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The Culture Code
6/13/2006 7:30:00 PM
By Simbey

Recently I read an excerpt from some book entitled "The Culture Code" that only caught my eye because of its mention of Legos and Germans.  Here is the excerpt:

DNA makes a creature human, but what makes someone an American? Is there a "culture code" that programs us to become German, or Japanese, or French? Dr. Clotaire Rapaille believes there is such a code, a silent system of archetypes that we unconsciously acquire as we grow up within our culture. The codes vary around the world and invisibly shape how we behave in our personal lives and as consumers and as nations.
Dr. Clotaire Rapaille
The German Code for Germany is perhaps best illustrated in a story.

Lego, the Danish toy company, found instant success with their interlocking blocks in the German market, while sales foundered in the U.S. Why?

The company's management believed that one of the primary reasons for their success was the quality of the instructions they provided inside each box that helped children build the specific item (a car, a spaceship) that a particular box of blocks was meant to build. The instructions were quite a breakthrough in the field: precise, colorful, and refreshingly self-explanatory. They made construction with Lego blocks not only simple, but in some ways magical. If one followed the path through the instructions, tiny plastic pieces methodically turned into something grander.

American children could not have cared less. They would tear into the boxes, glance fleetingly at the instructions (if they glanced at them at all), and immediately set to a construction project on their own. They seemed to be having a wonderful time, but they were as likely to build, say, a fort, as they were to build the automobile for which the blocks were intended. And when they were done, they would tear their fort apart and start over from scratch. Once purchased, to Lego's dismay, a single box of Lego could last for years.

In Germany, however, Lego's strategy worked exactly as intended. German children opened a box of Legos, sought out the instructions, read them carefully, and then sorted the pieces by color. They set to building, comparing their assembly progress to the crisp, helpful illustrations in the instruction booklet. When they were finished, they had an exact duplicate of the product shown on the cover of the box. They showed it to Mother who clapped approvingly and put the model on a shelf. Now the children needed another box.

Without even knowing it, Lego had tapped into the Culture Code for Germany itself: ORDER. Over many generations, Germans perfected bureaucracy in an effort to stave off the chaos that came to them in wave after wave, and Germans are imprinted early on with this most powerful of codes. It is that imprint which makes children reach dutifully for the instructions, and it is that code which prevents them from immediately destroying their neat construction in order to build it anew. Lego's elegant, full-color instructions had tapped into the German code in a way that assured repeat sales.

Thinking back to my own childhood, upon receiving a new box of Legos I also searched for the instructions and quickly assembled the bricks accordingly.  So clearly being born an "American child" had no effect on me, and it was, in fact, my German heritage that gave me my sense of order and need to follow the instructions.

There is, of course, one difference.  I didn't put my assembled models on a bookshelf somewhere to collect dust; I set them upon a piece of plywood in my bedroom among all the Lego roads, castles, and space ships!  Maybe that's because, technically, I am only 50% German?  In any case, like the "stereotypical" children living in Germany, once I had assembled my Legos, I was ready for a new set!
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