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Structure Theory
  A new and broader methodology vis-à-vis 'differences'.
The essence of Structure Theory is as follows. Any structure concerning  rules and codes can be characterized in terms of concepts such as many/few, strict/loose and detailed/general. For instance, a structure may be very detailed, with many rules. I use the terms Fine-meshed (F) and Coarse-meshed (C) to capture such descriptions.

There is a continuum of structures, with F structures at one extreme and C structures at the other extreme. At the F end, the structures are characterised by many, detailed and strict rules for behaviour and communication (e.g. Somalia, Morocco), while the structures at the C end have the opposite quality, as the rules are more broadly defined, looser and more generally applicable (e.g. Canada, United States, the Netherlands).

This difference can be seen not only between countries but also between groups, regions, provinces, companies, departments and individuals, and even within one and the same family. In other words, the model is applicable at the macro, meso and micro levels.

M- (mixed) Structure
Between the F- and C-structures lies a mixed (M) structure. This form can be found in eastern Europe and amongst second generation migrants, in every part of the world, as well as in the Carribean, where a concubine culture gives women a special position.

Four factors
The fact that some people belong more to an F-structure and others more to a C-structure can be attributed to four factors, namely economic welfare, religion, social environment, and genetic make-up of the individual.
Changes in any one of these factors (in any direction) may occur.

Diamond and graphite metaphor
An entity's structure (F or C) with respect to rules and codes has far-reaching consequences for behaviour, communication, experience and perception.
This difference in structure is analogous to what differentiates diamond from graphite. Both consist of the exact same particles, namely the atoms of the element carbon. Nonetheless, there are enormous differences.
  • Diamond is so hard that it can cut stone, while graphite is so soft that it can be used for writing or sketching.
  • Diamond is transparent and allows light to pass through, while graphite is black.
  • Diamond is a good insulator, while graphite is a good conductor of electricity.
Thus, the differences between the two substances are not due to the characteristics of the basic element. So how can they be explained? The answer lies in the structure of the substances, i.e. the way in which the atoms are arranged. Whereas graphite is made up of layers, diamond has a three-dimensional, pyramid-like structure with a high degree of stability.

The metaphor should be clear: differences between people do not flow from the characteristics of the basic element which constitutes us all, nor in the notion that people all over the world have behavioural rules and communication codes. Rather, the differences flow from the structure of those rules and codes.

Just as in the metaphor, the difference in structure can lead to differences in behaviour and communication so extreme that they are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive.

Generalisation vs. uniqueness
Sociological categorisation involves generalisation with respect to large numbers of people. This is at odds  with the uniqueness of each individual.
The dilemma can be resolved via Structure Theory (see figure).

A depiction of Structure Theory - the individual within a segment:

Note 1: Individuals a, b, c etc. belong to segment F, but differ nonetheless. The same applies to the other segments.

Note 2:At 'individual', some dots should be added, so that the total equals the number of inhabitants on earth (6.7 billion).

Some patterns and characteristics which, however, are not recognised by the classification into 'dimensions' are:

  • under an F-structure, there is a greater need for CLARITY (and less nuance) in every aspect of life, including the  various roles.
  • more F also means stronger GROUP IDENTITY, which means that THE GROUP (rather than the individual) takes centre stage.
The consequences of these patterns for behaviour and perception are far-reaching:

  • there is an external (rather than internal) benchmark against which good and evil are judged;
  • the group is what motivates (more than any intrinsic factor);
  • almost everything is personal;
  • there is more emphasis on relationships and form and less on substance;
  • the highest aim is HONOUR rather than self-development
It is not difficult to imagine the practical consequences for all kinds of situations such as motivation, negotiation, conflict management, etc.

Implications for motivational theory
Understanding the major differences between F- and C-structures has implications for Maslow's well-known pyramid, which he uses to rank human needs into a hierarchy and which is a core ingredient in management education programmes.

Maslow's pyramid applies to western (C) oriented individuals but not to mankind as a whole. Oriental(F) parts of the world have different needs and hence a different (F) hierarchy of needs.

Pyramids of basic human needs due to Maslow (left) and Pinto (right) for C- and F-structures, respectively.

The Three-Step Method addresses the issue of how to effectively deal with differences that can be very major, as outlined above, while preserving everyone's identity (core values). Following on from Structure Theory, the Three-Step Method is also applicable at the macro, meso and micro levels.

In short, the Three-Step Method comes down to the following:

- Step 1: determine and learn own - perhaps culture-bound - values (as a country, region, company, organisation or individual). Which rules and codes affect an entity's ways of thinking, acting and communicating?

- Step 2: learn the - perhaps culture-bound - values and behavioural codes of the other party (i.e. gather information). This step begins by separating opinion about the behaviour of the other party from fact. It then looks into the background and reason behind the 'strange' behaviour or statement of the other party.

- Step 3: determine how to deal with the given situation and the differences that have been identified. Determine where to set boundaries (e.g. legal or personal) as far consideration for, acceptance of and ajustment to the other party are concerned. Clearly and unambiguously tell the other party what the boundaries are. In order to bring the message across, convey it in a way that suits the other party.

Note: In determining boundaries, real-world factors such as 'power' and 'interest' will, of course, play an important part.

If the diversity of modern society is to create any benefits to its participants, then it is paramount that they have an understanding of the differences between people and a systematic way of dealing with those differences.
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