American culture* and platforms for producer creativity (case study 5)

1950s officeYesterday we talked about platforms for consumer creativity.

Today we will talk about platforms for the producer creativity.

The corporation was meant to serve as this platform. It brought together the people and processes needed to create innovation and extract value.

But sometime after World War II, the world began to see that the corporation was actually not very good at creativity. (May it please the court, I enter the photo above as evidence.)

Part of the problem was that the corporation was better at keeping things out than letting things in.

It had thick boundaries. It contained silos. It demanded a certain manner of dress and speech and sometimes thinking and thought. This excluded many things and it especially excluded American culture.

It was a tragic trade-off that created an efficient corporate culture at the cost of essential knowledge.

Tragic and kind of dim. When we removed cultural intelligence in this way, we rendered the organization incapable of understanding the consumer it claimed to care about. From the deep well of the corporation, the consumer was virtually inaudible when not completely invisible.

Various expedients were created to make the corporate culture more sensitive to and inclusive of American culture. There were agencies and consultants who plotted an orbital course around the corporation, far enough away to know something about this American culture, but close enough to the corporation they could “airlock” this intelligence in.

Those days are behind us largely. Every corporation cares about innovation, and at least sometimes this is a de facto acknowledgement of caring about the world “out there.” The corporation is making itself less siloed, less boundaried and more porous. American culture now pours in. Well, flows. Ok, trickles.

People are still a little nervous about Karl in the mailroom. (The chief question: Are ALL the tattoos really necessary?) But now that so many people have tattoos even this anxiety has subsided. Diversity hiring has also helped break down the Us and Them distinctions that so diminished the conversation. Popular culture is steadily less idiotic so conversations at lunch are often a useful, if unofficial, review of things happening in American culture.

But it remains the case that every organization has staffed with people who know much more about American culture than they are ever allowed to say. My friend Tom Guarriello is good on this theme. He says that most organizations “leave money on the table.” They hire people and then fail to consult them on what they know. For some organizations, amnesia remains the order of the day. Too often the “go to” expert on American culture is the intern.

This really is a question of how American culture is made to articulate with corporate culture, and this will be a lively question for the on June 7. We have deeply knowledgeable people in place. I hope you will join us.

✻ Why do I call it “American culture?”

To distinguish it from “corporate culture.” There are two kinds of culture an organization must understand and a manager must manage.

Culture Inside: this is the culture of an organization, the “corporate culture.”

Culture Outside: this is American culture.

We sometimes confuse these. But that’s a little like confusing American football and European football. My Culture Camp is dedicated to understanding American culture, the culture outside the organization. This is where we find blue oceans of opportunity. This is where black swans of disruption find us. It’s time we made the distinction.

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