Motivating people across cultures: A 2-pronged approach

Main Discussion Post


I do not believe that the approach for motivating an employee is universal.  As Adler (2008) mentions there are different cultural values that may dictate motivation.  Most “universal” motivation campaigns have been developed in the United States (2008).  Earley and Erez (1997) mention that each individual has a self-concept that is regulated by enhancement, efficacy, and consistency, which regulate the influence of culture on behavior.  These motives reflect how a person views him or herself in society (1997).  Because we have different personality types and cultural values, whether individualistic or collectivist cultures, there can be no universal truth for motivation.  We can have broad, over-arching principles like the two-factor motivation theory proposed by Herzberg (Adler, 2008).  This principle states that extrinsic and internal factors both equally can be used to motivate employees.  An external factor, like money, might not hold the same motivational value to some as it does to others, whereas performing at high levels and having pride about the company might not be equal as well.  Based on the fact that we are all different and have different cultural backgrounds and values, I do not think it will ever be possible to have a single, narrow approach for motivation.  There are too many factors and variables to consider.




Adler, N. and Gunderson, A. (2008). International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (5th Ed.). Cincinnati, OH, US: Southwestern.


Early, P., and Erez, M. (eds) (1997). New Perspectives on International Industrial /Organizational Psychology. San Francisco, CA, US: Pfeiffer.

Flexibility and Intelligence

The more I write about creativity and its relationship to intelligence, the more I appreciate creative people. This doesn’t necessarily mean someone who is artistic or musically inclined, just someone who can think creatively. Someone who “thinks outside the box” (talk about an overused clichéd term). My dissertation topic is on using creativity to improve problem solving skills in Third Culture Kids (kids who are living in a different culture than where they were born or where their parents are from and don’t know the language/customs/etc.). Obviously these children are at a disadvantage in that they cannot communicate very well, will lose ground in school, and thus the downward spiral begins. So using different means to keep these children from slipping through the cracks needs to be utilized and the learning curve shortened.


I have read probably about 200+ articles on this topic now. Creativity. Divergent thinking. Fluency. Originality. Elaboration. Flexibility. These terms come up over and over again in the world of intelligence and creativity. Those who are high in these capabilities are typically both creative and intelligent. I find that flexibility is the one skill that needs to be fostered early and often (not to say the others should be ignored). But as I talk to more and more people on a day to day basis about various topics I realize that flexible thinking is INCREDIBLY important in intelligence.


Being flexible is basically being open-minded. Your thought process can bend and be malleable. You do not get into a rigid thought process about concepts or ideas. “This is the way it is and that’s the only way I will allow myself to see it.” You don’t limit yourself or your understanding to a set paradigm. If you see a problem, you can think of many different ways to solve it. There are several keys to open the lock.


My favorite example of this is Alton Brown from “Good Eats” on Food Network. He is wont to demonstrate his affinity for “multi-taskers” and his disdain for “uni-taskers.” For instance, his use of a common drill bit for an apple corer, a terra cotta stepping stone from the hardware store have been used as a pizza stone, or a standard zip top bag for a piping bag used to decorate cakes and cookies (Brown, 1998). As Defeyter and German (2003) showed, this is common for many of us to fall into, as children as young as 6 years old show less ability to use an item for anything other than its intended use. However, being able to not be beholden to functional fixedness, and use creative processes will allow you to save money on all of these gadgets, space in your drawers, and also use analyze a problem from a different perspective. This is a result of being able to think about problems in different ways as opposed to one problem=one solution.


So how is this related to intelligence? If you don’t close your mind to an idea, and you are open to new ways of approaching a problem or open to new evidence to alter your perspective on things then you can L E A R N something new all the time! Don’t fall into the pattern that you know all the angles. You don’t. You never will. Otherwise you’ll become one of those people who gets locked into thinking “I know all about that” or being narrow-minded and thinking “all those people are like this.” Nobody likes that person. And nobody has ever accused that person of being intelligent.


Brown, A. (Writer, Director). (1998). Good Eats.

Defeyter, M., Avons, S. E., & German, T. C. (2007). Developmental changes in information central to artifact representation: Evidence from “functional fluency” tasks. Developmental Science, 10(5), 538-546.


Boys vs. girls: Are they really different?

The discrepancy of math scores between males and females has been found to be due to expectation bias of both the teacher and the parents.  If the teacher told the class that they expected the boys to do better than the girls, the scores reflected that.  If they told the class the test trended to score better for girls, then the scores reflected that as well.  Also, if they told the children there was no difference in scores and everyone should score about the same, then there were no significant differences between genders.  I believe the main problem is that we place expectation on children that they should not expect to succeed in certain areas even before they step foot in class.

Kelley and Blashfield (2009) state that psychology is no different than any other social construction because of the passion, pressures, and preconceptions that we bring into our studies to confound them.  Broverman, Broverman, Clarkson, Rosenkrantz, and Vogel (1970) found that double standards in clinician’s views of men and women were a glaring example of these biases, where the health care officials favored the men over the women.  This is very similar to the math scores of girls and boys.  If teachers expect girls to perform worse than boys on tests then they may be influencing those poor results by teaching the girls differently, worse, or not at all.

By changing the bias of the teachers and showing them that these things affect how their students score on tests perhaps we can stop this from happening.  We should be teaching teachers that girls are just as capable as boys are in terms of math ability.  It would help greatly to reduce the bias of teachers to expect girls to score high just as they do boys.  This is no different than a researcher showing bias in expectation from one group over another in their study.  It confounds the results and therefore does not elicit a solid study with credible results.

As a former math professor, I have seen this bias and what it can do to someone. Female students in their 20s and 30s who have never understood math until someone actually took the time to sit down and explain it to them: the rules, the logic, the tricks, etc. All of their hangups were based on teacher biases and the expectation that because they were girls they would have to work harder to figure things out. It’s not fair to the student or to our society that we are sabotaging people based on faulty information and expectations. Tell the student you expect them to succeed and they will.


Broverman, I. K., Broverman, D. M., Clarkson, F. E., Rosenkrantz, P. S., & Vogel, S. R. (1970). Sex role stereotypes and clinical judgments of mental health. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 34, 1–7.

Kelley, L.P., & Blashfield, R.K. (2009). An example of psychological science’s failure to self-correct. Review of General Psychology, 13(2), 122-129. DOI: 10.1037/a0015287