The intellectual thinking behind Country Navigator

Worldprism

Worldprism is the intellectual influences for our model of cultural differences. The model was influenced by the research of many individuals. The anthropologists Florence and Clyde Kluckhohn, and the social psychologist Fred Strodtbeck who pioneered the value orientations approach to analyzing cultures.  Value orientations represent a set of beliefs that cultures have about human nature and relationships, the physical world, time, and activity.

The sociologist Talcott Parsons and his model of pattern variables, i.e. contrasting values to which people orient themselves in social interactions, e.g. Universalism – Particularism and Diffuseness – Specificity.

The anthropologist Edward Hall and his concepts of polychromic (many things at once) time and monochromic (single focus) time, and high and low context cultures -referring to the degree people rely on things other than words to express meaning, e.g. body language.

The cultural researcher, Geert Hofstede who identified at five, and then six, value dimensions: Power Distance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity vs. Femininity, Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Orientation, and Indulgence vs. Restraint.

The researchers, Fons Trompenaar and Charles Hampden-Turner who identified and developed seven dimensions of culture: Universalism vs. Particularism, Individualism vs, Collectivism, Neutral vs. Emotional, Specific vs. Diffuse, Achievement vs. Ascription, Sequential vs. Synchronic, Internal vs. External Control.

The empirical studies of Hofstede and Trompenaars helped quantify cultural differences, and their frameworks have become dominant in cultural training.  While Hofstede and Trompenaars have added great value, in our own training practice we kept encountering two significant problems:

Participants struggled with the language which often seemed alien and overly academic.

The statistical approach to describing country cultures hid a lot of their complexity.  There are often more differences within a culture than between them.  The country profile statistics – while impressive – tended to ‘average out’ a culture, and lead to fixed and stereotypical perceptions.

Given these challenges, we decided to develop a model of cultural differences utilizing past research as well as our years of cross-cultural experience.  We wanted a framework that was user-friendly and practical; a framework in which statistics were just one credibility factor.  We wanted on-the-ground input from in-country consultants, and not just employee or training participant surveys.

Cultural dimensions

One of the first things we did was give our model an organizational structure which others lacked.  The three ‘R’s of Relating, Regulating, and Reasoning provided us with a high-level frame of cultural dimensions; the 3 ‘Rs” emerged from real challenges managers faced.

  • Relating: Expectations about interacting with one another
  • Regulating: Expectations about managing the world around us
  • Reasoning: Expectations about problem-solving

Each dimension has a set of cultural orientations derived from cultural research, but described in a more accessible language.

  • Task vs relationship
  • Explicit vs implicit
  • Individual vs group
  • Risk taking vs risk avoiding
  • Tight vs loose
  • Shared vs concentrated
  • Linear vs circular
  • Facts vs thinking
  • Simple vs complex

Where does the country profile data come from?

  • At Country Navigator we do whatever we can to ensure that the country profiles we publish are as accurate as possible. Like other publishers of cultural profiles and cultural information we face a number of challenges:
    • Cultures are complex; there are variations within any culture.
    • How a culture is described depends often on the position of the observer, e.g., inside or outside.
    • Is the survey group truly representative of the culture as a whole, or just a select portion of the population, e.g., those in management positions in multinationals?
  • Comparing cultures will inevitably lead to issues of relative judgments. To be as accurate and as comprehensive as possible, our country profiles are generated by and cross-checked by three separate sources:
    • SME (subject matter experts) Validation: Based on the views of Country Navigator learning consultants. We aim to review the accuracy of the country dimensions periodically with a more frequent updating of ‘static’ data (e.g. change of Prime Minister, currency rate).
    • In-country Expert Validation: Each country profile is reviewed and validated by a panel of independent (i.e. not employed by Country Navigator) country specific experts to make sure that the normative data collected is not giving a too narrow view of a culture.
    • Comparative Validation: Country profiles are reviewed in relation to comparable research information available in the public realm, e.g., the GLOBE project, Trompenaars, Hofstede, Hall. This triangulated approach is aimed at giving users of the tool the most comprehensive and practical insights into cultural differences and similarities that they – personally – are most likely to experience when doing business in a specific culture. It is a business tool designed to unlock perceptions and initiate valuable exploration of the cultural complexity in our diverse world

About the Author

Laura Geaves

Laura Geaves

Having experienced globally diverse cultures within a multitude of organizations, Laura's aim is to support clients in building a borderless workforce.

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