Mental Images of Culture



Culture and Worldviews

By Huib Wursten



The sum of the 4 cultural dimensions is more than the sum of parts. They lead to a Worldview.

These worldviews have a gravitational influence on other aspect of human beings.

These worldviews have a defining role in the concrete meaning of the Hofstede dimensions. To use a concept from Systems theory: Downward causation.

  1. The contest

Basic assumption: If people are free to compete, something good emerges. The only important rules are the rules for continuous and fair competition. Checks and balances should be in place to ensure nobody can stifle the competition by winning forever. There should be a level playing ground with equal opportunity. Hierarchy is not based on an existential difference between people but something that is agreed upon between people to facilitate working together.

Important concepts: the invisible hand of the market, free speech, democracy, autonomy, equal rights, equal opportunity, self-reliance, decentralization of power, empowerment, enterprising, accountability, liability, no news is good news.

Definition of common interest:  well-understood self-interest. (Persuasion as a tool)

Decision-making: Decisions are made by a simple majority. Half plus one. The minority accepts that “the winner takes all.”

Thinking style: preference for quick decisions based on available information. Pragmatism: Inductive and action-orientated. Keywords: whatever works, best practices, “just do it”, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Motivation: competing, being the best, career steps, material rewards., “making it”. ‘

Leadership: decisive generalist, ability to “think on your feet”, making quick decisions. Required competence: strategical thinking. An “academic” approach is not appreciated. Profile as “practitioner”, referring to “best practices” gives status and credibility

Important issue: accountability. The leader gets relative freedom of action for an agreed-upon time frame with operationalized targets. However the leader is held accountable for the results and, if needed, replaced.


2.The Network


Basic assumption: the society is a network of independent, autonomous, equal stakeholders with heterogeneous ideas but willing to find common ground.

Important concepts: democracy, Rule of law, “the four C’s”:

Consensus seeking, Coalition governments, Collegial administration (no hierarchy) Co-optation (trying to get the enemy on board), autonomy, empowerment, incrementalism, Important saying: nobody owns the truth,

Definition of common interest: “shared” interest, defined by consensus, the participation of all stakeholders, and incrementalism. “Emerging insight”

Decision-making: decisions are ideally made by involving all important stakeholders, regardless of their level and status. In the end, all relevant stakeholders should support the decision.

Thinking style: a combination of inductive and deductive thinking. Need for a conceptual framework that gives direction and is not too “academic.” The focus is on what is doable to arrive at a dynamic consensus.

Leadership: The optimal profile is to act as a coordinator of independent stakeholders. There is a reluctance to believe leaders or managers can define what is good for the organization from a “higher “position. The formula for good leadership: E=Q*A Effectiveness is equal to the quality of a proposal times Acceptance.

Motivation: recognition as an autonomous stakeholder. Work motivation is very much connected to a feeling of autonomy inside their own “shop”. In general, people believe that they, more than others, know what is going on in their “shop” and what steps should be taken to improve the situation. In addition, people believe that the only way organizations can be effective is if all stakeholders are consulted from beginning to end and the focus is on finding shared interest.

3. Well-oiled Machine

Key assumption: the world is like a well-oiled machine. The different parts should fit in a smooth way. Common interest ideally is about a Principled, balanced total of interest formulated by experts. The core issue of these cultures is a high internalized need for structure.

Decentralization within clear, “unambiguous” agreements is the natural form of leadership and management.

System: deductive, need for systematic thinking and order.

Important concepts: the principled, internalized need for order, procedures, planning and structure.

Decision-making: systematic and procedural”, planmaesig handelnExperts and expert information play an important role. The key is principled, balanced and informed proposals by experts. There is no room for deviations, exceptions, or re-interpretations. Discipline in execution is more important than customization unless customization is included in the planning with clear criteria to cope with every new situation.

Leadership: the most important competence is the perceived deepness of expert knowledge.

Motivation: recognition as an expert, career, access to status symbols (type of car, number of windows in the office, privileges in the organization like access to special restaurants, et.

Thinking style: deductive. First, gather as much information as possible. Identifying what experts in the past and present have already said about the subject. Then, formulating principles for the action to be taken, followed by detailed planning.

4. The social pyramid

Key assumption: society is like a pyramid with an existential difference in power positions. Everybody has a rightful place in this Pyramid. Loyalty is in the first place to people of in-group. (Extended family, tribe, ethnic group, religious group, powerful family)

Important concepts: acceptance of hierarchy, centralization of power, implicit order, formality, loyalty to in-group first, sensitivity for high context communication

Leadership styles: A good leader is like a parent with moral competence: in return for loyalty, the leader takes care of people. The person at the top makes the decisions and then cascades down mandates with explicit directions. An important saying is: “People only respect what you inspect.”

Decision-making: top-down. Actions are taken only after the top person makes a clear decision and shows commitment.

Thinking style: deductive. Experts and academics get high esteem.

Motivation: Career, status, managing others, being connected to the right levels

  1. Solar system

Key assumption: the acceptance of top-down policy-making within the framework of Human Rights                       

The people at the top are accepted in formulating the common good. Still, they are constrained by a rule of law that guarantees the individual. An Important democratic principle formulated in this Worldview by Montesquieu is the “Trias Politica”. This is about the separation of Powers. The government should divide the power into three independent branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary branch. Under the separation of powers, each branch is independent, has a separate function, and may not usurp the functions of another branch.

System: top-down, deductive, individual rights, intellectualism.

Important concepts: centralization, Tension between accepting hierarchy and top-down decision-making, and awareness of individual rights. People respect what you inspect.

Decision-making top-down. The top person has the privilege of decision-making. Others can be involved. But after a discussion, the top person must be clear about which decision has been made.

Leadership: Highly visible intellectual, able to “play the system”.

Motivation: the logic of honor, career

Thinking style: deductive: gathering first all available information about what is known about a certain subject before actions are taken. After formulating the” Philosophy”, action actions can follow. Relevant sayings: “By the clash of opinions, the truth comes out” and “Cogito ego sum, I think, so I exist”.

6. Family

Key assumption: the society is like a traditional family. The parents are the ones that have the role to lead the family. Children should listen to the caring parent. The common good is formulated by the top of the dominant in-group

System: rewarding loyalty, trust, and social control. Frequently long-term orientation

Important Concepts: Acceptance of hierarchy, Centralization, loyalty to in-group, protection in return for loyalty, upward critical feedback is not acceptable, people respect what you inspect, indirect (high context) communication is seen as civilized, Decision-making: top down. After the decision, subordinates expect detailed instructions.

Leadership: parentlike behavior. Strict but fair. Rewarding loyalty by taking care of people.

Motivation: managing others, status, career, and being connected to influential people.

Thinking style: inductive, focusing on problem-solving



Key assumption: There should be a dynamic balance in the interest of all (in-group) stakeholders in society

System: rewarding loyalty, trust, and social control. Long-term orientation, focus on harmony.

Important concepts: Dynamic equilibrium, constant improvement, perseverance, reading between the lines, Upwards critical feedback is not rewarded

Decision-making: intensive consultations top down and bottom up (Ho-Ren-So), careful weighing of proposals. (Megawashi)

Leadership: s strict but fair, parentlike style. Rewarding loyalty

Motivation: loyalty to the organization, fitting in, constant improvements

Thinking style: deductive. First, gathering and weighing all information before actions are taken