FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Who is Peterson?

I’m Brooks Peterson, the owner of Across Cultures. When I first started to research and develop culture measurement tools in grad school in the 1990s, I opted for a simple, straightforward label: “Peterson Cultural Style Indicator” (PCSI). By now, the name is too established to change to something snazzy just for the sake of “branding”.

Q: Is this a “test” I can “pass” or “fail”?

You failed your personality test.

No. The PCSI is called a “test” for convenience, but it’s not strictly a “test” because there are no “pass” or “fail” scores, no “good” or “bad” scores, and no “right” or “wrong” cultural profiles. Rather, it is an educational tool that was designed to help people begin to understand their cultural style so they can then begin to understand how they might increase their effectiveness in a variety of international settings. The point is to improve and learn, and here are three steps you can take to improve your international skills:

Step 1- Complete the tool online to learn your cultural style.
Accurately determine your cultural style using the PCSI.

Step 2- Compare and contrast yourself with other cultures.
Once you know your cultural style, you can compare your own style to the typical style of people in any of 95 countries.

Step 3- Improve your results.
The score report shows you personalized recommendations based on your profile and target country profiles. The report suggests ways you might prepare for possible differences when interacting with people from various target countries.

Q: What kind of “culture” does this tool look at?

The PCSI focuses on professional and business-related issues such as meetings, decision-making style, management style, and so forth.

The tool focuses on national cultures (i.e. French culture, Chinese culture, US culture, etc.) not “corporate culture” (not about working at GE vs. working at Microsoft, for example, or about working in the arts versus working in the hard sciences).

This tool is not about “multiculturalism” or “diversity” the way the term is used in the US. In the US, these terms relate to issues of skin color, sexual orientation, open-mindedness, etc. While these are very important areas, the focus of this instrument is simply different- it is on helping professionals improve their effectiveness with international colleagues, customers, etc.

The PCSI looks broadly at national cultures, but some nations have drastically different regions and ethnic groups within them. In areas of conflict and instability there are important and specific tribal, ethnic, religious, factional, or other differences (often rapidly changing ones) that are not covered by the broad overview taken by this tool. To put it plainly, this tool is designed to help the typical internationally-focused professional generally prepare for more successful interactions with international colleagues or customers (while at home or abroad), not to prepare people for (as an example) military insertion into a conflict zone, where it would be extremely important to have specific and up-to-date intelligence of a different kind.

Q: Is this online tool valid and reliable?

VALIDITY:
Construct validity (whether an instrument measures something relevant) and face validity (whether it measures what it intends to) of the PCSI were established through expert consultation and a literature review of widely accepted culture frameworks.

Construct validity: What one cross-culturalist calls “doing vs. being”, another calls “who you are vs. what you do” and another calls “task vs. relationship”. It is commonly accepted in the cross-cultural field that some people are more “individualistic” and some are more “group focused”. It is also commonly accepted (and common sense) that some people are more “direct” and some more “indirect” in communication style. Themes such as these have been recognized and written about by various cross-cultural researchers, writers and thinkers from the 1920s to today. Predictably, there are many approaches to looking at culture and there is disagreement about which themes are most important, and how sub-issues should be grouped within those themes.

In selecting themes for the PCSI, I considered simplicity and approachability . Labels used by some cross-culturalists, such as Trompenaars’ “specificity vs. diffuseness” or Hofstede’s “masculine vs. feminine”, certainly look at valid issues, but I’ve found these labels tend to confuse (or frustrate) people. Terms such as “mastery vs. harmony” or “Confucian dynamism” may be very appropriate for Asian settings, but may not apply to most others. And what one theorist calls “group”, others have called “collectivism”, “communitarianism”, “independent self-construal”, “group cohesion”, “group loyalty”, “in-groups”, and so on. (The book Cultural Intelligence lists a few terms people have used for these very same ideas over the past 100 years.) The PCSI is built on broad and common issues that relate to a wide variety of cultures, and the themes are labeled in plain language.

Face validity: A test needs to measure what it purports to measure. It would not be fair to give an intelligence test in Japanese to someone who did not speak Japanese; that would effectively be a Japanese language test, not an intelligence test.

In grad school I designed the PCSI out of dissatisfaction with a number of existing tests or tools. Some instruments purport to measure themes such as open-mindedness or flexibility. While these traits are certainly valuable, almost any test that measures them will be based on honesty. If a test-taker answers the question “I am flexible when dealing with others.” by indicating “Strongly agree”, how do we know this is true? It would be very easy to fake an obvious perfect score on such a test, and then what is really being tested may be “honesty” more than “open-mindedness”.

Any kind of self-reporting instrument requires the subject to be honest. It would be possible to “fake” answers to the PCSI, but it would not “improve” your score to do so.

Limitation:
A test like the MMPI-2 (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) uses over 500 questions and is designed to be very statistically rigorous. The results of the MMPI-2 need to be counted on in serious situations such as an accused criminal being tried in a court of law.

The PCSI, in the online version available to you through this website, is an educational tool that uses only 25 questions and is designed to give quick, yet meaningful insights to professionals working with people from other cultures. I have used other versions in the past (e.g. with 50 questions). Feedbackhas shown me that professionals don’t have time for so many questions – and definitely do not have the patience to answer paired items (redundant questions, phrased a little bit differently). Today’s version of the PCSI is intended as a quick first qualitative look at culture issues. As such, it should not be used as the only tool for selecting a candidate for an international assignment – other important information must be considered such as personality, work performance history, second language ability, or other job skills. Nor can the tool make suggestions based on a client’s specific business situation, because no data is collected on whether the user is dealing with a merger or acquisition, an internationally-mixed team, hiring foreign-born employees, a specific HR issue, and so on. (The book Cultural Intelligence takes a more in-depth look at these kinds of considerations and offers guidelines for approaching them.)

RELIABILITY:
Because the PCSI computer-generates a score based on answers falling on a 0-10 scale, interrater reliability is not an issue. This is historically problematic with other culture tools that use open-ended written responses; such tools require rigorous training of raters to establish acceptable scoring reliability. In plain English, this means that other earlier attempts at making “culture tests” were prone to unreliability because the people scoring them needed a lot of training or they would not always agree on what a “good” score meant.

In my original research (doctoral thesis, 1997), I used a similar culture instrument (called the “Peterson Cultural Awareness Test” [no longer available, sorry]) with similar instrument questions and a similar structure. In that study, two of the main methods I used to verify the reliability of the questions were: 1) face-to-face interviews with subjects to verify that the questions were not open to misinterpretation and 2) Pearson’s r coefficient to show that subjects answered the paired items with significant levels of consistency. The questions from the instrument in the original 1997 research were later edited and updated for a general professional audience and used in various versions of the PCSI. The questions were also rearranged and new questions were added to result in five more meaningful culture scales (not four, as in the original research to design the instrument).

As indicated above, this original research established a basic structure and approach for questions, but the PCSI differs from the original Peterson Cultural Awareness Test [no longer available] in several ways: a) it is targeted at a more broad professional audience (not just university students), b) it departs from and expands on the culture themes used in the original basic research (using five culture scales, not four), c) the focus of the questions has changed – instead of asking “What do you think the typical [German] person would do in situation xyz?” it asks “What would you do in situation xyz?” and then you can compare your score to the [Germans], and d) the current form of the PCSI is not offered as a research tool, but as an educational tool to help people meaningfully discuss culture topics as they relate to working with people from other cultures.

Q: Where do the numbers come from?

The country rankings in PCSI are my professional estimates based on a broad literature review encompassing the insights of a wide variety of researchers, writers, thinkers, practitioners, and country natives in academics, international business and in the cross-cultural field.

The numbers in the PCSI are not based on empirical research. That is, the PCSI was not given to 10,000 people in China, 10,000 in Italy and so on… from which an average might be taken. This approach might seem attractive at first glance, but one immediately obvious limitation is that the trend may be toward a generic “corporate” profile when the tool is administered to large groups of corporate business[men]. Also, the results could also be skewed based on the makeup of the field or the specific company the subjects are in. (For example, are the employees mostly male? Is the industry engineering, creative, medical, financial?) The results could also be skewed based on who has internet access (or who had time to take a paper survey back in the 1970s).

Some cross-cultural experts may purport to have THE answer (or THE number) for defining various given cultures. Such experts have done groundbreaking research, but have been (correctly) subjected to criticisms and questions such as: Does a study of a large number of businessmen in a Spanish corporation apply to the population of Spain in general? Do numbers from research in the late 1960s and early 1970s still apply today? Can average numbers based on a very conservative global computer company’s employees (presumably almost all males in the 1970s) accurately represent the general population of various countries? It’s good to critically question someone who might propose to have the “absolute number” for a given country on a given scale.

Is an absolute (and up to the minute!) number possible or even desirable? Some people suggest that the world is changing and becoming much more “westernized”. Others observe that the basic core cultures around the world are not changing at all. The answer is probably between these two extremes. For example, while cultures like Japan have maintained traditions for hundreds (or thousands) of years, in some ways they have undeniably changed drastically in the last 40 years. However, it’s important to not make the mistake of thinking that “Japan is just like the US”, and it’s also important to know that the Japan today’s professionals encounter is not like the Japan of 40 years ago.

If you imagine a scale having Equality as “0” (on the left) and Hierarchy as “10” (on the right), most cross-culturalists would agree to rank Japan towards the right around at least 7 or 8, and possibly around 9 or 10. And most would rank the US somewhere towards the left, perhaps somewhere between zero and 3 or 4. When contrasting these two countries, it’s not realistic or useful to presume there’s an authoritative and exact number such as 2.3 for the US or 8.625 for Japan. On one hand it would be absurd to claim you can boil an entire culture down to a single precise number based on empirical data. On the other hand, it can be helpful to gain some insight about which general direction you might need to look toward when anticipating differences. So the approach of the PCSI is to help users understand the basic direction of differences (for example, compared to equality-focused Americans, the Japanese are essentially more hierarchy oriented).

Having this kind of basic first understanding can guide us towards anticipating some likely (but never “guaranteed”) differences. For example, equality-focused cultures might tend to use first names (not Mr. or Mrs. and last names, not titles). Basic differences relating to Equality or Hierarchy will also affect how decisions are made in each country, and various other aspects of how people manage and engage in workplace relationships.

One additional important reason we should not rigidly hold to exact numbers for a given country on a given scale is that there are exceptions to every rule. It’s very possible (in fact, it’s guaranteed) that there are (Japanese) people who rank “1” or “zero” on the Equality side of the scale and (Americans) who are “9” or “10” on the Hierarchy side. And company or industry culture may affect scores more strongly than national culture. For example, a military battalion will likely be run as a hierarchy no matter how equality focused the home country is. A small creative company in the arts may be more equality focused than a 100-year old Fortune 500 company in the more conservative banking industry. And even within families there are differences based on personality. Immigrants might differ from the typical person in their home country simply because they were the type of person to have left home for global travel.

The country rankings in the PCSI are carefully chosen to be a general starting point for understanding likely (but never guaranteed) directions in which differences may lie.

Here’s a basic consideration I used when assigning rankings to countries in the PCSI: It’s better to prepare for differences and be pleasantly surprised by similarities than to expect other cultures to be just like our own and to be caught unaware by differences. Because of this, the numbers are weighted towards the left (“zero”) and right (“10”).

Q: Is this tool based on the work of Nancy Adler, Clifford Geertz, Edward Hall, Geert Hofstede, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, Harry Triandis, (etc.)?

No.

There are a number of researchers, writers, and thinkers in the cross-cultural field who have put forth quite a few good ideas over the last 70+ years. As indicated above, sometimes the terms they use overlap; what one person calls “doingness” vs. “beingness”, another calls “doing” vs. “being” and yet another refers to as “what you do” vs. “who you are”. Often the ideas are similar but the labels change. Usually, a general concept like “individualism” (also called “independent self-construal”, or other terms) cannot be credited to one person. The PCSI is based on this type of general cross-cultural concept, with descriptions in plain English. Any similarities between the PCSI and other instruments or cross-cultural philosophies are purely coincidental and/or due to the fact that they are both based on general knowledge.

The above researchers are in no way associated with the PCSI, but many have written excellent works which may be of interest to those exploring cross-cultural issues.

Q: Who uses this tool?

Companies that have benefited from this tool include Adobe Systems, Boeing, Capital One, Cisco Systems, Corning, General Electric, Guidant, Harley Davidson, Intel, Kodak, Mellon Bank, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, US Dept. of Defense, Volvo, Whirlpool, and others. (I quit collecting and listing names after a number of years.) Various colleges and universities have used the PCSI at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

The PCSI was designed to help internationally-focused professionals people in a variety of settings. It was designed as an educational tool for a various types of professionals who face international culture issues.

This can include people:

  • preparing to live overseas,
  • traveling frequently on international assignments,
  • conducting international business from the home country,
  • mixing with international groups in the workplace,
  • communicating with customers, colleagues, and clients from different national and language backgrounds,
  • and so on.

Training departments, college students, and researchers have used the PCSI to help evaluate the effectiveness of cross-cultural training programs, or to enhance cross-cultural training programs.

Q: I’m an (American) and I disagree with the way you describe (American) cultural style!

Again, remember that there are exceptions to every rule: Not all Japanese people are hierarchy focused, for example. Similarly, not all Americans are individualistic. There are regional differences, family differences, and of course even personality differences that must be considered when you look at people.

The PCSI suggests what most people might be like in the target countries but because there are millions of people in every country, you are guaranteed to encounter exceptions to what this tool describes. You may even be that exception yourself.

Q: The (US and the UK) are almost the same score… are these countries identical?

Many Americans might hold the stereotype that people from the UK behave and talk like “royalty” and are surprised that the two countries are actually similar in many basic ways such as a focus on individualism, equality in organizations, etc. But the two countries also have drastically different histories and different cultures. Americans have never lived under a feudal system and this results in different views on modern labor movements. There is no American equivalent to the British Commonwealth, and the US is much more geographically isolated from neighboring countries than the UK. The UK (or even Canada) does not have a history of a “deep south” that involved brutal slave ownership followed by racist segregation, and inequalities that persist up to today. Factors like these result in very different cultures in many important ways; some small, some not so small.

The story is quite similar with contrasts and comparisons between Canada and the US.

It’s important to recognize the important and deep differences between (for example) the UK and the US. At the same time, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, and the UK have much more in common with one another than they do with China, India, Saudi Arabia, and African countries…

Q: Are the numbers up to date? How / when is the tool updated?

On very rare occasion, I have updated some of the country profiles based on specific feedback from subjects. Because most people who complete the PCSI are professionals or students, it may be inappropriate to conclude that an entire country’s score should be changed based on their scores. However, interesting insights might continue to come from examining how different groups tended to answer specific questions. While not ignoring vast histories of various cultures, it’s possible that the numbers may change in specific cases where there have been significant shaping forces such political, social, or economic trends.

Here’s how I reconcile the idea that cultures change in small ways, but remain stable in big ways: The themes in the tool address general culture themes that change only very slowly. But a user’s score report gives specific examples of a few basic things to be mindful of when interacting with someone from a specific culture that is more to the left or right of (or roughly the same as) his/her profile. It’s up to the users (and perhaps the instructor guiding them) to apply these examples to the users’ specific situations. The PCSI is proposed as a starting guide for pointing people in the basic right direction as they build a foundational understanding of why culture matters and apply this to specific countries. The tool is not geared toward issues of immediacy such as today’s hot-off-the-wire news events, government travel advisories, the currency exchange rates, today’s market performance in a specific industry, violent conflicts, and so on. Users might want to seek specific information on such issues of immediate impact from other sources.

In this digital age it might seem interesting to have a “live” version of the test where the numbers change every time someone in some part of the world clicks an answer. But (as I discussed above) this could also threaten the validity of the test as a particular company / demographic might skew the answers in a given direction.

Q: Is the whole world becoming “Americanized” due to globalization?

This is actually a very common question or perspective. Many people point out that the world is becoming “Americanized” or “corporatized” due to globalization. In some ways (and especially in some professional or economic sectors) this may be true, and cultures do indeed change. Yet Japan remains “Japanese” even after thousands of years and in spite of drastic changes in the last 50 years. And no matter what new trends happen in Japan or the US, I will risk a prediction: over the long run Japan will remain relatively more “group” oriented, and the US relatively more “individual” oriented.

Q: Is this tool available in [Chinese]?

The PCSI currently exists in English and French. I recognize that not everyone around the world speaks one of those two languages. In its current translations, the PSCI is written in plain language, intended for a broad audience of internationally-focused professionals who do have basic English or French proficiency.