Cultures and Organizations | Geert Hofstede

Summary of: Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind
By: Geert Hofstede


Dive into the vast realm of cultural differences with Geert Hofstede’s book, ‘Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind’. This summary unfurls the intricacies of how various cultures confront common problems, manifesting in five critical dimensions: power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term versus short-term orientation. Get ready to embark on an eye-opening journey exploring the ‘mental software’ that shapes our thinking, feeling, and acting, as well as its implications in our everyday lives, from communication styles, conflict resolution, and even workplace dynamics.

Cultural Differences in Problem Solving

In the 1970s, Owen James Stevens conducted an experiment in his INSEAD business school class to test his hunch that students from different nationalities would come up with different solutions to the same problem. The experiment involved a case study where students had to diagnose and offer solutions to a problem between two managers who couldn’t get along. Most French students blamed the corporate hierarchy, while German students attributed the issue to structural problems within the company, and British students held the managers responsible and suggested they attend a negotiation class. Stevens’ experiment, while not very scientific, highlighted how people from different nations differ in predictable ways due to their culture. Culture refers to shared ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that people learn in childhood and persist into adulthood. While culture is not the sole determinant of how people act, it plays a significant role alongside human nature and personality in shaping behavior.

5 Dimensions of Cultural Difference

People across the globe exhibit cultural differences in symbols, heroes, rituals, and values. Social scientists use a problem-based approach to identify five dimensions of cultural difference that include the individual’s relation to authority, the concept of self, and conflict resolution.

Power Distance in Culture

The book explores how power distance, the emotional distance between superiors and inferiors, is viewed in different cultures. The author shares the story of King Charles XIV, a Frenchman who became a Swedish king but struggled to adapt to the Swedish way of treating inequality. The book highlights that cultural differences in power distance are mostly in practices rather than values. The book further explains how IBM researchers developed a power distance index (PDI) to quantify power distance. The PDI scores range from 104 (meaning people accept high power distance) to 11 (meaning they don’t accept much distance) and vary by country. The book examines the PDI scores for various countries and explains how they prefer specific management styles. The book considers family structures as one explanation for PDI differences. The low PDI countries such as Ireland, Denmark prefer a “consultative” management style. In contrast, high PDI countries such as Malaysia, Guatemala, Mexico prefer a more paternalistic (and autocratic) boss. The book concludes that power distance is an asset in some cultures and a liability in other cultures depending on where one wants the organization to go.

Collectivism vs Individualism

The concept of collectivism and individualism highlights the difference in priorities and loyalties among people. In collectivist societies, group interests take precedence over individual interests; people view themselves as part of a group and prioritize loyalty to their group. In contrast, individualistic societies prioritize individual interests over group interests. An individualism index (IDV) measures the degree of individualism in various countries, with the United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia topping the list as the most individualistic. In contrast, Latin American countries including Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, and Guatemala rank as the most collectivist. The origins of a nation’s score are speculative, but high individualism correlates positively with high gross domestic product (GDP), while high collectivism correlates positively with high birth rates. The concept of xenophobia is also tied to the strong uncertainty avoidance sentiment: “what is different, is dangerous”.

What Your Job Choice Reveals About You

Masculinity and Femininity in Employment

Imagine a scenario where you have two job offers, each with distinct benefits. Job A offers high earnings, recognition, promotion opportunities, challenging projects, and job satisfaction. Job B offers a great boss, cooperative colleagues, a comfortable work environment, job security, and location flexibility. Which one would you choose? According to the book summary, your answer would reveal your level of “masculinity.”

Despite gender differences, “culture” largely influences us, as evidenced by national masculinity rankings in different countries. Societies with higher masculinity (such as Japan, Austria, and Venezuela) prioritize assertiveness among men instead of women, work as the main priority, and resolve conflict through personal dominance. In contrast, feminine countries (like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark) value female traits such as modesty, equality, and conflict resolution via negotiation.

Overall, the summary highlights that the choice of job indicates a deeper social construct and shapes individuals’ sense of worth and identity.

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