Crash Course in Culture, Innovation and Individuality

Space Walk

Its been said that;

“globalization is the merging of economies”

But in order to effectively merge economies you will need to understand one and other.

Globalization is not a recent phenomena. You could go back as far as Marco Polo and even farther than that. Perhaps the Dutch laid down some of the most important recent milestones several hundred years ago along with several other sea fairing nations of that time. The trade between nations had started to become common practice. But this also brought about new problems/opportunities as well. These were not just logistic nor linguistic but also cultural.

Understanding someone else typically involves understanding yourself first. Yet culture can be a difficult thing to pin down in terms of its definition. Sure you can define the word “culture” but its a lot harder to define culture of “a” particular nation or “a” people.

Culture is something that “goes with saying”, it’s there, it’s so second nature that you are in most cases unaware of its influence on just about everything about you. Hence, its something very personal and attempting to define it can be met with great resistance for a lot of different reasons.

Yet there are certain examination tools, concepts available which can shed some light about who you are culturally. These are by no means exhaustive. But they are intrinsic enough to gain a better understanding. An understanding about your cultural competency as well as becoming aware about your cultural incompetency within a foreign culture.

It’s recently been said that these cultural examination tools are outdated and no longer applicable since we are living in a globalizing world. The tools stem from the world of yesteryear. National culture is progressively becoming a blurred mechanism. True. But disposing these tools as outdated is stating that you do not understand their true value.

Globalization is certainly blurring cultural borders. But its having an equal and opposite reaction as well. An unclear future and economic turn-down as well as culture shock on a world scale is also causing many people to retreat in order to rediscover their national identity. Norms and values (a cultural component) is being placed forward with great force in many nations.

But these arguments don’t render these culture examination tools outdated. Especially now, they are more important than ever. National culture is not something that can be easily pushed aside. And, these examination tools provide a very important insight about our cultural individuality and identity.

We like to think of ourselves as individuals. While that may be true to some extent, relatively speaking, our cultural and biological elements far exceeds our individuality. To me, the distinctiveness of our individuality is not in what we do nor in what we have achieved. Instead it’s about how conscious, self-aware we are about ourselves, our cultural competencies and, more importantly, our awareness of our cultural incompetency as individuals. “I think, therefore I am” gains added meaning.

Tools of Trade and Interaction

So what are these cultural examination tools exactly?

There are a vast number of definitions for culture. However like language is a tool to receive, process and convey information, using verbal and written symbols, so is culture a tool on how to do this in a socially correct and synergistic manner. Culture works much like a personal OS making sure things are managed correctly and with the least amount of conflict.

A nation’s culture most always parallels their identity and history. Very simply stated, culture incorporates problem-solving techniques that have been incorporated into social mechanisms to survive in a particular environment in its entirety. This includes everything from its landscape to its people. And, here resides the significance of attempting to find correlation between culture, innovation and individuality. Since culture is a problem solving technique it inherently includes innovation properties which relate to solving things as an individual.

The Dutch engineer Geert Hofstede established a more in-depth as well as an applicable definition of culture. More precisely, he defined and categorized the “differences” between cultures. Hence the “soft” definition of a nations culture actually resides in its differences between other cultures.

Hofstede established 4 (now 5) quantifiable dimensions to represent these cultural differences. This definition can be applied to all existing cultures to provide more deterministic insight about what can be said about a people. The 4 dimensions include:

  • Power Distance Index (PDI). Relates to social equality, or inequality, between people of a particular society. Japan, for instance has a high Power Distance rating indicating that there is greater social distance between people of different social status. Mobility is more difficult upward the social ladder. However people can, more or less, bypass social rank through personal relationship. A low Power Distance ranking indicates fewer barriers between vertical social statuses. However bureaucracy is usually higher to compensate.
  • Individualism Index (ICI). Pertains to interpersonal relationship and to either an individual or a collective manner of working to meet goals. Individualistic societies tend to have many loose relationships with others while collective societies tend to share responsibility for each other with greater interpersonal bonds and correlation.
  • Masculinity Index (MFI). Masculine societies tend to focus on results and achievement rather than on the quality of life in the sense of care and equality. Holland as well as many Scandinavian countries have a low masculine rank indicating that the society is concerned more for the well-being of its people than solely their achievement. It should be clear now why Volvo focuses on safety and family type cars (Low MFI). It should also be clear why German and Italian cars focus on performance and strength (High MFI).
  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI). Pertains to the level of retreating from entering unfamiliar situations. Low Uncertainty Avoidance societies tend to be more reactive in their problem solving techniques. They are more solution oriented rather than focusing on first clearly defining the problem to determine what solution best fits. However they will more easily except diverse opinions and move into new areas. High Uncertainty Avoidance societies tend to be more preventive and rule orientated. In order to gain certainty they will examine all possible areas to reduce failure. Japan is a very good example of high uncertainty avoidance culture. And, the integration of the Deming cycle may be one of the most important reasons for their industrial success.

More about culture? See the article on the relationship between culture and innovation.

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Personal: Multi-cultural background. Professional: Technology and Business. Activities and Interests: Business, Philosophy, Culture, Technology, Projects, Passions

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