Cultural capital

What does Google want from graduates? When it comes to today’s market, a new kind of intelligence is the name of the game, argues Shuvo Saha

September 30, 2015
Cultural capital
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I recall my first corporate job after graduating in 1996. The digital revolution had barely begun. A successful career often meant climbing the ladder at the same company in the same country for 10 to 15 years or more. The world felt slower.

Business has changed hugely since then. In particular, employers now recognise that a new type of talent is required in today’s faster, smaller, more global and more connected world. But what does this actually mean? What are the new skills and behaviours we should look for and nurture in the next generation of leaders? How should universities prepare them? And how should employers attract them?

Today, I run Google’s Digital Academy and see a new generation of talent emerging in the programmes we run. For instance, our Squared programme supports rising talent in the marketing industry, challenging them to learn about “digital leadership” through teamwork on a range of live projects.

Our most successful “squares” share a few traits. First, they are self-propelled learners. They are self-aware about their personal development, stretch beyond their comfort zones and can cope with failure. They learn to reflect on their experiences and actively seek feedback from their peers to help them grow more quickly.

Second, they are comfortable with ambiguity. Just like in the real world, no project brief ever answers all their questions. They rapidly form opinions and use them to set directions that can cut through the ambiguity and galvanise a team around them.

Third, they are connectors. They make the most of the community and connections around them. They seek to learn from their fellow squares, who hail from different companies and backgrounds. In return they offer their help, too. 

Outside Google, I am a trustee of the international educational not-for-profit Common Purpose, which runs student leadership programmes with universities across the world – from Boston to Johannesburg, from Mumbai to Singapore. Again, the best students have a few things in common. They learn consciously about how they lead – and how they don’t. They adjust quickly from a competitive mindset to one of collaborating with people from different backgrounds. They love learning with – and more importantly from – each other.

At Common Purpose, we refer to this new type of talent as having cultural intelligence, or “CQ”. CQ is complementary to IQ, which gets you through the door and keeps you sharp. It is more than emotional intelligence (EQ), which loses its value if limited only to understanding people who are just like you. CQ is about having a thirst to learn from people who are not like you. This can mean many things. Of course, it is about learning from different cultures in different countries, but equally, it could be about different cultures in different companies and sectors, even departments in the same company. 

Rakesh Khurana, dean of Harvard College, has described CQ as key to navigating our brave new world and its contradictions, a world this kind of talent finds exciting. Far from being daunted, students want to embrace and learn about it. 

How should employers attract such talent? People with CQ also seek meaning. They want to work in organisations that have a purpose beyond profit, that help them live their values.

Employers must adapt by showing them a purpose and giving them an environment where they will thrive. That means fewer boundaries, more freedom to define their roles, less internal competition and more support to work and collaborate in ways they may never have explored before. 

Universities must play their part in preparing students for this new world of work. Of course we need engineers and economists, but we also need leaders: student leaders with CQ can see beyond their subjects and make connections with people who are not like them.

When students from diverse backgrounds and nationalities work and learn together, it provides a huge boost to their cultural intelligence, preparing them to become the leaders of the future.

Shuvo Saha
Director, Google Digital Academy and trustee of Common Purpose

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