Culture is the Software of the Brain
Over the past week I have added another quote to my ongoing list of favorite sayings. In case you did not know, I am a huge techy. I obsess over computers, lust for new software, and I even spend a large part of my life writing software of my own. So it should come as no surprise that the following quote is near and dear to my heart.
Culture is the Software of the Mind
Written by Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist and former IBM employee, this notion grasped my attention. It made me wonder if humans were truly powered by some form of software and not a magical and inexplicable conscious. It made complete sense to me that external factors, which shape our personal cultures, are seemingly variables and objects in a complex software system. As we progress through our lives, the people we meet and the places we go inevitably influence our identity and perhaps most importantly, our culture. Just as computers become “smarter” over time and with more data, humans and their cultures become richer as we experience the world around us.
However, what really intrigued me were the specific dimensions Hofstede uses to describe culture and it made me wonder how I would fall into each of his six categories.
Hofstede describes Power Distance as the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power to be distributed unequally. I believe that I would score a high Power Distance index because while I believe that the equal distribution of wealth is important, it is often wistful. While that may seem quintessentially capitalistic, equal power distribution foreshadows complacency and a reluctance to work hard and a failure to strive to be the best. As such, I believe that the less powerful members of a society will be galvanized to work harder to move up the socioeconomic ladder, ultimately creating a diligent and empowered society. However, differing Power Distance indexes may also result in disagreements on a multicultural team. The people with high Power Distance indexes will likely work hard and accuse the people with low Power Distance indexes of being lazy.
Individualism vs. Collectivism
I am a very individualistic person, which often results in me figuring out problems and determining solutions on my own. I believe this is a uniquely American mindset that causes us to think in terms of “I” rather than “We.” Of course, there are times when working collectively may yield a better outcome, however, I often attempt to tackle problems on my own before asking other people. When working on a multicultural team, this could convince my team members that I do not enjoy working with them. Moreover, working individually on certain projects may take more time and ultimately lead to unmet deadlines and a slower work process.
Masculinity vs. Feminism
My approach to life is characterized by a masculine outlook because I value achievement and often measure this in the form of material rewards. While this may seem cynical and highly artificial, it is undeniably an American quality that I cannot shed. We tend to value work and the size of our salaries over ample vacation time and quality of life. Rather than viewing quality of life and money as two distinct entities, I view them as interlinked; the more money someone makes, the more they have to enjoy a comfortable retirement and a life free of financial worries. I believe that this mindset would foreshadow disagreements on a team composed of different cultures. Some members of the team may view the work environment and level of happiness as more important than the payoff, which would inevitably spawn a divide among team members.
I believe that many things in life can be avoided with careful planning and attention to detail. I tend to value facts and data over gut feeling and pure impulse, which is why I have a tendency to plan everything far in advance to avoid any potential catastrophes. I attribute this trait to having a more technically inclined mind—I see things in binary rather than a spectrum. While I do believe in the existence of fate, terrible things can be easily avoided. For example, wearing a seatbelt might not prevent the car from crashing, but it will substantially improve one’s chances of survival. This strong belief that the uncertain can be avoided is bound to cause problems among a multicultural team. Some team members may feel as though their instinctive emotions trump facts, while others may see gut feelings as an irrational basis for decision-making.
Long-Term vs. Short-Term Orientation
Perhaps because of my love for technology and innovation, I adopt a long-term orientation way of thinking. This long-term orientation is characterized by persistence, and the belief that thrift and modern education are the best ways to prepare for the future. Unlike Short-Term oriented cultures that value family tradition and historical cultural norms, I believe the answer to future problems are found through hard work and a willingness to adapt. Societal change is a wonderful thing, as it brings about new ways of thinking, and it allows humans the ability to learn from previously made mistakes. This could certainly cause a divide in a multicultural team, as some team members may weight family tradition over modern ideas. This debate is highlighted through modern-day struggles such as that between religion and science and how archaic ideas are being trumped by technological advancements.
Indulgence vs. Restraint
Countries with high-levels of indulgence often result in a happier population and a better quality of life. I believe that no human should be denied their right to enjoy life to its fullest, as long as they are not harming others in the process. Liberty and personal freedom is crucial to any happy lifestyle and people who feel as though they are oppressed by a greater power should stand up and argue for their freedom. While this idea may be characteristic of the American lifestyle, it could create a rift between multicultural team members. Some may have a firm belief in their place within society, while others may wish for a more indulgent environment.
Thus, Hofstede’s cultural dimensions provides us with a way to analyze cultures and form a sense of personal identity. Culture is the software of the mind because it determines our thoughts, rationality, and opinions, as well as our perspective on other cultures. While the above analysis of myself may be stereotypically American and perhaps offensive to people of other cultures, it proves that culture defines who we are and programs our brains as such.