The Culture Code, by Clotaire Rapaille

Understanding other people – their behaviours, their decisions, their communication – can be regarded as one of the most critical elements on the way to unleash the power of Diversity. Over time, experts have developed a variety of models trying to explain some of the differences we observe or experience when dealing with others. Gender differences (born or bred) were examined and today account for some of the behavioural patterns. Cultural models (with different meanings of ‘culture’) try to describe characteristics or traits of groups of people, and how they compare with other groups on certain dimensions. Typically, these were chosen by someone (mostly Western males) and then applied to cultural contexts where they may or may not be relevant. In his book, The Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille presents a quite different approach to understanding cultures and how they play out in everyday life. Concretely, he shows how to immerse in a foreign culture in order to explore what makes people tick – and how. His discoveries have been eye-opening – for marketers at first, for cultural experts later, and for many of us still today. Based on his research of thirty years, he describes the underlying meanings, interpretations, values and/or unconscious connotations that we apply to different things in life. In practical terms, he says that food, love or work carry different meanings for people in different cultures (or other contexts). However, few people have been aware of the vast implications the different ‘codes’ (as he calls the connotations) have. Actually, they explain many cross-cultural processes more accurately and more effectively than any of the Hofstedes or Halls ever could.
With a number of powerful examples, Rapaille illustrates the concept of codes, their impact, and how we can eventually access and detect them. His analytic methodology highlights the importance of the meaning behind the words people say: In group interviews, he pays to attention to the differences of ad-hoc statements and patterns that become evident during a longer discussion, or more emotional statements once a comfortable atmosphere has been established. These guiding principles have been used in auditing organisational cultures and in stakeholder interviewing for a long time. When Rapaille started his work more than thirty years ago, it was groundbreaking, and his personal stories present a wealth of lively cultural diversity: French himself, and a academic psychologist, he was called to work on corporate marketing projects. His pioneering approach led to conclusions and recommendations that sounded weird to his clients, and apparently it was not easy for him to get his innovative ideas of change through. Does that sound familiar to you with respect to your work as a Diversity practitioner? If it does, the book will offer more of this. The learning from The Culture Code goes way beyond better understanding the American (US) culture. Actually, more than a dozen areas Rapaille talks about won’t be immediately relevant for Diversity practitioners. But the entire concept of understanding ‘codes’ is very helpful in tackling ‘Inclusion’. Clotaire’s work confirms current, leading-edge approaches that focus on individual mind-sets and personal drivers rather than grouping people in categories – that might not be relevant for them. The Culture Code serves as an implicit education on paradigm shifts and empathy, thus bringing out the essence of effective inter-personal conduct. If we manage to transfer these insights onto other levels and in more areas, we will be much further ahead in our journey to leveraging individual potential and making the most of all the differences that make a difference. (ms)