[EconTalk] Michele Gelfand on Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

Michele Gelfand on Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

28/10/2019 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=85242455
Episode: http://files.libertyfund.org/econtalk/y2019/Gelfandrulemakers.mp3

Psychologist Michele Gelfand talks about her book, Rule Makers, Rule Breakers, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Gelfand distinguishes between loose cultures and tight cultures–the degree to which culture and regulation restrict behavior or leave it alone. Gelfand explores the causes of why some cultures are tighter than others and the challenges societies face when culture is too tight or too loose. She also applies these ideas of cultural tightness and looseness to corporate mergers and family life.

Listen Date: 2020-01-27 to 2020-01-28


  • Something I found slightly sketchy in this episode was how both Russ Roberts and the guest, Michele Gelfand, would use examples of a person or family doing something to illustrate her point, which if I understood it correctly, is about cultures; and doesn’t necessarily map down to the family or individual level.
  • TL,DR: Tight cultures set up social norms and enforce them heavily; and end up more conscientious and less dynamic / innovative. Loose cultures don’t have as many social norms or enforce them so fiercely; and end up more creative but with problems of self-contol: alcoholism, obesity, etc. And tightness or looseness by themselves don’t predict wealth.
  • Interesting quote on what happens when companies with different cultures merge: “We also look at what we call moderators, so: what context is this even worse? or better? And turns out that in high tech it’s really bad as compared to manufacturing when you have big tight-loose differences. It turns out that when the acquirer is a tight culture and acquiring a loose culture, it also has even worse outcomes in terms of ROA [Return on Assets]. But the most important thing is that leaders can anticipate these differences and they can help to merge these organizations–again, helping tight organizations become more flexible. We call this flexible tightness. And helping loose organizations have more structure. We call this structured looseness.”
  • Another interesting point raised – and I think one that ties in with that old and excellent piece on disgust – is that tight cultures evolve as a response to threats.
  • Another interesting bit – that Israel, despite being threatened, is a loose culture. Gelfand proposes that it’s because Judaism is an argumentative and disputatious religion. In which case, I sob about the bhakti movement yet again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s