Individualist vs. Collectivist: How Important Am I?

Say, you were given a group project, involving teamwork and cooperation.

Your team includes you (of course), Paul, Lisa, and John.

Some of the tasks are more intensive and time-consuming than others. Some are tedious, some are simple, some require no brainwork at all.

As with most team projects, not all members invest the same amount of time and effort into the group project.

You complete 50% of the work on your own.

Lisa and Paul knock out about 22.5% of the work, each.

And John, who was a complete deadweight, contributes about 5%.

With the successful completion of the project, your group is awarded $20,000.

How should this award be distributed?

Individualists vs. Collectivists

“Distribute the money based on individual contribution. Those who did more work should be awarded more, while those who did less work should be awarded less.”

If this is how you answered, then you are likely from an individualist culture.

“The project was completed together, and a team is only strong as a unit. The fairest distribution would be an even split, in order to benefit everyone in the group equally.”

If this is how you answered, then you are likely from a collectivist culture.

“From each according to his ability…”

Craig Storti asks readers to complete the above exercise in his book, Figuring Foreigners Out.

He argues that each mentality – whether the distribution of the award should be even or based on contribution to the project – is based on what your culture teaches you is fair.

Individualist cultures believe fair distribution means being awarded according to one’s effort.

Collectivist cultures believe that fairness lies in the well-being of the whole group, no matter who contributed what.

Of all of Hofstede’s dimensions, some believe the differences between collectivist and individualist societies are the most important.

Social psychologist, Harry Triandis, is one of them. He stated:

“Perhaps the most important dimension of cultural difference in social behavior, across the diverse cultures of the world, is the relative emphasis on individualism versus collectivism.”

Individualist versus collectivist ideals do not apply only to the distribution of wealth, of course. The deep level thinking of an individualist versus a collectivist fundamentally impacts the way each lives their social life: whether one thinks as an individual or as a member of a group.

Hofstede wrote:

“Some animals, such as wolves, are gregarious; others, such as tigers, are solitary. The human species should no doubt be classified with the gregarious animals, but different human societies show gregariousness to different degrees. Here again then, we have a fundamental dimension on which societies differ: the relationship between the individual and the collectivity.”

Hofstede differentiates the two cultures by defining individualistic ties as “loose,” with each individual expected to look after only himself and those in his inner circle, while collectivist ties are integrated from birth, requiring individuals to be cohesive within a group, exchanging unquestioning loyalty for protection.

We’ll talk more about the differences between individualist versus collectivist cultures next week.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions: Where Does Your Culture Fall Along the Scale?

Cultures differ.

That’s what Hofstede found in his research.

But in what dimensions can we categorize these differences?

And at what value does your culture fall along the scale?

Last week, we talked about how Hofstede’s research led him to designate four cultural dimensions.

With further research, he developed five.

Hofstede’s Five Cultural Dimensions

Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions scale the opposing extremes:

  • Uncertainty avoidance vs. uncertainty tolerance cultures –

We’ve talked extensively about uncertainty avoidance over the past few posts.

When valuing a culture’s uncertainty avoidance versus their uncertainty tolerance, ask yourself: Does the society prefer a stable environment? Is risk-taking avoided? Or does the culture promote innovation and demonstrate risk-taking behaviors and an ability to adapt quickly to uncertain events and changeable environments?

  • Long-term vs. short-term oriented cultures –

Some cultures want satisfaction here and now, while others are programmed to look toward the future.

Is this a culture of instant gratification? Or is the society accepting of delayed material, emotional, and social needs?

  • High-power distance vs. low-power distance cultures

Power distance has to do with a culture’s perception of the fair distribution of power. Some cultures strive for a level playing field, while for others, power is allotted to few.

Is equality preferred over hierarchy? Are subordinates accepting of their lower positions, or is there a more democratic power structure?

  • Collectivist vs. individualist cultures –

We’ve also discussed collectivist versus individualist cultures in this blog, with individualist cultures championing the success of the individual, while collectivist cultures are geared more toward the prosperity of the group.

Is the culture more family/group-oriented or does it promote individual ambition and achievement?

  • Masculine vs. feminine cultures 

The foundation of a masculine culture is based in more traditionally masculine traits and vice versa.

Does the culture thrive on competition and aggression? Or does it encourage cooperation and the nurturing of its community members?

Additional Cultural Dimensions

Piggybacking off of Hofstede’s research and insights, other researchers have identified further cultural dimensions, including:

  • Rule-based vs. relationship-based cultures –

In rule-based cultures, behavior is governed by rules and laws.

In relationship-based cultures, behavior is governed by one’s relationship with others.

  • Polite vs. rude cultures –

Polite cultures consider the feelings of others, while courtesy takes a backseat to justice in “rude” cultures.

Does the culture “turn the other cheek”? Or is “an eye for an eye” the motto?

  • Shame-based vs. guilt-based cultures –

Guilt-based cultures are primarily motivated by an internalized conscience, while the behaviors of shame-based cultures are motivated by the approval/disapproval of the group.

And the list goes on.

As research into cross-cultural differences progresses, the data discovered will, no doubt, paint a more intricate picture of the many dimensions in which cultures differ.

The data available to us now enables us to understand more clearly what motivates individuals from different cultural backgrounds – and how cultures operate, as a whole.

We’ll delve deeper into these dimensions next week.

The “Japanese Miracle” & “Culture’s Consequences”: Cross-Cultural Research Gains Ground

Imagine your country is number one.

Number one in economic growth.

That’s what Japan was experiencing between the end of WWII and the Cold War.

While the country was still behind the United States, it became the world’s second-largest economy after its defeat in WWII.

Termed the “Japanese Miracle,” Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman were so interested in this economic boom that they wrote a book about it.

In Search of Excellence was written in the early ‘80s. It concluded that the Japanese outperformance of the Americans in terms of growth was due to differences in culture.

Culture and cultural studies were finally becoming a focal point to more than only those who studied social sciences. Big corporate CEOs were starting to see cross-cultural research as a tool for success in business.

Culture’s Consequence

In walks Hofstede.

As we discussed last week, Hofstede had discovered differences in culture while analyzing the outcomes of a company-wide survey for IBM.

In doing so, he offered the first scientifically-founded analysis of cultural differences in the workplace.

In 1980, he also published a book, Culture’s Consequences. By the turn of the century, Hofstede’s work had been cited more than 2000 times, with no empirical work as influential in the fields of psychology or culture.

According to Hofstede’s research, nations differed in four cultural dimensions.

The dimensions denoted sets of values, scaled from one extreme to the other. After surveying the populous of various cultures, each nation was valued between these two poles.

One dimension involved “Uncertainty Avoidance” – to what degree a culture’s members are comfortable/uncomfortable in unknown, surprising, or situations that differed from their cultural norm.

This dimension suggests which cultures maintain tradition and fear change and which are open to risk-taking and innovation.

The dimension of Uncertainty Avoidance was discovered when Hofstede looked at the survey’s responses to questions about work-related stress.

An example of a work-related question in the survey:

How often do you feel nervous or tense at work?

Answers ranged from “I never feel this way” to “I always feel this way.”

Another correlating question asked whether one should break company rules if doing so was in the best interest of the company.

Further, employees were asked if they had long-term plans to stay with the company.

The Results

The survey found that some cultures appreciated change, and these were the same cultures that were less affected by stress.

Those cultures that avoided change and were more affected by stress were often also more bound by rituals, laws, bureaucracy, and tradition.

For example, Latin American cultures are layered in procedures and rules and are considered “uncertainty avoiding” cultures.

Next week, we’ll talk about more of the dimensions discovered by Hofstede.