Culture Makes Me Think of Yogurt

I'm at KMWorld in San Jose, and I'm back in the virtual world of tightly focused conferences. We are all amalgamating, mindsharing, groupthinking, groking, and otherwise wrapping ourselves to each other with shoelaces. It's a warm, not to say sweaty, experience. BUT, though shared language can create shared culture, one, single irritating point of disagreement can stand in the way of the whole cult experience. And I'm stumbling over one. An irritation, I mean.

"Oh, that's culture," a speaker will say, dismissing any idea of being able to help with the problem.

"I'm here to figure out what to recommend, but I guess it's all culture, after all," a participant will sigh.

I'm starting to hear a door slamming shut whenever a speaker or questioner invokes the name of culture. And here's my problem. Well, first I need to say that I agree with what's being said -- it is all culture. But that's not the door closing -- that's the actual assignment: Change the Culture, or nurse the change along, at least. If it were just setting up programs, creating policies, implementing software, it would not need a person of your caliber to drive. Are you a change agent or a potted plant?

Culture is also not a good word for "it". It suggests that culture is a type of disease (or a yeast, perhaps) that some companies catch and others don't. They all have a culture. They are all different, so it's not black or white -- and in any culture, there are ways to accomplish tasks of value to the company -- or the company will be very short-lived.

So I don't think of the question as whether or not the company's culture is receptive to user-contributed content (for instance), but I think of it as "How does the company handle new ideas?" because that's the question that's worth answering -- and the answer will show you what you need to do to be successful.

Even the most hide-bound, heirarchical, military-industrial, old school company has a way to process new ideas. In some, the digestion process can take longer than you want to remain an employee, but believe me, inertia is such that even after you leave, the idea will continue to percolate along. For this kind of timescale, a speedy, realtime, knowledge capture system may be over-engineering. Maybe a nice wooden box next to all the North side elevators would better serve the purpose.

But it's not a shut door -- more like a long road.

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