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Introduction to Cultures and Organisations by Geert Hofsteede

Every person carries patterns of thinking, feeling and acting that were learned throughout his or her lifetime. Much of this mental programming is acquired in early childhood, when a person is most open to learning and assimilating. Once a pattern establishes itself in a persons mind, he or she must unlearn it before learning something different, and unlearning is far more difficult that the initial learning. The sources of ones mental programs lie within the social environments in which one grew up and collected life experiences. It starts in the family, continues in the neighborhood, at school, in youth groups, at the work place, and in the community. A customary term for this collective mental software is culture. This word has many meanings. In most Western languages, culture often means civilisation -- or refinement of the mind -- and the results of such refinement, such as education, art and literature. This is culture in its narrow sense; I sometimes call it culture 1. Culture as mental software, however, corresponds to a much broader use of the word, which I call culture 2. Culture (2) is always a collective phenomenon, because it is shared with people who live or lived within the same social environment. It is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another. Culture is learned, not inherited. It comes from ones social roots, not from ones genes. Three Levels of Uniqueness in Mental Programming Culture is different from human nature genetic programming -- or personality individual expression of ones thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Unique to Individual Personality Specific to group or category

Inherited and learned




Human Nature


Cultural Differences At the level of culture, groups and categories of humans are very different, but there are no scientific standards for considering any group as intrinsically superior or inferior to another. Cultural relativism means that one should suspend judgement when dealing with societies different from ones own. They are not low or noble, evil or good, right or wrong, abnormal or normal, irrational or rational. From outside, one has no standing to judge, because one is not a participant or member in the culture. One can and should apply these questions to ones own culture, however, where one is a member and actor. Before entering another society, one must thoroughly understand his or her own -- the dominant features of ones mental programming and its consequences on others. In particular, people who are professionally involved in another society may deplore certain traits of the other culture, and may want to induce changes. In colonial days, foreigners held absolute power in other societies and could impose their own rules often destroying the very foundations of the group of people they thought to improve. These days, foreigners who want to change something in another society must negotiate their interventions. These negotiations are more likely to succeed when the parties understand and completely respect the reasons for their differences.

Introduction to Culture by Bob Ward

Layers of Culture Symbols, Language, Behaviour Heroes, Goals, Ambitions Rituals, Norms, Beliefs Values and Myth


Preparation. Make some quick notes from your own experience. What do you think are some characteristics of YOUR society that are so fundamental that you would call them cultural? At the external, visible level of behaviour, relationships, language and symbols?

At the motivational level of freedom, responsibility, goals, ambitions and heroes?

At the psychological level of cherished beliefs, norms, rituals, mantras and taboos?

At the core level of values, myths and legends (why we are who we are)?

Understanding the differences in the way leaders and their followers think, feel and act is a condition for bringing about worldwide solutions that work. One reason that so many solutions cannot be implemented is because differences in the partners have been ignored. Understanding such differences is at least as important as understanding the technical or financial factors. -- Geert Hofstede