What is "Culture"? LO20041

John Gunkler (jgunkler@sprintmail.com)
Mon, 30 Nov 1998 10:43:22 -0600

Replying to LO20020 --

Fred Nickols wants us to believe:
>There is no such thing as culture. It is a construct, a label, a name for
>vaguely perceived patterns in behavior and artifacts. You will more
>quickly wrestle the wind to the ground than you will change culture.

As one who, for more than 15 years, has been in the business of helping
people change organizational culture, I certainly sympathize with the idea
that it is very difficult!

However, I must dispute the ideas that (1) it is impossible [for, in fact,
I have helped people do it!] and (2) that it in inadvisable to try and
better to work on something else.

As Fred Nickols writes:
>... my counsel to you would be to focus on getting others to see
>the value in the changes you want to make and getting them to help you
>make those changes

Well, Fred, that's a central part of the methodology of working on culture
-- although I find it works better if the "others" choose the changes they
wish to see and you help them make them [it's not about "your" changes,
you see, because it's not about "your" culture if you are acting as

I must also question the, perhaps too quickly written (??) notion that:
>There is no such thing as culture [because] It is a construct ...

Whoa!! If we say that everything that is a "construct" does not "exist"
we will find our discourse to be quite barren. We'll be reduced to
pointing at physical objects and making grunting noises!

Of course "culture" is a construct. But, at least as I use it (namely, as
a DYNAMIC description not an anthropologist's static description), it is a
very practical one. It helps explain why people persist in certain
behaviors that are obviously not in their best interests. And it guides
me to leverage points and methods that allow me to help groups of people
change "the way we do things around here."


"John Gunkler" <jgunkler@sprintmail.com>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <rkarash@karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>