Friday, May 04, 2007

Blogging Across Cultures - How Well Does This Practice Translate?

Blogging seems to be slowly coming into our daily conversations at work as people start to experiment, and open up to the power of this tool. In our discussions we have seen some very different reactions to the notion of blogs by people at different levels of our international institution. In some of our conversations we have been wondering about the links between culture and blogging.

Do certain cultures take to the practice more naturally than others? (This includes national cultures and organisational/team cultures.)

Within the field of intercultural communication, there are some sets of cultural assumptions that seem to, broadly speaking, be embraced by different cultural groups. One of these is called "Power Distance". If you think of this as a continuum, from Low Power Distance to High Power Distance (with most cultures falling somewhere in between), here are some of the features at the extremes:

Low Power Distance - This features a democratic management style, power is not jeaously guarded, subordinates take initiative and are not overly deferential to managers. In cultures with low power distance, the CEO or boss might go to the cafeteria and have lunch with the staff uninvited; young professionals could comfortably contest ideas in meetings run by senior staff members; and hierarchies would be flatter.

High Power Distance - This is a more authoritarian culture, power is more centralised, there is more deference to authority and managers tend to hold on to power. In cultures with high power distance, CEOs would have lunch with Senior Managers in a separate room with reservations (and have a better lunch than the staff); plenary discussions would not feature much open dissent of ideas, certainly not by younger staff; and hierarchies would have many levels between general staff and the top management.

So how might this relate to blogging? Well, blogging is definitely a democratising tool, it lets people at any rank in an organization make their viewpoints known (agree or disagree); it allows anyone to start a discussion, a movement or an activity; it allows many voices in an organization rather than one top one; it distributes the right and ability to speak, share and discuss across an organization or a community. Would blogging be considered threatening in a culture with high power distance, or at least might there be strong cultural norms that create a disincentive to blogging? When we send out our draft blogging policy for internal discussion, what might be some of the responses based on cultural interpretations of this new medium? I would be curious to see what others think about the cultural aspects of blogging practice.

6 comments:

Lizzie said...

Hi Gillian, following from our conversation I wanted to give credit to the blog post of Jay Cross / Dan Farber which got us thinking further on this subject: http://informl.com/?p=758 Thanks

Harold Jarche said...

Here's a blog from what might be considered a high-power culture; Indonesia's Minister of Defense

Gillian said...

Hi Harold and Lizzie, Harold thanks so much for the URL of the Indonesian blog - I guess the Ministry of Defense in Indonesia must be on the high power distance end of that scale. I looked at the blog, and see that it is written by the Minister himself. It is interesting from the "Naked Conversations" point of view, and at the same time I can't help thinking of that Dilbert cartoon last week when the CEO, referring to his blog which one of his technical staff is writing for him, is excited to know what he will be thinking later. I do like the comments that the people wrote, they are definitely the voices of the public. Great link, thanks, any more like that?

Frits Hesselink said...

I wonder whether we have to make a distinction here between the various contexts of blogging. Blogging for personal purposes – as a parent, sports fan, stamp collector, etc.- seems to me the same for people in Vietnam as in the Netherlands.

As far as blogging in an institutional context is concerned, I would definitely think the more an organization is used to open vertical and horizontal communication channels, the easier it is to introduce blogging. The question then is will a Dutch employee start blogging in an organizational context as easy as a Vietnamese employee or vice versa?

First of all we are talking here about the introduction of an innovation. So the first group of bloggers are anyway the pioneers. Here personal psychology may be more decisive than cultural background. Are pioneer bloggers more extravert? More creative? More curious? What makes them blog? Where can we find them?

Maybe when we talk about the early majority in an organization that wants to go blogging, cultural background may play a role. I remember that during my first term in the IUCN Council, 80% of the talking was done by members from North America and Western Europe.

During my next term, Yolanda Kakabadse changed that culture. But still Councillors from Asia would never jump to the mike. Until we realised that in many Asian cultures senior people do not speak in public meetings in the same way as others. They will take the floor when invited and have learned only to give their opinion, if they really have something to say. But whether such cultural aspects also would affect blogging, I doubt. Could it be that the introduction of blogging as a professional dialogue tool is more a marketing than a cultural issue?

andresshamenda said...

Hello Gillian, I find your blog interesting. My blog aims to provide information about culture shock to international students who study in Australia.I think one of the pages in your blog is related to my blog, so I make a link to your blog.=)

andresshamenda said...

I forget to introduce myself. I'm Andress Hamenda (from Indonesia), I'm taking a master program at ANU, Australia. I am also interested in your comment about Ministry of Defence in Indonesia which is Power Distance. I wrote about comparing Indonesia and Australia based on Hofstede's culture dimension and It's true! Indonesia is a high power distance culture.