I strongly recommend that you read the excellent essay Culture-mapping: A framework for understanding international B2b decision-making, by Jonathan Fletcher who is the Group Managing Director of Illuminas. Mr. Fletcher’s expertise lies in part in “analysing and interpreting market research data.”
In his paper Mr. Fletcher presents “a framework for understanding decision-making in different business cultures that will enable B2b researchers confronted with a new market to ask the right questions quickly and not waste time and money looking in the wrong places for the wrong things.” Mr. Fletcher finds that culture is “the hidden dimension” which has a “significant influence on economic and industrial behaviour and performance, but a large part of culture is implicit, unconscious and hidden from direct view.”
Some cultural practices are explicit and easily visible. For example, the differences between the practices of different religions are, on one level, quite easy to see. Mosques, Churches and Buddhist temples look very different and the activities that go on within them – though all fairly easily recognizable as forms of worship – differ in quite obvious ways. But there is an implicit dimension of culture related to social interaction, cognition and perception that is in effect hidden in plain sight. … Culture at this level has a profound influence on the way people behave but it is hard for people from one culture to even see how other cultures differ from their own because this implicit culture is a series of deeply ingrained habits of thought and feeling which are internalized and largely unconscious. Thus, when we look at another culture we are looking at a human phenomenon which the people in that culture are not wholly aware of themselves. Moreover, we are looking at it through the filter of our own cultural habits of mind, of which we ourselves are not fully aware. Thus it is doubly hidden from direct view.
Mr. Fletcher adopts a fascinating four-dimensional framework to analyze cultures:
1. Vertical discipline
2. Cultural Dynamism
4. Context Dependence
I will not summarized this framework here, but direct you to the essay, which you really must read.
For my purposes, as the coauthor of America 3.0, I am mainly interested in Mr. Fletcher’s use of the analytic frameworks developed by Emmanuel Todd based on family structure, which was a significant influence on our thinking in America 3.0.
Mr. Fletcher notes that “[f]amily structure has a distinct advantage as an explanatory variable of current social phenomena: it is longstanding and robust in the face of social and political upheavals.” He cites to Alan Macfarlane for his finding that “the nuclear family was the dominant domestic arrangement in England well before the Industrial Revolution. … Indeed, MacFarlane attributes the early onset of industrialization in England to the greater geographical mobility and social adaptability that the nuclear family structure enables.” We rely heavily on Alan Macfarlane’s analysis of England and English history in America 3.0.
Mr. Fletcher points out a further critical feature of using family structure as a basis for analysis:
This stability of family structures provides a solution to a problem that haunts the social sciences – the inability in non- experimental settings to identify the sequence in time of two correlated events or variables, and therefore to establish with confidence the direction of cause and effect between them. With family structure, there is seldom any doubt about this as it is
almost always clearly the prior and more fundamental variables with which it is correlated.
Mr. Fletcher applies the “Toddean” family structure framework to identify where each of the main family types falls along his four axes, then examines empirical evidence and finds that the expected alignments are generally confirmed by the evidence.
He ends up with four “core models”:
1. Vertical + High Trust + High Dynamism
2. Vertical + Low-Medium Trust + Low-Medium Dynamism
3. Non-Vertical + High Trust + High Dynamism
4. Non-Vertical + Low-Medium Trust
The USA falls within core model 3.
This group comprises the English-speaking cultures found in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States. The difference between the cultures in this group and cultures like Germany and Japan is the relative lack of vertical discipline in the Anglo-Saxon cultures. This single, underlying difference has a number of consequences for the way business gets done in these economies:
− Short-termism: focus on the short term, normally the financial quarter or year, is a chronic problem for economies such as the UK and the US. John Maynard Keynes, when trying to convince economists of the need for national governments to intervene more in economies couched it in a way that appealed to the British preference for short-term thinking when he wrote that ‘in the long run we are all dead’ (Keynes, 1923). This could serve as the motto for these economies. The short-termism of business is reinforced by the very frequent changes of ruling party in these democracies, which make it difficult to maintain consistent industrial policies.
− Atomisation: High trust and high dynamism combined with low vertical discipline make for very radical decentralization of business structures. Organisations are very flat, spans of control are very wide. In order to maintain order in such organizational structures, accountability often has to be ensured by multiple reports. Aspects of a market structure are often reflected within businesses. For example, we increasingly find something approaching (and often described as) a client-supplier relationship between different parts of the same business.
− Objectification: The combination of low context-dependence and atomisation tends to result in highly analytical thinking processes in which phenomena are isolated by stripping away their context. This would not be such a problem were it not for the fact that its relationships with other phenomena tend to then be neglected with the result that analyses fail to engage with reality. Neo-classical economics, with its extreme abstractions and simplifications of real-life economies, is in the dock at the moment because of its perceived role in the recent financial crisis. But business and economic decision-making in countries like the US and UK is shot through with this same decontextualising logic.
Businesses and economies in these cultures are highly fluid. The geographical mobility resulting from the weak ties between generations within a family (that MacFarlane claimed was so important for the early industrialization of the English economy in the C18th) can still be seen in the fluid nature of economic relations in English-speaking countries. Employees move between organisations very regularly; businesses rise and fall or are recombined into completely new entities; even entire regions sink into neglect only to be revived by entrepreneurial activity and gentrification. Nowhere is Marx’s dictum that in capitalist societies ‘all that is solid melts into air’ more obvious than in economies like the UK and US.
The other strong trend in these cultures is ruthless commoditisation. Other cultures follow but it tends to be the Anglo-Saxon cultures that have lead the way in off-shoring and outsourcing and generally doing everything possible to drive costs down as far as possible. This approach was even adopted in what many take to be the summit of achievement for these cultures, the US space programme. Hence astronaut Alan Shepard’s quote ‘I wasn’t scared, but I was up there looking around, and suddenly I realized I was sitting on top of a rocket built by the lowest bidder.’
The main focus of B2b marketing and research in businesses in these cultures is the individual employee. They are generally fairly easy to get to and when you do get to them your task is to find out what makes them personally tick in their current role. This may be the desire to look good in front of their superiors, an easier working life or the novelty interest of something new. In such an atomized society it could also be something which relieves the loneliness and personal exposure which employees in positions of responsibility often feel.
Notably, Mr. Fletcher’s analysis, derived from Todd, Macfarlane and others, is not simply intellectual. It is meant to guide real-world decision-making:
The purpose of this framework is to provide initial hypotheses about how decision-making is structured and carried out in different cultures. Used in this way, it can help as prop to understanding what is going on in a foreign culture. By being grounded at a general and fundamental level, an initial understanding based on the framework can be refined, and in any particular case it is quite possible that the initial hypothesized rating on a dimension is rejected in favour of an alternative rating on that dimension. The framework classifies countries in terms of their central tendencies, and any particular business or sector in a country may differ from the country average. The key point is that these four dimensions appear to be fundamental to the way business is conducted in any culture, and identifying where a decision-making process sits along these dimensions can be very useful in making sense of what is going on with the process.
The understanding of the strengths and weaknesses underlying American business culture, in Mr. Fletcher’s work, is paralleled by our assessment in America 3.0 of the strengths and weaknesses of American political culture.
Our conclusion, that the USA is well positioned to take advantage of emerging technology, and that it is ill-suited to a more hierarchic and authoritarian political organization will be proven (or disproven) over time.
Nonetheless, the high quality analysis in Mr. Fletcher’s paper is strong corroboration that Jim Bennett and I have also built our analysis on a sound foundation.
Again, please read Mr. Fletcher’s insightful essay in its entirety.