Business Oxymora Meets Culture

Modern enterprise management is rife with oxymora. Many are hilarious corporate doublespeak such as constant change, accurate estimate or irregular pattern. Others aren’t funny, they’re harmful. Among the most harmful is codified culture.

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Too often business writes down banal claims about culture. ‘People Are Our Number One Asset” is a classic chestnut.

On the contrary, organizations with this claim, and most organizations in general, always see people as their Biggest Damn Expense. Codifying culture is a fool’s errand.

Codifying culture is a fool’s errand.

Culture is a complex adaptive system, or, more simply, complex. Culture is only served. Culture is not built, crafted, created, codified, changed or even defined. Codifying culture in PowerPoint is a confident farce. Strive for cultural comprehensionnot tortured clichés.

3-26-2013 2-01-55 AM Boundaries and intentions of the human system are elaborated through example, practice, authentic conversation, and genuine narrative. Prosperous outcomes are not determined by some platitudinous blowhard and their vacant rhetoric. 


One manager went so far as to create a painful analogy as follows:


“Product is to marketing as culture is to recruiting

This is wrong on so many levels. The most obvious is the backward logic. In reality, marketing creates product (value); people (recruiting) creates culture.

Product determining marketing is a huge and common mistake: “Gee, we built the product… now let’s go see if anyone wants it!” 

Like codified culture, this inexcusable blunder is still made over and over. The purpose of business is to create customers, not products. Businesses don’t fail because of lack of product; they fail from a lack of customers.

Thus, the far more sound analogy, again, on many levels, is:

Marketing is to product what people are to culture.

Culture is about acting in the situated present. People reveal and serve culture; marketing reveals value (product) for customers.

3-26-2013 2-10-02 AM Remember, cultural advantages, constraints and agents are perpetually evolving through authentic conversation and thoughtful narrative. They are not pinned down by soaring hokum or inane slide decks on culture.

Companies don’t fail because they lack the artifacts of culture; they fail from a lack of authentic conversation. There’s no need for more corporate baloney.

Recruiters often look for candidates with a ‘cultural fit.’ That’s patently absurd. People don’t fit to culture like a transmission to a driveshaft; people are the culture. Culture determining recruitment is a huge and common mistake.

The far more appropriate recruiting question is, ‘Will this candidate help us continuously reveal a more prosperous future?’ Allow new people to engage, embrace and expand the culture through their own behaviors. Never try to correct people to fit the culture. That’s crazy talk. 

Stay away from ALL written cultural platitudes. These sappy bromides are harmful. Here is a universal, one-word position on slides codifying corporate culture: Forgetaboutit. Culture is not bookkeeping.

Remember and embrace complex systems like culture behave at the edge of chaos. 

Culture is not controlled, only served. It is revealed never created. In short, be the culture you want through your behavior, narrative, conversation, example, self-control, engagement, introspection and consistent practices. Be mindful and the rest will take care of itself.

Don’t waste your time trying to codify complex systems – it will never work. Rather, focus on leadership. Above all, avoid another classic business oxymoron: management science.


Colabria Action Research

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