Watch Out! What a Values Lens is—and is Not!


Our users love Cultural Detective‘s Values Lenses. Many of them even call our toolset “Cultural Detective Lenses” rather than “the Cultural Detective Series.”

Customers tell us they use Values Lenses to:

  • Quickly build recognition that cultures are, indeed, different.
  • Establish credibility that these tools and their facilitation are effective.
  • Supplement—amplify and deepen—the analysis of a critical incident, or better understand a personal life event.
  • Reflect on ways in which they have become who they are by overlaying national, gender, generational, religious tradition or sexual orientation Lenses with Personal Lenses.
  • Contrast their “home culture” Lens with that of a new culture to predict where there might be synergy and resonance, as well as potential difficulties or challenges.
  • Learn to focus on the things that make a difference, to observe and respect deep culture, rather than becoming preoccupied with dos and don’ts.
  • Empower members of their organization to explain their culture(s) to others. Though they may not individually hold the values on the culture’s Lens, the Lens enables them to explain the larger society’s tendencies in ways that help newcomers to be successful.

All of this is fine and good, except that Values Lenses scare the bejeebers out of me!

Ever since publishing Ecotonos back in the early nineties, I’ve said that publishing a tool is like launching a child out into the world: products, like children, take on lives of their own. They do not always do what their parents or creators might have intended. Tools serve certain purposes and not others. Tools can be used expertly or misused.

Since Values Lenses can be such powerful tools, they can also be dangerous tools when misused. Thus the reason for this post. We want to make sure you understand how to use Values Lenses appropriately, and help us keep them from being used counterproductively.

So, what are Values Lenses? And what are they not?

  • Values Lenses summarize the top five to seven core values or general tendencies of a group of people, a culture. They do not apply to individuals within a culture, and the values have a complex influence on sub-cultures of the Lens culture.
  • They illustrate how members of a culture tend to see the world—looking out through the Lens, and how a culture tends to influence its members—like sun shining in through the colors of the Lens. It is important to remember it is “tend to,” not “always do.” Context is key.
  • They capture the ideal and actual aspects of a culture, intention and perception, positive and negative, yin and yang. A Lens both illustrates the values that members of a culture aspire to, and some ways in which the expression of those values might be negatively perceived by those who don’t share them. A Values Lens is a starting point for inquiry; it does not contain every value held by every member of a culture.
  • Values Lenses are tools for discovery and dialogue, clues that may give us an idea about what makes people tick. They are not yet another “box” into which to stereotype people!

Values Lenses can be extremely effective tools, and they are a key component of the Cultural Detective Method. Remember, however, that it is the process of using the Cultural Detective Worksheet that is fundamental to the Cultural Detective approach.

We’d love to hear your ideas and techniques for helping others learn through the use of Cultural Detective Values Lenses! Let us know how you are creatively applying Values Lenses in your life—personally and/or professionally.

4 thoughts on “Watch Out! What a Values Lens is—and is Not!

  1. While I agree wholeheartedly with the observations of Diane makes above, my attention is drawn to what is contained in her last paragraph, “…ideas and techniques for helping others learn through the use of Cultural Detective Values Lenses! Let us know how you are creatively applying Values Lenses in your life—personally and/or professionally.“

    I have been continually touting Cultural Detective as a major pedagogical breakthrough in the intercultural field. I do this not simply because of the clarity and simplicity of the methodology, which sometimes makes it seem even too simple to some folk.

    It is rather because CD relies upon quality of the authors’ research in identifying the values not by abstract, deductive academic labeling of survey generated material. This, as we know all, too easily leads to limited thinking, stereotypes and colonization. CD looks for what it calls “values” to emerge from inner discourse of the groups under study, and how does discourse calls out and encounters the discourse of others. The CD values aew neither abstractions nor judgments, but convenient abbreviations, a shorthand if you will, for this identified discourse.

    It is into this discourse that we need to peer very carefully when using the CD methodology. Our responsibility is to how the discourse is heard and acted upon by members of the culture in question. Belonging to a culture, whatever the multiple or diverse cultures or hybridity we as individuals may embody, means having appropriated a culture’s discourse, whether one loves it, comes to hate it, or tries to leave it. Even if and, even more so, if you’re a rebel within your own culture, you understand all too clearly its discourse even as you try to resist it or change it.

    Some of you may have noticed that in the most recent edition of Cultural Detective USA, the order of the values and the discourse on the lens page was inverted, in recognition of the importance of the discourse in shaping the values. Now you will find inside the lens a brief sample of the discourse and outside the lens the abbreviated value label, the reverse of what was printed in the earlier edition. So, for example, “It’s up to you,” and, “Time is money,” discourse as we have heard it is found in the heart of the lens, while their descriptors labels, “Self-reliance” and “Speed” have moved to the outside.

    It is how a people talk to themselves and to each other that creates and defines culture, whether we are talking about a region, a religion, or a rugger club. The moment that function is forgotten, we shilly-shally off into the kind of abstractions, which turned into stereotypes and pejorative labels. Culture light! This is why the illustrative proverbs and sayings in the text of each Cultural Detective in the facilitators’ guides are not just extras, but important tools in teaching with this methodology.

    If one keeps this relationship of discourse to culture in mind when teaching with the Cultural Detective, one releases the power that lies behind its apparent simplicity. Today when interculturalists are often being accused of criminal behavior in perpetuating the problems that they seek to resolve and feloniously reinforcing the thinking that they seek to change, putting a Cultural Detective onto the case is one of the absolute best strategies we have for establishing both innocence and honest intent.

    RIP, Columbo! We will continue to ask good questions and listen carefully and unobtrusively to the discourse we hear, just as you did.

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  2. Greetings to all,
    I write to affirm what has been stated and express appreciation for the thoughtful comments from both authors. Your wise counsel has benefits that spread well beyond the work of those using Cultural Detective Tools, and indeed should form the core of inter-personal exchanges in all settings. Attention to context, which is so important for understanding and appropriateness in human interaction, requires the patience for a nuanced investigation. Expediency is almost always counter-productive, and perhaps even mean.

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  3. George, your supplementary info and insights are most appreciated and very important. Melvin, what a joy to see your name here! I so respect who you are and what you do; your comments are also most welcome and on-point on a Monday morning!

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  4. Pingback: Let’s Investigate What Makes Cultural Detective Unique | Cultural Detective Blog

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