I've talked in the past about how I was raised. I was lucky enough to be raised by some great parents who gave me everything I needed to be successful, and were patient when I acted like a punk. So thanks to Kent and Deanna for doing it all.
With that said, looking back, I think there was one element to my upbringing that was positive and negative at the same time. The Dunn family valued privacy to the extreme, which was positive for me in the sense that I'm built to give people a lot of space and not judge too quickly. Where is that negative? As I grew up, I had career and life situations that demanded assertiveness that was, at times considered by me to be, a possible invasion of privacy on the target. Following up on an interview (as a candidate), for example, was very hard for me early in my career. The privacy angle was so deep in my DNA that I would delay that type of aggressive behavior that was, at times, expected by the target audience.
Over time, I've learned to manage that part of my background, and the positives to valuing privacy still outweigh the negatives.
Why is this on my mind? I'm slowly making it through Outliers from Malcolm Gladwell, and he's got an unbelievable chapter on "Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes". Here's a summary from Gladwell from an interview in Fortune on what he focuses on in this chapter:
"Korean Air had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world for a period at the end of the 1990s. When we think of airline crashes, we think, Oh, they must have had old planes. They must have had badly trained pilots. No. What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical. You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S.
But Boeing (BA, Fortune 500) and Airbus design modern, complex airplanes to be flown by two equals. That works beautifully in low-power-distance cultures [like the U.S., where hierarchies aren't as relevant]. But in cultures that have high power distance, it’s very difficult.
I use the case study of a very famous plane crash in Guam of Korean Air. They’re flying along, and they run into a little bit of trouble, the weather’s bad. The pilot makes an error, and the co-pilot doesn’t correct him. But once Korean Air figured out that their problem was cultural, they fixed it."
Gladwell talks a lot in this chapter about the "Power Distance Index" (PDI), which can be defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above. It suggests that a society’s level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders.
Now for the translation If a person is from a country with a high PDI score, they're more likely to defer to authority, even when they know something is going horribly wrong. Why? Because it is essentially culturally imbedded in that person to never challenge another person in an authority position. In the case of the pilots in Gladwell's example, the co-pilots deferred to the authority figure in the cockpit to the extent that it cost them their lives and the lives of hundreds of passengers. Korean Airlines fixed the safety issues related to the PDI by creating a new culture separate from the high PDI Korean culture. Read the book to find out how.
Interested in which countries have the highest and lowest PDIs? Here you go:
High PDI (means the cultures defer to authority and are much less likely to challenge bad decisions if authority figures are involved): Malaysia (104), China (80), Indonesia (78) and the Phillipines (94). And so the norm in such countries is for leaders to be highly respected, for people not to ask embarrassing questions, and for students and subordinates to listen.
Low PDI countries are those which prefer, or are used to having a small power distance between the boss and the workers. These countries are Australia (36), New Zealand (22), Ireland (28) and the Austria (11). The norm here is for leaders to be accessible, to be at the same level as their subordinates, and to be open to challenge and suggestions.
The USA? Comes in pretty low on the PDI at a 40.
The message with all this is not that talent from a country with a high PDI can't be high performers, because there are many high performers from these countries. Instead, the message is that based on your cultural heritage, you may run into situations where you need to be painfully aware of the culture you were raised in, and force yourself to challenge authority and engage more aggressively than you were raised to.
Virtual hat tip to two people. Jessica Lee, who pointed out to me some PDI issues to me in the whole pay transparency debate, and Jason Seiden, who named the PDI index and gave a description before I could tell him what it was. Smart folks.
Kind of like me coming from the private world of the Dunns. For years, I had to force myself to aggressively ask for a drink refill at a restaurant - my own personal PDI of sorts. I've overcome that and, as a result, I'm always hydrated.