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How culture affects the rate of change

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How culture affects the rate of change

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One of the central tenants of social business is the desire to see employees collaborate more effectively with one another.  With many organizations containing employees from numerous countries, this is often not as easy as it might seem.  Dutch researcher Geert Hofstede has done most to understand the cultural differences between nationalities in the workplace, with his landmark study at IBM forming the fulcrum of his work into power distance.

Most of that research focused on the cultural implications for how people behave, such as how they respond to authority, how they share information, whether they’re individualist or collectivist.  And it’s on this last point that new research has explored something rather fundamental to social business – namely, how quickly we change our behaviours.

The standard thinking has been that behaviours change more amongst people of a collectivist bent, due in part to the pressure to conform to ideas that have taken hold in a group.  The individualist nature of other communities suggests that there is less pressure to conform, therefore change occurs much more slowly.

The research explored the topic of smoking cessation in Sweden (collectivist) and America (individualist).  The theory should have had Swedes quitting smoking much faster than Americans, when in fact the reverse was the case.  So researchers devised a mathematical model to test out the effect social pressure had on the spread of behaviours.

“Our model suggests that … social inertia will inhibit decisions to stop smoking more strongly in collectivistic societies than in individualistic societies,” say the researchers.

So, in other words, in an individualistic society, people were more empowered to break from the status quo, and therefore stop smoking.  Given that the shift away from industrial models of operation towards a more social and engaging form of work is largely one of adapting behaviours, these findings could be crucial for any organization attempting to make such a shift.

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