Allow Translation and Diversity to Drive Innovation

Resolutions in Translation Series

Resolution #11 (November) — Become a Linguistic Expat

Allow Translation and Diversity to Drive Innovation

In a recent article for The Guardian, George Szirtes emphatically stated that “Translation – and migration- is the lifeblood of culture.” The ability to speak another language opens the doors to creativity by allowing diverse perspectives and problem-solving approaches into your life and (by extension) into your company. As the saying goes, diversity drives innovation. This is the mantra for the popular transnational strategy, which focuses on a “global vision, but with customized implementations for local markets and regions” (Chron). Global leaders recognize that by increasing diversity in their company’s teams and taking advantage of their various global (intellectual) resources they can develop new ways of doing things, new perspectives, new products, new processes.

Hiroshimi Mikitani is an example of a global leader who recognized the value of understanding other cultures, improving communication, and driving innovation. He is the CEO of Rakuten (Japan’s largest e-commerce company) and in 2010 he had the revolutionary idea to “englishnize” his company by translating all of their material into English. The englishnization consisted of a five-year transition, during which the company translated all of their material from Japanese into English. Many people viewed this translation transition as irrational (seeing as 90% of the employees were Japanese). However, the results of this transition were extraordinary. Being able to switch the company language into English allowed Rakuten to hire and utilize employees from various backgrounds, mother tongues, and countries world-wide. In addition, it allowed his current employees to acquire an additional skill as they were provided the opportunity to learn another language.

A common argument against the adoption of a “language of global business” is the fear that translation will erase culture. Rakuten proved the opposite to be true. Translation allows culture to extend its reach into previously inaccessible areas. For example, instead of becoming an “Americanized” business because of adopting English, Rakuten brought Japan to the world. As Japanese employees and executives mastered the English language they were able to produce more standardized company policies for all of their locations world-wide. Suddenly, English-speaking Rakuten employees in the United States were being required to uphold common Japanese cultural standards in business etiquette and policy. Employees in their own native countries were suddenly becoming “linguistic expats” by being required to learn and adopt another culture.

Any company can leverage translation and culture in their organization to drive innovation, and it is not necessary to enforce a standardized global company language like Rakuten to do so. By building diverse teams, learning about new cultures and languages, and accepting different perspectives companies can tap into previously under-used resources. After the englishnization of Rakuten it was observed that perhaps the greatest benefit of all was the “cross-fertilization of ideas between different geographies.” Any company can receive this same benefit as they place emphasis and value on diversity. Whether someone comes from a different linguistic background, a different cultural upbringing, or both they can benefit the company as a whole as they contribute what they have to offer. Translation truly is the lifeblood of culture, diversity does drive innovation, and by tapping into both of these resources companies can progress. Resolve today to become a linguistic or cultural expat, no matter where you are. Allow foreign cultures and languages into your company and allow them the opportunity to show what they have to contribute.