15 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 4

Still here? Fantastic, this post will be brief but very important.

Today I discuss arguably the most famous (certainly the most cited) anthropologist in the field. Geert Hofstede is known for his positive approach to culture which is captured nicely in the quote "Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster."

I was privileged to attend a lecture by Mr Hofstede at Melbourne University a few years ago. He is an excellent speaker and ran an extended question time afterwards which I really appreciated. I asked him how he felt about some of his followers that apply his theories to groups smaller than nations or people groups. His response was interesting. He pointed out that his Cultural Dimensions should never be applied to groups of less than 5000 people and referred to these students as “wayward sheep”.

That said, if you haven’t heard about Hofstede’s dimensions I encourage you to spend a little time on his site and learn about them so you can be aware of their power at the international (especially marketing) level and problems when applied to smaller groups.

3. The problem with the solution (part 2)
Hofstede
Geert Hofstede is one of the most widely cited anthropologists in the last 30 years. His studies of international cultures beginning with IBM have led to models of cultural development and human mental programming that are used in sales, management, economics and the social sciences (Hofstede, 2005).

His pragmatic, “broad-stroke” style acknowledges the interplay of the brain’s learning capability with culture – which he defines as a society’s “collective programming of the mind” (Hofstede, 1984, p.13). However he greatly simplifies these interplays (perhaps this is his appeal?) in favour of more empirical models by stating “It is possible that our mental programs are physically determined by states of our brain cells. Nevertheless, we cannot directly observe mental programs. What we can observe is…words and deeds.” (Ibid, p.14)

As a behaviourist, he avoids the positivist fallacy when relating values to behaviour, however his repeated claims that culture may only ever be used in relation to nations has been often ignored by his followers {e.g. “Culture shapes the core values and norms of its members.” (Erez and Gati, 2004)}, and his own leanings are exposed when he states that “the more accurately we know a person’s mental programming…the more sure our prediction [of future behaviour] will be.” (Hofstede, 1984, p.14)

We would do well to beware of similar fallacies when investigating an organisation’s culture and not presume to understand an individual’s behaviours or motivations based on prevalent mental models observed in the group.

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