The link between data, culture and behavior show that meaningfulness is key to achieving desired results in difficult times.

At some point the ‘dots’ we see need to join up so we can make sense of the world. We talk about data, culture, beliefs and values for companies and decidedly less so for individuals (unless it is to judge) and we forget that companies and individuals, as entities, are driven by behavior whose roots have in common more than we think. 

The philosopher, Eugene Rochberg-Halton, views culture, not as a structure but as "the cultivation of meaning."

This makes our understanding of the everyday world, as the Austrian philosopher Alfred Schutz wrote, “an intersubjective world of culture.” Logically, then culture is the intersubjective meaning we ascribe to the world in order to make it make sense. We need it to make sense so we can generalize the rules we need to navigate it with some degree of confidence. To know, in other words, how to behave even in situations we have not encountered before. 

Branding, also, exists in this intersubjective space of beliefs which is why it shares the attributes of values, beliefs and culture we ascribe to companies and individuals. 

The connection between data, culture and context

If culture has no structure but is the emergent phenomenon that appears when we accrue the collective behavior of individuals it stands to reason that culture, within an organization, is also the result of the accumulated actions (i.e. behavior) of the people within it and the history of its own behavior, as an entity, in the world outside itself. 

In “Intentional: How to Live, Love, Work and Play Meaningfully” I wrote that “What we call character in a person, we call culture in an organization.” They are both about behavior. 

People, societies and organizations become “good” or “bad” only when the general direction of their behavior is guided by a sense of purpose and destination that overrides the immediate, short-term forces of self-gratification and self-gain that govern them. 

The important point here is that since there is no structure to culture (and we know this because structure, by definition, would require a classification and a model of thinking about it that would involve taxonomies and ontologies) we do not think about it in a cognitive way, nor do we have a model for thinking about it and our actions within it.

Societies use the tool of “faith” to guide behavior and create culture. Companies, usually, have a set of rules. But neither of these are foolproof or reliable. Rigidity in faith, for example, can often lead to outdated inequalities between the sexes or a refusal to accept changes that benefit society. Companies with rigid rules have a fixed outlook and risk re-enacting the Kodak-moment where a fear of change leads to an inability to adapt and grow.

As demographics change in a society its behavior changes and that behavior, over time exerts a pressure for faith to adapt. As the marketplace evolves companies are forced to adapt their behavior and develop a social conscience. Societies that don’t change falter and businesses that don’t change also stumble and, often, fail. 

Since being aware of the need to change and being able to adapt is so important the question we really need to answer is how can we best go about it? Change is always costly and frequently painful. We tend to avoid it until we no longer can safely do so. Being able to move a little faster then, embrace it better is a desirable advantage be it for a person, a company, a society or a country. 

Guidelines For Embracing Change

Change is really hard to do well. It requires a planned, structured approach that involves incremental steps, to help it succeed. Even then there is no guarantee it will take if there is no support and a certain amount of resilience behind it. 

Luckily, resilience can be developed. And change can be made more possible through a small change in mental attitude. Here are the four universal guidelines that help this happen more easily in the first place.

  • Accept change as the norm. The world is constantly evolving whether we see it or not. We can only keep pace with it by evolving alongside it.
  • Share the load. Don’t make the need to change yours alone. If you’re an individual struggling with change share your journey. If you’re a company evolving be open about it and explain why. If you’re a society or a country make it part of what is going on and who you are, as a collective.
  • Don’t feel alone. Change is a stressor. Individuals who experience it tend to shut down. Companies hide behind their marketing and operations, societies and countries become isolationist. These are activities that stave off the inevitable and, temporarily, provide some relief from the pressure but only make the change required to happen in future more painful. Seek friends, forge new connections and make allies to change the perspective of the process from one undergone by ‘me’ to one that is being undertaken by ‘we’.
  • Be positive. Whether we resist it or not change will happen. Change however is always better. We just don’t feel it while we change. A positive outlook enables us to be more resilient and proactive. 

There’s a fifth which, when applied properly, makes the four points above redundant: build communities. Whether in life or business, community-building presents a dynamic that automatically generates greater awareness, resilience and adaptability. If what you're doing, as a business, doesn't make those who do business with you feel part of something greater that makes feel they belong, then your business isn't really a brand and they're not your customers. 

Meaningful change comes from more than just a reaction to external stimuli. Intentional behavior is the result of more than just a need to do something. The world we experience right now is a large challenge that can only be met if we better understand what we have to do and why we need to do it. 


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