Storti’s Building Blocks of Culture, 20 Years Later

By Kandy Turner posted 04-28-2021 10:39 AM


Craig Storti’s updated book couldn’t have been released at a better time. Here’s how Understanding the World’s Cultures helped me revamp my intercultural training workshop during the pandemic.

Over a decade ago, I developed an intercultural communication presentation using concepts from Craig Storti, Geert Hofstede, and Milton Bennett. This presentation has served me well over the years without much modification regardless of audience. In my defense, the concepts: cultural dimensions, building blocks, and stumbling blocks, have stood the test of time. At some point, however, you find yourself presenting the same material to the same people and realizing it’s time to update the roadshow.

This year I was asked to present on intercultural communication as part of a well-attended monthly series hosted by the Chief Diversity Officer. The virtual world has allowed for increased participation, so I knew it was time to retire my presentation and start fresh. Fortunately for me, my go-to resource, Craig Storti’s Figuring Foreigners Out, had recently been updated.

The 20th anniversary edition of Craig Storti’s seminal work, now retitled Understanding the World’s Cultures, retains the overall structure and concepts of the original while providing us with a 21st century refresh. If your copy of Figuring Foreigners Out is as dog-eared as mine, you’ll find the new version follows a similar structure. It’s still a workbook, which makes building an interactive presentation easy. But, if you are new to his work, you don’t need the previous edition to make full use of the updated version. Either version of the guide provides a definition of culture and exercises to understand values and behaviors through a cultural lens. The meat and potatoes of the guide are the four building blocks of culture: Individualist-Collectivist, Universalist-Particularist, Monochronic-Polychronic, and Internal-External. Storti includes exercises, dialogues, and continua with countries listed by where they fall on the particular building blocks. Later chapters discuss communication styles, workplace culture, and cultural awareness development.

The new guide opens with an exercise called Dinner with Some Brahmins, which I was able to turn into a poll and discussion during my presentation. I made more use of the cultural continua in this presentation, since the countries listed on each continuum were recently updated. I was not able to make use of the new pre/post-tests in the guide due to time constraints, but if I were doing a longer workshop, these tests would provide readymade assessments. Finally, the chapter on cultural awareness development, called The Cross-Cultural Perspective in the 1998 edition, has also been updated. I would have used this had the first three chapters not already provided ample material for my 60-minute presentation.

Rereading Storti’s work after so many years not only allowed me to refresh my go-to presentation, but it reminded me why this work is so important in the first place. I found myself using the concepts outside of work, and I reminisced on when I first learned the Building Blocks of Culture as a new international educator in grad school. I also thought about how critical intercultural competence is in our Zoom-connected, socially-distanced world. Hopefully, my presentation as part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion series at my institution provided participants with relevant concepts they will actually retain and use in their next intercultural interaction. I hope so anyway, because knowing me, I’ll use this same presentation until next 20th anniversary edition of Understanding the World’s Cultures comes out. I have no doubt the concepts will be just as relevant as they are today.




05-10-2021 04:20 PM

Please share your thoughts after you read it.

05-10-2021 03:25 PM

Thanks for the heads up!  It has been a while since I read the book.  I'm curious about the new book and will certainly check it out.