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Narratives of success and national culture dimensions: Serbia and the USA

Author(s): Drašković Slavka

Journal: Glasnik Etnografskog Instituta SANU
ISSN 0350-0861

Volume: 60;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 43;
Date: 2012;
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Keywords: narratives of success | myth of success | success culture | national culture | leadership

The paper starts with underlying the American myth of success basic elements/believes: American democracy allows all citizens to raise above limitations of their birth, hard work brings wealth and comfort, rewarded are who are deserving and with ambition, plus a modicum of good lack (Marsden, 1992). The author than compares the myth of success elements with the dimensions of the US national culture defined by Hofstede. She argues that the American myth of success elements is corresponding to Hofstede’s findings of the US national culture characteristics. The American culture was found to be extremely individualistic, masculine (challenge, earnings, recognition and advancement are important), high risk taking and action oriented, with the low extent of acceptance of unequal distribution of power. Fully in line with that, according to the myth of success, America has been from its beginnings in sixteen century the place where social differences disappear and men have an opportunity for advancement to higher level jobs and social status regardless their starting position. Together with low power distance, individualism and muscularity are the purest US cultural dimensions according to Hofstede (1981, 2000, 2001), but they are also the very core of the American success myth. The myth of success hero is individual, self made man. Those heroes are strong personalities that attain their success through education, hard work, and sheer willpower. While no man is an island, it’s not external help or special relationships that make the crucial difference in the self-made man’s rise, nor is luck the deciding factor. He is the one who raises himself, counting on his own self, his own abilities and hard work. Masculine cultural dimension is associated with the sympathy and identification with strong and successful people. The American myth of success hero is assertive, tough and focused on material success, all the elements of the masculine cultural dimension. The author than analyzes the success stories in Serbia. She points out that in Serbian traditional stories of success, basic element is gaining based on luck, whether the gaining comes from digging a treasure jar, finding hidden family fortune, or unexpected heritage (from an uncle living in America). Success stories that arose in Serbia in nighties, when Serbia faced war and post war period and political and social disturbances, are new urban legends that imbedded success in a lottery or other games of chance winning. Medias and advertisements for games of chance, additionally supported the idea of enrichment by pure lack, promoting as a Serbian dream lottery and games of chance winning. These elements of the Serbian success stories are than compared with the Serbian national culture dimensions as defined by Hofstede. The conclusion is that there is also mach of the stories elements and Hofstede’s founding that Serbian national culture is autocratic and feminine, with high risk avoidance and collectivism. These national culture dimensions implicate high fear of what future can bring, limited mobility, low motivation and little willingness to take risks. Hence, the employees have expectation that their organization/community/others, and not themselves, will take care of their future, which favors passivity. The success is not in individual endeavor but in ambiguous criteria and pure luck, as the Serbian stories of success tell us. Unclear success patterns and model that consider success as unexpected, unearned, gained due to luck, happy circumstances and fate, are also in line with no existence of so called success heroes in Serbia (as there are self-made man in America, and success and progress heroes of steel revolution), the examples that will serve as an encouragement and motivation to others, and that will show the success is possible if some rules and patterns are followed. The author than quotes its own research on the Serbian American Diaspora business leaders undertaken from 2008th to 2010th. (Drašković, 2010, 2011) showing the acceptance of the American culture of success values and the influence of the American culture on their believes and behavior. The research results have shown that success stories of the American business leaders of Serbian origin are based on believes/elements of the American myth of success, although the Serbian culture they originated from, has totally different culture of success. The US business leaders in their narratives described the ways they have succeeded in America, credited American democracy, vertical social mobility and hard work to brought them wealth and comfort, showing strong personalities and ambition, plus they had a modicum of good lack and ability to recognize the opportunity when it comes. They all said they have lived an American dream, the dream of a land with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement. They, though coming from a country that has a different culture of success, adopted and applied the patterns of success and culture of the American community in its value system in business and personal life. In concluding part, the author argues that the behavior of the individuals based on the success culture prevailing in a society can be changed within a person and within one generation, if they change the culture in which they live and work. The process of influencing and changing believes and consequently behavior regarding the success can be planned and requires conscious effort of a national elites to influence the success culture of a nation. Individuals and groups are not just the subject of the culture but can influence and change it with its own will and efforts. As an organizational culture can be influenced and created by stories and myths, the same is possible to be done with the national culture by designing, planning and consciously inventing national myths, to strengthen the cohesion of society and enhance its development. By changing success stories of an nation, it is possible to change community attitudes towards their own future and success, and this process, with the conscious effort of people in Serbia, but also in other countries.
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