How do cultural values influence innovative thinking and behaviors? There has been some research but the field is still young. In this article I attempt to summarize the current thinking regarding two cultural values and their implications for personal innovativeness.

There are now a number of theories that attempt to describe cultural differences. Perhaps the most famous theory is the work of Geert Hofstede (2001), which describes cultural differences with six basic dimensions. Shalom Schwartz uses three dimensions in his “Theory of Cultural Values” (1999) while Inglehart and Welzel (2010) try to capture the differences among human cultures with two dimensions.

What is personal innovativeness?

With the term personal innovativeness I refer to the tendency for some individuals to generate ideas directed towards improving the current product offerings (or concerning completely new offerings), work processes or methods. People with high personal innovativeness also strive to realize their ideas. They champion their ideas by gathering support and resources and see to that their ideas are implemented. Typically, personal innovativeness also includes the determination to overcome adversity and obstacles and to work hard to realize one’s ideas (see de Jong & den Hartog, 2010).

Conservation (Schwartz)

The value of conservation was conceptualized by Schwartz (1999) and refers to three main sub dimensions. Cultures that strongly emphasize the value of conservation accentuate tradition, the maintenance of status quo, and security of relationships. The opposite of this direction is found in cultures which values intellectual autonomy and freedom for individuals to pursue their ideas and challenge given ways of doing things. In relation to personal innovativeness, scholars have proposed that the value of conservation may shape individuals tendencies to generate and realize creative ideas (e.g., Rank, Pace & Frese, 2004). What about research findings? The research field is still young but some studies have indicated that conservation may have an influence on creativity. For instance, Dollinger (2007) showed that individuals with low political conservatism were rated as more creative by experts who judged their creative products. Along similar lines, Chong and Ma (2010) found that employees that came from low conservation countries perceived themselves as having greater capabilities for being creative.

Hierarchy (Schwartz) / Power distance (Hofstede)

Hierarchy (Schwartz, 1999) is conceptually similar to Hofstede’s (2001) cultural dimension power distance and refers to the degree to which the individual accepts that power, roles and resources are distributed unequally. Typically, in cultures high on the hierarchy dimension, employees will accept the position they are given in an organization and to carry out the orders of their supervisors. In contrast, when hierarchy is low (egalitarianism), individuals are more inclined to question their supervisors and to expect to be included in the decision making process (Dickson, Den Hartog & Mitchelson, 2003). In highly egalitarian cultures, individuals feel that they are entitled to voice their opinions and share crucial information. This attitude can be vital when teams engage in complex tasks which often demand multiple perspectives and inputs (Anderson, De Dreu & Nijstad, 2004). As I discuss in a related article, mild conflict can be beneficial for team creativity.  See also the article by Susanna Bill on multiple viewpoints and problem solving in innovative ventures.

How strong is culture in explaining behavior?

This article attempts to shed light on the current state of research on cultural values and personal innovativeness. It is however important to put the notions presented in this article into perspective. Compared to other factors such as personality, demographics, and experience, just how strong is culture in shaping our behaviors?

The short answer is: not very strong.

A meta-analysis that examined how Hofstede’s value dimensions shaped the work performance of 200,000 individuals scattered across the globe showed that personal characteristics trumped cultural values in explaining performance (Taras et al 2010). There are also other factors related to the organizational context that also shape individual’s creativity and innovativeness, such as leadership, climate, the degree of diversity of a team, and the culture and practices of the surrounding organization. Last, a crucial issue is related to the fact that a given culture can encourage values that both facilitates and dampens innovative thinking.

Still, having awareness that cultural values may shape individuals’ attitudes towards authority and intellectual autonomy may inform managers so that they can adapt their leadership style. For instance, Shin and Zhou (2003) surveyed 290 employees in 46 Korean companies and found that the most creative employees were those high in conservation which had a leader that exhibited a transformational leadership style. The authors concluded that transformational leaders may more easily influence creativity in employees with high conservation since they are more likely to respect supervisor-subordinate relationships.

By Leif Denti

About the author

Leif Denti is pursuing his doctoral degree of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg, Department of Psychology. His main research venue is how project leaders stimulate creativity and innovation in their project teams (project name: Management for Sweden). Leif Denti also works as a consultant at Prospero Technology Management. Leif Denti holds a licentiate degree in Psychology at the University of Gothenburg.



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