The Power of Culture

I recently participated in an NZIoD panel discussion on the Power of Culture.  My ancient Oxford fortified by duct tape doesn’t even mention the culture I was looking forward to talking about.  Instead it mentions tillage or cultivation, bacteria, and improvement - either by mental or physical training.


Upon reflection – cultivating an environment in which innovation, collaboration, respect and taking responsibility can thrive is not too far off the mark.  Equally, being the medium in which odiousness (bacteria) can develop is also quite relevant.  Particularly so is the notion that physical and mental training have something to do with it.

The attendance list  for this discussion included people from all over the country clearly indicating that this is a topic exercising many of us at the moment.

Personally, I am passionate about the Power of Culture.  But what is Culture?  Here’s my take.
Culture is an environmental state in which fortunate people find themselves thriving and less fortunate people find themselves swimming in blancmange.

For the fortunate – the culture feeds and nourishes.  It is pure and unadulterated by ambition or  buzzwords.  (Even though “culture” in this context is one of them.) It involves respect, honesty, and encouragement.  It provides opportunities to learn through teaching and being allowed to make mistakes.  It means an environment where if mistakes are made  the focus is on the learning rather than the failure – a focus on the future rather than the past.

For those swimming in blancmange it means floundering in a risk averse environment.  It means people holding information (power) to themselves.  It means the death by a thousand cuts of innovation, imagination, flexibility, and any joy in doing the stuff one needs to do to get paid.  It means those that wear the T shirt get the job because it was their turn rather than those with the best skills being invited to step up.  Our civil service is riddled with people in high places (both elected and appointed) suffering from just that.

The notion of physical and mental training offers all sorts of possibilities.  Leading by example.  Constantly reviewing, self-evaluation, taking joint responsibility to achieve the benefits of leadership, having the courage to speak up are all options that anyone – whether they are swimming in blancmange or thriving in a supportive environment can choose to take.  But it does require practise and ongoing attention.

Power may exist in holding all the information and it may exist in holding the top job.  But it also exists in being true to oneself.   Understanding our own motivations and working out how best to be true to ourselves within the environments that life deals us  are challenges we all face.  The way that we face them is what defines whether we are swimming in blancmange or thriving in a culture that we have contributed to by being courageous.  Both physically and mentally.

Reflect on that.  It may be the difference between misery and joy.  We are all contributors.

You can be in charge.


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