EMAIL #107 - 7TH FEBRUARY 2021 - CULTURE & WHAT SHAPES IT
This week I'm going to start a deep dive into culture, a topic I have become increasingly interested in over the last few years. I have written about different aspects of culture (mainly in a business context) in previous weekly emails, (No 45, I introduced the concept of business culture as simply the attitude and behaviour of its employees, No 49, I explored 6 things that undermine and weaken a business culture, and in No 71, I explained how I use my weekly email to shape and spread DDB's culture and core values. But now I would like to look a lot broader at culture in general.
The prolific Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (What a great name!) once wrote "culture does not make people; people make culture." So, people and their collective beliefs and behaviours shape cultures of every size and nationality. I have been lucky to visit and experience numerous different cultures over the last 40 years during my international travels and the thing I am drawn to the most is the "culture shock" you experience when you first arrive in a new country. The smells, the sounds, the tastes, and the apparent chaos of a new foreign culture can be overwhelming and endlessly fascinating, and this is something I can personally never get enough of.
"Culture is an abstract thing; it's like pointing to the ocean and saying it's why the boat is having problems."
"Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behaviour and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups." Wikipedia A Culture is dynamic and vulnerable and is always subjected to ever changing influences. Here is my take on the important influences that are currently shaping cultures.
- Collective history and shared stories. The commonly believed stories that are repeated and passed down to each generation become their "cultural narratives". The more these stories are repeated and believed the more important they become to the identity of the people in the culture. Similarly, when stories cease to be repeated, they are dropped from the culture and the group identity.
- Economics, politics & religion. These are the three dominant narratives that tend to shape a culture and sub-groups within a culture. Also, different cultures place vastly different emphasis on these three narratives and allow them to drive their decision making over time. (These three cultural influences are huge topics that fills countless numbers of books and are constantly debated and commentated on in all forms of media, so I am going to get into these in any depth for now!)
- Technology. The internet and all forms of social media is fundamentally changing modern cultures, it is an unstoppable force in almost every culture on earth. Social media unintentionally determines which narratives are broadcast and how loudly and frequently they are shared. (The influences the internet and social media is having on our culture is fascinating and is currently impacting all our lives, and I will concentrate on this in next week’s email.)
- Global crisis. Wars, natural disasters, and pandemics have shaped cultures for centuries and the current global COVID-19 pandemic is a dominant force changing cultures across the globe. We are literally creating history and living in a world that is fundamentally changing before our eyes and that is both scary and fascinating at the same time. It's a very interesting time to be alive and great time to be studying human culture (more on this in future emails as well).
"Culture is the intersection of people and lifestyle. It's how we deal with life, love, death, birth and disappointment; all of that is expressed in culture." Wendell Pierce
Thanks for reading,
Stay safe and culturally aware.