Time Orientation

Time Orientation

the extent to which a society fosters pragmatic virtues oriented toward short-term or long-term rewards and obligations

Time Orientation, as a dimension of culture, was added in 1991 to Hofstede’s original four dimensions. In collaboration with Michael Bond at the University of Hong Kong, additional insights were collected from questionnaires made by Chinese scholars which revealed additional cultural trends from 23 countries. Years later, using data collected by Dr. Michael Minkov from the 1994-2004 World Value Survey, the number of countries from which data was collected jumped from 23 to 93, further solidifying these patterns.

As a scale of measure, Time Orientation refers to a society’s focus on short-term versus long-term goals. If a culture is short-term oriented, it fosters virtues related to the past and present, such as conservatism, nationalism, and tradition. If a culture is long-term oriented, it fosters virtues oriented toward future rewards, such as perseverance, saving, thriftiness, and adaptability to changing circumstances.

Below is a comparison of some of the characteristics found in short-term versus long-term oriented cultures:

Short-term Orientation

  1. Good/evil are absolute and always the same
  2. Fixed norms always apply
  3. A superior person is always the same
  4. We seek positive affirmation about ourselves
  5. Proud of our own country
  6. Traditions are sacrosanct
  7. Always a contradiction between oppositions
  8. Fundamentalism, choosing the extreme

Long-term Orientation

  1. Good/evil are relative
  2. Which norms apply depend on the situation
  3. A superior person knows how to adapt
  4. We should be humble
  5. Desire to learn from other countries
  6. Traditions can be changed
  7. When two truths oppose, they may be integrated
  8. Use of common sense to resolve problems (Occam’s razer)

Hofstede measured this dimension by the Long-Term Orientation Index (LTO) on a scale from 1-100. He observed that in short-term oriented cultures, economic growth in poor countries was more stagnant, secondary school students scored lower in math but rated themselves higher, and investors preferred to deal in shares and mutual funds. In long-term oriented cultures, economic growth progressed faster in poor countries, secondary school students scored higher in math but rated themselves lower, and investors preferred to deal in real-estate and family businesses.

Disrupt This!

Time Orientation is something that has been convincingly argued as shifting globally over time at different moments rather than society to society. A few things to consider:

  • There’s always a class/socioeconomic dimension to this (who can afford to take risks and plan ahead?).
  • On what theological/cosmological timescales are people making decisions? An evangelical Christian will have a very particular time orientation compared to an environmental activist.

An understanding of the time orientation of stakeholders will likely affect the timeline of any relevant design solutions. For example, an infrastructure transition from fossil fuels toward renewable energies will require a much longer timeline (decades) compared to a program aimed at increasing retention rates of high school seniors (months). It should also be taken into consideration that different stakeholders may be working on different timelines.

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