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Culture’s Consequences

Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values was published in 1980 by Sage Publications. Forty years later, the book’s first sentence resonates just as strongly as it did on the day of its publication.

“The survival of mankind will depend to a large extent on the ability of people who think differently to act together”. 

The preface reflects Geert’s view on his own task in life: to contribute to understanding between groups of people. 

A job at IBM: 1965

In 1965, Geert Hofstede leaves the textile industry and gets a job at IBM as a manager of personnel research. He establishes the Personnel Research Department where he conducts an employee opinion survey in over 70 national subsidiaries of IBM around the world, a total of more than 100,000 questionnaires.

The data collection effort takes Geert to most of these countries. He is on the move a lot and visits all continents.

IBM European Education Center in Blaricum where Geert worked as a trainer and consultant.

A sabbatical: 1971-1973

From 1971-1973, Geert is on unpaid leave from his position at IBM, as a guest lecturer at IMEDE (now IMD), a business school in Lausanne. 

At IMEDE, Geert administers his IBM questionnaire to the international student population, and finds the same dimensions of culture as he had at IBM. 

Geert Hofstede teaching at IMEDE.

Leaving IBM: 1973

By 1973, Geert Hofstede is convinced that his data are worth a thorough study. He submits a proposal to IBM for researching the data. His new IBM boss refuses, saying this is something for academia. 

Geert decides to quit his job at IBM. IBM’s parting gift is the database, or as Geert puts it, his treasure. It will lead to the development of the dimensions of societal culture, and his magnum opus to be published seven years later.

Listen to Geert Hofstede speak about leaving IBM and starting his research.

Insead / EIASM: 1973-1979

For the next years, Geert combines two half time jobs. He teaches at business school Insead Fontainebleau, where he tries out his ideas on the international student population of aspiring managers. He is also a research fellow at the newly founded think tank “European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management” (EIASM) in Brussels, where he works on his ideas and meets inspiring colleagues.

Listen to Geert Hofstede tell about his experience in Insead.

Subjectivity of scientific theory

While developing his model of dimensions, Geert Hofstede was keenly aware of the impact the researcher has on the result.

There are people who think that theories are theories and that nationality has nothing to do with it. I couldn’t disagree more”.

This was particularly evident in the development of the long term – short dimension, the so called “Confucius dimension”. He developed that dimension together with Michael Harris Bond with whom he had a”beautiful colleagueship”.

Listen to Geert ideas on the subjectivity of scientific theory.

IBM Research

During his PhD research on “the Game of Budget Control” in the nineteen sixties, Geert had become familiar with open-ended interviewing as a way to discover issues that the researchers might not have found on their own. Leaving silences, for instance, proved fruitful, for it made interviewees bring in new issues and angles. It created space for interviewees’ minds, not just researchers’ minds.

Geert Hofstede was one of the architects of IBM’s big opinion surveys among their personnel of all ranks, in over 70 countries. He travelled widely in that period. This was not too difficult, since those were relaxed times politically, with easy access to regions that are now in turmoil.

The team first carried out a round of in-depth interviews, then solidified that into a questionnaire.

Listen to Geert speak about the interviews.

Listen to Geert lay out set up of the original IBM employee survey.

The questionnaire

The team developed about 150 forced-choice questions ( answers on a scale from 1 to 5) about mundane things such as salary, working conditions, job security, or the relationship with bosses and colleagues. They categorised the answers by independent variables, in the usual manner: age, sex, job level, time spent at IBM, country.

When Geert analysed the data, he found that they produced the clearest patterns when averaged at country level. As he explains: “Secretaries would give a different answer than the engineers. But if you ordered the secretaries by country, they would produce the same order as when you ordered the engineers by country.” He felt that this was no coincidence, asked for time to further process those results, and was granted a two-year sabbatical leave from 1971-1973 (see previous tab “How it began”).

Geert then let the data of his 117.000 questionnaires speak. He grouped questions for which the country averages clustered together. These groups of questions, sometimes seemingly unrelated, produced his dimensions. 

Thanks to the availability of a relatively new tool, the computer, Geert could “factor analyse the world”, as one American scientist out it. There were boxes full of the computer print outs which he meticulously color coded to track the results to develop the dimension.

Societal culture

In the nineteen seventies, Geert originally develops four dimensions based mostly on the IBM study. He calls them “dimensions of societal culture”. He does this in an original way through factor analysis on country averages. For Geert, countries are no more than a convenient proxy for societies; in some cases, he is able to show regional differences within countries. 

Through his work with Michael Bond in the nineteen eighties, Geert develops the 5th dimension, coined Confucian Dynamism, which later becomes the Long- vs Short-term orientation dimension. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, a 6th dimension is found by Michael Minkov in WVS data, and Geert adds it to his model under the name Indulgence vs Restraint.

Listen to Geert Hofstede introduce the dimensions of societal culture.

Power distance

In the nineteen sixties, a new generation was upturning institutions in the Western world. Power issues were on people’s minds. Geert found a cluster of questions pointing to international differences in acceptance of subordinate roles. He made this a dimension, for which he adopted the term “power distance” coined by Dutch scholar Mauk Mulder for workplace relations.

A sample question used for the “Power Distance Index” (PDI) is “How important is it for you to have a direct superior you can respect?” (1: of utmost importance…5: of no importance). Another one, loading reversely, is “How important is it for you to be consulted by your direct superior in decisions involving your work?”. 

Listen to Geert tell how he developed the Power Distance dimension.

Click here to listen to Geert explain the Power Distance dimension

Uncertainty Avoidance

Geert found that questions related to anxiety and lack of clarity clustered together. He made this a dimension that he called “uncertainty avoidance”. It has sometimes been misunderstood as being about rules or risk; it is really about stress and ambiguity, and rituals to cope with these. These rituals may include the creation of an abundance of rules that are not necessarily kept.

Sample questions used for the “Uncertainty Avoidance Index” (UAI) are ”All in all, how would you describe your state of health these days?”. Another one is “One can be a good manager without having a precise answer to every question that a subordinate may raise about his or her work”. Both load reversely: good health and agreement mean weak uncertainty avoidance.

Listen to Geert tell how he developed the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension.

Click here to listen to Geert explain the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension

Individualism - Collectivism

Another cluster of questions was about personal life, initiative, and the importance of others. This became the dimension of individualism versus collectivism, labels already used by US psychologist Harry Triandis.

A sample question used for the “Individualism Index” (IDV) is “How important is it for you to do interesting work?” Another one, loading reversely, is “How important is it for you to have a job respected by your family and friends?” 

Listen to Geert tell how he developed the dimension of Individualism vs Collectivism.

Click here to listen to Geert explain Collectivism vs Individualism

Masculinity – Femininity

The final cluster in the IBM dataset contained questions about salary and prestige on the one hand, trust on the other. There were no questions on gender roles. It became the dimension of Masculinity versus Femininity. This is not normative, but mimics the fact that this is the only dimension on which men consistently scored higher than women. There was one exception: women in leading positions in masculine cultures scored more masculine than men. Apparently, they have to be super tough in order to make it.

A sample question used for the “Masculinity Index” (MAS) is “How important is it for you to get recognition for good performance?” Another one, loading reversely, is “How important is it for you to have pleasant people to work with?”. 

Listen to Geert tell how he developed the dimension of Masculinity vs Femininity.

Click here to listen to Geert explain Masculinity vs Femininty

Long-term - short-term orientation

Canadian psychologist Michael Harris Bond had been doing research in China. When they met in 1980 and Geert told Michael about his group-level analyses, they set to work together and found a cluster of questions opposing thrift and perseverance with sense of tradition. This became the dimension of long-term versus short-term orientation (“LTO-CVS”), also coined as the “Confucius dimension”.

Sample questions for the Long-Term Orientation (LTO) dimension are “How important to you is doing a service to a friend?”, and, reversely, “How important is thrift (not spending more than necessary)”? 

The two men had a longstanding “warm colleagueship” resulting in a number of co-authored articles.

Indulgence - Restraint

In 2007, Bulgarian linguist and multi-scholar Michael Minkov wrote a book in which he analysed data from the World Values Survey (www.wvs.org) at country level. Michael reproduced some of Geert’s dimensions, for instance, long-term orientation, which he called Flexumility (long-term) versus Monumentalism (short-term). Since the WVS data were more recent and the country sample was larger, Geert replaced the existing “LTO-CVS” scores with Minkov’s “LTO-WVS”

Minkov also found a new dimension. This could be expected, because the WVS did not limit itself to workplace-related questions. There were also questions about happiness and life satisfaction. Minkov called the resulting dimension “Indulgence” versus “Restraint”. Geert included the dimension in the 2010 edition of Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind.

Sample questions for the Indulgence versus Restraint dimension (IvR) are “Are you a happy person?”  and, reversely, “Do other people or circumstances ever prevent you from doing what you really want to?”

Listen to Geert tell how he and Michael Minkov (picture) developed the dimension  of Indulgence vs Restraint .

Click here to listen to Geert explain Indulgance vs Restraint

Professional impact

Geert Hofstede’s main creative idea has been to create a new paradigm: linear “dimensions” of culture, in analogy to the three spatial dimensions we all know. This led to easy-to-use scales between roughly 0 and 100 per dimension. The dimensions derived their value from being based on a huge, 40-country well-matched sample of solid empirical data taken from individuals at all organizational levels, then averaged across groups. This has enabled cross-cultural comparisons in a multitude of fields. Geert paradigm of dimensions of culture has since then been replicated by a vast number of researchers, increasing the number of countries covered. It is hard to overestimate the importance of Geert’s contribution.

Dimension are important to Geert. Listen how he explains this, and how people reacted to this model.

Personal Impact

For Geert, the impact that touched him the most, are the personal stories. Many are the cases where people have thanked him for clarifying their minds, changing their lives, or even saving their marriages. In these cases, Geert’s work had helped them to understand the motivation behind their own actions and emotions, as well as those of their partners or colleagues. This helped them to avoid anger and frustration.

Here Geert talks about how important the personal impact of his work is for him personally.

Culture’s Consequences

At 51 years of age, Geert had his first breakthrough. Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, was published in 1980 by Sage Publications. It marked the beginning of dimensional comparative cross-cultural study. The book took some years to take off. Today it has gone through all the stages from anathema to acceptance to paradigmatic normal science.

Geert reworked Culture’s Consequences after his retirement in 2001, including new work done by researchers who, by then, had started replicating his work. He added the dimension of Long-term versus Short-term orientation. 

Some of the correspondence during the prepublication period of Culture’s Consequences, a title Sara Miller McCune suggested. After 19(!) letters of rejections by other publishers, SAGE Publishing decided to publish the book.

Listen to Geert telling the publication of Culture's Consequences

Cultures and Organizations

Cultures and Organisations, Software of the Mind was published as the “textbook” version of Culture’s Consequences by McGraw Hill in 1991. Its subtitle – Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival – was proposed by the publisher. Geert was adamant about also including his own subtitle as you can read in the letter.

A second edition was published in 2005, with Gert Jan Hofstede; and a third in 2010 with Gert Jan and Michael Minkov. This 2010 edition is the only book with all six of the dimensions. Because various studies underlie the data, the number of countries differs per dimensions (from 76 to 93).

The different editions were so far translated in: Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Korean, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Georgian, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish and Vietnamese.