Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind: Software for the Mind

Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind: Software for the Mind

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by Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede

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The landmark study of cultural differences across 70 nations, Cultures and Organizations helps readers look at how they think—and how they fail to think—as members of groups. Based on decades of painstaking field research, this new edition features the latest scientific results published in Geert Hofstede’s scholarly work Culture’s


The landmark study of cultural differences across 70 nations, Cultures and Organizations helps readers look at how they think—and how they fail to think—as members of groups. Based on decades of painstaking field research, this new edition features the latest scientific results published in Geert Hofstede’s scholarly work Culture’s Consequences, Second Edition. Original in thought and profoundly important, Cultures and Organizations offers vital knowledge and insight on issues that will shape the future of cultures and nations in a globalized world.

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Cultures and Organizations

Software of the Mind


Copyright © 2005 Geert Hofstede BV
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-07-150568-0

Chapter One

Introduction: The Rules of the Social Game

11th juror: (rising) "I beg pardon, in discussing ..."

10th juror: (interrupting and mimicking) "I beg pardon. What are you so goddam polite about?"

11th juror: (looking straight at the 10th juror) "For the same reason you're not. It's the way I was brought up."

—REGINALD ROSE, Twelve Angry Men, 1955

Twelve Angry Men is an American theater piece that became a famous motion picture, starring Henry Fonda. The play was published in 1955. The scene consists of the jury room of a New York court of law. Twelve jury members who had never met before have to decide unanimously on the guilt or innocence of a boy from a slum area who has been accused of murder. The quote just given is from the second and final act when emotions have reached the boiling point. It is a confrontation between the tenth juror, a garage owner, and the eleventh juror, a European-born, probably Austrian, watchmaker. The tenth juror is irritated by what he sees as the excessively polite manners of the other man. But the watchmaker cannot behave otherwise. After many years in his new home country, he still behaves the way he was raised. He carries within himself an indelible pattern of behavior.

Different Minds but Common Problems

The world is full of confrontations between people, groups, and nations who think, feel, and act differently. At the same time, these people, groups, and nations, just like our twelve angry men, are exposed to common problems that demand cooperation for their solution. Ecological, economic, political, military, hygienic, and meteorologic developments do not stop at national or regional borders. Coping with the threats of nuclear warfare, global warming, organized crime, poverty, terrorism, ocean pollution, extinction of animals, AIDS, or a worldwide recession demands cooperation of opinion leaders from many countries. They in turn need the support of broad groups of followers in order to implement the decisions taken.

Understanding the differences in the ways these leaders and their followers think, feel, and act is a condition for bringing about worldwide solutions that work. Questions of economic, technological, medical, or biological cooperation have too often been considered as merely technical. One of the reasons why so many solutions do not work or cannot be implemented is because differences in thinking among the partners have been ignored.

The objective of this book is to help in dealing with the differences in thinking, feeling, and acting of people around the globe. It will show that although the variety in people's minds is enormous, there is a structure in this variety that can serve as a basis for mutual understanding.

Culture as Mental Programming

Every person carries within him- or herself patterns of thinking, feeling, and potential acting that were learned throughout their lifetime. Much of it has been acquired in early childhood, because at that time a person is most susceptible to learning and assimilating. As soon as certain patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting have established themselves within a person's mind, he or she must unlearn these before being able to learn something different, and unlearning is more difficult than learning for the first time.

Using the analogy of the way computers are programmed, this book will call such patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting mental programs, or, as per this book's subtitle, software of the mind. This does not mean, of course, that people are programmed the way computers are. A person's behavior is only partially predetermined by her or his mental programs: she or he has a basic ability to deviate from them and to react in ways that are new, creative, destructive, or unexpected. The software of the mind that this book is about only indicates what reactions are likely and understandable, given one's past.

The sources of one's mental programs lie within the social environments in which one grew up and collected one's life experiences. The programming starts within the family; it continues within the neighborhood, at school, in youth groups, at the workplace, and in the living community. The European watchmaker from the quote at the beginning of this chapter came from a country and a social class in which polite behavior is still at a premium today. Most people in that environment would have reacted as he did. The American garage owner, who worked his way up from the slums, acquired quite different mental programs. Mental programs vary as much as the social environments in which they were acquired.

A customary term for such mental software is culture. This word has several meanings, all derived from its Latin source, which refers to the tilling of the soil. In most Western languages culture commonly means "civilization" or "refinement of the mind" and, in particular, the results of such refinement, including education, art, and literature. This is culture in the narrow sense. Culture as mental software, however, corresponds to a much broader use of the word that is common among sociologists and, especially, anthropologists; it is this meaning that will be used throughout this book.

Social (or cultural) anthropology is the science of human societies—in particular (although not only), traditional or "primitive" ones. In social anthropology, culture is a catchword for all those patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting referred to in the previous paragraphs. Not only activities supposed to refine the mind are included, but also the ordinary and menial things in life—for example, greeting, eating, showing or not showing feelings, keeping a certain physical distance from others, making love, or maintaining body hygiene.

Culture is always a collective phenomenon, because it is at least partly shared with people who live or lived within the same social environment, which is where it was learned. Culture consists of the unwritten rules of the social game. It is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others.

Culture is learned, not innate. It derives from one's social environment rather than from one's genes. Culture should be distinguished from human nature on one side and from an individual's personality on the other (see Figure 1.1), although exactly where the borders lie between nature and culture, and between culture and personality, is a matter of discussion among social scientists.

Human nature is what all human beings, from the Russian professor to the Australian Aborigine, have in common: it represents the universal level in one's mental software. It is inherited within one's genes; again using the computer analogy, it is the "operating system" that determines one's physical and basic psychological functioning. The human ability to feel fear, anger, love, joy, sadness, shame; the need to associate with others and to play and exercise oneself; and the facility to observe the environment and to talk about it with other humans all belong to this level of mental programming. However, what one does with these feelings, how one expresses fear, joy, observations, and so on, is modified by culture.

The personality of an individual, on the other hand, is her or his unique personal set of mental programs that needn't be shared with any other human being. It is based on traits that are partly inherited within the individual's unique set of genes and partly learned. Learned means modified by the influence of collective programming (culture) as well as by unique personal experiences.

Cultural traits have often been attributed to heredity, because philosophers and other scholars in the past did not know how to otherwise explain the remarkable stability of differences in culture patterns among human groups. They underestimated the impact of learning from previous generations and of teaching to a future generation what one has learned oneself. The role of heredity is exaggerated in pseudotheories of race, which have been responsible for, among other things, the Holocaust organized by the Nazis during World War II. Ethnic strife is often justified by unfounded arguments of cultural superiority and inferiority.

In the United States there have been periodic scientific discussions on whether certain ethnic groups (in particular, blacks) could be genetically less intelligent than others (in particular, whites). The arguments used for genetic differences, by the way, make Asians in the United States on average more intelligent than whites. It is extremely difficult if not impossible, however, to find tests of intelligence that are culture free. Such tests should reflect only innate abilities and be insensitive to differences in the social environment. In the United States a larger share of blacks than of whites has grown up in socially disadvantaged circumstances, which is a cultural influence no test known to us can circumvent. The same logic applies to differences in intelligence between ethnic groups in other countries.

Cultural Relativism

In daily conversations, in political discourse, and in the media that feed them, alien cultures are often pictured in moral terms, as better or worse. Yet there are no scientific standards for considering the ways of thinking, feeling, and acting of one group as intrinsically superior or inferior to those of another.

Studying differences in culture among groups and societies presupposes a neutral vantage point, a position of cultural relativism. A great French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss (born 1908), has expressed it as follows:

Cultural relativism affirms that one culture has no absolute criteria for judging the activities of another culture as "low" or "noble." However, every culture can and should apply such judgment to its own activities, because its members are actors as well as observers.

Cultural relativism does not imply normlessness for oneself, nor for one's society. It does call for suspending judgment when dealing with groups or societies different from one's own. One should think twice before applying the norms of one person, group, or society to another. Information about the nature of the cultural differences between societies, their roots, and their consequences should precede judgment and action.

Even after having been informed, the foreign observer is still likely to deplore certain ways of the other society. If professionally involved in the other society—for example, as an expatriate manager or development cooperation expert—she or he may very well want to induce changes. In colonial days foreigners often wielded absolute power in other societies, and they could impose their rules on it. In these postcolonial days foreigners who want to change something in another society will have to negotiate their interventions. Negotiation again is more likely to succeed when the parties concerned understand the reasons for the differences in viewpoints.

Symbols, Heroes, Rituals, and Values

Cultural differences manifest themselves in several ways. From the many terms used to describe manifestations of culture, the following four together cover the total concept rather neatly: symbols, heroes, rituals, and values. Figure 1.2 depicts these terms as the skins of an onion: symbols represent the most superficial and values the deepest manifestations of culture, with heroes and rituals in between.

Symbols are words, gestures, pictures, or objects that carry a particular meaning only recognized as such by those who share the culture. The words in a language or jargon belong to this category, as do dress, hair-styles, flags, and status symbols. New symbols are easily developed and old ones disappear; symbols from one cultural group are regularly copied by others. This is why symbols have been put into the outermost (superficial) layer of Figure 1.2.

Heroes are persons, alive or dead, real or imaginary, who possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture and thus serve as models for behavior. Even Barbie, Batman, or, as a contrast, Snoopy in the United States, Asterix in France, or Ollie B. Bommel (Mr. Bumble) in the Netherlands have served as cultural heroes. In this age of television, outward appearances have become more important than they were before in the choice of heroes.

Rituals are collective activities, technically superfluous to reaching desired ends, but which within a culture are considered as socially essential. They are therefore carried out for their own sake. Examples include ways of greeting and paying respect to others, as well as social and religious ceremonies. Business and political meetings organized for seemingly rational reasons often serve mainly ritual purposes, such as reinforcing group cohesion or allowing the leaders to assert themselves. Rituals include discourse, the way language is used in text and talk, in daily interaction, and in communicating beliefs.

In Figure 1.2 symbols, heroes, and rituals have been subsumed under the term practices. As such they are visible to an outside observer; their cultural meaning, however, is invisible and lies precisely and only in the way these practices are interpreted by the insiders.

The core of culture according to Figure 1.2 is formed by values. Values are broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others. Values are feelings with an arrow to it: a plus and a minus side. They deal with:

* Evil versus good

* Dirty versus clean

* Dangerous versus safe

* Forbidden versus permitted

* Decent versus indecent

* Moral versus immoral

* Ugly versus beautiful

* Unnatural versus natural

* Abnormal versus normal

* Paradoxical versus logical

* Irrational versus rational

Values are acquired early in our lives. Contrary to most animals, humans at birth are incompletely equipped for life. Fortunately our human physiology provides us with a receptive period of some ten to twelve years, a period in which we can quickly and largely unconsciously absorb necessary information from our environment. This includes symbols (such as language), heroes (such as our parents), and rituals (such as toilet training), and most importantly it includes our basic values. At the end of this period, we gradually switch to a different, conscious way of learning, focusing primarily on new practices. The process is pictured in Figure 1.3.

Culture Reproduces Itself

Remember being a small child. How did you acquire your values? The first years are gone from your memory, but they are influential. Did you move about on your mother's hip or on her back all day? Did you sleep with her or with your siblings? Or were you kept in your own cot, pram, or crib? Did both your parents handle you, or only your mother, or other persons? Was there noise or silence around you? Did you see taciturn people, laughing ones, playing ones, working ones, tender or violent ones? What happened when you cried?

Then, memories begin. Who were your models, and what was your aim in life? Quite probably, your parents or elder siblings were your heroes and you tried to imitate them. You learned which things were dirty and bad and how to be clean and good. For instance, you learned rules about what is clean and dirty about bodily functions including spitting, eating with your left hand, blowing your nose, defecating, or belching in public and about gestures such as touching various parts of your body or exposing them while sitting or standing. You learned how bad it was to break rules. You learned how much initiative you were supposed to take and how close you were supposed to be to people, and you learned whether you were a boy or a girl, who else was also a boy or a girl, and what that implied.

Then when you were a child of perhaps six to twelve, schoolteachers and classmates, sports and TV idols, national or religious heroes entered your world as new models. You imitated now one, then another. Parents, teachers, and others rewarded or punished you for your behavior. You learned whether it was good or bad to ask questions, to speak up, to fight, to cry, to work hard, to lie, to be impolite. You learned when to be proud and when to be ashamed. You also exercised politics, especially with your age-mates: How to make friends? Is it possible to rise in the hierarchy? How? Who owes what to whom?

In your teenage years, your attention shifted to others your age. You were intensely concerned with your gender identity and with forming relationships with peers. Depending on the society in which you lived, you spent your time mainly with your own sex or with mixed sexes. You may have intensely admired some of your peers.

Later you may have chosen a partner, probably using criteria similar to other young people in your country. You may have had children—and then the cycle starts again.


Excerpted from Cultures and Organizations by GEERT HOFSTEDE GERT JAN HOFSTEDE Copyright © 2005 by Geert Hofstede BV. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Geert Hofstede (Netherlands) is professor emeritus of organizational anthropology and international management at the University of Limburg, in Maastricht, where he is the founder and director of the Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation.

Gert-Jan Hofstede (Netherlands) is a Ph.D. and a professor at Wageningen University.

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Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Lolzy More than 1 year ago
Hofstede is, of course, the pioneer of culture studies in business and organizations. This book is a simpler and more accessible version of the more comprehensive - but also more difficult, 'Culture's Consequences'. He begins with an excellent overview of culture and its levels and explains the concept of cultural `dimensions' - aspects of culture that can differentiate and measure differences among different cultural groups. The book then proceeds to present the four dimensions of culture that he identified as a result of a massive survey he conducted on IBM employees in 72 countries in 1968 and again in 1972. Additional data was later collected from other countries and populations, outside IBM, and used to verify and enhance the original results. However, in this book, Hofstede discusses his four original dimensions of culture: Power Distance; Uncertainty Avoidance; Individualism & Collectivism; and finally Masculinity & Femininity. The fifth dimension which was later added based on results from the Far East and Asia - Long- versus Short-Term Orientation - is not discussed in this book. Despite that, it remains a very valuable and highly readable introduction to the topic from the man who pioneered the field and popularized it among business people, multinationals and business researchers alike. Hofstede also uses these dimensions of culture to 'classify' organizations to different types according to where they fall on the Power Distance vs. Uncertainty Avoidance grid. The discussion is highly informative and touches on Mintzberg's theories as well typical models of organization in different cultures. In Part Four, he discusses how intercultural encounters are affected by these dimensions and how awareness and acceptance of these differences can yield more effective results.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a pioneering book, which provides a generalist approach to dealing with cross-cultural issues with many excellent examples. Hofstede was one of the first to bring the study of how culture affects human interaction into the field of business. The quantifying approach is very similar that cultural anthropologists use. As with all pioneering works there is some criticism about conflict resolution as other reviewers have pointed out. Another central criticisms of this model has been that nation state and culture are always presumed to be the same. Local culture does not follow political boundaries. Some readers might be tempted to think of people in simple categories, which is precisely what Hofstede counsels that we should attempt to avoid. Cultures and organizations gives good insights on how 'Groupthink' controls our lives and how we could improve interaction. This is a good book for international managers and students of culture.