Book Review | Curious about Culture by Gaiti Rabbani

Curious about Culture is a well-structured and thought-provoking book that considers a number of cultural dimensions and how they impact the way we view the world and the people around us. It explores what motivates us to behave towards people or groups of people in the ways that we do.

I must admit that when I started this book, I expected to find a narrower focus around culture. I expected to read about ethnicity, religion and possibly organisational culture.

What I found instead was broad and multi-dimensional insight which uncovered aspects I had never really considered before.

Author Gaiti Rabbani delivers this book in four parts. Each chapter finishes with a number of key questions for the reader to consider and answer in the context of their own world view.

She asks, ‘how do your cultural spectacles frame the way you see things?’. Throughout the book, she uses interesting and practical real-life examples to successfully engage the reader.

Part One

The author seeks to define culture, introducing terms such as the culture quotient (CQ). This is the ability of individuals to be aware and adapt to different situations where a multi-cultural lens is required.

Another term introduced is the ‘cultural mirror’ - our ability to recognise and understand our inherent biases, of which there are many.

Part Two of the book outlines six cultural filters and I found this really fascinating.

She covers:

  1. The gender view
  2. The generational outlook
  3. The filter of faith
  4. The educational lens
  5. The language code
  6. The national dimension.

All of these can be present separately or together delivering layers of complexity and again great examples are provided. A couple of these made me cringe when I recall that I have in ignorance, blundered into some of these situations with good intentions in the past!

In Part Three, Gaiti introduces a number of culture ‘value dimensions:

  • Identity – Individualism vs collectivism
  • Authority – Low vs high power distance
  • Expression – neutral vs affective
  • Communication – high vs low value context
  • Rules – Universalism vs collectivism
  • Achievement – competitive vs competitive.

A great example of low vs high power distance is given using the example of the COVID19 pandemic and the way different countries approached the pandemic depending on their culture. High power distance countries tended to be more directive and authoritarian when it came to lockdowns, etc. whereas countries with low power distance, such as those in Scandinavia, largely expected citizens to ‘self regulate.’

Part Four of the book summarises and offers some suggestions on managing situations you might encounter in the workplace, and encourages the reader to continue to be curious.

This was a great read which definitely educated me on the complexities of culture and how to think about it differently.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in improving their cultural intelligence in the pursuit of better understanding and outcomes in business and beyond.

Brigid Leishman, Principal Consultant, Leishman Consulting Services

(Image credit: Culture Wizard)

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