7 Mental Images

News around the “Mental Images”

The urgency: Professor Geert Hofstede:

The survival of humanity will depend largely on the ability of people who think differently to act together.


We aim at providing practical examples of solutions for challenges created by value diversity in international organizations.

Background: the seven mental images of national culture

Huib Wursten (Author)

The 7 Mental Images of National Culture: Leading and Managing in a Globalized World

The 7 Mental Images are central in this approach because they:

  • Are evidence-based. As they are built on the e extensive empirical research by Geert Hofstede and repeat research by others
  • Reduce the complexity by bringing back the scores of about 150 countries to 7 “rules of the game.”
  • Show the way the Hofstede dimensions influence each other. We can only understand real-life situations by combining Hofstede’s independent dimensions of culture. “The whole is more than the sum of parts.”
  • The 7 Mental Images are used to compare 30 significant organizational differences systematically. This is important to develop solutions. The first step is to define precisely where the differences lie in the diverse value systems.
  • This provides for something that goes beyond the widespread diversity and inclusion programs. Rightly these programs are creating awareness about discrimination and stereotyping, etc. However, they mostly try to avoid answering what exactly is diverse and different.

An extensive database is available. The database includes cases, exercises, game(s), comparisons per management issue and per Mental Image, 25 papers on content applications. The website gives insight into the 4 step approach for creating solutions

The steps described are:

  • Identifying the differences
  • Bridging the gap
  • Integrating the solutions
  • Anchoring solutions in the organizational culture

For more information about the 7 Mental Images contact Huib Wursten If consultancy is needed, please get in touch with Pia Kähärä, Associate partner of HIG

For all other Services or Questions please contact Eric Alexander de Groot.

By Pia Kähärä


You are affected by cultural differences at the workplace, and it’s lowering your ability to find the best solutions – 4 steps for solving intercultural problems

If you work for an international organization, I can almost guarantee you will face intercultural problems. Also, your toolbox may not be as full as you might think, even after working internationally for quite a while.

While writing his book on the 7 mental images, author and consultant Huib Wursten met people from a similar background to you who were against the idea that cultural differences influence their behavior.

“It is too simple to put people into boxes based on their background” or “I don’t want to stereotype” are some of the common arguments. Some go as far as to deny that people are different (of course we are, just strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you at any event or on public transport).

As independent autonomous “actors” who make rational conscious decisions, how could we be simply defined by categories? Every day, we can “objectively” analyze the situation at hand and make the right choices…

…I hate to break it to you, but while it can be difficult on a personal level to accept it, one of the tools helping you arrive at those conclusions and decisions is your cultural background and the trust in this subconscious ‘collective programming of our human minds that distinguishes one group of people from another. This is also Geert Hofstede’s definition of culture and forms the basis for Wursten’s 7 mental images model.

You’re not making decisions or arriving at conclusions in a vacuum using only your know-how and brainpower. Not acknowledging that can hurt your ability to make the best decisions.

Programming this cultural operating system starts when our parents start communicating with us as children. They give us nudges on what is acceptable and what is not. Later on, other adults, for example, teachers, take charge of our programming and influence us on what decisions to make and what we should aim for.

Research shows that this programming is complete by the early teenage years. Only dramatic events later in life can change this operating system.

In our adult lives and in the business world, this undercurrent of pre-programmed code plays a decisive role in our preferences. Huib Wursten calls this the “gravitational” influence of national culture. It affects what we do in leadership roles, what economic approaches we choose, our recruitment policies, marketing efforts, and decision-making during mergers and acquisitions.

When you know your own background inside and out, you’ll be able to develop more ideas, understand different ways of thinking and find solutions outside the box.


I still remember the first time I ran into the idea of sensitizing individuals to their underlying cultural background, which we have in this article talked about as programming (or at least the first time I really realized what the implications would be).

I had worked in a manager position in another culture and felt deeply uncomfortable about some things I kept encountering in my work. Then, I discovered Geert Hofstede’s ideas to prepare a presentation on solving intercultural problems.

For me, it was eye-opening. Suddenly I could put certain situations and my feelings about them into the proper context, and I could understand why others were doing things that had felt like they went against common sense. You could compare it to zeros and ones of computer language being turned into readable lines of code.

Understanding that this programming exists and unfreezing it is an emotional action. It can be the source of great relief as people working internationally start recognizing they have lived through situations where these cultural differences played a part in practice.

I remember gaining a new mindset from just Geert Hofstede’s theories. For the 7 mental images model built on the Hofstede dimensions of culture, Huib further systematically compared 30 crucial elements of organizational behavior. By seeing examples we know from practice, we can realize the need to bridge the differences. This is an important first step of the 4 step approach.


The second step in the 4 step model is to understand and accept that cultural programming affects people deeply. We have to move away from convincing others to think like us or do things our way.

It can be tempting to simply explain why my way is better than yours, but when working with international teams, I take the much more realistic approach promoted by Geert Hofstede and Huib Wursten of analyzing the cultural differences and developing strategies and policies that are acceptable for all parties.

You might not be aware that tested solutions are on offer, but they are, and I modify them all the time to achieve what I need to do in my job as a consultant.

Let’s take an example and apply the overview of some solutions offered on Huib Wursten’s paper published on academia.edu: Imagine a situation where a Danish manager is working with a Chinese team and calls a meeting to ask them to give honest feedback on why a project overran its deadline.

China and India are examples of countries where people generally find it difficult to give negative feedback in public (Wursten’s Family cluster). But in countries like Denmark and the USA (Network and Contest clusters), negative feedback is expected by managers: they are used to thinking no news is good news!

By understanding their own cultural expectations of giving feedback and that of their team, the Danish manager can adapt and solve the intercultural problem. They have to ask their employees in private about their opinions without endangering them to lose face or creating disharmony in the team.

The same process works to determine solutions on issues in target setting, decision making, communication styles, and conflict resolution.


The third step in the 4 step model is to make sure the accepted and working solutions are not evaporating after some time.

We tend to fall back to our trusted solutions defined by our cultural background, i.e. the programming in our operating system. This is especially true during any crisis or stressful times.

Huib Wursten recommends putting Standard Operating Procedures in place to ensure the solutions found during the second step are kept intact. They will be helpful to fall back on.

Finally, nothing will happen unless the willingness to develop mutually acceptable solutions (adapt to differences) is integrated into the organizational culture as the 4th step in the process. This includes processes like recruitment, HR procedures, reward systems, etc.

We have tested working approaches already available. By using the 4 step approach outlined above and starting to look for patterns in intercultural problems – or even in situations where you haven’t yet identified a cultural issue – you can start pulling out new ideas and solutions you didn’t know were there.

– Pia Kähärä