Summary of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

Looking for the book?
We have the summary! Get the key insights in just 10 minutes.

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers book summary

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples


Cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand argues that the world’s cultures can be classified into two categories by virtue of their norms: “Tight” cultures, like those of Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Germany, embrace rigid norms and mete out harsh punishments for those who deviate. “Loose” cultures, including those of New Zealand, the United States and Brazil, are more tolerant of a wide assortment of behaviors. Gelfand describes how a cultural mismatch in business can doom a merger or undermine cooperation among divisions. Gelfand offers eye-opening insights for development professionals, policy makers and executives.

About the Author

Michele Gelfand, PhD, is a Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. The recipient of numerous awards, she is known for her pioneering research into cultural norms and is a past president of the International Association for Conflict Management.


Customs and Taboos: What’s Normal?

Every group of people – whether a family, a business or a nation – develops “social norms”: a set of often unspoken rules that govern behavior. Norms cover activities in almost every sphere, like which side of the sidewalk you walk on or whom you can marry. Without the predictability that norms bring to behavior, cooperation would be impossible. And, according to anthropologist Joseph Henrich, cooperation is the reason for the evolutionary success of the otherwise vulnerable human animal. 

The dichotomies among the norms of different cultures can undermine international cooperation and lead to conflict, so being aware of social norms strengthens a leader’s predictive skills in knowing where conflicts might flare up and finding ways to avoid or defuse them. Social norms are so integral to a culture that its members are generally not even aware of them. People begin absorbing norms in infancy and continue doing so throughout their lives. Some norms set general standards; for example, a society may agree that everyone should wear clothes in public or shouldn’t litter. Other&#...

Comment on this summary

More on this topic

The Great Demographic Reversal
The Russian State and Russian Energy Companies, 1992–2018
Dynamic Reteaming
Strategic Doing
Wherever You Go, There You Are
The Handshake

Related Channels