Gerard Hendrik (Geert) Hofstede (2 October 1928 – 12 February 2020) was a Dutch social psychologist, IBM employee, and Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He is best known for developing one of the earliest and most popular frameworks for measuring cultures in a global perspective.
He is known for his books ‘Culture’s Consequences and Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind’, (the latest edition -2010- co-authored with his son Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov), has so far been translated into 20 languages. Geert Hofstede is a pioneer in the field of culture and intercultural research. His model is still the most used and well-known model worldwide in the field of interculturality. He became the most widely quoted social scientist of the Netherlands.
In 1974, Geert Hofstede received a large amount of data concerning the values of people in 50 different countries. These data came from a survey conducted among the staff of the company International Business Machines, better known as IBM. The interesting thing about this dataset was that the corporate structure in these 50 countries was the same, but the staff were hired from the individual countries. As a result, the cultural factor (the national culture in which people grew up) was the only difference between the answers.
From this research Hofstede distilled 4 fundamental universal problems (later 6) which he called ‘cultural dimensions. Each dimension provides a specific value in a country. Every culture is different and has found a different way of dealing with the fundamental universal dilemmas in the past. These ‘dealing with universal dilemmas’ lead to basic assumptions, which Hofstede explains as: What people assume; What the truth is; What they believe; What they are convinced of.
In short, with these cultural dimensions (or basic assumptions), one culture can be compared with another culture. These first four cultural dimensions with the attached universal dilemmas are:
1 Power distance. The answer to the universal dilemma: how is power distributed? How much (in)equality should there be among us?
2 Individualism versus Collectivism. The answer to the universal dilemma: do people see themselves in terms of “I” or “we.” How dependent are we on our (extended) family?
3 Femininity versus masculinity. The answer to the universal dilemma: assertiveness or modesty? How should a man feel and behave, how should a woman feel and behave?
4 Uncertainty avoidance. The answer to the universal dilemma: how afraid are we of unknown people, ideas and objects? How do people deal with the discomfort of the uncertainty that comes with life? Try to control it or let it happen?
Later, two other dimensions were identified by Hofstede with the help of other researchers. These are:
5 Long- or short-term focus. The answer to the universal dilemma: do we focus on the future, the present or the past? How do people deal with challenges of the present and the future?
6 Indulgence versus restraint. The answer to the universal dilemma: may we have fun or is life a serious matter? Do people allow or suppress gratification of human needs?
The surveys have been conducted in more countries so that the total of six cultural dimensions of 76 countries are known by now. The answers from Hofstede’s studies only give meaning to cultural differences if they are compared with the answers from people from other countries. Hofstede has made this visible by ranking the dimensions per cultural dimension, indicated on an index scale of 1 to 100. Some countries score slightly above 100. This is because they were added later after the index scale was already created.
In this way, the cultures of different countries can be compared relative to each other.