Is Culture a Good Thing?
Is culture a good thing?
February 12, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
First, no news on the Mike Albee and Lura Dold front. As you may know, they defrauded me of $40,000 by exploiting the suicides of my parents in 2013. I’ve made a few inquiries here and there, and I’m planning a couple of things that may result in more exposure. Right now I have to wait. That’s fine. Much of my life has been spent waiting. I don’t mind doing it a little more.
Tim and I had an interesting conversation yesterday. We both feel that our lives are about to end. It’s not an impression of doom; we may simply be anticipating the great changes we’ll be making over the next two years, as we sell the three houses and leave California.
In 1995, when Tim and I were almost murdered, we began seeing little black shapes out of the corners of our eyes for at least two weeks before the actual crisis, and we had a sense of great foreboding. We’ve since seen those little black shapes several times, and they always herald oncoming disaster.
No little black shapes are making their appearance right now, so maybe Tim and I aren’t in any danger. What will be, will be. I’m not afraid, and neither is Tim. If anything happens, we’ll go down fighting. We’ll take as many of them with us as we can.
A man feared that he might find an assassin;
Another that he might find a victim.
One was more wise than the other.
* * *
Is culture a good thing?
I’ve been accused of being a racist. The accusation doesn’t bother me, because the word has lost all meaning through overuse. But hating skin color or facial features is just about the stupidest thing you could do. There are far better reasons to hate people.
In the past I described myself as a culturist. I used to hate all culture. What is culture? It’s language, religion, food, clothing, art, and the way we treat women, children, and animals. That’s all.
I’ve mellowed in that I no longer hate culture, but I wonder if we did a cost-benefit analysis, would culture be worth maintaining? What would we adopt in its place? Certainly there’s absolutely nobody on the planet qualified to create the ideal language, religion, food, clothing, art, and way to treat women, children, and animals. Besides, imposing all of that would require an army several hundred million strong. There’s a word for trying to impose a universal culture on others by force: Nazism.
If I have to choose between culture and Nazism, it’s no contest. This sort of weirdness will continue on its merry way, with my blessings.
But the pangs persist. I have a close friend who’s a colonel in the Army of the Russian Federation. We e-mail several times a week. He writes in Russian, and I write in English. I don’t speak or read Russian, though now I can decipher simple words. Even with multiple machine translators, sometimes I simply don’t understand the colonel, and he doesn’t understand me. Our cultures get in the way.
The colonel has a good sense of humor, but often my jokes fall flat with him. We don’t have enough common ground for us to communicate without difficulty.
My brother Eric was born in the Netherlands. He’s both bilingual and bicultural. When we talk, it’s the same as talking with my other siblings. But even in the US, culture prevents us from understanding each other.
I recently started a Facebook account. It’s a dangerous undertaking because you can easily offend others and be misunderstood. Many people wear their cultures on their sleeves. These can be ethnically based cultures, politically based cultures, regionally based cultures, or nationally based cultures.
A lot of lip service is paid to “diversity,” but what that comes down to is a prescribed mixture of genders, sexual orientation, and races. That’s all. Diversity of thought is anathema. To almost everybody, not just one political culture or another.
The saddest culturally induced failure I ever experienced happened after 9/11. I used to go to a liquor store every day to buy my Diet Coke. The clerk was an Arab. On the morning of 9/11, I went there as usual, and he was sweaty and terrified. I held out my hand.
“Listen,” I said, “I’ve been coming here for a long time, and I don’t even know your name. My name is Tom.”
He shook my hand, looking like he was about to burst into tears, and introduced himself.
We never talked about 9/11. Instead, we just discussed our lives. He was a Syrian immigrant from Damascus, who’d married an American of Syrian descent. Gradually he began complaining to me how lonely he was. He had nobody to talk to.
“But you live in a Syrian community,” I said. “Aren’t there people there you can talk to?”
“No, nobody. I have nothing in common with them.”
“But aren’t there people from Damascus?”
“Yes, but not the same quarter of Damascus as me.”
One day he was very agitated. I asked him what the problem was.
“It’s too hard to talk to you!” he nearly shouted. “You’re so much older than I am. In my culture we treat our elders with formality. Every time I talk to you, I feel like I’m betraying my culture!”
I therefore stopped going to his store. My presence was too much of a strain on him. Because of culture. And today Syria is in a civil war that’s killed over 130,000 people. It’s a clash of cultures. The Rwandan genocide was also based on culture.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships) describes a dispute among the Lilliputians over the method of opening soft-boiled eggs. The Big-Endians favor breaking eggs on the larger end, while the Little-Endians break their eggs on the smaller end. Six wars are fought over this.
The anal bomb has been used on several occasions. There’s unbelievably gruesome footage out there that shows what a jihadi looked like after he detonated such a weapon. I won’t link to it, just as I won’t link to genuinely horrific human and animal abuse carried out in the name of cultural traditions.
Despite our differences we can get along, but only if we put aside the arbitrary limitations that we impose on ourselves. The reason I’m not a fan of culture is that it generally restricts the mind. What most cultures need is pruning. Get rid of the crappy stuff. Now that I’m on Facebook, I have conversations with people whose values are diametrically opposed to mine.
Doesn’t matter to me. But I know that if they discovered how I felt about abstracts that have no immediate impact on our lives, they’d unfriend me or block me. And that’s a shame. Everyone has a right to their beliefs. If someone’s not insulting me personally, what do I care if they disagree with me on something I hold dear?
Different ideas don’t scare, offend, or upset me. All I care about is whether someone is considerate. I don’t try to impose my values on others. Open your soft-boiled eggs from the large end, the small end, or even in the middle.
And send cheeseburgers into space. Behold one of the most beautiful, wacky, poignant, artistic videos I’ve ever seen. The man who made it is my brother, even though his culture is incomprehensibly different from mine.
4 Good Reasons Why Culture Is More Important Than Strategy
“Strategy will only succeed if it is supported by the appropriate cultural attributes.”
Late last year, Booz & Co. released research in Strategy +Business showing “Why Culture Is Key.” Of course, this is the central point of our book Winning with a Culture of Recognition, and it’s encouraging to see these research results on the importance of culture to organization success.
The research is quite good, but these four key points in particular stood out (all quotes from the research):
1. Culture is more important than strategy
Culture matters, enormously. Studies have shown again and again that there may be no more critical source of business success or failure than a company’s culture – it trumps strategy and leadership. That isn’t to say strategy doesn’t matter, but rather that the particular strategy a company employs will succeed only if it is supported by the appropriate cultural attributes.”
Think about this in terms of Zappos, for example. Zappos strategy is to be the best in customer service. To achieve that strategy, Zappos created a culture of happiness (their term). That culture is reliant on training employees well, trusting them to do their jobs well, and respecting the decisions they make.
2. Companies who align culture & strategy are more successful
Our data shows that companies with unsupportive cultures and poor strategic alignment significantly under perform their competitors…. In fact, companies with both highly aligned cultures and highly aligned innovation strategies have 30% higher enterprise value growth and 17% higher profit growth than companies with low degrees of alignment.”
Alignment is clearly critical, but an ever-greater struggle as priorities and strategies change more rapidly than ever before. Strategic employee recognition plays a foundational role in helping employees understand changing strategy so they can stay aligned with business needs in their every-day tasks. You can ensure employees stay aligned by adjusting the reasons for recognition in your strategic program and encouraging all employees to frequently and in-the-moment praise their colleagues for delivering on those expectations.
3. Encouraging individual cultural attributes is the key
We believe the way to [achieve much higher degrees of cultural and strategic alignment] lies in gaining a greater understanding of the cultural attributes that any given company needs to foster, given its particular innovation strategy.”
Defining those cultural attributes is unique to every organization. Think of these attributes as your core values. What are the behaviors and actions you need and expect from every employee in order to achieve your strategic objectives? Those behaviors are your cultural attributes.
4. Maintaining a successful culture takes careful attention, hard work
Yet even the most successful companies concede the difficulty of maintaining the cultures that led to their success. Palensky of 3M, certainly one of the most consistently innovative companies ever to exist, describes the challenge: ‘That’s the thing about cultures – they’re built up a brick at a time, a point at a time, over decades. You need consistency; you need persistence; you need gentle, behind-the-scenes encouragement in addition to top-down support. And you can lose it very quickly.’”
As Wally Bock pointed out and I elaborated on in this post, corporate culture is a bit like a bonsai tree. It can be steadfast and strong, but it requires deliberate nurturing to grow in a particular way. One bad chop can also kill the culture you’ve worked for years to create.
How critical to success is company culture perceived in your organization?
Culture. Has It Ruined You And Is It A Good Thing?
“Well? i say 85% of it has completely destroyed me. i talk like a gangster and i seem to have layers of personality that isn't me. i think culture can be a good thing if it's simple like planting beans and signing in a group. otherwise it's totally devastating!”
“Culture is interesting if you look at it like an anthropologist. I'm sorry it has affected you, but you are still so young. My advice: travel, gain novel experiences, live and love and be happy. You are so young and have no attachments. You gotta explore and learn a lot. Go collect some rocks and pray, have the balls to say f**k you, i love you richard benson.”
“Being an anthropology student (and at my university, there's archeology as a bonus ^.- ), culture is basically nothing more than ways copied from one person which lives on after his departure (This include sciences, literature, cooking, traditions, etc.). It's kind of unique to humans as well. Some other primates can mimic or have very rudimentary culture traits though, there was the story of an amadrias baboon in Japan who found out that washing the potatoes s/he was given tasted better if it was washed in water (Less dirt overall), afterwards members of her community started copying her. <.< ”