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This bicyclist can teach you global skills

Let me share with you a snapshot from my life in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso – and with it a perspective of how you can apply its wisdom to your own life and business.

You might be surprised that this extraordinary bike rider can teach you a lot about tackling your toughest cross-cultural challenges. You can begin applying these lessons today to your life and business.

There is no question that the cyclist is performing a great feat. What may not be immediately obvious is the daunting round-about with erratic traffic that he is navigating nor the fact that the eight pots are hand-made pottery, not plastic. Asking me to pull this off would be a disaster waiting to happen.

The Burkinabé (as the citizens of Burkina Faso are called) are known for their resourcefulness when it comes to getting things from point A to point B. This characteristic immediately caught my attention the first week I lived here when I spotted a live goat – restrained but standing – cruise by on top of a bus making its way through the city.

Just when I think I have seen it all, something else in the busy streets of Ouagadougou catches my eye. Like this cyclist.

He is inspirational.

He unexpectedly inspired me to go beyond my current abilities – and I want the 3 lessons I drew from him to inspire you to further develop your global skills.


3 lessons for developing your global skills inspired by an extraordinary cyclist:

1 – Before you decide what is and is not possible, experiment.

Imagine the first man who rode into Ouagadougou with eight giant pots on his bike. He likely lived in a village far from the capital, where he had access to a bike and hand-crafted pots. The journey was hard and long, but he needed to feed his family. He tried to put one pot on this bike. He was successful. He tried a second, with more effort, but this worked as well. Finding a way to mount eight successfully took (as I imagine it) a lot of experimentation, the right tools and trial and error. At some point, he likely learned that nine pots was just too much. Experimentation was the key to identifying concrete limits. It was also the only way to discover that this unimaginable feat is possible. After all, calculated risk fuels skill development and innovation. The willingness and determination to experiment is a global skill that cracks open

Consider the following:

  • What potential successes are you holding yourself back from by not experimenting?
  • How could a greater spirit of experimentation serve your work and relationships across cultures better?
  • How important is skill development and innovation to you right now? Does this level of importance match up with the amount of experimenting you make room for in your life and business?
  • What is one small step you could take this week to invite more experimentation into your life and global work?

2- Mastery is achieved through supportive mentorships, successful role models and good-old-fashioned hard work.

The cyclist in my snapshot was not alone in his success. His elders had made similar achievements and were there to guide him. He noted his role models´ most successful behaviors and emulated what worked for him. He plodded forward, not giving up, putting in the necessary time and sweat until he could enjoy the fruits of his labor. Global skills, such as foreign language acquisition, negotiating across cultures, or navigating differences in power are not inborn traits. Mastering these skills involves awareness, support, relevant information and hard work.

Consider the following:

  • Do you have access to a mentor or coach who can help you anticipate and address your current cross-cultural challenges?
  • Do you have role models who have mastered the global skills you aspire to develop? These role models are human, too. How did they approach their challenges to make them successful?
  • Have you planned in sufficient time and energy to master the specific skill that is important to you right now?

3 – Extraordinary drive fuels extraordinary outcomes.

This cyclist invested time and effort to experiment and thus master this skill because it was worth it. He likely held a deep sense of urgency for him and his family at the forefront of his mind. It is this drive to make an impact for the better that creates extraordinary outcomes. When you set out to develop your global skills, getting crystal clear on your motivation will help boost your outcomes.

Consider the following:

  • What is the greater purpose behind the work you are doing right now?
  • What is the positive impact you long to make?
  • What would an extraordinary outcome look like, for you to say, “It was worth it”?

Use this image to inspire within yourself an expanded mindset. Use it to dream bigger, think broader and stretch yourself further than the day before.

If the cyclist above can manage this extraordinary feat, what are you capable of? Go find out.


Sundae Schneider-Bean is a consultant for intercultures, based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (West Africa). Sundae helps individuals meet their toughest intercultural challenges with clarity, strength and wisdom. She supports organizations committed to building globally-skilled human capital. To learn more about these issues, check out her publications on https://sundaebean.com/expat-happy-hour/


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The above article was included in our MONTH YEAR Quarterly intercultures E-Newsletter.

Photo Credit Title Photo: TBD