Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Culture Code

Clotaire Rapaille, The Culture Code

All human beings are born with brains divided into three parts.  One part, the cortex (the cerebral hemispheres), handles learning, abstract thought, and imagination. The cortex comes into practical use in most children after they are seven years old [..] [T]he limbic system [..] deals with emotions.  Emotions are never simple; they are often rife with contradiction.  In a business context, for instance, when customers tell you they love you, this is good, right? What if they love your products and never buy them?  Would you rather have them hate your products and buy them all the time? The limbic brain is structured between birth and age five [..]

Most humans find that in the struggle between intelligence and emotion, the limbic often comes out on top, as we are much more likely to allow our heart to guide us than reason.

The undisputed champion of the three brains, however, is the reptilian brain (the brain stem and the cerebellum). The name comes from this region's similarity to the brains of reptiles, which are believed to be relatively unchanged from the brains their predecessors had 200 million years ago. Our reptilian brains program us for two major things: survival and reproduction [.. Rapaille's famous quote here is 'the reptilian always wins'].

[At an emotional level] The Culture Code is the unconscious meaning we apply to any given thing a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country via the culture in which we are raised [..] it all comes down to the worlds in which we grew up. It is obvious to everyone that cultures are different from one another.  What most people don't realize, however, is that these differences actually lead to our processing the same information in different ways [..]. The combination of [an] experience and its accompanying emotion creates something known widely as an imprint, a term first applied by Konrad Lorenz. Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought processes and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of imprints defines us. An imprint and its Code are like a lock and its combination. If you have all o of the right numbers in the right sequence, you can open the lock [..]

Most of us imprint the meanings of the things most central to our lives by the age of seven. This is because emotion is the central force for children under the age of seven (if you need proof of this, watch how often a young child’s emotional state changes in a single hour), while after this, they are guided by logic (again, try arguing with a nine-year-old). [And] Most people are exposed to only one culture before the age of seven [..] Therefore, the extremely strong imprints placed in their subconscious at this early age are determined by the culture in which they are raised [..].

Americans receive a strong emotional imprint from peanut butter. Your mother makes you a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich when you are little, and you associate it with her love and nurturance. Since I was born in France, where peanut butter is not a household staple, I never made this connection. I learned about peanut butter after the closing of the window in time when I could form a strong emotional association with it. Because it didn’t carry with it the weight of my mother’s love, it was simply another foodstuff. I tasted it and didn’t find it to be special in any way; in fact, I didn’t like it [neither did I..].

My review of hundreds of stories told by participants during the discovery sessions revealed that the American Code for cars is IDENTITY. Americans want cars that are distinctive, that will not be mistaken for any other kind of car on the road, and that trigger memories of Sunday drives, the freedom of getting behind the wheel for the first time, and the excitement of youthful passion. A car with a strong identity [..] has a much better chance of breakout sales than a cookie-cutter sedan [..].

This Code, however, is far from universal across cultures.  German automotive giant Daimler-Benz purchased Chrysler around the time the PT Cruiser was on its way to production.  When the German executives who now ran the company saw the car, they were appalled. Why? Because the Code for cars in the German culture is decidedly different from the American one. The German Code for cars is ENGINEERING. German car manufacturers pride themselves on the quality of their engineering, and this pride is so ingrained that people raised in that culture think of engineering first when they think of cars.

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