Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Who’s the Expert?

Written by: on September 10, 2022

I want to make it very clear from the outset that what Erin Meyer is talking about in “Culture Map” can be helpful. The idea that there are differences in cultural tendencies that make communication and collaboration nuanced is one that is important. Even in her caveat that all people from a country fall on a bell curve begins to reinforce biases that already exist. There is a danger that the assumption of communicating and collaborating simply shifts from one starting point to another. Additionally, the blind-spot of Meyer’s generalization of cultures was highlighted by her anecdote about taking questions in Japan: that it is helpful to know there are differences in culture, but you simply don’t know what you don’t know.  In a few of the appearances that Meyer mentioned this story, she notes that her Japanese counterpart was there to step in and take questions. I am curious why she does not simply allow for her Japanese counterpart to also make the presentation. Would this not have prevented the question mishap to begin with?

There is a tea/boba shop where I live that once called on all their customers to boycott another boba shop in the area. Their complaint was that the shop stole the minimalistic aesthetic that they used. The owner, a white female, went on to explain that she had done the hard work of taking a months long trip to China to learn all about the tea and sourced the tea from the best farms in China; so how dare this other shop “copy” her and steal her ideas for profit. Interestingly, the shop that drew her ire was run by a Chinese family. They had not taken trips to learn about Chinese tea culture. They knew Chinese tea culture because it was a part of their day-to-day life.

So who is the expert? My intention is not to dismiss “cultural mapping” as Meyer presents it but to bring awareness that the principles that make up “cultural mapping”, cultural intelligence and code-switching, are familiar to many outside of it being a scholastic or profitable endeavor. Those people, to me, are truly the experts and the world would be a better place hearing their stories.

About the Author

Caleb Lu

14 responses to “Who’s the Expert?”

  1. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Hi Caleb, That is such an interesting point that the concepts put forth in Meyer’s The Culture Map are well-known concepts that many people have to navigate daily, outside the formal presentation of a scholastic or profitable endeavor. Thank you for highlighting this for us and challenging us to view Meyer’s book from a different angle. You are right, it would be valuable to hear from the experts who have learned cultural intelligence as part of their everyday lives and survival.

    What an interesting and disturbing story about the tea/boba shop. Did anyone point out the irony of the owner’s actions to her? I am humbled by this example of cultural ineptness and inspired to further my own learning.

    Looking forward to future conversations. Thanks, again, for your post.

    • Caleb Lu says:

      People did, thankfully! And people still responded differently. I’m also looking forward to future conversations, this blog post was really nerve wracking for me to post because I definitely don’t see the whole picture and blogging as a medium puts my opinion out there as though I’m an expert. Appreciate you taking time to read and respond!

  2. Audrey Robinson says:

    Caleb, hats off to you for addressing the elephant in the room by asking the question, Who is the expert? Highlighting the obvious that Erin Meyer did not allow her Japanese counterpart to give the presentation in the first place was very insightful. And your follow-on example of the white shop owner encouraging customers to boycott the Chinese shop because, in her mind, they had stolen her minimalist ideas (developed during her time in China).

    To expand on the question of who is the expert, while I think the work of Meyer is relevant and necessary, I have a concern that there will be some leaders who will negatively use cultural differences. Historically, when there is a choice between honoring your employees over profits – profits win.

    To esteem others more highly than oneself is an attribute that enables kingdom leaders to overcome any tendencies to use the information negatively. What other teachings or values would you recommend to supplement Meyer’s cultural competencies for leaders?

    • Caleb Lu says:

      Audrey, appreciate your comments and questions! Understandably, Meyer is coming from a business perspective of collaboration so productivity for the sake of profitability seem to be the driving force. I do still think there are great principles to take away!

      I can’t say I’m particularly well read or an expert myself by any means, but I do hold to the thought that humility in the form of understanding my own shortcomings so that other voices can be elevated is important! From my end, Asian-American authors/pastors/theologians that I’ve appreciated recently are Jackson Wu (his book One Gospel For All Nations was helpful), Matthew Kim (Preaching with Cultural Intelligence), Soong-Chan Rah (The New Evangelicalism), Jon Mann and Jalon Chan (Bamboo Pastors Podcast), and Ben Shin/Sheryl Takagi Silzer (Tapestry of Grace) to name a few.

      I’d be interested in hearing who has been influential in shaping your identity and theology as well!

  3. mm Becca Hald says:

    Interesting. I did not question Erin Meyer as the presenter because I made the assumption that she was asked to come and present based on her expertise. I assumed that her Japanese counterpart had a role more like an emcee of a conference. Thank you for challenging my assumptions. I agree with you that it is so important to hear people’s stories. There is so much we can learn if we would only listen to one another.

    • Caleb Lu says:

      Becca, appreciate the thought! My hope is not to question Meyer as a presenter or to say that she isn’t an expert. My hope instead is to ask the question, how can we empower others to be and be seen as experts as well.

  4. Michael O'Neill says:

    Caleb, you made a lot of good points here. I love looking at books or views through multiple lenses and your post helped me recognize bias I did not see at first. Although I learned a lot from this book and it really helped me improve my personal cultural competency, I believe the world has become exponentially more global and interconnected since 2014 when it was published. Putting cultures in a box or assuming anything in modern society or modern leadership is somewhat risky. I believe a greater global merger has taken place since this book was written and it is never a smart move to assume or label anyone, any group, or any culture.

    • Caleb Lu says:

      Michael, appreciate the thoughts, the world has definitely become more interconnected and seems like that trend is only accelerating! Meyer alludes to the idea that there is variation even within a culture or country and I think you’re right in that putting cultures or countries into boxes simply shifts the biases from one starting place to another. I simply wish she spent more time emphasizing the importance of humility, listening, and learning rather than the productivity driven model of mapping.

  5. Caleb – Your analysis points out the importance of taking a humble (Jesus-like) posture when communicating with those from a different culture (or even those from our same culture with different perspectives from our own). I agree that deferring to the lived-experience of those native to the culture is critical, however I also thought that Meyers’ point about open/honest conversation at the beginning of every cross-cultural relationship may hopefully prevent some of these situations from happening. While Meyer could (and perhaps should) have given the Japanese expert a more prominent role in the meeting, it’s important to acknowledge that she learned from her misstep (we will all make mistakes) and will hopefully do better in future encounters.

    • Caleb Lu says:

      Laura, thanks for your thought! Humility definitely needs to be at the center. Admittedly, I’m writing a blog post based off a book and a few presentations that Meyer has given without having the chance to have a conversation with her. Even in this blog post I feel the tension of having to put my thoughts out there without a chance to dialogue.

      My hope is simply to highlight what could (and as you say maybe should) happen in the sense that as we become viewed as “experts” in something that we would not hold ourselves that way but continue to bring people along and elevate others over ourselves.

  6. Caleb Lu says:

    Hi everyone, really appreciate the comments, thoughts, and questions so far. I did want to point out that ironically even in my questioning of who the expert might be I made an erroneous statement about the term “third culture kid”. Even to answer my own question, I don’t feel as though I am an expert on this topic!

  7. Kristy Newport says:

    What a great discussion!
    I am reading through these comments and I am curious about your statement: “I did want to point out that Ironically even in my questioning of who the expert might be I made an erroneous statement about the term “third culture kid.” Please elaborate on this. I am needing clarification.
    Kristy Newport

  8. Shonell Dillon says:

    Thanks for making this point. I think like Becca we assume that the person we are reading or being introduced to is the expert. When we do not analyze from all angles we are guilty of not using our cultural intelligence as well.

  9. Alana Hayes says:


    What a great read. I always love learning from you. I like Becca made an assumption that she was presenting because it was her research and she was the one hired.

    Shonell – I agree with you as well. I know I have to train myself to analyze from all angles. I am not there yet, but hope I can continue to learn.

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