What Is Collectivism?

Americans are motivated by personal choice and gain. But, many Asian cultures are not. Instead, these “collectivist” cultures are motivated by what’s good for the group, what’s going to benefit a person’s family and raise their personal “face” and their standing in the eyes of society. Understanding this fundamental difference is critical.

Hi, I am Zac Beckman, President of Hyrax International, and I want to talk about collectivism. When working with people from around the world, you’ll be quite surprised at how different their habits are and their expectations are. For example, if you’re working with Japanese partners, you may notice how surprised they are at how much free time Americans seem to have. Americans use this time for fitness, for taking time with their kids and family, going to movies. But they do it during the week. In Japan, the week is for the business. Business comes first. Personal time ends up on the weekends.

Indians have a similar cultural orientation. They may go to work kind of late in the morning, work a long afternoon, take a dinner break and then end up going back to work and working late into the evening until 10 or 11; even midnight. And that’s a practical matter because many Indian firms work with so many companies around the world that they need to adjust their schedule. But that again is putting the business first, ahead of family. This is what collectivism is.

Collectivism Is Thinking “We,” Before “I”

Collectivism is thinking about what’s good for the group, what’s good for the business, before thinking about what’s good for the individual. Americans are extremely individualist. This means that they make decisions based on what’s good for them personally. They move out of the house early because they want to be on their own. They make career decisions because it’s what they want to do. It’s really important to understand this difference, because it fundamentally changes how different teams, how people around the world, are motivated.

Americans are motivated by personal advancement and by personal gain. But, many Asian cultures, collectivist culture, are not motivated by those same things. Instead, they are motivated by what’s good for the group, what’s going to benefit their family the most, what’s going to raise their personal face and their standing in the eyes of society. For example, an American might be motivated by career advancement or a career change. But that exact same choice to somebody in Asia could mean loss of face, it could mean a lack of ability to hire friends into a new company, where they are relatively new themselves.

It’s the difference between knowing how to motivate individuals who are primarily concerned with their own career and their own advancement in society, versus knowing how to motivate somebody who is concerned about their social group. They are concerned about the well being of everybody around them and their standing in the eyes of that society.

3 thoughts on “What Is Collectivism?

  1. I have a different perspective on why Indians are ok with working late hours. While collectivism is the major reason, I think it is much more about loyalty to the family (working hard and bringing in lots of money) than loyalty to the company. While there is some loyalty to the company, I think most Indians would say they work hard and long because of their devotion to parents, spouse, kids, etc.

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    1. Hello Neil. You raise a very good point, and a good perspective. Of course, in such a short video it’s hard not to overgeneralize. But, it’s a good observation — and I agree, Indian culture tends to be more “group family” oriented versus the stronger “group business” orientation of certain Asian cultures (Japan, for instance). Asia is a truly huge place, and it’s important not to generalize. That said, the emphasis of this post was to contrast the “Western, individualist” orientation (personal concerns) against the “Eastern, collectivist” orientation (group concerns). In that context, I believe many Western cultures have difficulty understanding what’s important to Eastern cultures (including Asian and South Asian, as well as many Middle Eastern, country cultures).

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