Fusionists (Episode 43)

Interview with Susan McKay, Chief Marketing Officer at TMF Group.


Here is a rallying call for people working with creative people from around the world: “Never mind the futurists – focus on the fusionists!”

I learned about “fusionists” from Susan McKay, Chief Marketing Officer at TMF Group.

Susan is Canadian by birth but spent 20 years living in Asia (Japan, HK, Singapore and Malaysia) and 10 years in Europe. Beyond her international work experience she has spent her life being deeply immersed in cultures other than her native one. This has meant exposure to a multitude of situations, both in business and outside, where creativity was compromised and potential for real breakthrough was sadly impeded. That got Susan thinking of how more creativity could be unleashed.

TMF Group helps its clients operate internationally and ‘belong’ wherever they are in the world. They do this by making sure they are properly set up to do business in any country and compliant with local and international regulations. Their work includes helping companies of all sizes with business services such as HR and payroll, accounting and tax, corporate secretarial, global governance and administration and fiduciary services for structured finance, private equity and real estate investments. They have more than 7,000 in-country experts in over 80 jurisdictions worldwide.

As global Cheif Marketing Officer Susan job involves a lot of communication across time zones, across borders, and across cultures. In her current job, and in previous international roles, Susan has identified that a lot of creativity gets lost in translation.

“I have often found myself being a cultural translator”, she explained to me.

In a previous role Susan noticed how British leaders, fluent in English (of course) but not fluent in communicating with non-English speakers, were not able to get their message across because subtleties were lost. Instead Susan had to step in and explain how the two sides looked at a project.

Having people from different cultures and/or backgrounds work together is one of the best ways of creating a lot of diverse creativity. Diversity creates diversity, so to speak.

But just as powerful a diverse group can be, it’s not a given that a diverse group creates amazing creativity. Very often mis-communication clogs up the potential for creativity.

But a few people seem to have the ability to bridge the gap between diverse people. It’s like they speak one more language. The unspoken language of human understanding. 

You become fluent in this language by consistently exposing yourself to people who are different than you. With a role as global manager, such as the one Susan McKay has now, this skill becomes easier due to the constant connection to people unlike herself. Morning meetings with Singapore, lunch calls with South Africa, evening calls with Brazil. All humans, all TMF employees, but all with very different cultural characteristics.

“I often find myself being a cultural translator”, Susan McKay said. “My job becomes to re-frame a problem so that different people can see it better.”

Susan reflected on how we as a species are coming together on a scale that we have never been close to before, but we are often handicapped by the language we have to communicate. Even with English being the language of global business, many people (including myself, I should add), just aren’t fluent enough in the English language to fully communicate in a way that maximises our creative abilities. We might think that we are doing ok. But the small, minute, nuances, those slight variations, those intricate details that make good ideas great is at risk at being lost in the process.

And that is a shame.

Let’s call it “Compromised Creativity.”

Compromised Creativity is all the potential human creativity that is going un-unleashed because groups communicating across cultural and linguistic barriers are not fully understanding each other.

Imagine if those ideas were not lost in translation. Imagine the potential.

So how to solve this problem? Organisations need to realise that just as a great facilitator can get a group to work together with ease, we need a special kind of facilitator who can bridge the cultural divide within the group.

And those are the people that me and Susan decided to call “Fusionists”

People who can fuse together ideas from people from different background.

People who can translate the true meaning of other people’s ideas.

The next time you have a global or international meeting, make sure you have identified and assigned at least one person who can play the role of the Fusionist.

Susan summarised our discussion around the need for fusionists:

“Imagine if you could reach a creative outcome more quickly as a result of having one or two people who can quickly grasp the essence of a concept or idea and communicate it across a diverse group. Even if they come from completely different backgrounds, industries and professions. Imagine the immense impact that could have on business – not only in terms of better ideation but also increased efficiency.“

So for any organisation out there with diverse teams: Get yourself a couple of Fusionists.




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