Operation Market – Garden

Lecture at Windesheim

Here, you can see a tutorial lecture by me (Gert Jan) about human sociality and culture.

In November 2022, I was invited for a keynote at the "Global Entrepreneurship Week" of Windesheim University of applied sciences in Zwolle, the Netherlands. It was good fun. Thank you, Ferdi Hofstede (unrelated), for inviting me!

The lecture, and Q&A sessions, were recorded. It is in three parts that follow in this post.

Stay tuned: When I get time, I want to write down some of the questions, and add things to my answers. I got really good questions. Due to time contraints, my answers were sometimes short and one-sided, while the questions deserved a fuller treatment.


Part 1: The ant and the colony

In the first hour (well, 39 minutes), I talked mainly about two things. Here is a summary.

The ant and the colony

In order to make sense of what people do, one often has to look at the context first. They do things for a reason that you can often only understand when you understand their social, relational context. If you do not zoom out, most things that moest people in other parts of the world do, seem strange, silly, dirty of immoral. But actually, they make sense. In the same vein, your actions probably look strange to people from elsewhere.

Status, power and relations

All people do things for relational reasons.


On the positive side, there is love, and its many forms: respect, admiration, attention... in one word: status. We are driven to give status to those we find respectable, beautiful, lovable... and to claim status for ourselves by dressing up, being funny, clever, strong, beautiful...


On the negative side, there is violence, obstruction, deceit... in one word, power. It is not quite as simple: we also mandate one another to use power, for instance the police, our father, or our government. Power, when mandated, is called "authority".

The small print of the rules for using status and power are cultural.

Kemper's theory

Many authors have written on these things, dividing the cake of human sociality in slightly different ways. Here, I base myself on the theory by Theodore Kemper, a Ney York based sociologist: "status-power theory of relations".

The ant and the colony

The moral circle and culture

In the second hour (46 minutes) I talked about our lives in groups. In these groups, we have roles that come with rights and obligations, most of them unconscious. We become aware of these rules through emotions and moral feelings: shame, pride, happiness, guilt...

This is why we can call our groups "moral circles".

The moral circle

Any group of humans has a tendency to behave as a moral circle. It happens in a classroom, or in a train - but much more so in a family, or a religious community, or society at large.


Culture is how we learn to behave as good members of our main moral circle: the community into which we were born. We learn how to "behave", "be a good boy", "be a good girl", a good Christian, Muslim, patriot... You get the picture.

Upbringing involves many conscious actions, to help us do the right thing, but most of our deep cultural values are unconscious, for both educators and children. That's why culture is hard.

More on culture elsewhere on the geerthofstede.com site.

The moral circle and culture

So what?

In the last fifteen minutes, I tried to sum up, helped by my hosts: Ferdi Hofstede and Dinand Warringa, both of Windesheim.

Market, machine, pyramid and family

In the previous hour I had mentioned the four culture quadrants shaped by the dimensions of Power Distance and Uncertainty Avoidance. The names of these four quadrants give an idea about the unwritten rules of how things are normally organized and decided in that society.

They are: market (e.g. Anglo countries), machine (e.g. Germanic countries), pyramid (e.g. Latin and Slav countries) and family (e.g. most of Africa and Asia).  Since World War two, the market has been the dominant quadrant - but that is not changing, with countries in the pyramid and family quadrants gaining status-power standing.

Market to garden

I found that in order to cope with the worldwide challenges facing us - such as war, climate change - the market is not a good metaphor. Instead I propose to start seeing the world as a garden. This metaphor makes you think of a beautiful place worth caring for, with different corners and resting places, where visitors are welcome.

78 years before 2022, in 1944, the original "operation market garden" was launched, in the last phases of World War two. Now, we need another one, a revolution in our thinking, in order to survive the next 78 years and reach the year 2100. If the world is a garden, we are all one moral circle, helping to maintain our garden, so that it can sustain us.