defining “culture” with Geert Hofstede

one of the key aspects we focus on at the make sense academy is cross-cultural communication. being expats ourselves and having traveled quite a bit, we’re very well acquainted with those awkward situations where you don’t understand what the f*&# is happening. mostly because your cultural reference is different. sounds familiar? well, we want to help. it’s tricky, but organizations and individuals can design strategies that take cultural differences into account.

learning from Geert Hofstede’s model, we look at the five dimensions he defined at the center of the group phenomenon that build a culture.

symbols: things like words, gestures, images, colors, habits or objects that have emotional meaning tied to them by the group.

heroes: real or fictitious individuals who demonstrate a behavior that can be seen as role models and that the group will look up to and get inspired by.

rituals: activities or series of actions which are socially considered essential.

practices: manifestations of when the tangible and visible aspects of a culture –  symbols, heroes and rituals – come together.

values: intangible principles or standards that define what is perceived as good or bad, dangerous or safe, forbidden or allowed, moral or immoral, beautiful or ugly, dirty or clean, natural or unnatural, normal or abnormal, rational or irrational. they are the core of the culture and bring the group together. they are also what the group grounds itself into when it faces a new challenge or situation.

we use these five dimensions as a filter to test our brand and marketing strategies in order to make sure they can be adapted accordingly. just like many other elements of a strategy, it is best to factor them in from the very inception. and when talking about something as sensitive as cultural differences, it’s definitely strongly recommended.

this model can also help you identify what is part of your cultural reference versus universal truths. very often, people tend to believe that what they know, believe in or value is the one and only truth. they can’t image anyone else thinking differently. they often just can’t even imagine an alternative. understanding what is actually true everywhere versus what is only true for your culture will help you create strategies that can be stripped from those relative truths so they can be adapted to whatever the equivalent truth could be for a different culture.

warning: we’re pretty passionate about this topic and every team conversation at the make sense academy will most likely end up talking about cultural differences. we just love all the new perspectives we can learn from it and how the topic can challenge our own point of view. so, if you believe that any piece of content we publish is “culturally tuned” (as we call it), let us know! we definitely want to learn from it. and adapt accordingly…

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