Building Culture

I’m off to Orlando today for the ATD Conference next week, where i’m sharing a session on ‘Building Culture’ with my friends over at Novartis. As i prepare for the session (it’s a long flight) i find myself thinking about that notion, about ‘building culture’ – to wonder what you build it with, what holds it together, and perhaps most importantly, who has to carry all the bricks.

I tend towards the view that Culture is co-created in the moment, through the actions of every individual, and held within both formal, and social, broader narratives. Under this view there are harder threads or foundations, but with broad variability of experience. Hard and soft effects.

Culture operates both at a cognitive level – what we think and how that thinking impacts us – at the behavioural level – what we do and permit others to do – at the collective level – what is acceptable to say or not to say – and even at the physical level of where we work, how we work, and the infrastructure that supports the work.

So culture is complex.

Perhaps not a ‘thing’ so much as an ‘experience’. And not ‘fluid’ so much as ‘flexible’.

It’s naive to imagine that we can fully ‘create’ or ‘control’ a culture, and yet equally if we are within it then we do influence it, both at a personal, and also structural level (if we use our role to buy a building, then people will inhabit that building and it will influence culture).

The ‘bricks’ of culture are perhaps ideas, held in stories, governed by behaviours, backstopped by rules, permeating through opportunity, fractured by dogma, limited by legacy, and held in belief.

The glue: possibly forces like trust and belief, perhaps need and fear, maybe belonging too.

Funnily enough, exactly the same forces as those that may limit or constrain it – ‘culture’ is as much the whole ecosystem as the corner of it that you enjoy.

Probably ‘cultures’ is a better term, layers of culture, some local and hidden, some global and hidden, others visible and odd shaped, and maybe one meta-narrative, one global thing we call ‘culture’. Perhaps, if the sub cultures hold enough commonality, that global feature is recognisable.

The journey to ‘build’ or ‘evolve’ culture is not hopeless, but it is hard, especially if our mindset is too rigid. I would imagine that the best efforts are those that create space for the building to happen, not those that seek to impose a structure upon the landscape.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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