Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill is well known for saying “all politics is local.” For those unfamiliar, this phrase essentially implies that most people care more about their everyday lives and things that they can identify with than abstract national or international ideas and actions that do not directly affect them.
Though initially stated for the purpose of winning elections, this concept can easily be (and has been) applied to many aspects of business. Still, the question remains: if you are not “local,” how can you get local? The answer is today’s word, cultural consulting.
Breaking down the term itself, consulting, the verbal noun of consult, comes initially from the Middle French consulter and the Latin consultare, meaning ‘take the advice of’ and can first be seen in The Letters of Sir Walter Scott (compiled and edited by Sir Herbert Grierson), where Scott in 1823 writes of: “An oldfashioned consulting desk..one of those which have four faces, each forming an inclined plane.”
As for the specific type of consulting, cultural, which can be further deconstructed into the -al suffix, meaning ‘of or related to’, and the root, culture, coming from the Latin cultura, meaning ‘tillage, cultivating, or (figuratively) care, culture’, was first used in the sense of the culture of a particular community or location in 1875 by William Dwight Whitney in The Life and Growth of Language, where he writes: “All these widely-sundered tribes of men, found at the dawn of history in every variety of cultural condition.”
To simply define the full term in a business sense, cultural consulting is another way to assure success through localisation. Business failures due to lack of understanding the local culture have been discussed ad nauseam, but the underlying premise of the necessity of adapting your business message to locals – wherever and whomever they are – remains the same. To tackle intercultural challenges, it is recommended to partner with entities, whether they be individuals, advocacy groups, or professional firms, who possess an extensive knowledge of the needs, thoughts, feelings, morals, beliefs, and mindset – in other words, culture – of the locality that you’re attempting to enter, in order to best tailor your message to meet their needs. It is the achievement of this level of local understanding that is the goal of cultural consulting.