Power of Culture


You often tend to realise things when you look at them from another point of view. Travelling abroad gives us the perfect opportunity to look at things from another point of view.

I was staying at an Airbnb apartment in Paris a couple of weeks back. I was washing vessels in the morning when I could not help but appreciate the fact that the kitchen sink was impeccably clean. I looked around trying to figure what was the factor which was contributing to the cleanliness. I have a sink that looks the same at home and it’s a perennial mess. The only thing that was different was that all of the washing detergents were liquid as opposed bars/soaps that we use in India. Got me thinking…

In India, companies tends to hawk detergent bars to clean vessels on the virtue that bars last longer. It is extremely Indian to try to save money on anything and everything. As a consequence this line of advertising works and we end up with a bar that probably lasts just as long as a liquid detergent would but keeps bleeding once wet and makes a mess of the place. Liquids can be washed away at all time, soaps will leave a stain in the long run.

Most households in India have a maid do the washing of the vessels and consequentially they do not have the experience necessary to value the nuances.

Our culture bring values along with themselves which determines what we will do, even if the rationale for it is not really strong. The trouble is, most often when you talk about the culture of a business, most of the thinking is so deeply ingrained, its hard to see another way.

This is precisely the reason, when someone tells you to determine the culture of your organisation you have no idea what you are supposed to determine and you just throw up a bunch of fancy words and get going. Culture is about implicit biases and its hard to understand these biases when you do not know that they even exist!

I know a friend of mine who runs a development firm. In line with the idea of saving money in order to make money, he runs his company out of a small house. He hires resources that are not very expensive because the cheaper resources can get the job done. He chases proven technology than the radical new one because it is safer. In terms of profits, he is just where he was 5 years ago. He ends up doing things that are detrimental to efficiency just as long as there seems to be a cost benefit.

Much in the same way that the soap seems to have a cost benefit, but is wildly detrimental in the long run.

If you want to know what company culture really means? Go to several geographies and get another point of view.