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@Clues 2024
"Culture is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group of people from another."
Geert Hofstede

Who is Geert Hofstede?

Geert Hofstede was a Dutch social psychologist who is best known for his research on cultural dimensions and their impact on behavior in organizations. His work has had a significant influence on the field of cross-cultural psychology and has helped organizations to better understand cultural differences when doing business across borders.

Hofstede was born in 1928 in the Netherlands and initially studied mechanical engineering. However, he became interested in the social sciences and eventually earned a PhD in social psychology. After completing his studies, he worked for IBM in the Netherlands, where he was responsible for personnel research.

During his time at IBM, Hofstede conducted a study of over 100,000 IBM employees from 50 countries, which led him to identify five dimensions of culture: power distance, individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation. He then developed a survey tool called the "Culture Dimensions Survey" to measure these dimensions in different cultures.

Hofstede's work has been used extensively by multinational companies to help them understand cultural differences and work more effectively across borders. One anecdote from Hofstede's life is that he once presented his research to a group of Japanese managers, who were skeptical of his findings. However, after they saw the results of the survey and how accurately it reflected their own culture, they became enthusiastic supporters of Hofstede's work.

Hofstede's work has been widely cited in academic literature, and his book "Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values" has been translated into many languages. He received numerous awards for his contributions to the field of cross-cultural psychology, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology. Hofstede passed away in 2020 at the age of 91, but his legacy continues to influence cross-cultural understanding and cooperation.

What were his core ideas and contributions?

Here are some of his main ideas and contributions:

Cultural dimensions: Hofstede's most significant contribution is the identification of five cultural dimensions that help explain cross-cultural differences. These dimensions are power distance, individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation. Power distance refers to how people in a society view unequal distribution of power, while individualism-collectivism describes the extent to which people prioritize individual versus group needs. Masculinity-femininity describes the degree to which a society values traditional masculine or feminine roles, while uncertainty avoidance describes the level of comfort people have with ambiguity and risk. Long-term orientation refers to a society's focus on future rewards and planning.

Culture and organizations: his research also explored how cultural dimensions impact organizational behavior. For example, he found that people from individualistic cultures tend to prioritize personal achievement over group goals, while people from collectivistic cultures value harmony and cooperation. He also found that cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to prefer rules and procedures to manage risk, while those with low uncertainty avoidance are more comfortable with ambiguity and innovation.

Cultural models: Hofstede's work has contributed to the development of cultural models that help organizations understand and manage cultural differences. These models include the cultural iceberg model, which describes how culture is like an iceberg with visible and hidden elements, and the cultural onion model, which describes how culture has multiple layers that impact behavior.

Cross-cultural communication: Hofstede's work has helped organizations to develop effective cross-cultural communication strategies. For example, he emphasizes the importance of understanding cultural differences in communication styles, such as high-context versus low-context communication.

National culture: Hofstede's research emphasizes the importance of national culture in shaping behavior and attitudes. He argues that culture is deeply ingrained in individuals and can impact everything from communication styles to leadership preferences.

How might I apply his ideas to myself?

To apply Hofstede's ideas to better work with coworkers from multiple nationalities, you can begin by assessing your own cultural values and how they may differ from those of your colleagues. This can help you understand how your own cultural biases may influence your interactions with others and how you can adapt your behavior to better work with people from different backgrounds.

For example, if you come from a culture with a high power distance, you may be used to respecting authority and hierarchy. However, if you are working with colleagues from a culture with a lower power distance, they may prefer a more egalitarian approach to teamwork. By being aware of these differences and adapting your communication style, you can avoid misunderstandings and build more effective working relationships. A concrete example stems from my time working with Japanese entrepreneur's in Tokyo's tech hub. They asked me to share some of the culture values from popular American technology companies. I mentioned Facebook's early company value of "Move fast and break things" and was met with a round of raised eyebrows and worried groans. That mentality is completely out of touch with the Japanese work culture that I experienced, which instead emphasized precision and craftsmanship.

You can also use Hofstede's cultural dimensions to better understand your colleagues' cultural values and how they may impact their behavior. For instance, if you are working with someone from a collectivistic culture, they may prioritize the needs of the group over individual achievements.

Additionally, you can use Hofstede's cultural models, such as the cultural iceberg or onion model, to better understand the hidden or underlying cultural elements that may impact your interactions with others. For instance, if you are working with someone from a culture with a high-context communication style, you may need to pay attention to nonverbal cues or implied meanings that are not explicitly stated in their messages.

Writing, Interviews, Research, and Lectures

Here are Geert Hofstede's most important books, research, and essays:

There's also a handful of brief but informative videos from Geert himself on Youtube.

Other figures you may be interested in

Here are a few figures similar to Geert Hofstede, who have also made significant contributions to the field of cross-cultural psychology:

  • Fons Trompenaars: Trompenaars is a Dutch author and consultant who has also developed a model for understanding cross-cultural differences. His model includes seven dimensions of culture, which explore differences in communication style, attitudes toward time, and attitudes toward authority.
  • Edward T. Hall: Hall was an American anthropologist who is known for his work on cultural dimensions and intercultural communication. His book "The Silent Language" introduced the concept of high-context and low-context cultures, which has become a standard framework for understanding communication styles.
  • Richard Nisbett: Nisbett is an American social psychologist who has conducted research on cultural differences in cognition and perception. His book "The Geography of Thought" explores how cultural differences can influence thinking styles and problem-solving strategies.
  • Harry C. Triandis: Triandis was a Greek-American psychologist who developed a model for understanding cross-cultural differences called the "Subjective Culture." His model explores the ways in which individuals within a culture may have different values and attitudes, and how these differences can impact behavior.
  • Shalom H. Schwartz: Schwartz is an Israeli social psychologist who has developed a model for understanding cultural values called the "Theory of Basic Human Values." His model includes ten basic values, such as power, achievement, and tradition, which he argues are universally important but may be prioritized differently across cultures.