Cultures and Organizations | Geert Hofstede

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


Dive into ‘Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind’ to explore the fascinating world of cultural differences and their impact on human behavior. This book, authored by Geert Hofstede, reveals the essential elements of culture, such as power distance, individualism, masculinity/femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term versus short-term orientation. You’ll discover how these dimensions shape the way people think, feel, and act, and how understanding them is crucial to fostering successful cross-cultural interactions. Get ready to embark on an enlightening journey that will not only deepen your appreciation for the richness of human diversity but also equip you with the tools to navigate a multicultural world.

The Power of Culture

The author recounts Owen James Stevens’ experiment where he observed how students from different European countries tackled the same problem. Though not scientific, the experiment’s results were revealing. Stevens’ findings suggested that people from different nations approach problem-solving differently and that culture plays a fundamental role in shaping these behaviors. The dominant characteristics that give rise to our attitudes and actions come from culture, which is mutually shared, learned, and persistent. Culture then becomes a mental program that operates on our mental hardware, influencing our behavior, personality, and perception of the world around us. This summary emphasizes the importance of understanding cultural nuances when engaging with people from different backgrounds.

The Dimensions of Cultural Differences

The world is an intricate mosaic of different cultures, each possessing unique symbols, heroes, rituals, and values. When studying culture, social scientists face the challenge of selecting relevant dimensions to measure. To address this, they look at common problems faced by social groups worldwide, including an individual’s relationship to authority, concepts of self, and conflict resolution. Through this problem-based approach, five dimensions of cultural difference emerge. These dimensions highlight the fascinating variations in beliefs and behaviors that make our world culturally rich and diverse.

Power Distance in Cultural Differences

The concept of power distance refers to the emotional distance between superiors and inferiors. In some countries, people accept unequal distribution of power while in others, they don’t. This was illustrated in the case of King Charles XIV, who as a Frenchman, was shocked by the lack of deference shown by Swedish parliamentarians. The power distance index (PDI) measures the degree of acceptance of inequality, and its scores range from 11 to 104. Countries such as Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Israel, and Austria, which prefer a consultative management style, have a low index, while Malaysia, several Latin American countries, some Arab countries, and France have a high PDI. This preference for a more paternalistic and autocratic boss is explained by factors such as family structure and socialization. The author emphasizes that cultural differences mostly reside in practices than values, and what is an asset in one purpose may be a liability for another.

Individualism vs Collectivism

In most societies, group interests take precedence over individual interests. However, a small minority of people live in individualistic societies where individual interests are more important. The individualism index (IDV) has been used to quantify the degree of individualism in various countries, with the United States having the highest score of 91. Latin American countries tend to be more collectivist, while countries like Jamaica, Iran, and Japan fall in the middle. The strong uncertainty avoidance sentiment in some societies emphasizes xenophobia and the fear of what is different. The roots of national scores on the IDV remain speculative.

The concept of individualism versus collectivism remains a relevant discussion in today’s globalized world. In most societies, group interests take precedence over individual interests. People in collectivist societies typically view themselves as members of groups, and their loyalty is expected in exchange for protection. On the other hand, a small minority of people live in individualistic societies, where individual interests reign supreme, and extended families are given less importance.

The individualism index (IDV) was introduced to quantify the degree of individualism across different countries. The United States tops the chart, followed by Britain and former British colonies like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. At the other end of the ranking are many Latin American countries, such as Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, and Guatemala, who are more collectivistic. Many countries occupy the middle ground, including Jamaica, Iran, and Japan.

The strong uncertainty avoidance sentiment prevalent in some societies emphasizes xenophobia, with the widespread belief that ‘what is different is dangerous.’ However, the origins of national scores on the IDV remain unknown, although high individualism correlates with high GDP and high collectivism with high birth rates.

Masculinity and Femininity in Society

When it comes to choosing between a high-paying job with career growth opportunities or a job with good relationships and job security, your decision reflects how much you value “masculinity.” In masculine societies, people are expected to prioritize earning, recognition, advancement, and competition. In contrast, feminine societies prioritize equality, modesty, and cooperation. These cultural differences are not strictly linked to gender, as masculine societies can have women scoring high in masculinity, while men in feminine societies score lower. The top masculine countries are Japan, Austria, Venezuela, Italy, and Switzerland, while the top feminine countries are Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Costa Rica. The influence of culture is strong, and no aspect of our lives is immune to it.

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