I grew up in Japan, where I graduated from a private high school. I served as a volunteer representative in Hong Kong for two years. I learned to speak a fair amount of Japanese and Chinese. But perhaps just as meaningful as learning the language, was learning meanings represented by what people say or do. And this related both to culture and personality. The individuals you interact with.
The importance of these cultural and psychological meanings, were made clear to me each time I would return to the U.S. from extended stays abroad, only to find that it was sometimes challenging for me to understand (and adapt to) the U.S. culture.
My BYU undergraduate degree was in International Relations (diplomacy), and a class that most fascinated me was Cultural Anthropology. That’s because it taught Ethnography, a research methodology which resonated with my personal experiences. (You can see a post on Ethnographic Research here.) Ethnography, as taught in the tradition of Dr. James Spradley, is a methodology for “getting to meaning” from a seemingly disparate, chaotic, culturally-rich set of data. It is subjective in nature. This methodology resonated with me at a deep level because it described what I had personally experienced. Every subculture and organization has its own unique culture! And each one is representative of the values, beliefs, and assumptions held by a group, and that prescribes and predicts what is to be done in order to be successful.
- How we behave
- How we interact
- How we see reality
Importantly, these things are learned by social interactions with others within the culture! So they can be taught, both intentionally and without thinking about it, and thus transmitted to others.
Leaders and other culture champions, include those who by action and interaction, exemplify why our cultural assumptions are true, verifiable, trustworthy, or worthy of adoption. They also show how cultural values shape the way we behave, work, and succeed (or not).
Let’s look at the value of culture for a specific service organization. Let’s take the field of consulting, since that’s a part of my background. The way consultants learn information, analyze that information, and communicate that information to clients makes all the difference for transmission, or adoption by the client. Consultants must quickly spin up to speed in order to function within a client’s culture. So by honoring the client’s norms, the consultant can better understand, accept and adopt the client’s work. Stories, particularly success stories, are essential for transmitting culture. You will likely trust someone who tells you a story that you thoroughly enjoy (and resonate with). And part of the reason is subjective: this person “gets me,” or, “I can trust this person.”
I love sports genre movies. Not because they are predictable (which they are), and not because they are about sports (which they may or may not be), but because they show what happens when individuals or teams works incredibly hard and in the end succeed. Along the way, team members make mistakes. They might betray core values of the team. They may need to be forgiven, or helped up once they have fallen down. Sometimes a person is ejected from a game or even a team for “fowl play.” But more often, team members can be coached and mentored and trained to become essential members of a successful team.
I think I love sports movies because way deep down they resonate with my own values, beliefs, and assumptions.