Corporations in Culture

I’m studying The Power of Team Culture on Coursera. These are my revision notes for week 3.

Two Examples of Cultural Boundaries

  • A cultural boundary is any difference in culture, such as socially acquired preconceived routines for a specific situation, between two individuals or groups or between an individual and a group
    • Brushing teeth in the morning – some do before breakfast, some do it afterwards
    • Vietnamese couple: ask parent’s permission to start eating (or not)
  • Whenever differences exist, this is a mini-cultural boundary
  • Even small differences can affect team performance.

Why Police Boundaries

  • What are boundaries?
  • When we are talking about he control of movement across physical boundaries in space, we will call them social boundaries (or socio-spatial boundaries)
  • Most business enterprises have boundaries, as well as national countries
  • Sports team – maximum cooperation and coordination is required. Strategy and tactics must be secret, and the discussion must protected by guarding the boundary
  • Companies have trade secrets, keep outsiders out
  • Sometimes the boundary is required to keep things in (e.g. museum or cinema)
  • Since the movement of people affects who can interact with whom and since culture is transmitted through interaction, social boundaries also affect the movement of culture

Culture in Motion

  • Boundaries are about channelling or controlling the motion of culture
  • Culture can move across boundaries, but it can be resisted.
  • Example:
    • Vietnamese couple: in girls’ family culture, no expectation of “permission to eat”, but placed in boys’ family culture there is that expection. This clash  of expectations (a mini boundary) is upsetting.
    • If girl had adapted to different expection, this is an example of cultural movement. The upset feelings of the girl is an example of resistance.
  • Physical boundaries are there to stop cultural transmission.
    • Theatre or museum: boundary used to restrict access, commoditise culture and charge admission
    • Company: boundary use to restrict cultural move outside (trade secrets)
  • National boundaries: prevent national culture from being “watered down”

Golden Arches East

  • McDonald’s opened in 1955
  • Success can be attributed to standarisation and assembly line
    • e.g. Ford: any colour they want, as long as it’s black
    • In McDonalds, every burger should be “the same”
  • McDonalds moving into India was a problem:
    • Hinduism rejects eating meat.
    • McDonalds adapted: removed Big Mac from menu, replace with chicken replacement
    • Alternative: vegetarian McAloo Tiki burger
  • Culture moved across the boundary in both directions

The Art of Smiling

  • When and how to smile is are embodied cultural routines (part of the habitus)
  • In different cultures, using smiling (or not) can give the wrong impression
    • McDonalds in US: wants employees to smile (smiling = “friendly”)
    • However, in  China waiters are expected to be serious (smiling = “laughed at”)
  • “American smile” is considered insincere and insidious in Russia.
  • Japenese businessmen in India:
    • Indians preferred American businessmen, because they smiled more
    • Japanese businessmen took “smile training”
    • American s

The Right to Fire

  • Clash of business cultures:
    • American businessmen: focused on short term (quarterly) profitability
    • Japanese businessmen: focused on long term growth in market share
  • Right to fire:
    • American: emphasis on individual accountability, and the right to dismiss incompetent personnel in order to improve team performance
    • Japanese:  emphasis on teamwork and group responsibility, did not like to dismiss personnel. Team performance can be maximised by finding the right place on a team where an individual best fits.
  • Firing someone is a type of ritual.
    • Example: Donald Trump in The Apprentice: “You’re fired”
  • Many companies have laws that prevent firing without cause (especially in Japan and Europe)
  • Current moves in Japan to change rules to move towards American style “easier to fire” culture

The Law of Jante

  • Case study of globalised company “Scandanavian Technologies”
  • > 5,000 employees, but < 350,000
  • Based in Denmark, with branches in many countries (including US)
  • Company experiencing difficulties.
    • US employees feeling that their contributions were not values
    • Danish management worried that company was becoming too “Americanised”, and looking to keep control in head office
  • The Law of Jante: expression of Danish law from A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks
    1. You’re not the think you are anything special
    2. You’re not to think you are as good as us
    3. You’re not the think you are smarter than us
    4. You’re not to convince youreself that you are better than us
    5. You’re not to think you know more than us
    6. You’re not to think you are more important than us
    7. You’re not to think you are good at anything
    8. You’re not to laugh at us
    9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you
    10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything
  • Cultural norms regarding the presentation of the self
  • Self promotion is not valued. Boasing and bragging would be frowned upon.
  • Would the Americans be viewed as braggarts and blowhards?
  • Would the Americans be viewed as violating Jante law?
  • How should we respond to the discovery of cultural boundaries?

Cultural Relativity and Ethnocentrism

  • Methodological cultural relativity: trying to understand an aspect of culture on its own terms, not in terms of your own culture
  • First problem in dealing with cultural difference: defining them
  • When dealing with problematic team performance, ask the question: is there a culturally acquired set of behaviours or thinking that is contributing to the problem?
    • If yes, it’s time to make use of “methodological cultural relativity”
  • Example:
    • Very beautify friend visiting US from Brazil
    • Noted that on the streets of Rio, she received a lot of male attention. Whereas in US, male attention was much more muted, making her feel “ugly”
    • Conversely, american woman travelling to Rio was very uncomfortable with the amount of male attention.
    • Example of culture shock.
  • 3 kinds of cultural relativism:
    • methodological cultural relativism: a methodological principle
    • epistemological relativism: the clam that knowledge and beliefs are relative to the culture; no culture is closer to the truth than any other (not making this claim in this course)
    • moral relativism: the claim that values are relative to the culture; no cultural system has the one ultimately correct set of values (not making this claim in this course)
  • Think of cultural relativity as a tool in your kit.
  • Ethnocentrism:
    • Judging another cultural element in terms of your own culture
    • This is the opposite of cultural relativity

Avoid Stereotyping

  • Stereotyping: assuming that some general, or even specific but highly distinctive trait, found in a group or team applies equally to everyone in the group
  • Because cultural elements are socially acquired, their prevalence is usually a matter of statistical frequencies
    • e.g. Not all Brazillain men are demonstrative, and some American men are demonstrative
  • Some team members will learn cultural elements in different ways
  • Smiling is culturally aquired
    • e.g. Kanye West: don’t smile
    • e.g. bicycle shop employees didn’t smile
  • Shedding workers:
    • Toshiba in Japan – did lay off 7000 employees
  • To avoid sterotyping, when you think about a specific aspect of a culture (such as smiling), think in terms of a normal distribution. You can compare different cultures as a pair of overlapping distributions. e.g.

hypotheticalsmilefrequencies

A Checklist of Little Differences for Business

  • Good books inteneded for a general audience. Expecially recommended book:
    • Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behaviour Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself int he Process
    • How to better adapt to the teams you join, and learn new routines
    • Need to be aware of cultural variation
  • Formality:
    • The amount of deference and respect your are required to exhibit
    • How formally or casually should you dress?
    • Is it customary to engage in small talk?
    • … or should you confine your interactions just to the business at hand?
    • How much personal informaiton about yourself can you reveal?
      • e.g. is it appropriate to talk about your family?
  • Speaking your mind
    • This refers to directness
    • Should you only hint at your meaning
    • … or should you come right out and say it?
    • What is the conversational style?
    • e.g. story about 2 brothers who were always fighting. Father didn’t comment on the fighting, but he did tell a story about 2 brothers who were fighting
  • Expressing your feelings
    • What kinds of feelings can you openly express in business interactions?
    • Is it OK to appear enthusiastic?
  • Self promotion
    • e.g. Law of Jante in Denmark
  • Aggressiveness

Gestures as Boundary Marker

  • Gestures are hugely important and powerful in defining (and crossing) cultural boundaries
  • e.g. Story of Nixon, who visited Brazil in teh 60’s. Nixon gave the American “OK” gesture, which is obscene in Brazil
  • Gestures that mark team membership (or exclusion)
    • e.g. Bryan brothers chest bump
    • e.g. High fives in a team
    • e.g. Scooby Doo “keeping it real” gesture

Corporate Personhood

  • “We” intentions versus “I” intentions.
  • The use of the pronoun “we” is important to the creation and maintenance of group boundaries and identity
  • The use of “we” also implies a contrasting “they”, indicating the people who are not in the group
  • When people form a team, the can both think and speak about themselves as a group
  • Part of the power of team culture is the create the idea of the team. The use of “we” can contribute to the creation of the team
  • e.g. the constitution of the United States, has a pre-amble that starts with “We the people…”
  • The legal idea of a corporation…
  • Corporation: a body formed and authorised by law to act as a single person
  • The collective corporation can own property, and be sued in court.

Changes to XTC in 2017

The 10th January 2017 XTC meetup was a very active affair. I had asked the question “What shall XTC do in 2017?”. This involved a lot of talk of the history of XTC, and asking philosophical questions like “What is XTC?” and “Why would anyone come to XTC?”. I had a major a-ha moment as a result of these talks (more on that later). I think that there was also a sense of positive optimism and enthusiasm, and I left the meetup with a renewed sense of energy for XTC.20170110_all

Changes for 2017

Firstly, some concrete changes to XTC starting from now:

Fortnightly instead of weekly

For the moment, XTC will be held once a fortnight (instead of once a week, as it has been previously). The pool of XTC regulars has dropped from previous years. We recognised that we’re spreading ourselves too thinly. By cutting the number of meetups in half, we hope that on any particular meetup night there will be a bigger and more diverse group, and hence much better conversations. Depending upon how XTC goes this year, we may decide to tweak this further (in either direction).

Seed topic

The organisers will ensure that there is always a seed topic. Many people have noted that when someone proposes a topic to discuss before the meetup, it will naturally ensure that someone will be there, and that people know at least 1 thing that will be discussed. Sometimes the topic will give the incentive for people to turn up to argue a point 🙂

Jeff started things off by getting everyone who attended to propose a seed topic that they would be happy to talk about. After there were a good amount of topics, we all voted on topics that we would be interested in.

It so happens that the first time we voted, the most popular topic was “The Silver Bullet Fallacy”. Hence, this will be the seed topic of our next meetup on the 24th January.

20170110-seedtopics1

New Co-organisers

Nader and myself are both organisers of XTC. However, both of us find it hard to find time to help with the organisation and promotion of XTC as much as it should. I asked for help, and @jtf, @sleepyfox and @tomwhoscontrary all volunteered to dive on that grenade. Thanks, all!

The Nature of XTC

With the XTC changes out of the way, there is one thing that I wanted to talk about: what is XTC? The website at http://www.extremetuesday.com talks about the nature of XTC as follows:

Working in XP can be hard so its good to meet other people and discuss common problems. It’s a professional network and support group.

  • It’s more than just XP
  • XTC encourages people to write papers, books, articles and run events to publicise XP.
  • XTC allows people to gain experience in XP practices when their day-job doesn’t.
  • XTC introduces people to the XP community.
  • XTC is a social club for like minded people to have a drink after work and put the world to rights! XTC has an anarchic spirit

Personally, I have found the above points seems to miss the essence. I agree wholeheartedly with the first and last points, but the middle 3 leave me a bit uncaring, as Extreme Programming seems such a minor part of what XTC is these days (at least in my experience, though YMMV).

I asked people who turned up what XTC was to them. Some initial answers:

  • People who do the things I want to do
  • People who have tried different approaches
  • People who I like to talk to (but maybe not like)
  • Extended colleagues
  • Colleagues you wish you had

I found these unsatisfying, in that they were all self-referential (XTC is the people who like XTC).

Then someone then hit upon the phrase “Continuity XP” (or “NextP”). XTC started off as a group of people trying to understanding the implications and context of Extreme Programming. It was a place to discuss the problem domain, and share experiences of different contexts where XP worked and didn’t work. Thas is, a Community of Need (using @PapaChrisMatts name). XTC is the continuation of that group. Some consider XP to be a mapped solution (now the nucleus of a community of solution). However, the original group didn’t just disband and go home. XTC continued to be the locus of a community of need, moving on to different problems in the software development space (lean, agile, large scale agile, action science, among many others). This was my major a-ha, the description of XTC that I always had a problem articulating: XTC is the group of people who look beyond the canned answers in software development. We see “solutions” as a limiting goal. We are the people who are always questioning the established wisdom.

What do you think? Come along to the next XTC and discuss! 🙂

20170110_postits

Password Managers

Knowing that I’m a long way behind on my security practices, I asked some friends “What password manager do you use?” (with the proviso that I use Linux and Android at home).

I’ve decided to give KeePass a go, but for full disclosure here’s all the responses I received:

ST: I like LastPass. They LastPass got hacked last year, but didn’t lose anything.
https://blog.lastpass.com/2015/06/lastpass-security-notice.html/
Ah, they did lose hashes.
If that puts you off, I hear KeePass is good.
And that’s offline.
Though you’ll probably still want to sync it.

AG: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I use 1Password, the Linux client is shite
KeePass is nice but theres no decent browser extensions since foxpass died AFAIK
don’t trust lastpass for shit, their concept is whack theres been some dodgy phishing like stuff
like this https://www.seancassidy.me/lostpass.html
historically had some super dodgy defaults too, like auto filling sites without prompts, so JS could grab your credentials etc
no clue if they’ve fixed that
https://www.dashlane.com/ is a competitor to lastpass, no clue how it compares, go google around see if Taviso found any exploits
https://twitter.com/taviso/status/763801055725359104 apaprently there is

TD: fwiw I use keepass @tumbarumba , have for 7yrs+ now . zero issues. I don’t use a web client… good old fashioned copy pasta for me.

MS: I continue to love 1Password, which I’ve used for years. I find the following feature set unmatched anywhere: (a) easily sync securely via DropBox to all my devices on multiple platforms, (b) easily move/copy data between my personal vault, my family shared vault, and business vaults.

I hope someday that 1Password makes Linux a first-class citizen. If I were you, I’d suggest to them that they use Flatpak or the other similar thing. They are the ideal use case for secure cross-distro Linux software distribution with a containerized security model. If they jump on that train early, they could set the tone for a lot of security-conscious desktop proprietary software on Linux, I bet.