This is part of my “Working with Global Teams” series.
I’ve been reading Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers“. In part of it, he delves into a study that a dutchman had done into different cultures.
I found this fascinating and looked into it further. The dutchman was Geert Hofstede and he had built a model that described different cultures using six different dimensions.
Now – ever since moving to a foreign country, and then starting work for an international company, I have been trying to find a way that would help me understand, and to describe, the differences in the cultures of the people I live with, and work with.
And, it seems that Hofstede’s model certainly helped with that.
The six dimensions are:
- Power distance index (PDI): This dimension refers to how people perceive those with power. For example – is the head of the country honoured and revered, or seen as “no different than us”.
- Individualism (IDV) vs. collectivism: – “The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups”.
- Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI): – Best summed up as “how many rules and regulations are in place to ensure that things happen as they should.”
- Masculinity (MAS), vs. femininity: Is there a big difference between what are perceived as the “male” role, and the “female” role.
- Long term orientation (LTO), vs. short term orientation: – This dimension measures how much importance a culture puts on “the future”, as opposed to how important they hold onto traditions, and the past.
- Indulgence, vs. restraint: Hedonistic behaviour, or not.
This made it so clear for me – looking at the different cultures I have lived in, as well as the different cultures I have worked with, I was able to finally get some clarity on how the cultures differed. To be able to categorize behaviours I had seen.
Hofstede’s work is still widely use, and very relevant. In fact, here is a quote from wikipedia:
Why is it important to be aware of cultural differences?
“Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster.”
Despite the evidence that groups are different from each other, we tend to believe that deep inside all people are the same. In fact, as we are generally not aware of other countries’ cultures, we tend to minimize cultural differences. This leads to misunderstandings and misinterpretations between people from different countries.
Instead of the convergence phenomena we expected with information technologies availability (the “global village culture”), cultural differences are still significant today and diversity tends to increase. So, in order to be able to have cross-cultural relations, we have to be aware of these cultural differences.
With his five (the Indulgence dimension was added recently) dimensions model, Geert Hofstede has lighted on these differences. Therefore, it is a great tool to use in order to have a general overview and an approximate understanding of other cultures and, to know how to behave towards individuals from other countries. Because, we still need to cooperate with members of other cultures, and maybe more than ever with the new problems which have arisen for several decades like environmental issues. Therefore cross-cultural understanding is indispensable.
Geert Hofstede has a site where you can compare two cultures against each other, as well as learn more. Go and see how much difference there is between the cultures. (http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_dimensions.php?culture1=&culture2=7#compare)
Other great references:
- Wikipedia’s description of Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers”
- Malcolm Gladwell on his book “Outliers”
- Geert Hostede’s site
- Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory (Wikipedia)
- An overview of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions on Mindtools.com
- Beyond your borders: Overcoming cultural differences that so often cause conflict (globaleduc.wordpress.com)
- Redefining the U.S. Hispanic Consumer (jakebeniflah.wordpress.com)
- Outliers: Malcolm Gladwell’s Success Story (time.com)