Business Class: Author Julia Cooke — “Don’t be a tourist; be one of the locals.”

By Randall Kenneth Jones

Originally published in the Naples Daily News
Monday, June 2, 2014

Those of us of a certain age are not always kind when discussing the (alleged lack of) character of those whose age begins with a 1, 2 or 3. Assuming that “a certain age” is defined as 50 or above, many of us must also take responsibility for raising the aforementioned 1s, 2s and 3s.

If we’re unhappy, a look in the mirror will likely disclose a source of blame. However, just as our parents may have been horrified by, for example, the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack,” we may find ourselves shocked by today’s rap music—a.k.a. “Really Annoying Prattle.”

Nevertheless, in our youth-obsessed culture, many of us ache for a reunion with the youthful energy of our past—especially when we recognize it in the eyes of the Gens: both X and Y. Julia Cooke

A shining example of today’s Millennial Generation can be found in 30-year-old author Julia Cooke. An advocate for understanding and respecting diverse cultures, Cooke recognizes that her work is a careful balance of curiosity and discipline based on her ability to “listen with a generosity of spirit.”

Researched over five years, her first book, The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba, intertwines profiles of seven young Cubans—the last generation raised under Fidel Castro—with her experiences as a journalist living in Havana.

Sadly, for many, knowledge of Cuban culture begins and ends with two words: socialist dictatorship. Cooke agrees: “Nothing I read about Cuba matched my experiences with the Cuban people. Everything focused on politics and not on the repercussions of politics or daily life.”

So why do cultural differences—divergent beliefs, customs, practices and social behavior—create so much ignorance and so many headlines? Borrowing Cooke’s words: failure “to listen with a generosity of spirit.” “My job is getting people to tell me things,” she says. “Once respect and trust are earned, people typically want to talk about themselves.”

Even in business, a “corporate culture” is defined by a company’s values, customs and traditions and/or the atmosphere reflected in people’s dress, conduct and communication styles. Culturally speaking, who among us doesn’t want to circumvent office politics and “fit in” at work? The Other Side of Paradise by Julia Cooke 2

In Cooke’s view, no culture, Cuban or otherwise, can be understood without an appreciation of its population. In business, failing to understand people—your employees and customers—will result in corporate culture chaos. It’s simple, really.

Taking the time to understand different belief systems and ways of life—whether defined by geography, profession, lifestyle or age—will enhance our experiences at home, in the workplace and beyond. And just as our parents were perpetually perplexed about us, we may not always identify with the youth of today. But we can’t get enough of them either.

Yes, it is easy to fall under Cooke’s spell—her passion, vision, energy and intellectual fountain of youth. Her natural, evocative charm can easily become like a drug for the aging soul.

Of course, leave it to author, adventurer, educator and Millennial superstar Julia Cooke to also suggest timeless advice for all culture-conscious collaborators. If you wish to assimilate, contribute, produce and profit: “Don’t be a tourist; be one of the locals.” Sometimes, inspiration is as easy as 1-2-3., publicist, business humoristprofessional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.

Photos: TOP — Randall Kenneth Jones and Julia Cooke; Photo #2 — Julia Cooke; Photo #3 — “The Other Side of Paradise” by Julia Cooke; BOTTOM — Randall Kenneth Jones.