5 books to up your cross-cultural game
A reading list to help you crack the world of international business.
1. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (3rd ed.), by Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov
What more natural starting place than Geert Hofstede? A pioneer in intercultural research, he’s most famous for the cultural dimensions he developed in the 1960s while working at IBM - a model that remains widely-used today. In the 3rd edition of Cultures & Organisations, Hofstede and his co-authors build upon his earlier research and dig deep into organisational culture. Never heard of power distance or uncertainty avoidance? Step this way to begin your cross-cultural education!
2. The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer
I feel that this book’s beauty lies in its ability to make cross-cultural theory relatable. Where Hofstede is academic, Meyer weaves in vignettes and anecdotes that bring her research to life - who can forget Sabine navigating feedback from her American boss or how negatively Danish egalitarian leadership norms were received in Russia? It’s a great read that specifically speaks to businesspeople who want to improve their effectiveness in a multicultural world.
Note: In TCM Meyer presents eight cultural dimensions. They do overlap somewhat with Hofstede’s but the two models are distinct. In intercultural theory there’s no one size fits all when it comes to cultural dimensions, and theorists are welcome to develop their own. Each model simply helps us understand the phenomenon that is culture a little better.
3. How The World Thinks, by Julian Baggini
Now for some philosophy and history: why certain thought patterns and customs are prevalent in different parts of the world. Confucianism and other ancient philosophies, Baggini tells us, have greatly shaped culture as we know it today. Their principles live and breathe in the ways in which different groups approach notions of selfhood, values, and more. Like Hofstede and Meyer, he offers a different - though equally compelling - way of better understanding our behaviours and putting them into context. From the agora in BCE Athens to Lenin’s Mausoleum via Robben Island, prepare for a stimulating journey.
4. Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado Perez
How would I describe this book? Exquisite and painful. It's incredibly well written so I couldn't put it down - despite the discomfort of being confronted with the realities and consequences of the gender data gap. As a woman, I am 47% more likely than a man to be seriously injured in a car accident because seatbelts are designed to accommodate the average male body. Terrifying much?
I’m adding this book to the list because it starkly shows us what happens when we’re not inclusive. Substitute gender for another diversity marker (race, for instance) and you get a similar set of compelling stories. It’s time we made this stop, people.
5. Around the World in 80 Novels, by Henry Russell
For me, literature has been a way to learn about many different cultures. Through Jhumpa Lahiri, I gained insight into the joys and frustrations experienced by many second generation Indian Americans. Similarly, Tsitsi Dangarembga lifted the lid on Zimbabwean gender politics and the country’s colonial legacy.
If you’re looking for inspiration, this book suggests 80 books to take you on a global journey. Each allows you to step into a different culture and experience life through that lens: from the Angolan Civil War to 14th century detective work in Italy via a date with China’s last empress.
Looking for further suggestions and inspiration? Get in touch!