Sunday, November 20, 2011


Motto: Who is wise? He that learns from everyone. Who is powerful? He that governs his passions. Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.
Benjamin Franklin

It’s been a while since I last wrote on the ‘roots’ series. I feel that after this pause, would be nice to take a step back from the blame-game on the crisis actual triggers, while still keeping the eyes on the ball – digging out another root today.

I have travelled this year roughly to around 15 to 20 different places in the world. It is amazing how much we have built, how much we have invented, how much we have progressed towards making our lives easier, more entertaining, more comfortable. It is also amazing how demanding we have become with people and places around us, but also with ourselves. How much we feel like we are ‘entitled’ to things which we did not work to accomplish or fought to get; how much we are willing to spend money which we did not yet earn, just because they are available and it is fashionable to spend.

It is at the same time puzzling for me why we are no longer satisfied with simplest things in life, why for example we do not stop to smell the flowers, but admire from a distance the fact that they are nicely and symmetrically displayed. I cannot stop by wonder how often we pass by potential happiness every day, too busy to stop and welcome it into our life, or too self-important to notice it at all.

Then I realize this is not happening everywhere in the world. There is still a great part of ‘us’, living poor but happy lives, in places where ‘shopping while already dressed’, ‘eating without being hungry’, ‘exercising without getting anything done’, drug consumption and occasional sex are not yet a way of entertainment. Where the money earned with great effort goes for modest food and for clothing that is used for protecting the body from indecent looks and keeping warm when weather gets tough. Where muscle is grown and body is fit through every day work. Where the clothes and boots are passed from older to younger brother or sister, after being mended from time to time by a loving mother. I remember a nice comparison of the difference between rich and poor – the first never really smile.

There is another (great) part of us that also live poor lives, however unhappy ones. This is a category where children do not live enough to use any clothing, where they may not know much about happiness, but may also not know much about unhappiness either. The name of the game is survival - no hope, no comparison, no news, no success stories that would make them realize what is happening outside their own world. I will have to stop with this line of reasoning, as this was supposed to be a more positive ‘edition’ of the roots and I have drifted from the subject.

What I want to share with you today is the consciousness of diversity. Both in my university years and later on in my professional life, I have come across various theories and tests about characteristics of individuals, of social systems and of organizations. I have presented on my Romanian blog one idea of how we can apply one of the cognitive psychology tools (the JoHari window) to the service industry. I will come back to that when I will get to the “Controller” (one of the future topics of the Root series).

Today I will share with you the teachings of two other tools: Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and Myers Briggs psychology indicators.

Geert Hofstede clustered basic characteristics of a nation initially into 4, later on into 5 dimensions: power distance, individualism (/collectivism), masculinity (/feminity), uncertainty avoidance and long-term (/short term) orientation. He scored most of the countries and you can find the conclusions here. For organizations, the dimensions are different, i.e. process vs. results-oriented, employee vs. job-oriented, parochial vs. professional, open vs. closed system, loose vs. tight control and pragmatic vs. normative. His work is generally accepted, however also criticized given simplicity and sometimes general approach of the resulting classifications and scorings. However, it is relevant for the purpose of today’s exercise i.e. to get a feeling on the huge diversity in terms of traditional cultures, as well as (especially booming in the recent years) in terms of organizational cultures.

The cultural clash was inevitable, but in the last decade has gained momentum on a double level – mass migration and expansion of global companies. And it does not stop here. We are very different on an individual level.

Myers Briggs is used on individual level, for understanding one’s thinking and acting pattern, and also for channeling own potential for future development. It is best to have a specialist apply this test on you, properly calibrated for your own culture, as above mentioned differences are also encoded in individual perception of the 4 dimensions of this tool. However there are decent self-assessment questionnaires online, that could help you get a hint on your psychological type. The result is a combination of 4 so-called dichotomies for each individual (extraverted / introverted, sensing / intuitive, thinking / feeling, judging / perceiving). The applications of this tool are very wide. I for example like to ask my team members to take this test, in order to better understand how their unique abilities can be combined to obtain best results.

Of course there are other instruments, such as the 16PF or the Enneagram, however Myers-Briggs is the simplest and easiest to understand.

Funny thing about the personality tests is that none returns results such as ‘thief’, ‘serial killer’, ‘fraudster’, ‘crook’ etc. That means that any one of the resulting types of personality could become an ‘outlaw’, depending on a large number of cumulative factors. It is actually a proven thesis that most of us would gradually become fraudulent (or at least compromise on our basic principles to the edge of breaching them) if given the opportunity and approached in the way of 'small steps'. Other aggravating factors are general evolution (or involution) of the principles within the environment, as well as our own perception about opportunity, control and potential gain.

I will stop on the general label of ‘outlaw’, because of its semantics – “out + law”, meaning somebody that breaks the law.

What law? That is the question. We have come a long way from the times of Moses, Hammurabi or Ur-Nammu. There was also a large variety of ancient Chinese laws, all centered on basic Confucian moral principles. Even then the differences between basic moral principles, the idea of right and wrong where so different – if you are curious about it, just check the difference between the ’10 abominations’ (China / Confucianism) and the ‘10 commandments’ (Christian principles).

Nowadays the ‘law’ has drifted apart so much in different countries that it seems to have diluted much from basic moral principles. Contemporary laws sometimes contradict each other, people may be guilty of crimes without even knowing it (as we all know, ‘unawareness is no excuse for breaking the law’). Some laws breach the very idea of fairness, common sense and morality - as some of us know it. Also there are countries in which law interpretation is purely at the good (or bad) will of a judge. There are laws promoted just because of the pressure from circles of interested parties - the privileged few.

The diversity is all around us, with both its good and evil side. What is not possible however is to make everyone think, feel and act in the same way. No matter how much we progress industrially and technologically, how well we learn to communicate, how tolerant we pretend to be, we cannot achieve universal understanding of morality and fairness. Outlaws will always walk amongst us. Even worse, the more the world is trying to converge, the more agile they will become in search of the perfect environment that would keep them ‘within-law’. The adaptability of the crooks in this world is remarkable. At a certain point, I believe they realized that it has become possible even to make laws that would turn the “out” into “within”.

In a perfect world, both communist and capitalist doctrines would have been successful. The communists would still be happily leaving in their utopist society, the capitalists would still be profiting in a perfectly functional market economy, with self-adjusting laws of supply and demand. What happened that they all failed? Life! A handful of powerful communists have stolen more than the majority could bear and the regime failed (as per some other theories, the capitalists just needed more playgrounds for their game…). Another handful, of powerful capitalists, with access to the right tools, started gambling on the markets, with other people’s money. They also decided to “better regulate” the markets, so that no “out-law” principle would get between them and their gains.

The good thing is that a lot of progress was achieved in this process. This is why the majority (that calls themselves now the 99%...) started living nicer and nicer lives, got more and more entertainment, lived a couple of decent ‘orange’ revolutions and a series of emancipations, while entrusting “the 1%” with more and more power, while loosening more and more the control over the outcome. Who is to blame? The bear for eating the honey or the bee for keeping the window opened? I believe the question has really lost its relevance given the seriousness of the current happenings.

What will follow? It may not seem while reading current roots series, however I would cast an optimistic outlook on humanity. Why?

First line of reasoning:
Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end (Author Unknown / source )

Second line of reasoning: it seems like we are approaching the bottom and …
History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives / Abba Eban

We have the strength to evolve, we have an immense adaptability potential and we should learn from our grandparents. It is said the genetics usually jumps over one generation and this is why kids seldom get along with their parents, but almost always get along with their grandparents (well, except for the ‘spoiling’ part there could be other reasons..).

I share again my grandfather wisdom – wish for the kind of poverty that provides enough for the family to be well fed, well dressed and happy (he did not say it in so many words, but Romanian is a generous language…).

I wish to add to that: if and when life hits you really hard, that you can only find resources to cry and give up, look around for someone dear, hug them, get yourself together and then, before starting all over again, don’t forget to smile towards the future.

Georgina Popescu

1 comment:

  1. I really like this one! It is smart,well thought,easy understandable,funny to read and veery optimistic...and soo romanian and Gina!!Thank you for a good moment!