The great Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote about the early 20th Century Spanish society as being ‘led by people who had neither the necessary talent nor desire to transcend their own personal inadequacies’. ‘These existential shortcomings’, Ortega said, ‘were transferred to the institutions these mediocre people headed to’ (1929, translated into English as Invertebrate Spain 45 years later!).
This transfer of personal inadequacy to ‘the institution’ is similar in the smaller ecosystem of the company. Organizational toxicity, teams that don’t work, decisions not followed up, these don’t all fall from the sky and can hardly be attributed to external circumstances, which are out of our control. The problem is most likely inside.
Our ‘structures’ are a function of ourselves. There is no such thing as ‘slow decision making’ as an entity; there are people making slow decisions. There is no ‘bureaucratic organization’; there are people behaving in a particular way. Not even ‘a culture of’ can be assessed outside the individual agents.
By diverting the focus (or the blame) to ‘the entity’ (structure, process, culture, leadership) we are most likely externalising the problem and absolving ourselves from all sins. Not terribly good critical thinking.
By the way, there is no ‘they’ either.
Yes, there is a group effect, a critical mass, a social copying (‘Homo Imitans’) that multiply both the shortcomings and the progressive achievements. But this is triggered by us, ourselves, the greater exporters and externalisers, from us to the collective. Far from me to dismiss this. My consulting work is based upon mastering the large scale of things in the organization: change, leadership, transformation. And these are ‘masses’ (using the same Ortega’s terminology), ‘network effects’ if you want a fancier term.
But in the end, the individual is the unit, good or bad. The good news is that there is also the precise opposite of the title. We can be, ourselves, the biggest exporters of creativity, innovation, positivism and, dare I say, goodness. Margaret Mead dixit: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’.
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Stuck in old concepts, we have made culture change hard and often impossible. The failure of communication programmes or ‘culture training’ tell us a lot about the myths in this area. Learn how to successfully mobilize your people for a purpose and change culture. Culture is the key to the complex post Covid-19 future in front of us. Over the Covid-19 peak across the world we have seen the best and the worst of company cultures. Sometimes it felt like a pressure cooker. Culture is now ‘the strategy’, but we need to get rid of some assumptions and learn inconvenient truths.
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