Who’s responsible for the Culture?

It was a Sunday afternoon in Sydney, I was sitting in a group of my closest friends and I was not saying a single word. 


They were talking about life at their workplace – a big, global company, and concentrating on all the negatives. 


Some crazy things had been going on. Conditions and pay had changed due to the COVID-19 outbreak globally, and there was a scandal in the news that implicated everyone in the company. 


You see in this scandal, everyone in the company had cheated on a compliance test – everyone from management down to the juniors and grads. 


I sat there listening to all the problems with the culture. One thing I noticed was that, though the culture was broken, it was not the responsibility of anyone in that room. 


So whose responsibility is it? 


In many governments around the world there is a Minister of ‘Culture’, but I don’t often see a Minister of ‘THE Culture’. 


From the small window I look through, out into the vastness of the world, our politicians seem to be tasked with outcomes that are primarily economical. They’re meant to guarantee GDP and good economic balance in our societies. 


The role of politicians appears to be coordination – and the prevention of chaos from breaking out. 


This is not so much about THE culture. So whose responsibility is it?


Is it our religious institutions?


The influence of religious institutions on society today appears fractured – or at least this is the view from my small window. 


These institutions are certainly well positioned to shape the culture – after all they propose value systems and answers to spiritual questions. Though like public offices, they are riddled with bureaucracy and politics.  


Is it our schools?


No one has a better opportunity to shape the future by giving young people passion and a thirst for justice. 


But our school systems cultivate fear and narrow-mindedness. Great teaching only happens in small patches. Giving students permission to think globally and act locally is not in the curriculum. 


Is it our artists? 


Our artists are well positioned to shape the culture. They have a great platform to point at and prod the culture. 


The Avante Garde movement reflected in art a generation that started to distrust authority. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in 1964 satirised the culture at the time of the Cold War, which threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. 


The Big Short in 2015 threw shade on the way the culture that kicks the can down the road can come back to bite us, and how our banking system let us down. 


Yes the arts are a great place to take responsibility for the culture. But we so often think of art as entertainment, of what we use to wind down and fill the gaps in the day. 


Is it the everyday person?


What about your average Joe or Jane who drives their children to school and pays off the mortgage? 


Who lives on a quiet suburban street in an unassuming part of the globe. Are they called to be responsible for the culture? 


Or is the culture only the responsibility of those who are on TV, who have fancy titles and public audiences? 


The Culture is Everything


Daniel Coyle’s phenomenal book, The Culture Code shows the power of cultures, with examples from companies to sporting teams. The culture is everything


It is a set of ideas and values around how a group, ‘we’, acts. It is a signalling mechanism which makes the sum of the parts greater than the whole. 


Take the example of Jeff Dean, who you’ve never heard of


Jeff Dean was at work one day when he noticed a post-it note on the fridge. The fridge flagged a problem with a product in another division of the company he worked at. 


He took time out of his own role to focus on the problem of another department. No one asked him to, and no one required it of him. 


Over the weekend, he kept tinkering with and working at the solution. Over and over. Why? Because it was safe for him to do so. 


Pretty quickly, Dean had solved the problem of this ad targeting mechanism. This breakthrough allowed his company to fix their targeted ads product, which had been aimless before then, and oust the then-market-leader Overture. 


The company Dean works for is called Google, and that ad-targeting mechanism is Google Ads, formerly known as ‘Google Adwords’ – which remains their largest source of revenue. 


Frank Serpico


No one gave Frank Serpico permission to call out corruption in the New York Police Force in the 1970’s. He came into a culture that was broken, and rather than taking the cue that ‘this is who we are, and this is what we do’, he had the courage to stand against the masses. 


His activism led to the Knapp Commission to investigate the NYPD. 


It is very rare that you will be singled out to take responsibility for the culture


This piece is as close as you will get as an individual challenge to take responsibility for the culture. Even then, this will be read by many people, not just one. I have not used your name, I have not sent you a personalised letter. 


No you might find yourself where I was, sitting in a room with a group of people who decided that because they are just foot soldiers, that the culture is not their responsibility.


They were right, no one has made the culture their responsibility. But the only thing is, even if the culture is not their responsibility, it is their problem


Politicians, artists, institutions, business people, and ‘everyday’ people – all are in a position to take responsibility for the culture. But no one is singled out. No one takes ownership. 


What happens when we decide that other people are responsible for the culture? When we cede to authority “I’ll do something as soon as my boss or superior does something”. 


If you want to look into Milgram’s experiments, they were trying to decode how something as terrible as Nazi culture could happen and function. How a Holocaust could take place, requiring so many people to throw morals and ethics out the window, and completely disregard the sanctity of human life. 


We are wired to program authority. 


So what? Is that a valid excuse for genocide? For cheating? 


We are wired to follow authority – ok, then rip the wires out. Stand up! You have feet after all don’t you? 


Get out of the passenger seat and take up the steering wheel of your own life – don’t follow bad leaders over the edge of a cliff. 


And, more importantly, take up the driver’s seat of the culture.


Who can shape the future? 


The point of Future Shapers is to show that… anyone can shape the future. But it starts small – and we want to show that young people can deliver the sort of idea that can change the world. 


We want them to make a video where they present on a powerful idea, so that they realise that the only thing that stands between them and their responsibility for the future is a choice. Their choice. 


To check it out, go here.


Start taking responsibility.


Who do you think of when you read this? Would this piece ‘open a door’ for someone you know? Then why wouldn’t you share it with them? 

With Joe Wehbe – The Podcast

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