The Evolution of Corporate Culture
Paul Millerd tackles the origins and meaning of culture and provides a framework and lens for thinking about organizational culture in ways that can shape your corporate culture.
Culture is a messy term. In 1952, two Academics, Kroeber and Kluckhohn, completed a comprehensive review of the term and found that by then there were over 134 definitions.
As Kroeber and Kluckhohn explored the history of the word, they found all roads pointing to Germany, where the word was emerging as “cultur”:
Kant, for instance, like most of his contemporaries, still spells the word Cultur, but uses it repeatedly, always with the meaning of cultivating or being cultured
It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the word started to form into the modern form of the word, adopted by Anthropologists and other academics who were studying foreign cultures.
Sir Edward Tyler’s book Primitive Culture from 1870 is often marked as a shift toward the modern definition:
‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.’
By the 1950’s there were over 100 definitions of the word and that was before organizations started using the term.
In the 1980’s, Edgar Schein’s research expanded the scope of the world to modern organizations and the way we talk about companies has never been the same.
Areas discussed in this essay include:
- How culture arises
- Why the idea of a unified, single culture is wrong
- A framework for thinking about culture (hint: it’s not actually a pyramid)
- The two factors that shape how a culture solidified
- The role of anxiety in learning and culture
- The stages of culture development
- Identifying a “strong” culture
- How to assess culture in your own company
Read the full essay, Edgar Schein’s Anxiety & Assumptions: Powerful Ideas On Culture, on the Boundless website.