69 - Do you have a ‘local foreigner’ in your life?

14-06-2023

decision-making

I want to tell you about something that you understand but underestimate the value of in making your life better. And it’s not just you. I’m the same. That something is the idea of a ‘local foreigner’.

Who’s a local foreigner? There are three conditions for someone to be a local foreigner. Two are obvious, the third one is hidden.

Local and foreigner are straightforward. I live in Mumbai where daily wage laborers and cooks tend to be outsiders who have come to and settled in their place of work far away from home. So are cabbies and beauticians. On the surface, there’s little difference between both sets of workers but that’s not true. Cabbies and beauticians have high exposure to locals and that hones their ability to pick out peculiarities of life in a strange place much better than others. And that’s the hidden quality of a genuine local foreigner.

Why is the perspective of a local foreigner important? Imagine you’ve been at an organization for a few years. You’re well settled. Along the way, you’ve constructed this map in your head about what is real. You can’t see it any other way.

Now think of a new hire who joins your team. She has come from outside. She’s a part of this new setup that she’s not yet embedded in. She’s a foreigner looking to bed herself in a new system. Being at the fringes allows her to see things in a way you cannot. It’s easier for her to notice what’s odd. Imbalances in a team, inconsistencies in practice, quirks in culture–all these stand out to her. She’s not part of the cult. She’s not beholden, yet. She is best placed to call out the BS. And that’s what makes her insight so valuable.

We could all do with a local foreigner for ourselves. Their purpose should be to hold a mirror to us, to challenge our thinking, to call out our BS. Not to demean us but to help us see reality better. This could be someone who knows us but is not obligated to us except to tell it like it is. Such a person could take the shape of a mentor or a sparring partner. Their sharpness would be in their bluntness. Their kindness would be in sparing us the niceness. Do you have a local foreigner in your life?

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