Friday, November 25, 2005

Culture: Hofstede and intercultural sensitivity

Another onion. This time I read Culture and organisations, software of the mind by Geert Hofstede (I read the Dutch version: Allemaal andersdenkenden). I understand his ideas and research much better reading a full book rather than all kind of short articles. I had some questions about the fact that his research included only IBM employees, but the reason is that all other (non-cultural) factors are equalised as far as possible.

One thing I drew from the book is that the intercultural sensitivity starts with understanding your own cultural values, followed by understanding the other cultures. And that cultural integration like in international collaborations (think of mergers also) should be carefully guided, it will not be something happening automatic and if not guided can lead to lots of difficulties.

I was very happy with his warning against stereotypes, as I felt his work on national cultures could lead to stereotyping. He explains that the dimensions of national cultures are averages and can not be applied to individuals or smaller groups. Even though Japanese on average are less individualistic than American, Mr. Suzuki from Japan may be more individualistic than Mr. Jones from the USA. Also, power distance varies according to the level of education. Lower educated people had a significantly higher score on the dimension of power distance (power distance is the degree to which people expect and accept that power is unevenly distributed). Funny is also that he found a relations between power distance and geographical place (higher latitudes less power distance). Now I can see the advantage of knowing the general dimensions of a culture, so that some differences can be anticipated.

He is not of the opinion that cultures will grow closer (though with globalisation and coca cola all around it would seem easy to think so), but does think intercultural collaboration is more and more important. Since the main research took place between 1968-1972 it would be interesting to know more about how cultures evolve. (over the 4 years he did not see any evidence of converging of cultural dimensions, rather diverging).

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