A look at cultures always takes place from the individual perspective of the own origin. The description uses words, associations and beliefs that are unconsciously determined by the culture in which you have grown up. This begins with the filtered attention that only notices aspects for which the viewer is accustomed to – are individuals or groups at the center of interest? This continues with the world view, which provides explanatory patterns for the observed facts, e.g. religious or secular convictions. The words that are used by the observing culture are available for the description, e.g. the interpretation of terms such as freedom, work, and government. If it is followed by an action, then this act is based on the possibilities of one’s society, e.g. imprisonment vs. corporal punishment. Already Ludwig Wittgenstein mentioned “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” This turns our personal culture into the essential information bubble.
The following examples are cultural dimensions that hold this information bubble together.
One focal point of growing into the world is the social focus on oneself versus on one’s own group. The emphasis on independence and one’s own needs is an individualistic orientation. If, on the other hand, the group is the center of attention, then the affiliation and subordination of one’s own interests to the group determines one’s own identity.
When different points of view come together, the participants focus on their learned standards. For example, while the collectivists ignore the desire for personal freedom, the individualists are missing the need for affiliation. This blind spot is preserved by the constant exchange of already familiar ideas. Socialization stabilizes the information bubble that is isolated from otherness and results in the known exclusions – e.g. Xenophobia, nationalism, and racism.
The relationship between people is essentially determined by the understanding of the position, the influence and the responsibilities. Hierarchical societies quickly accept the claim to power and the decisions of superiors. At the same time, this view relieves the burden of responsibility, because the higher-ranking persons naturally take over their responsibility. Egalitarian societies, which practice a flat hierarchy with group members of equal rank, are skeptical about power claims. Since they meet at eye level, they do not understand when they are presented a fait accompli without asking and then are still expected to be committed. The understanding and acceptance of a stratification of society and the associated roles can quickly lead to tensions between different cultures – e.g. lack of or too much respect, required decisiveness.
Differences in culture are often attached to the dealing with time. This begins with the division of time into fixed sections or flowing transitions. With the introduction of ever more accurate clocks, the day could be split into finer and finer segments. Nevertheless, cultures differ in the handling of appointments – e.g. Punctuality, duration, timeliness. This includes the use of time for one or more tasks at a time – e.g. multitasking, single tasking. Strongly internalized is the division into past, present, and future. Past-oriented people value experience and established approaches. In the here and now it is all about short-term, quick outcomes. Future-oriented people are not interested in the current situation and Quick-wins, but in long-term, sustainable results. You can easily determine the view on time with the following questions for oneself and others: Where do you see the future? Where do you point, if you indicate the past? In most parts of the world it has become accustomed that we find the future ahead of us and that we point backwards into the past. There are, in fact, nations, where it is the other way around. The past is visibly in front of them and the future lies invisibly behind their back. The cultural sense of time results in filtered reports that hide other perceptions of time.
Bottom line: The few examples should make it clear that we all float in an information bubble that distorts or at least burdens our look at other areas. Our socialization has made us personalities shaped by the surrounding. The responsibility is determined by our understanding of hierarchy. Dealing with time determines the perspective of the information bubble. So today, when we talk about the information bubble and alternative facts, it is not necessarily a matter of populists, but a necessary understanding of the cultural differences. Long before the political opinions of lobbyists we are already caught up in our cultural information bubble. We only overcome the limit, when we try to break free of it and behave openly and tolerantly towards the unknown and the strange. Culture is the essential information bubble that limits us.
Still thirty years ago, you one reached the public by means of special channels – daily papers, magazines, radio, and television. Nowadays, everybody can place its expression in the Internet and latently reach three billion people. Without the filters of the professional news makers the question arises, which information is right or wrong. Nevertheless, there was always fake news. This goes from a German cell of the Ku-Klux-clan, to the stone louse invented by Loriot (a German humorist), to the Hitler diaries that were published by the Stern (a German magazine). News developed in such a way are nothing else than lies. However, where does the truth begin and where does the lie ends? Right and wrong is maybe a question of the point of view.
A look at some aspects clarifies the difficulty.
- Points of view make a difference
Depending on where you are and into which direction you are looking, you see facts differently. The point of view is limited in any case. The involvement determines what you see and evaluate. If you belong to the group of victims, the unjustified act is your focus. Perpetrators are looking on the conclusive reason of their action. As an outsider you have a neutral standpoint due to missing background information. But which point of view is eventually right or wrong?
- Contacts make a difference
A second-hand report provides mostly different, contradictory perceptions. The statements are determined likewise by the role (see above). Additionally the perceptions are limited by the filters of the Meta model of the language. Contents are simply erased or generalized or distorted. How can you tell, what is right or wrong?
- Culture makes a difference
Depending on the affiliation to a culture differs for example the kind of information exchange, the dealing of people or the description of the time factors. The style leads to detailed or vague reports, depending on the presuppositions based on the prior knowledge of the target group. Cultural emphasis by looking at individual persons or at groups makes a difference. The handling of time leads also to a justifying look at the past or a simple description of the present or a consideration of future consequences. What is then correct or wrong?
The quest for truth was asked by all philosophers since the ancient Greeks. With the Internet there is a medium that can be used by everybody to reach everybody. Thus, it opens the flood gates for spreading all conceivable statements. What corresponds to the truth or at least gets close to it, is not finally decidable due to the different points of view. The attempt to create neutral authorities for the certification of contents, will not fix this issue.
Bottom line: In the absence of a guaranteed truth, we must learn to deal with different versions of facts. As soon as we understand that different perspectives produce different, possible realities, we are warned and it will be easier to deal attentively with the presented proclamations. In the end depends right or wrong on the standpoint – except in case of a deliberately intended lie.
The consistent self-image is the sum of the opportunities that are altogether at one’s disposal. This is particularly valid for individuals. Nevertheless, there is also a self-image of groups of any size. Accordingly cultural areas, nations, enterprises and specialists have additionally an understanding of their group. Employees have to co-operate nowadays more and more in temporary work forms, in teams, Joint ventures and the like. It requires that one has to integrate again and to find out the commonalities. Everything starts with the question: Who am I?
The model of the Logical levels by Robert Dilts for describing the self-image is a practical approach. The following questions are derived from it and should be answered by individuals, but also by groups.
- What roles do I live?
The self-image is certainly determined by the roles that one covers in everyday life – professionally and privately. The superior is a boss, colleague, father, association chairman etc. The aspects of the self-image are molded differently depending upon the roles – sometimes even contrarily. We cannot avoid in everyday life to harmonize different roles. A consistent big picture of all roles reduces tensions.
- Where am I?
The context, in which one acts, is crucial. It is specified by the stakeholders, the geographical scope and the timeframe. Even if the technical networks are widening this range, the context, where one personally is, remains the most important one.
- What do I do?
The actions become visible in the factual activities, in the recognizable patterns of behavior and in the planned measures. They show, what one does (contrary to what one thinks to do). Tensions result, if one misses to dissolve these differences.
- What do I know?
The technical, methodical, social and systemic abilities set the limits for the personal opportunities. Based on an overview of the existing and the required capabilities, the learning needs can be derived.
- What do I believe?
The convictions have a strong effect on the perception, the thinking, the communication and the actions. They consist of values, intentions and evaluations. Since these are contents that are difficult to grasp, it is favorable to clarify the corner stones of the personal convictions explicitly and to convey them continuously.
- Where do I belong to?
Not only the cultural area defines a person, but also the individual specialist areas. Based on them personal, collective and public order and orientation framework arise. They affect all roles (see above). Serious contradictions between the different areas produce conflicts that can be solved by a constant adjustment. For example, religious rules forbid to practice certain roles. Also a pronounced environmental awareness contradicts occupations that are known for extreme environmental damages.
The more harmonious the aspects of the self-image are, the more a role can be performed and the more authentically one is perceived by others.
What do I do?
Where do I want to go?
Looking to the future of work, global mobility is often highlighted, besides new technical, social and legal aspects. The actual potentials for Germans cannot be found in the available data *1), because
- the total number of outward migration between 1991 and 2012 increased only by 20%,
- 80% of the outward migration consists of foreigners,
- the outward migration includes also the members of the expats as well as other emigrants, and
- not all expatriates are included in the statistics.
Based on the available data it is difficult to decide, whether one should agree to work abroad.
The more global an enterprise, the larger is the probability that one should consider the opportunity of an international assignment. You can use the following questions, in order to find out your readiness.
- What is the status of your career?
The flatter structures abroad enable a closer cooperation with top managers. Thus, the probability increases that following the assignment your career will accelerate. Which career goals are supported by your foreign assignment? Or does an international mission offer you the opportunity to leave your current role? Are there reasons that could influence your career negatively?
- How do you deal with culture?
Within assignments overseas you meet completely new cultures – languages, business manners, and lifestyles. The ability to adjust is an important condition for a stress-free, successful sojourn. Are you interested in other lifestyles and languages? Or do you have trouble with alien cultures?
- How does the international assignment impact your private environment?
Although the business environment is changing for the employee, in principle, the daily routines are continuing as usual. For the family members it is more difficult. On the one hand, they are pulled out of their previous everyday life. On the other hand, they have to fight for the new environment. Did you find out the opinion of your partner concerning a foreign assignment? What about your children? How important are friends for you? Or are there private reasons to go, e.g. thirst for adventure, divorce? What are other private arguments against it?
- Which professional advantages offer an international assignment?
In your usual context, you have a proven network and you know the procedures. Abroad you have to set up yourself within very short time, so that you can obtain results and to reach your professional goals in the two to five years of the assignment. Do you like new technical tasks? Are you interested in more responsibility? What financial advantage does the assignment has to offer? Which professional disadvantages do you see?
- Do you expect an improved social status?
As Expat you receive private amenities that are above the standards of the homeland – apartment, car, insurances. Additionally, foreigners have in the countries of destination often a special, social status. Which aspects have to be fulfilled, in order to accept an international assignment? What speaks against it?
- Are there other influence factors?
The individual reasons can go beyond the previous ones. Which aspects have also to be fulfilled, so that you accept to go abroad – privately, professionally? Are there other KO criteria?
It is recommended to note all aspects that speak for and against an international assignment. You should walk through these questions before you get into negotiations with your company, in order to provide a decisive impression – whether you want to go or not. Discuss it with your family and friends. It is particularly helpful to contact colleagues, who are/were already abroad, perhaps even in your destination country.
Bottom line: You do not have to go abroad. Since a foreign assignment is a great decision that has a large impact on you and your family, you should analyze the aspects from all perspectives. There are companies that offer the possibility to visit the country in advance. For some people it is helpful in order to make the decision. For others these short impressions are not sufficient to make the decision about a long-term engagement. In any case, it is important that the entire family is committed. Otherwise, during your stay, you will have additional problems that will be hard to solve.
*1) I couldn’t find statistics of German enterprises that show the actual situation. Indications can only be derived from the statistic yearbook of the Federal Statistical Office Germany (only in German) http://ow.ly/FuRSv .
We all have our look at the conditions of the world. Currently http://ow.ly/GeMxx billions of people lives in the world. Unfortunately it is difficult from the perspective of political and economical decision makers to deal appropriately with this incredible number of views. For this reason, one considers the view points of groups, e.g. government, enterprise, lobby and other groups of interests. A universal point of view is the public opinion that represents the majority of the society. These attitudes and behaviors are detected through representative surveys. Whereas in former times people were shaped by common upbringing, education, books and mass media, today an enormous amount of channels and institutions stand equal side by side. As a consequence everyone seeks heaven in his own fashion. Does the public opinion still exist? Or does the public opinion evaporates as a practical tool from the public discourses?
If the commonalities of a society dissolve, the resilience is at risk, …
- … because common sense is no longer seizable
In the past, people were influenced with news by common channels, e.g. the local daily papers as well as the public radio and TV stations. This created a common state of knowledge and convictions. With the emergence of special-interest channels and the Internet today everyone is in the position to select ones sources. Thus, the commonalities get lost. Each perspective is cultivated and evolves in its respective direction. Therefore a common sense of the smaller groups emerges. The large, social common sense is lost thereby.
- … because culture dissolves more and more
Through the advancing fragmentation of the society it becomes more difficult to recognize the core elements of culture (more here: http://www.memecon.com/cultural-aspects.html). Languages, actions, attitudes, experiences and the identity are increasingly scattered across different groups. Over time incompatible groups evolve that are in competition with each other. In order to come to a common direction, for all parties’ acceptable compromises have to be concluded. The call for a common culture becomes stronger.
- … because social cohesion disappears
As a consequence, people orient themselves increasingly towards their group. This leads to a developing delimitation from others and a stronger emotional binding to the values of the own group. The existing energy for the common tasks is consumed in favor of petty disputes. The general problems remain unresolved and the societal commonalities get lost.
- … because the large parties dissolve
Even the Grand Coalition of Germany represents only 48% of all voters, considering a polling of 71,5% http://ow.ly/GeSHe. The CDU/CSU (18.3 million voters) received together just little more votes than the non-voters (17.6 million). Democracy created itself rules, in order to remain functional with such circumstances. The consequences are more and more parties and ever more populists.
- … because the basis for governmental decisions evaporates
With the political voting results, the parties govern without the support of the majority of the voters. This leads to a rising discontent and more public demonstrations. The new culture of protest is practiced by all segments of the population. The malicious way that the established parties show the various activists understanding is an indication for their lack of ideas of how to grapple with these groups.
The gaps that arise create the room for groups that promise to the public, what they want to hear. Populist forces already exploited in the twentieth century the weakness of many small parties. The consequences were horrifying. Without an extensive consent between the citizens that becomes visible in a convincing public opinion, we spin into an undesirable, well-known direction. Did decision makers learn something from it? Which measures do they take? Do we have to accept that history repeats itself? And afterwards again nobody knew something?
In the meantime the public opinion becomes so little meaningful that on its basis only a few commonalities can be found – except for the xenophobic developments.
P.S.: The same mechanisms can be found in corporations within their framework of the Corporate Identity.
Transnational enterprises develop, produce and sell their deliverables worldwide. For this purpose, they need a self-understanding that integrates different ways of thinking under one supranational roof. Should this multi-cultural claim not always become visible?
The following bullet points provide indications, how far an enterprise fulfills its global self-conception.
Customers develop over time a glocal image of the enterprise, if local references are avoided and a brand or a product are in the focus of advertisement.
If the products are adapted to local conditions, like customer culture or prevailing market conditions, the customers can identify more easily with the enterprise.
- National flags
The flagging with banners of all countries that belong to the enterprise underlines the internationality of the enterprise.
- Multilingual sign-posting
The writing and language of the guide-posts within the locations should be at least in local AND English language or at best in all languages of the company.
- Internationalized HR policy
The job offers should contain international requirements like mobility, multilingualism and interest in other cultures.
- International board
The board of a transnational enterprise should be composed out of various nationalities.
Truly transnational companies do not practice cultural imperialism, like Americanization, Europeanization or Chinaization. They have a global identity that integrates the various cultural strengths to an advantage for the enterprise.