What is "Culture"? LO19992

Guinn, David I (dig@eastman.com)
Wed, 25 Nov 1998 09:33:50 -0500

Replying to LO19973 --

Hello Sabine

In general, consultants only focus on hard facts and figures.
However, I figure that the project's impact would be lasting longer, if a
consultant would be able to address soft facts as well. Soft facts could
be the organization's culture. Hence, I am addressing culture in my
thoughts. What is culture? how could you define culture. What do I have to
address in order to change culture?

I am looking for dimensions to define culture.

You hit on a very high point with me. I have been working in a large
organization for 30 years, and trying to change the culture for the last
12. I have been a consultant, and a student of "systems thinking", for
that 12 years. And I agree you are correct in trying to impact the soft
stuff. Most consultants I have met are "engineer" types, not a bad thing,
but taught to look only at the hard facts. Hard facts are almost always
generated from machines, not humans. They are also after the fact, or
"re-active", in Steven Covey talk. To change a person, or culture, we
must be pro-active, or before the fact.

To find out what Culture really is, we must ask a fish. Culture is like
the water the fish lives in. She probably does not even know it is there.
It is so much a part of life, it is taken for granted to always be there.

To change a culture is a very long and slow process, and probably takes
more than one generation. However, it starts with one generation. It is
an evolutionary process. I do not mean evolution as Darwin taught it, we
probably can not teach the fish to live out of water, but the fish can be
comfortable in a different setting. One of the most frustrating things I
have seen is people trying to hold onto the old and embrace the new at the
same time. We must turn loose of one in order to hold onto the other. It
takes faith. Faith in one's self, as well as faith in human kind.

Dimensions to define culture are harder to come by. How do you measure
something that is undefined? Something that is just a "feeling", or a way
of life. I think the place to start is to determine the "Heroes" and
"Villains" of your culture. That will tell you how the people think, or
at least what they accept. If you find that the people being rewarded
(Hero) are the people that deal only with machine facts, you have a long
way to go. If you find that the people being punished (Villain) are the
ones that deal only with machine facts, you are almost there. Because
that means the culture is looking at, and is comfortable with being

I hope this is in the vein of what you are looking for. I am sure there
are more ideas, and more specific as to what is Culture out there, but
this may be a start for what you are looking at.


"Guinn, David I" <dig@eastman.com>

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