Measuring a National Culture

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

How do we distinguish two things of the same type from one another?

For example, a BMW from a Mercedes? Besides the logo they proudly display and their line, we could use other aspects of the car to differentiate one from the other. I’m not an expert, so I won’t even try to pretend I can make a list of differences for you. However, what I can say this: to define such distinction, we define characteristics, and for each one, we define a measurement, for example, horsepower, or mileage per gallon, or market value depreciation, or price, among many others.

You get the idea. So, how do we define the differences between cultures? How do we establish a way to communicate these differences and better understand a national culture?

You guessed the answer by now: We define aspects and measurements. In a national culture context, you may find them under different names; for example, Berlitz defined what they called COI® (Cultural Orientations Indicator). Another example is Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.

I find it easier to use and understand Hofstede’s dimensions. It also happens to be the most widely used standard in the international business arena, so I’ll reference such dimensions every time I want to illustrate cultural differences.

Geert Hofstede was a Dutch academic considered a pioneer in the research of national cultures and their effect on multinational organizations, case in point, IBM. He developed the beginnings of his theories on cultural dimensions working with IBM between 1967 and 1973.

Since then, the cultural dimensions theory has been refined and confirmed by Hofstede and third-party researchers. Initially, there were four dimensions, and two more were added over time, resulting in a total of six dimensions:

  1. Power distance index (PDI)

  2. Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV)

  3. Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)

  4. Masculinity vs. femininity (MAS)

  5. Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO)

  6. Indulgence vs. restraint (IND)

Each of these dimensions has its measurement, which is used to establish a gap between two cultures. It is not uncommon to find references to these dimensions in cultural intelligence reports. Now, you must remember at all times that there’s no better or worse; it simply is. Also, not to forget that we must use these dimensions only as a generalization.

We will dive into each of these aspects in future posts and use some examples to illustrate them. In the meantime, if you are working in a global team, remember to practice cultural awareness.

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