s interaction with the indigenous inhabitants of the world’s largest island and smallest continent remain contentious.

Plus, I lived in troubled Zimbabwe for eight years while it violently shook off white minority rule. I wondered if I had an identity at all, let alone one that could stand up to the scrutiny of a probing cultural audit.

Why so agitated?

Why then was I so agitated about my cultural self-assessment? I was about to find out.

The self-assessment Tavale connected me to comes from the world’s most advanced institute for cultural intelligence. Fittingly named the Cultural Intelligence Centre (, the institute is the first and most respected hub of its kind. It’s built on the pioneering work of CQ researchers, Soon Ang and Linn Van Dyne, and their colleague and CQ Centre founder, David Livermore.

The assessment is built on the CQ Centre’s break-through four capabilities of cultural intelligence:

  • CQ drive (or motivation)
  • CQ knowledge (or cognition)
  • CQ strategy (or meta-cognition)
  • CQ action (or behaviour).

How did I perform?

I needn’t have worried. The multiple-choice appraisal is fair, broad-minded, and explores your potential for cultural progress rather than exposing the bogey of a bigoted background.

With scores measured low, moderate, or high for the four capabilities, I received three highs and a moderate to high. My personalised CQ report also gave me excellent feedback about what each score meant, a detailed profile summary, and a comprehensive personal development plan.

If that wasn’t enough, it explained CQ research validation, provided a glossary of cultural values, and offered a stack of other useful insights.

I may never make Secretary-General of the UN, but neither am I a Pol Pot apprentice, nor mono-cultural yoghurt.

By Roger McDonald, Mahana Culture’s roving blogger

For deeper insights into how cultural intelligence boosts personal and organisational performance, call Tavale Ilalio at Mahana Culture on 0428 504 240, or visit