Go looking for a definition of “culture,” and you’ll find more than 100, some of which refer to organizational cultural, others referring to the kind of culture that distinguishes the general population of one country from that of another.
The latter is addressed in my forthcoming ebook “The Cultural Psyche of India: Guidance for U.S. Marketers.” The book looks at corporate branding and product positioning from the perspective of U.S. companies who need to know whether or how they and their products can appeal to Indian audiences.
The book will be available soon for Kindle download at amazon.com. If you’d like to be notified when that happens, feel free to drop me an email.
Until then, here’s an excerpt about what is meant by societal culture, based on the wonderfully crafted writings of U.S.-born anthropologist Edward T. Hall, Ph.D.:
Culture as a screen
“For Hall, culture is `the part of human behavior… we take for granted – the part we don’t think about…’ It is a form of communication, `saturated with both emotion and intelligence,’ functioning as a `highly selective screen between man and the outside world’ – a screen that `designates what we pay attention to and what we ignore.’ Although anthropologists (as well as organizational scientists) debate the meaning of culture, Hall believes that most anthropologists agree on three of its characteristics:
“1) Culture is learned rather than innate.
“2) All of its facets are inter-related; therefore, if `you touch a culture in one place, everything else is affected.’ (We explore this idea in Chapter 5 with regard to why marketers should think of their products and their organizations as part of the environment in which they compete rather than separate from it).
“3) As a shared concept among members of the same groups, culture defines the boundaries of those groups.””
Whether the need is to understand a different culture from a marketing perspective, prepare employees for ex-patriot assignments, or develop culturally appropriate human resources policies, the issue of whether culture can actually be taught is relevant.
Can culture be taught?
Hall, writing in Beyond Culture, says that while culture cannot be taught in the same way that language can, there are two partially effective methods for understanding a particular culture. The first, spending a lifetime there on a daily basis, is hardly practical for marketers who don’t have a lifetime to study how or whether their branding fits within a particular culture. The second involves training, and there, Hall believes five points should be acknowledged.
But that’s another column.
Hall, E.T. (1977, 1989). Beyond culture. New York, NY; Toronto, Canada: Anchor Press.
Hall, E.T. (1980). The silent language. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland: Anchor Press.