Gone to the Dogs as a Copy-Cat – how not to do culture change

A member of a LinkedIn group I belong to posted this question: “can you copy a culture”? The answer is no, and a follow-up question is: “why would you want to?”  You can’t do culture change by copying someone else’s culture.

When we think or talk about the topic of group culture, it’s easy to fall into the logical fallacy of reification. Reification, or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, is when we treat an abstraction as if it were real and concrete. We’re considering something theoretical as if it were some thing.

Culture is the name we give to a collection of behaviors. Each behavior originated at a particular place at a particular time for a particular reason. We can’t copy a culture like we can a document nor can we put culture on like an article of clothing. The best we can do is imitate the behaviors that take place within a culture we emulate. But the question remains, why would we want to do that?

A better approach might be to ask: what is it about that particular culture that I would like to emulate and why? Let’s say we want our culture to be like Apple’s. What is it about Apple that we value? Their ability to innovate and delight their customers. The next questions should be: what behaviors do we need to take on, modify or eliminate to enable us to become more innovative? What we should avoid asking is: what do we need to do to be Apple.

We can’t be Apple just like we can’t be another person. We accomplish more of what we value by remaining true to who are. If we embrace behaviors that fit our vision and values we activate a culture of unique brilliance.

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