Rule Makers, Rule Breakers … How tight and loose cultures wire our world

September 30, 2018

We all love a rule breaker.

The number one question I usually get asked when working with the leaders of companies in financial services, pharmaceuticals, or most other industries for that matter, is how to overcome regulation. I always think that the current rules of an industry or market, are those which somebody could best come up with at the time when they were created, to in a responsible way create some order and good practice in whatever it might be. Whilst some rules might seem petty and inhibiting, in most cases I still think regulations are there for our overall good.

And of course they may not keep pace with the changing world, they may no longer be fit for purpose, particularly in the technologically-driven environments of today. In which case it’s time to break the rules. But the responsible way to break, or seek to influence the breaking of, a rule – is to create a better one. Therefore disruptive rule breakers, should also be enlightened rule makers.

In the new book Rule Makers, Rule Breakers celebrated cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand takes us on an epic journey through human cultures, offering a startling new view of the world and ourselves.

With a mix of brilliantly conceived studies and surprising on-the-ground discoveries, she shows that much of the diversity in the way we think and act derives from a key difference—how tightly or loosely we adhere to social norms.

  • Why are clocks in Germany so accurate while those in Brazil are frequently wrong?
  • Why do New Zealand’s women have the highest number of sexual partners?
  • Why are “Red” and “Blue” States really so divided?
  • Why was the Daimler-Chrysler merger ill-fated from the start?
  • Why is the driver of a Jaguar more likely to run a red light than the driver of a plumber’s van?
  • Why does one spouse prize running a “tight ship” while the other refuses to “sweat the small stuff?”

In search of a common answer, Gelfand has spent two decades conducting research in more than fifty countries. Across all age groups, family variations, social classes, businesses, states and nationalities, she’s identified a primal pattern that can trigger cooperation or conflict. Her fascinating conclusion: behavior is highly influenced by the perception of threat.

Adam Grant says of the book “Completely fascinating . . . [Gelfand] reveals how political divides, happiness and suicide rates, and the coexistence of crime and creativity can all be traced to a fundamental but neglected dimension of social norms. You’ll never look at a workplace, a country, or a family the same way again.”

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