How Westerners became psychologically peculiar and economically prosperous (slides) | Joseph Henrich

Joe Henrich, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at the University of Harvard, presented a further perspective on culture and on how it develops. He pointed out that “WEIRD people” – western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic – are different from all other people and took the audience far back in time to late antiquity. The foundation stone for the development path of “WEIRD people” was then laid, explained Henrich. With the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, complex family structures were destroyed and clans were no longer tolerated. From this developed around the year 1000 what Joe Henrich calls “voluntary organizations”: cities, universities, and monasteries. The keyword “voluntary organizations” is important, because once people could make their decisions freely and without the influence of complex kinship structures, individualism developed – a core element of Western culture. Finally, Henrich emphasized the importance of culture for the formation of institutions, thus making it clear that institutions are always culturally bound and therefore cannot simply be transferred. This in turn has far-reaching consequences for international organizations and companies. With this in mind, the take-home for the day was clear: Culture is an essential factor that permeates our lives in all areas – including business.

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