Windmills, clogs, bikes, and tulips. For many, the Netherlands conjures images of a peaceful, relaxed, and liberal country. But don’t be fooled. The Dutch are highly practical and innovative and display the Dutch genius they are secretly known for.
The Netherlands houses the International Court of Justice. This principle organ of the United Nations is not based in New York or London but in The Hague. As a result, the Netherlands acts as a beacon of fairness and equality globally. Amsterdam is also a leading center of trade, technology and finance.
The Dutch are proud of their country. Despite a population of little over 17 million, they exert a considerable influence over the world, far beyond their size. Here are some reasons that make the Netherlands so successful:
The Dutch love to be direct
A conversation with a Dutch native may leave you wondering if you have said the wrong thing. You probably haven’t. The Dutch are naturally direct and come across as abrupt. This is true in business and social situations. Dutch natives are brutally honest, as honesty and transparency are valued above all else in Dutch society. Being overly polite is seen by some as an inefficient use of time. As such, you may be cut down mid-speech in a meeting if your idea is not liked. Or told that your new haircut is not to someone’s liking. They don’t do ‘pretend’. The Dutch have a word for this, ‘bespreekbaarheid’. Or, ‘speakability.’ Very little is off-limits for discussion or the giving and sharing of personal opinions. Don’t be surprised to hear people loudly discussing a medical issue or other personal matter in a cafe or public place. This is entirely normal.
You may also discover differences in transparency levels here than otherwise used to. This comes from the influence of Calvinism, which began in the 16th century. The Calvinist attitude of honesty and openness has lent itself to a more transparent than most attitude to privacy and living. Look no further than the big open windows typically seen on a Dutch house. Very often, you will see no curtains in these either. The Dutch do not like to hide. All this means you know exactly where you stand with a Dutch person.
Trust first, then verify
Trust is hugely important to business culture in The Netherlands. Shaking everyone’s hand in the room at a meeting is good practice. Maintaining eye contact goes a long way in gaining the trust of partners. The Dutch expect you to be honest with them and hold their hands up to their own mistakes. Often being the first to point it out. Being firm in most matters and trust often replaces most business formalities, and business deals are often concluded verbally. The Dutch like to think of the best path, always simple and straightforward.
When the Dutch started to reclaim the land from the sea, they gave the land a name called polder. The complexities of agreeing on borders and water management required negotiation and compromise to pump water away from low-lying areas. Polderen remains an important part of Dutch life, referring to compromise and negotiation, an intrinsic part of doing business in Holland. The Dutch are known for their ability to negotiate. For example, in 1952, the government-appointed two foreign ministers, one catholic and one protestant, to please the needs of both religious groups. Unusual, sure, but it’s typical of a Dutch attitude in gaining a consensus and trying to accommodate everyone. In a country where a coalition government has run the country since 1918, compromise has been essential. This helps to explain why so many social groups are represented in The Netherlands. Minority groups are seldom ignored but instead given a voice. This means most decisions have the best chance of satisfying the largest number of people. This is a cornerstone of Dutch society and what makes the Netherlands so successful.
Lack of hierarchy
Unlike in the US or Japan, hierarchy plays less of a role in everyday life. The Netherlands is a famously egalitarian society. Many foreign businesspeople often comment on the lack of hierarchy or distinction between managers and employees. The Dutch are known for their flat organizational structures. You should get used to an open-plan office design. Also, you may find your senior manager sits not in a closed office but instead a few tables away. You may find you’re asked for your opinion on something. This lack of hierarchy translates into a country with a high level of personal autonomy.
They like to think of themselves as the underdog. This could be because they had to fight for their independence in the 16th century from the world’s superpower Spain. Years of oppression and religious persecution under Philip II created a natural resistance to those with heavy authority. In general, a Dutch employee will question everything. They are naturally suspicious of those who wish to exert more authority than anyone else. This can be explained through the phenomena of Tall Poppy Syndrome (maaiveldcultuur) or ‘ground level culture’. The term refers to a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down or criticized simply because their talents or achievements seem to elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers. In effect, this means overachievers may be cut down. What makes the Netherlands so successful is the built-in belief in equality and that everyone’s opinion matters. Standing out is not something they do naturally and arouses suspicions of selfishness and vanity.
The Dutch punch above their weight in terms of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is second nature here. They have a bold, innovative spirit which leaves them standing out head and shoulders from other countries. For it was here in Amsterdam that the direct bank transfer was first invented. Why is the Netherlands so successful? Well, Dutch genius can go a long way to explain this. Some of this land’s incredible technological innovations include the tape recorder, CD, WiFi, and Bluetooth. Just think how these innovations impacted us. In science, the dialysis machine and telescope came from Dutch shores and the modern eye test. Elsewhere, thanks to the energy-saving lightbulbs and doughnuts can be given to the Dutch. Not bad for a country half the size of Scotland!
Highly optimized industrial production from limited natural resources
The Netherlands is a prosperous country with one of the world’s top 20 gross domestic products. This is despite being densely populated and having to retake the land from the sea. Blessed with resources including the North Sea, natural gas, and rich soil for farming. The flatness of the country and the rich soil make it an ideal place for cattle breeding and agriculture. The country produces large volumes of cheese, fruit, and vegetables. The agricultural industry is worth billions to the government and accounts for approximately 1.3% of GDP and employment. The country exports the largest amount of meat in the EU, which is partly achieved through its innovative approach to farming. The success of the agricultural industry is still driving the Netherlands forward with increased growth year on year. Feeding the world in the process.
Great transport making business faster
Excellent public transport and infrastructure make commuting easy and the Netherlands successful. The clogs of business run better with goods easily and quickly transported and post delivered the next day.
Dutch transport is ranked as one of the best in the world. Rotterdam port has been a hub for hundreds of years and still shines today, connecting to Germany, France, and Switzerland. More than two-thirds of inland water freight within Europe and 40% of all containers come through the Netherlands.
How the Dutch raise their kids
A UNICEF report found Dutch kids to be the happiest in the world, and the UN found the Netherlands to be the fourth happiest country. So how and why is this? It is thought that the tolerant, laidback culture plays a role in this. As babies, Dutch children get more sleep than other kids. This is matched by their parents, who also overachieve in the sleep department compared to other parents. Parents know the value of sleep and are likelier to stick to a routine than their UK or US counterparts. Children spend more time with both parents than other children and are raised to value personal development over academic achievement. This leads to greater happiness for them. Parents are often less resistant to traditional discipline, preferring to ‘negotiate’ and reason with their children. This doesn’t mean order and structure are not used; the Dutch value structure tremendously. This can be seen in set eating times where the whole family is present, encouraging social and listening skills. The learning of languages is common for Dutch kids. Lastly, kids learn English early, making life a lot easier for native English speakers.
Your efforts to speak Dutch will be appreciated, however (if not returned). So there is your crash course on what makes the Netherlands so successful. Now time to get out and see for yourself. There is much to see and experience. Doei
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