Individually motivated Australia

blog3-01Nola Turner-Jensen

Cultural resilience researcher at CultuRecode Model


According the world wide study undertaken by undertaken by Geert Hofstede (2001) the dominant culture in Australia is firmly rooted in Anglo Saxon Great Britain.  It has to do with whether people´s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In Collectivist societies people belong to ‘in groups’ that take care of them in exchange for loyalty.

Individualism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and that he has an inalienable right to live it as he sees fit, to act on his own judgment, to keep and use the product of his effort, and to pursue the values of his choosing. It’s the idea that the individual is sovereign, an end in himself, and the fundamental unit of moral concern.

When Individually motivated people look out at the world and see people, they see separate, distinct individuals. The individuals may be in groups (say, on a soccer team or in a business venture), but the indivisible beings we see are individual people. Each has his own body, his own mind, his own life. Groups, insofar as they exist, are nothing more than individuals who have come together to interact for some purpose. This is an observable fact about the way the world is. It is not a matter of personal opinion or social convention, and it is not rationally debatable. It is a perceptual-level, metaphysically given fact. Things are what they are; human beings are individuals.

One interesting phenomenon that cross-cultural psychologists have observed is how people from individualist cultures describe themselves compared to how those from collectivist cultures describe themselves. People from individualist society have self -concepts that are more focused on independence rather than interdependence. As a result, they tend to describe themselves in terms of their unique personal characteristics and traits. A person from this type of culture might say that “I am analytical, sarcastic, and athletic.” This can be contrasted with self-descriptions from people living in collectivist societies, who would be more likely to say something like, “I am a good husband and loyal friend.”

Most modern Australian families rely on only a few people with very specific roles to bring up a child. (Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa)

The belief that when you get old enough you should go out on your own and live your own life is very different to Group/Indigenous world view. Competitiveness is a big part of most Anglo Australian life today. Progressing is important and not having ambition is thought of as a negative. Respect and trust is meant to be gained not given automatically. Children are not seen as having care giver responsibilities and adults make most decisions on children’s behalf.

Analytic thinkers pay close attention to the details of a problem without considering contextual influences, whereas holistic thinkers consider the background elements. Analytic thinkers break a problem down into smaller parts and focus on the individual components, progressing from the micro to the macro. Holistic thinkers start with the big picture, considering the whole first and the interconnectedness of elements. Whereas analytic thinkers make decisions using logic, holistic thinkers use intuition or emotion to make decisions.

Members of cultures in the which the individual is emphasised have an increased tendency for making the fundamental attribution error—explaining the cause of a person’s behaviour by reference to their innate character traits or personality rather than external sources. Jack is late because he is lazy, rather than Jack is late because of poor traffic. Because members of cultures that emphasise an independent self-analysis are more likely to see themselves as independent agents, they are also more likely to perceive the behaviours of others as independent of context also.

Differences in the relative importance of the individual versus the group also drive variations in family structures and social ties and activity across cultures.

In cultures that emphasise independence, ties between members are loose. Nuclear families are more common than extended families. Love carries greater weight in marriage decisions, and divorce rates are higher. Members of those cultures are likely to engage in activities alone, and social interactions are shorter and less intimate, although they are more frequent.

In societies that emphasise interdependence with others, individuals are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups. Shared living is emphasised. Extended families, with uncles, aunts, and grandparents, provide protection in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. There are lower divorce rates, yet love carries less weight in marriage decisions. Members of those cultures are likely to prefer group activities. Social interactions are longer and more intimate.

The studies above illustrate how thinking styles vary across cultures. Westerners display an analytical thinking style that focuses on salient objects independent of context, whereas Group motivated people like those of Indigenous or Asian cultures exhibit a holistic thinking style that considers the relationship of the object to its context. While Anglo Australians exhibit object-orientated attention in which greater weight is given to understanding the property of discrete objects, Group/Indigenous people exhibit context-sensitive, holistic attention in which the relationships among elements are equally important.

It can be frustrating for Individual motivated people to work with those outside your focused  culture because they do not have the same motivation or meet your competitive, future orientated expectations.  Those of Individual focused cultures do not always want to be part of a Group and certainly are raised to believe that everything is a single unit and by achieving as a single person you are indeed making your country a better place. Group focused people cannot comprehend this type of thinking and wake up each day trying to find ways to make their group (community, cultural group, nation) happier and better.

ScenarioKatie is an Ancient Australian descendant owner and she asked for some high profile business women to mentor her to help her new start-up online traditional Artwork business be a success.  A couple of very kind Australian women put their hands up and Katie finds a particular rapport with corporate executive Judy (who runs multiple stores).  Judy is in another state so much initial contact is by phone, but Katie is very comfortable with Judy and considers her a friend after the first phone call as she was so kind.  Judy of course is happy to give some of her valuable time but certainly does not see their relationship in the same way and has clear boundaries of the time and assistance she can offer Katie. After several phone calls and lots of great advice and knowledge sharing they meet up and Judy mentions that she is happy to help Katie get a start by purchasing some of her product for her stores.  Judy genuinely wants to help and offers help without actually seeing if it is possible. Katie is over the moon and again this affirms to her the special relationship that they share. But of course Judy gets busy and puts the project on hold for a while and cannot take Katie’s calls as often.  Katie feels let down and hurt because she feels that a friend/family member would never act this way.

Judy is of course oblivious and eventually calls Katie and starts negotiations again.  However, this time Katie is warier and guarded and no longer feels hopeful. Unfortunately, things have changed and Judy is no longer in a position to offer as much as before, but is happy to do something with Katie.  Katie’s trust with Judy is broken and she is now despondent and saddened that her friend could treat her this way when she is so successful and should share her success with her as she would in return.

This is a common discourse that is played out when these two Polar Opposite Core Value groups try to work together.  By learning about and getting to know each group’s expectations and ways of doing things each side will now adjust to work more effectively with the other.  The Core Value group that masters this skill or is willing to adapt more completely will have much more success in a business and relationship sense with the integrity of both cultures still in place.

The CultuRecode Model has found that to develop positive rather than conflictive intercultural relations the workplace setting should consist of five conditions:

  1. Identify individual Shared Value codes of workers based on their primary culture
  2. Compare individual polar opposite Shared Value codes of workers based on their primary culture
  3. Create an engagement environment of Intercultural empathy and equality
  4. Develop a set of positive intercultural engagement strategies and common goals for each set of Shared Values
  5. Support from authority figures in the program or institution in which the interaction takes place.

Nola Turner-Jensen – As a proud Wiradjuri (Weir rad jury) Indigenous/Anglo Australian women.  Nola is committed to positive change for all Australians.  After a career as a community based Youth and Social Worker she witnessed firsthand how a loss of culture is a loss too much to bear for many young Aboriginal men and women and their families.  Nola and a committed team have undertaken research for the past 5 years to try and develop practical models or frameworks to capture, maintain and pass on traditional knowledge and values to all Australian future generations.