What is the Iceberg theory of culture?

What is the Iceberg theory of culture

Consider yourself on a boat, and you see an Iceberg theory off in the distance. You gaze at it, and what do you see? A huge iceberg. You can’t see it, but beneath the iceberg is another massive amount of ice hidden from our perspective that keeps it stable. In psychology, Hemingway’s Iceberg hypothesis states that we only deal with what we can see with our eyes. The rest is like an iceberg in that it goes unnoticed. There is a conscious component to the data, but there is also an unconscious component.

Hemingway began his journalistic career as a reporter for the Kansas City Star, where he was assigned to the criminal beat. Hemingway naturally extended that minimalist technique to his fiction writing, as his pieces had to be completely factual, with no opinion or personal interpretation included.

His stories were brief and understated, leaving things unsaid rather than explaining everything out for his audience. The iceberg theory, in reality, is based on the premise that not including everything makes a story stronger.


In the 1970s, anthropologist Edward T. Hall created the Cultural iceberg theory Model as a metaphor for the cultural laws that govern any community. Icebergs found in arctic seas inspired the term “Iceberg Model of Culture.” An iceberg has visible sections on the surface and invisible parts beneath the water’s surface. Up to 90% of an iceberg’s surface area is usually covered underwater. Similarly, there are visible and invisible components to culture and behaviour. The way we live and interact with one another, as well as our traditions, food, and clothing, are all obvious aspects of culture.

Our preferences, opinions, values, beliefs, and value systems make up the invisible component. Much of the culture and behaviour, like an iceberg, is hidden beneath the surface.

How Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory Can Help You

Everything the viewer sees above the surface is narrative, plot, dialogue, and action. But everything else — thoughts, sentiments, motives, symbolism, theme, and subtext — is hidden beneath the water’s surface. However, as anyone familiar with icebergs knows, just because something is below the surface doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Hemingway wrote in The Art of the Short Story:

“The story is reinforced if you leave out essential details or incidents that you are aware of.” The story will be pointless if you quit or skip something because you don’t understand it.”

It’s tempting to include every detail in your screenplay, but the best writing relies on the subtext created by the things that aren’t spoken, the things that are purposely left off the page. Modern audiences don’t want all of the facts; they want stories with plenty of subtext and intricacies, which is how the most profound meaning is formed. Writers who use Hemingway’s iceberg theory must accept the fact that they will always know more about the story, the universe, and the characters than they can fit on the paper. It’s often more powerful to leave things off the page than to explain them out.

Unspoken Rules

When we meet a new set of individuals, we perceive the above-surface culture, but it’s literally just the tip of the iceberg. Things become more intense the deeper we go below the surface. The 90 percent of culture underneath the surface, according to Hall’s approach, can be classified into two categories. We can think of the first of these as a society’s unspoken rules.

Unspoken rules are aspects of society that exist just beneath the surface yet are nonetheless hidden. Nonverbal communication, how we interact with or exhibit our emotions, our views of personal space, our definitions of beauty, and our fundamental ideas about etiquette and contextual conduct are all included.

Iceberg Theory in Marketing Research: Purpose

The issue or problem with management is frequently clear. Sales are declining; market share is decreasing; and a new product has failed to meet its sales expectations. The origins of a management problem are not always clear. As applied to marketing research, Ship ham’s (2010) Iceberg Theory provides a fantastic paradigm for identifying the right research problem and survey objectives.


There are visible and unseen factors in organizational cultures.

Everyone can see a company’s corporate brand, values, and behaviors. Organizations, like iceberg theory, are driven by frequently hidden behaviors, and leaders must look beyond visible issues like turnover rates and disengaged employees. They must delve deeper to uncover less visible factors such as employee reluctance to change or a misalignment of the company’s culture and strategy. The iceberg theory Model can help organizations gain a better understanding of cultural diversity and team behavioural competence.

This will aid in understanding how to handle complex problems by altering hidden but crucial components of behavior.


When working in multicultural teams and conducting business in international marketplaces, cultural differences might cause challenges. The Iceberg Model of problem-solving, on the other hand, can assist you in overcoming these obstacles. We can get to the fundamental causes of problems by comprehending the cultural iceberg hypothesis. Similarly, the Iceberg Model of Culture can aid in the understanding and transformation of large-scale human behaviour.

The iceberg theory Model of behaviour is covered in Harappa Education’s Leading Self course. This method of problem-solving and behaviour modification can aid in the development of long-term and sustainable solutions. To learn how to use the Iceberg Model, enrol in the course.

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