Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

Narrated by: Katherine Fenton
Length: 8 hrs and 21 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (107 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In Rule Makers, Rule Breakers celebrated cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand takes us on an epic journey through human cultures, offering a startling new view of the world and ourselves. With a mix of brilliantly conceived studies and surprising on-the-ground discoveries, she shows that much of the diversity in the way we think and act derives from a key difference - how tightly or loosely we adhere to social norms. 

Why are clocks in Germany so accurate while those in Brazil are frequently wrong? Why do New Zealand’s women have the highest number of sexual partners? Why are “Red” and “Blue” states really so divided? Why was the Daimler-Chrysler merger ill-fated from the start? Why is the driver of a Jaguar more likely to run a red light than the driver of a plumber’s van? Why does one spouse prize running a “tight ship” while the other refuses to “sweat the small stuff"? 

In search of a common answer, Gelfand has spent two decades conducting research in more than 50 countries. Across all age groups, family variations, social classes, businesses, states, and nationalities, she’s identified a primal pattern that can trigger cooperation or conflict. Her fascinating conclusion: Behavior is highly influenced by the perception of threat.   

With an approach that is consistently riveting, Rule Makers, Rule Breakers thrusts many of the puzzling attitudes and actions we observe into sudden and surprising clarity.

©2018 Michele Gelfand (P)2018 Simon & Schuster

What listeners say about Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Defies easy categorization

This book is well worth the read. The underlying concept is very interesting and it gave me several new insights. That being said I suspect the author is a better scientist than she is an author. Parts of the book were too long. At times it made me recall Richard Feynman‘s remark about categorization. Giving things names and putting them into categories by itself doesn’t necessarily tell you anything useful. There was a little bit too much categorization and enumeration for me. If you are a detail person though you might like that. The narration had problems. The narrator mispronounced a number of words that should be known to someone reading an academically oriented work. The phrasing was sometimes off too. Mark Twain said that Wagner‘s music was better than it sounded. I sort of think that about this book.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

An interesting lens to look through

This book will reward your patience. It ties a bunch of ideas together into a single unifying idea. A distinction between tightness and looseness. It moves really slowly at first. You feel like it is pretty subtle, the difference between her tightness/looseness and ideas you may have read about a cultures individualism/collectivism. It moves on to talk about tightness/looseness on an individual level which seems similar to "openness" from the Big Five personality traits. Once there, and tying the concept from society to individual level into a single concept it starts delivering insights as it expands on causes of tightness/looseness. It steps you through the forces at play on social class, differences in US states, lessons that can be drawn regarding the election of Donald Trump, corporate cultures, mergers and acquisitions, marital problems, Arab spring revolutions, and populism. It is a book that belongs alongside Jonathan Haidt and Martin Seligman on a bookshelf. It’s my own preference that this sort of book that comes out of academia and spends pages building an idea to not skip the sentence that anticipates your objections. A sentence or two that goes something like: "Singapore and New Zealand are outliers in this case. Controlling for a country's wealth, the tightness/looseness of a country is a significant variable on life expectancy to a 90% confidence interval" or whatever. But she does not include that sentence. You don't know if she has controlled for wealth in this instance. And you don't know why she has switched examples from New Zealand and Singapore to Ukraine and Turkey beyond that is supports the point she is trying to make right now. Since she is an academic, you are best off just to trust her that she is not being disingenuous, and that these models have been correctly set up. It is an interesting way of looking at things that delivers insight. It’s worth a credit and the time investment. I feel like I will take the perspective from this book and use it in the way I look at certain problems. That is valuable.

1 person found this helpful

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More convincing at the macro-level

The argument is more convincing at the country and sub-country levels but once it is extended to individual level, it is less valid. There are just way too many cases that don’t fit well with her simple characterization of tightness and looseness. A wealthy person can very well be the type of conformity for example, not the loose type as argued by the book. A person can be both tight and loose, depending on circumstances. These circumstances are so many in different social, organizational, and cross-national contexts so it could render the underlying principle of tightness and looseness invalid. The book talks about culture and social norms. Individual behaviors are of course influenced by these attributes but not dictated by them. This seems to be the problem of the book---exaggerated roles of social influences on individuals. But, again, its arguments at the country-level and sub-country levels are plausible probably because cultural plays a larger role in social settings and, plus, there are smaller chances of deviation from much smaller sample size (there are around 200 countries in the world, compared to millions or billions of people inside a country).

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  • CT
  • 11-23-19

Insightful ideas; not a neutral presentation thoug

The content of the book presents a solid exploration for people trying to understand culture (and our culture in the US) better. So I rate the "Story" as "it's great". Though not fantastic. Multiple times I came against points where the author appeared to clearly favor a liberal ("loose") perspective as being superior and in many cases did not seam to present arguments against loose morals as solidly as she presented the case against tight morals - especially as she extrapolated her work to US politics. There were also a series of times where it felt to me as if the author was extending past "researched positions" into moral judgement without clearly distinguishing between her work (or others work) versus her views on left/right in US. This was often the case for the choice of verbs that describe situations or people. The reader does not appear to be familiar with technical work. In books where the author reads the text, names of their colleagues they cite often come off comfortably and with familiarity - here cited authors sound like rigid references. Certain units and phrases less used in daily vernacular (like per capita) come off with an odd pace. Small points - but this book is about Gelfand's technical work - and I'd expect a reader to be more familiar or comfortable with the use of terms in the field - or at least sound as comfortable as the author did writing them. The reading is good - I did get through the whole book. But the reading did get in my way more than once. Overall, the book did trigger a bunch of linkages with other work for me. As a big fan of Haidt's work, Gelfand's work supports many themes he brings up and Gelfand attempts to link to other dimensions such as income, socio-economic class. Sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes less convincingly for me.

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Very interesting book!

I really liked the author's ability to point out obvious ways cultures, companies, organizations, e.g. the US Army, individuals, etc. differ in terms of "tightness" and "looseness." Gee, that seems very clear, but we rarely think about it in those ways. In the fashion of excellent thinkers the author, Michele Gelfand, gives us a different way of thinking about why some companies, organizations, etc. succeed or fail. For example, when a "tight" organization e.g. a German car maker acquires a US car company which operates more "loosely," there is the great potential for the two companies ultimately going their separate ways. Now that I have grasped the author's insights, I can much more fully appreciate why things work out or fail. I feel as if I have really learned many great lessons from Michele Gelfand! As Thomas Henry Huxley remarked about Darwin's theory of evolution, "how stupid of me not to have thought of that idea!"

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Great (Must) Listen...

This book is a must listen for future and present leaders, and an exemplification of how ‘use-cases’ mustn’t be seen in a vacuum, but observed and understood in the fluid marketplace of ideas. Culture is the dark matter of socialization.

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A Must Read

Ms. Gelfand is brilliant!! This book gave me a new lens to view everything from global events down to the relationship with my wife. I'm particularly fascinated with the way tight/loose finds logic in why the world has such a dizzying array of social norms. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will forever have a new way of looking at the world.

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Long and drawn out

The book had interesting points and perspective; however it went from my running listen to my sleep aid. Found the content and reader’s voice repetitive and uninteresting.