113 — Culture is “Personality Writ Large”

 

In her widely translated book Patterns of Culture (1934), Ruth Fulton Benedict wrote, “A culture, like an individual, is a more or less consistent pattern of thought and action”. Each culture, she held, chooses from “the great arc of human potentialities” only a few characteristics which become the leading personality traits of the persons living in that culture. “These traits comprise an interdependent constellation of aesthetics and values in each culture which together add up to the culture’s unique form or shape, its wholeness.”

In the book’s forward, Margaret Mead succinctly stated that Fulton saw “human cultures as ‘personality writ large.’” To say that another way, what you can say about a person, you can also say about a culture. In a proper sentence describing culture or a person, you can substitute the word ‘culture’ for the word ‘person’, and vice versa, and the sentence will still make perfect sense. In fact if you think of your culture as a person, with the full range of human needs and desires, you can get to know it and work with it most efficiently.

We Exist Only In Relationship to Our Environment

We are each connected intimately with the world through our senses. We are constantly engaged. In fact if we were not engaged we would not be alive, not be a person. We exist only in relationship to our situation. It is not a dualism — us in our situation. It is a duality – we are one with our situation.

In childhood the social piece of that situation was mostly our family and the local variety of our national culture. Of all the possible things we could say, or experience, or be, it was the particular form of our cultural relationship that allowed some aspects to come forward, others to recede. That does not mean they ceased to exist, merely that they have moved to the background.

Cultures are formed to satisfy the broad array of human needs. They express human needs. As we grow in any culture we learn to fulfill our individual needs through the distinct cultural pattern into which we are born. In fact you could say that person and culture are inseparable. We become who we are through the culture that shapes us. Without culture the person is not a person.

Cultures Evolve

Cultures evolve just like the people in them. We might think we have come a long way from Vikings, Angles, Britons and Saxons, but as cultures (or people) evolve they do not leave features behind, they merely add new dimensions. And these new dimensions are not really new. They were there all along, merely unused, unexpressed.

In other words, just because a person or a company or any culture does not show a particular human trait does not mean that trait is not there, waiting in the wings to come on stage. As modern genetics reveals, the expression of genes is largely dependent on context, on the environment, on needs. Genes are mostly switched on (expressed) or off as needed in the development of the organism. E.g. at the appropriate time the genes that form an arm or a leg will switch on. Fortunately genes also switch off, or we would have excess arms and legs, which would be quite inconvenient. It’s the same with any culture, including your company’s.

Companies Contain All Potential Qualities — Use Them

Company cultures have the potential to express any human characteristic. A well developed company culture allow members to fulfill their deep-seated desires, build the kind of loyalty and commitment that brings engagement, high satisfaction, and exceptional profits.

The current hyper-competitive market asks leaders to tap any unused potential. In most companies the greatest potential lies in their culture.

Ask Yourself, “What Culture Motivates?”

The fact that “Culture Is Personality” tells us that we can think of the organization as a person. This leads to, “What kind of person do I like to work with? What kind of culture motivates me?” The answers help you choose leadership traits and cultural qualities you want and need. These desirable cultural traits are right there, waiting inside your company to express themselves. Just release them! You’ll find the benefits truly endless.

cc 113 — © Barry R. Phegan, Ph.D.

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Posted in: About Company Culture — Definitions

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