Yes Minister, a British TV show, explained a logical mistake called The Politician’s Fallacy.
- The politician sees a problem and feels that “Something must be done”,
- They find an approach and say “This is something”,
- Then they make a logical leap, “this must be done”.
Measuring National Culture
Numerical analysis of culture in business reminds me of the politician’s fallacy.
- 1) Culture seems to matter so we need a model of culture. This is the point where you say, Something must be done.
- 2) To put culture into a model we need to measure culture. Geert Hofstede’s culture scores are something.
- 3) Hofstede has something and we need something. We must use these scores.
Employing the politician’s fallacy, Hofstede’s work must be done.
A Hard Problem Badly Approached
Geert Hofstede tackled, to be fair, an impossible task. Unfortunately he very predictably failed. I have several concerns with Hofstede’s work but lets consider only the problem of measuring a national culture.
The Hofstede Centre’s approach suggests each nation, a political unit, maps directly to a culture. Most nations have a single page but two cultures may appear within the one nation; for instance Canada has 2 cultures discussed, Francophone and Anglophone. Is the Canadian score the average of the two cultures weighted by population? If so isn’t this like describing the average woman as a little bit pregnant because a few are pregnant at any given time but most aren’t? Why not describe the average person as a little bit pregnant?
Nations And Cultures
Scotland is currently covered by the UK scores. Will Scotland suddenly “become a culture” if any referendum on Scottish independence passes? Is California really the same culture as Alabama or New Hampshire just because they share a president? Nations surely must be different to cultures as nations can change rapidly. I am confused about what exactly is being studied.
Furthermore why group Nigeria with Ghana and Sierra Leone under the “West Africa” culture? The website also discusses “East Africa” and “The Arab World”. This suggests Hofstede fells he has a scientific method of grouping nations into a single culture. What is this method? (I am assuming it is just terrible and probably offensive).
“East Africa scores 52 on [UA] and thus has a high preference for avoiding uncertainty.” As a UK (British? English?) person my culture’s ability to tolerate ambiguity (UA score of 35) should help me tolerate the fact that such statements are just plain confusing. Maybe I’m atypical of my culture.
Work measuring culture aims to improve cultural awareness but saying that West Africans have “an emotional need for rules” (The Hofstede Centre) surely contributes to a lack of appreciation of the differences amongst people? The world is a complicated place and poorly defined units rated on a handful of 1-100 scores seems worse than nothing at explaining culture.
If you don’t have a clear idea what you are trying to measure you won’t do a good job measuring it.
Read: National Cultural Dimensions on the Hofstede Centre Wesbiste, http://geert-hofstede.com/national-culture.html, Accessed Match 4th 2013.
For more on measuring culture see here.