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The "East / West" differences in how view the world start in childhood as Elinor Ochs, John Bradbury and others (described in the book Rapt) begin with our child-rearing practices. In Eastern cultures children are taught to look outward, to attend to others, whilst in Western, people in the highly individualistic West are encouraged early on to concentrate on their own needs and desires.

This thoughtful post convinced me to get your book and "Geography of Thought."



Thanks for the fascinating post. Those of us who were marginalized by the old way of thinking may find that the world does not have as many closed doors as we thought. Predictability is not always an asset.


Marc Resnick

Great post John!! I always love reading your posts, but this one is real gem. Some recent research on unexpected incentives found a very fascinating East/West difference. Previous research on job incentives has found that when they are unexpected, they have a greater impact on productivity. In fact, when incentives become too expected, they cease to have any impact at all, everywhere from manual labor to hedge fund managers.

The East/West difference found that in an Eastern population, unexpected incentives had a positive effect only when they were framed as luck (which is valued in the Eastern culture) but not when they were due to individual achievement (which is not). The opposite was true with the Western population.

Venessa Miemis

Great post, John.

It reminded me of an awesome TED talk I watched last month by Devdutt Pattanaik, who gives a very entertaining overview of the "mythology of business", and how the difference between the Western and Eastern ways of doing business/operating really comes down to our fundamental belief structures about the way the world works (the process of life/death). (http://video.ted.com/talks/podcast/DevduttPattanaik_2009I.mp4)

It made so much sense to me, and underlies that "relational" thinking that's common in the East. I've been thinking about this topic a lot, and it seems that many of the problems we face result from our complete disconnect with Nature - and by Nature I don't mean "outside," I mean all of life and process within the ecosystem. For instance, your cow-grass example..... Americans are frighteningly disconnected from food, from thinking about where it comes from and how it gets to their table. It's causing tons of health problems, because people literally have forgotten how to eat, and it's also creating a potentially huge problem that we have forgotten how to raise food. (and Monsanto is engineering all our seeds). I started a garden 2 summers ago, and I have to tell you, growing food from a seed is an AMAZING experience! It gave me a different relationship with the earth and with whatever force (God?) drives the transformation from something that fits in the wrinkle of my palm to something that could sustain my life just by nurturing it with light and water.

The point is, the garden is like a metaphor for everything else... it's in a constant state of flux, changing, evolving, and if you meet it's needs, it will reward you with value.... but you can't force it to grow, you kind of become a part of its process.

I've found this to be very helpful when looking at most things around me. That everything is interconnected, even though sometimes it seems like it's not, and that we can't continue pretending like we exist outside of it, and that we can control it to make it give us what we want without being affected ourselves... that's not sustainable. we're all part of the process, we always have been. it's time to wake up and recognize it.

- @venessamiemis

Michael Gusek


First, let me say that this was awesome. The East-West description is by far the best descriptor for the paradoxical Reductionism/Holism relationship. Fun read!

Did you know that when you put holistic methods into a computer they do really strange and interesting things to massive data sets?

(None of the above are technical terms.)

Hope you are well!

Roger von Oech

Nice post, and a lot to think about. I'd forgotten about Nisbett's distincts (I remember they were a big deal a few years ago).

I'll check out your other shift stuff!


Professor Wanda Orlikowski makes mention of these relationship conceptual positions.


kirstin falk


This is a brilliant post and I couldn't agree more. Well done.


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