Why you might want to read this: it can help you notice how much we are biased by our cultures and help you understand how (not) to communicate with other cultures. Also, it can spare you from frustration with future international hires. Personally, I have discovered that many things I thought were my personality traits actually fall under cultural differences.
Disclaimer 1: text below is subjected to strong confirmation bias. A grain of salt is recommended.
Disclaimer 2: these are personal observations. Extrapolate with caution.
Disclaimer 3: my writing style is casual. I don't have a background in social science, so forgive me for loose terms or misinterpretations (please correct them in the comments)
I discovered this beautiful Hofstede's study on the six dimensions of culture mapped country by country. I stumbled upon it while looking for social science wisdom on longtermism, but this aspect is not what I want to write about.
Instead, I will write about the following:
1) my personal experience of receiving work-related feedback from people from different cultures (I was raised in Ukraine and worked in the international Western European orgs)
2) my observations about EA and the “Western mindset” and how, surprisingly, EA might be the bridge between the East and the West.
I would go over each of Hofstede's six dimensions and share how much the feedback givers and I fall under the cultural stereotypes:
- Power distance (how much you respect the authority). Ukraine scores high, but I personally see myself way out of distribution and much closer to the average Western European. I received feedback that my bosses would prefer me to take more ownership. For me, my attitude was about keeping the respective distance and wanting to respect the bosses' opinions.
- Individualism. Ukraine scores low (high on collectivism) compared to the West. I receive feedback that I care a lot about other people and the project.
- Assertiveness of decision-making (masculinity in the original terminology). My higher-scoring feedbackers wished I was more assertive. Coherent with the cultural differences.
- Uncertainty avoidance. This is a big one. I think even among Ukrainians, I score high, but the difference between the East and the West is apparent here. Received corresponding feedback.
- Long-term orientation. Ukraine is only slightly higher than Europe but much higher than the US. More on this in the next part. No feedback on this one.
- Indulgence (vs. restraint). Ukraine, and the East in general, is much below the West on this one. Easterners are genuinely restrained. I also received corresponding feedback.
Summary: Most of the feedback came back to cultural differences. It’s a great question what to do with this observation? Personally, I find this to be a surprising and valuable update. I hope that people in similar multicultural environments can revisit their situations.
EA through Hofstede's lens.
I want to comment on three things that matter for EA and why it makes me think that EA is a “radical” idea for the West but much less “radical” for the East.
- Long-term orientation. The US scores very low on long-term orientation, while China and Russia would score high. In my experience, eastern strategic thinking has a flavor of “thinking about one’s place in history.” The U.S., in Easterners' eyes, is perceived as a short-sighted overpowered player. If one were to sell longtermism to the Easterners - they would say that this product is not so original.
- Indulgence. Among explanations of what is meant by this dimension, one finds it to be a metric of how important morality is (high morality = low indulgence). Morality is more important for the East than for the West. “Doing good” might sound like a new idea for a Western commoner, but the East is strongly inclined towards traditional values. Following them means doing good.
- Individualism. Thinking about others is much more usual in Eastern societies than in the West. In fact, individualism is frowned upon. Hence all lives matter - can be a much less novel slogan in the East than in the West.
Summary: Somehow, I came to the discomforting mental derivation that EA is a discovery of Eastern values by Westerners. Although the amount of asterisks one can put around this statement is unnameable, I believe it is an important perspective to have. Firstly, to understand how to build a dialog with the East, and secondly, to learn to perceive the East as an example of someone who incorporates the long-term moralist values and what can be the side-effects of this worldview.
On the positive side, EAs are well-placed to talk to Easterners and should probably do it more. That is to say, there is much more in common than you could have thought, and EA adoption can be much easier in the East. Proceed with caution.