- Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge,
experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time,
roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions
acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group
- Culture is the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively
large group of people.
- Culture is communication, communication is culture.
- Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that
is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially
transmitted, or more briefly, behavior through social learning.
- A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the
behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about
them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the
- Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols
include a group's skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the
symbols are learned and deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions.
- Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and
for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement
of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture
consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may,
on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning
influences upon further action.
- Culture is the sum of total of the learned behavior of a
group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are
transmitted from generation to generation.
- Culture is a collective programming of the mind that
distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.
THEORY OF CULTURAL DETERMINISM
- The position that the ideas, meanings, beliefs and values people learn as members of
society determines human nature. People are what they learn. Optimistic version of
cultural determinism place no limits on the abilities of human beings to do or to be
whatever they want. Some anthropologists suggest that there is no universal "right
way" of being human. "Right way" is almost always "our way"; that
"our way" in one society almost never corresponds to "our way" in any
other society. Proper attitude of an informed human being could only be that of tolerance.
- The optimistic version of this theory postulates that human nature being infinitely
malleable, human being can choose the ways of life they prefer.
- The pessimistic version maintains that people are what they are conditioned to be; this
is something over which they have no control. Human beings are passive creatures and do
whatever their culture tells them to do. This explanation leads to behaviorism that
locates the causes of human behavior in a realm that is totally beyond human control.
- Different cultural groups think, feel, and act differently. There is no scientific
standards for considering one group as intrinsically superior or inferior to another.
Studying differences in culture among groups and societies presupposes a position of
cultural relativism. It does not imply normalcy for oneself, nor for one's society. It,
however, calls for judgment when dealing with groups or societies different from one's
own. Information about the nature of cultural differences between societies, their roots,
and their consequences should precede judgment and action. Negotiation is more likely to
succeed when the parties concerned understand the reasons for the differences in
- Ethnocentrism is the belief that one's own culture is superior to that of other
cultures. It is a form of reductionism that reduces the "other way" of life to a
distorted version of one's own. This is particularly important in case of global dealings
when a company or an individual is imbued with the idea that methods, materials, or ideas
that worked in the home country will also work abroad. Environmental differences are,
therefore, ignored. Ethnocentrism, in relation to global dealings, can be categorized as
- Important factors in business are overlooked because of the obsession with certain
cause-effect relationships in one's own country. It is always a good idea to refer to
checklists of human variables in order to be assured that all major factors have been at
least considered while working abroad.
- Even though one may recognize the environmental differences and problems associated with
change, but may focus only on achieving objectives related to the home-country. This may
result in the loss of effectiveness of a company or an individual in terms of
international competitiveness. The objectives set for global operations should also be
- The differences are recognized, but it is assumed that associated changes are so basic
that they can be achieved effortlessly. It is always a good idea to perform a cost-benefit
analysis of the changes proposed. Sometimes a change may upset important values and
thereby may face resistance from being implemented. The cost of some changes may exceed
the benefits derived from the implementation of such changes.
MANIFESTATIONS OF CULTURE
Cultural differences manifest themselves in different ways and differing levels of
depth. 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 which
is only recognized by those who share a particular culture. New symbols easily develop,
old ones disappear. Symbols from one particular group are regularly copied by others. This
is why symbols represent the outermost layer of a culture.
- Heroes are persons, past or present, real or fictitious, who possess characteristics
that are highly prized in a culture. They also serve as models for behavior.
- Rituals are collective activities, sometimes superfluous in reaching desired objectives,
but are considered as socially essential. They are therefore carried out most of the times
for their own sake (ways of greetings, paying respect to others, religious and social
- The core of a culture is formed by values. They are broad tendencies for preferences of
certain state of affairs to others (good-evil, right-wrong, natural-unnatural). Many
values remain unconscious to those who hold them. Therefore they often cannot be
discussed, nor they can be directly observed by others. Values can only be inferred from
the way people act under different circumstances.
- Symbols, heroes, and rituals are the tangible or visual aspects of the practices of a
culture. The true cultural meaning of the practices is intangible; this is revealed only
when the practices are interpreted by the insiders.
Figure 1. Manifestation of Culture at Different Levels of Depth
LAYERS OF CULTURE
People even within the same culture carry several layers of mental programming within
themselves. Different layers of culture exist at the following levels:
- The national level: Associated with the nation as a whole.
- The regional level: Associated with ethnic, linguistic, or religious differences that
exist within a nation.
- The gender level: Associated with gender differences (female vs. male)
- The generation level: Associated with the differences between grandparents and parents,
parents and children.
- The social class level: Associated with educational opportunities and differences in
- The corporate level: Associated with the particular culture of an organization.
Applicable to those who are employed.
MEASURING CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
A variable can be operationalized either by single- or composite-measure techniques. A
single-measure technique means the use of one indicator to measure the domain of a
concept; the composite-measure technique means the use of several indicators to construct
an index for the concept after the domain of the concept has been empirically sampled.
Hofstede (1997) has devised a composite-measure technique to measure cultural differences
among different societies:
- Power distance index: The index measures the degree of inequality that exists in a
- Uncertainty avoidance index: The index measures the extent to which a society feels
threatened by uncertain or ambiguous situations.
- Individualism index: The index measure the extent to which a society is individualistic.
Individualism refers to a loosely knit social framework in a society in which people are
supposed to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. The other end of
the spectrum would be collectivism that occurs when there is a tight social framework in
which people distinguish between in-groups and out-groups; they expect their in-groups
(relatives, clans, organizations) to look after them in exchange for absolute loyalty.
- Masculinity index (Achievement vs. Relationship): The index measures the extent to which the dominant values are
assertiveness, money and things (achievement), not caring for others or for quality of
life. The other
end of the spectrum would be femininity (relationship).
RECONCILIATION OF CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
- Before venturing on a global assignment, it is probably necessary to identify the
cultural differences that may exist between one's home country and the country of business
operation. Where the differences exist, one must decide whether and to what extent the
home-country practices may be adapted to the foreign environment. Most of the times the
differences are not very apparent or tangible. Certain aspects of a culture may be learned
consciously (e.g. methods of greeting people), some other differences are learned
subconsciously (e.g. methods of problem solving). The building of cultural awareness may
not be an easy task, but once accomplished, it definitely helps a job done efficiently in
a foreign environment.
- Discussions and reading about other cultures definitely helps build cultural awareness,
but opinions presented must be carefully measured. Sometimes they may represent
unwarranted stereotypes, an assessment of only a subgroup of a particular group of people,
or a situation that has since undergone drastic changes. It is always a good idea to get
varied viewpoints about the same culture.
- Some countries may share many attributes that help mold their cultures (the modifiers
may be language, religion, geographical location, etc.). Based on this data obtained from
past cross-cultural studies, countries may be grouped by similarities in values and
attitudes. Fewer differences may be expected when moving within a cluster than when moving
from one cluster to another.
Determining the extent of global involvement:
- All enterprises operating globally need not have the same degree of cultural awareness.
Figure 2 illustrates extent to which a company needs to understand global cultures at
different levels of involvement. The further a company moves out from the sole role of
doing domestic business, the more it needs to understand cultural differences. Moving
outward on more than one axis simultaneously makes the need for building cultural
awareness even more essential.
Figure 2. Cultural Awareness and Extent of Global Involvement
Hofstede, G. (1997). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the mind. New
York: McGraw Hill.
Shock Challenges Firms Looking Abroad
The U.S. construction industry has always been adept at
winning work overseas, but the lure of reconstruction contracts in places
like Afghanistan and Iraq could draw some firms in over their heads. Large
international firms have many resources to deal with the
enormous challenges of working in the global marketplace. But the massive
reconstruction of countries devastated by war could trip up the best of
Political and physical risks are the most treacherous and must be
reckoned with. Language and cultural differences can't be ignored either.
Addressing them sensibly can unlock many opportunities for success.
The U.S. government's conference on rebuilding Afghanistan, held in
Chicago last week, went a long way to outline opportunities there. These
outreach programs are a good start because many firms need an education on
how to work abroad. The first lesson is to drop ethnocentric views that
the world should accommodate our method of contracting rather than the
other way around.
In a separate meeting, also held in Chicago last week, ENR brought
together construction executives at its annual leadership
conference. U.S. firms interested in China's Olympic building plans and
other work, particularly those willing to listen patiently through
translation, heard rich detail from Chinese representatives.
Patience, attentiveness and sensitivity are not common construction
traits, but they can help in cultures different from our
Language and cultural differences can be treacherous to negotiate.
[ ENR (2003). Culture shock challenges firms looking abroad. Vol.
250, No. 23. New
York: McGraw Hill.]
Do We See Eye-to-Eye?
Implications of Cultural Differences for Cross-Cultural Management Research and
Although observation is a
common research technique, little attention has been given to the effects of
culture on observer judgment making. These researches argue that consideration
of cultural differences is critical when applying observation techniques in
cross-cultural research as well as in the applied contexts of performance
appraisal and international management. A laboratory study was conducted to
examine the potential for discrepancies in observer judgment making among Asian
American and Caucasian American subjects. The results of the study affirm the
importance of cultural influences in research and management.
[Li & Karakowsky (2001). Do We
See Eye-to-Eye? Implications of Cultural Differences for Cross-Cultural
Management Research and Practice. The Journal of Psychology, 135(5),