If the culture cannot change then the business cannot change

Originally published in August 2015, revised in January 2018

I received many comments and tweets about the previous post. Thank you for ideas and comments

Some agreed that innovation is the result of culture. Some said that culture is not only created by management, but also by staff. For instance, the admin pool in a traditional engineering company can be very innovative (and creative) even if the rest of the business is stuck in the 1980s.

Somebody told me that creating an innovative culture is in itself a chicken-egg (low equilibrium) situation, because for a leader to create (or enable) an innovative culture takes innovation in itself. You can see where this is going.

Then I discovered a recent cartoon in my inbox by Hugh Macleod of Gapingvoid fame. This cartoon says it all.

An organization that cannot change its culture (due to too rigid systems, due to lack of management capability, due to its people) has become trapped in time. While some organizations may exist like this due to sheer momentum, due to protection (by law), by continuous funding, or for whatever reason, will struggle to adapt to external change. These organizations are not resilient and they are at the mercy of external supporters (a.k.a clients, benefactors, funders or shareholders).

I was also asked how some organizations can still innovative despite a poor innovation culture. Again, it is of course possible to replace a machine, or for a few people in an organization to design something brilliant, or for a new process to emerge. Of course it is possible. But it takes much more energy, determination of a few, and some really tenacity to be innovative in an un-innovative (what is the right word here?) culture.

I am sure more comments will come.

Cheers, Shawn

I appreciated the comments received by e-mail, but wonder why people are not posting comments to this article? Is the WordPress registration process to difficult? Please let me know. And keep those comments coming!

Published by

Shawn Cunningham

I am passionate about how organisations and institutions change in developing and transitioning countries. I essentially work between organisations, communities, industries and experts.

2 thoughts on “If the culture cannot change then the business cannot change”

  1. Casey points to the legitimate system in the organisation as the driver of negative feedback (stay on target, deterministic) while the shadow system in organisations (informal, political, networks) is the dominant source of positive feedback (emergence, novelty).
    The shadow system amplify and dampen effects every day.
    If innovation is more likely to come from shadow sources than legitimate ones simply making shadow systems legitimate is likely to work for a while, but I suspect one need to regularly go look for new shadow systems that naturally form in the shadows of the legitimate and grant resources to best ideas to help it blossom.

    1. Hi Liza,
      Thank you for pointing out the importance of the shadow or informal system. I think many manufacturers are still in business because of the persistence of these shadow systems. People simply in twos and threes get things done, often despite the formal systems. When trying to understand the innovation culture in a company it would be important to record the narratives of more than management, as that way we can detect the importance of the shadow system, but also the role of the legitimate system.

      Best wishes,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.