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Exclusive interview with H. Wursten, world’s top authority on business management training ( Part 1)

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Huib Wursten, born in 1942, is a world renowned specialist on advising companies and supra-national organizations in how to manage global teams. Since 1989 he has been working in this field with a variety of Fortune top 1000 companies. He has worked in and with public and private organizations in 85 countries on various continents. His main clients in the business sector are IBM, 3M, McCain, Quest, Texaco, ABN AMRO, Nike and Unilever. From 1994 he conducts courses at and gives advice to the IMF in Washington and from 2000 on he does the same for the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Other important non-profit organizations he has been involved with are Europol, the World Bank, UNDP, Council of Europe and the Dutch peacekeeping forces. He has advised the Russian administration on the influence of culture on political and economic behavior. Wursten has written an award winning paper which was published for “Nyfer”, a Research Institute related to Nijenrode University “MentaleBeelden. De invloed van Cultuur op (economisch) Beleid” (Mental Images. The influence of culture on economic policies). He is fluent in English, German, French, and Dutch.His latest book, “The 7 Mental Images of National Culture. Leading and Managing in a Globalized World”, has struck a chord among companies and businesses around the world.Huib Wursten talked to ME Printer’scontributing editor, Karina Princess Bagration, (Swiss Institute of Cultural Diplomacy). Here are the excerpts:

KPB: Tell us about your background?

I was born in the Netherlands and Studied Educational Psychology in Amsterdam. Most of my working life I have been focusing on transfer of knowledge to adults. First in a rather homogeneous culture like the Netherlands. Later in global companies with very diverse employees.

KPB: What made you study relations between management and culture?

When I started in the early seventies, management training was mostly based on Anglo-Saxon theories. But the practice showed that Anglo-Saxon approach did not work for other cultures like France, Russia and Middle East.I discovered that these theories were also not “covering” the realitiesof my country, the Netherlands either.I started defining how and where I could identify the differences and make people more successful. I discussed this with a person I met during a conference organized by Clingendael, the diplomatic training institute in the Netherlands. That wasBob Waisfisz, who told me that my ideas were very much conform the findings of Professor Geert Hofstede who already in that time was considered worldwide to be the Godfather of modern intercultural management. Bob Waisfiszat that time just started a consultancy to apply the Hofstede research and make companies to understand both their international personnel and customers a lot better.

KPB: Why, how, where did you develop the Mental Images?

I always wanted to work with highly educated people, challenging too easy generalizations, exchanging ideas and sharing critical opinions but probably the most important experience was when I worked for the IMF. This is an incredibly diverse working environment. Just fancy, in one building in Washington professionals from more than 120 countries are working together. Complicated, is not it? For years,I delivered almost monthly workshops and seminars. It was during these workshops that I realized that, even though I had been talking about the 4 Hofstede Dimensions of National Culture, I rarely ended up discussing cultural dimensions one-by-one. Instead, I always discussed them in combinations. That’s when I began to see some patterns.I discussed my thoughts with the staff development head of the IMF, Dinah Nieburg. She has been supportive. She suggested putting my ideas on paper in a systematic way. The work resulted in the first 5 of the Mental Images. The 6th Mental Image, the Solar System, was added based on a consultation with Professor Hofstede. My customers and colleagues have helped me to sharpen the model and its implications.

KPB: What are the 7 Mental Images?

I’m of course standing “on the shoulders” of the guru of cultural management: Geert Hofstede. Having the information from worldwide and matched samples, he analyzed this database with statistical techniques like factor analysis. Doing this he found basic value dimensions that are the core of understanding cultural diversity.Combining the dimensions,I could distinguish 7 different clusterswith behavioral patterns which come as a consequence. I called these 7 patterns mental images because each one provides an internal “picture” in the heads of people of what societies and organizations look like. Because these mental images are very basic, I was able to compare the 7 different ways people handle business in their cultural environment. Elements like leadership, decision making, meeting behavior, delegation, control, conflict solving, etc.Now we have 23 of these systematic comparisons in total.

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