There are truly many ways to learn about the different cultures and countries of the world. Many gain knowledge through classes where they seek to learn how to speak languages which are not their native tongue such as Italian, Russian, and German (to name a few). Others learn through first hand experiences from study abroad courses or travel for pleasure or business. Information about other cultures can also be found in countless books and online articles. As someone who aspires to travel the world I have studied foreign languages and read books to gain insight on the areas where I long to travel. Though I would say I have gained a fair bit of knowledge over the years a true understanding was not present until learning about Hofstede’s dimensions of culture.
Geert Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist known for his work in comparative studies of cultures (Hofstede, n.d.). Through his research, Hofstede created six dimensions by which you can compare cultures: Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism/Collectivism, Masculinity/ Feminity, Long-term/Short-term Orientation, and Indulgence/Restraint. Power distance relates to the equality or inequality of people within a culture while uncertainty avoidance shows ambiguity. Scores relating to individualism show the degree that groups or individuals are accountable for different outcomes and actions. References to masculinity show the behaviors of a nation, whether it is highly competitive, nurturing, or somewhere in between. Degrees of long term orientation portray whether decisions are made to benefit present situations or have long term goals and impacts. Finally indulgences scores relate to whether a members of a culture look to be instantly rewarded or gratified (PSU, 2015).
An understanding of the scores for each of these six dimensions provides an understanding of the cultural aspects and tendencies of a nation. Let’s take a look at Ireland for example. Ireland has a power distance score of 28. This relatively represents a belief that generally rejects inequalities among its people. Ireland has a score of 70 in regards to individualism. This suggests that Ireland is an individualistic nation where people are expected to be independent and self-reliant. Looking toward masculinity, with a score of 68 Ireland is considered to be a masculine society which means that people are competitive and want to succeed or win. With an uncertainty avoidance score of 35, Ireland is comfortable with uncertainty and are not resistant to change. Ireland has a long-term orientation score of 24. This low score shows an importance of tradition to the culture and value stability. Finally, Ireland proves to be an indulgent society with a score of 65.
Along with providing an understanding if a single culture Hofstede’s cultural dimensions allow us to compare and contrast different cultures. When looking at Ireland and the United States we can see that they have are very similar when it comes to masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation, and indulgence. However differences can be seen in power distance and individualism. With a power distance score of 40 social inequalities are more accepted and common place in the United States than Ireland. Also with a score 90 the United States is a far more individualistic culture than Ireland.
I believe that Hofstede’s six dimensions of culture provide an easy way of comparing and contrasting different nations. The ability to compare a nation which you may know little to nothing about to your own with a concrete set of values opens the doorway to a knowledge and more importantly an understanding of other cultures. The only thing that I find to be unfortunate about these cultural dimension is that I had no clue of their existence before taking a global leadership course. With the reality that many people get their information on different nations via Wikipedia pages, I believe that an effort should be made to add Hofstede’s research to these pages. Links could also be provided for site like http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html which allow you to compare the scores for several countries side by side.
Geert Hofstede. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.geerthofstede.nl/
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2015). OLEAD 497B Lesson 02: Introduction to Culture. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp15/olead497b/001/content/02_lesson/01_page.html