Bruce Howlett (
Fri, 17 Oct 1997 10:14:50 +1000

Date: Fri, 17 Oct 1997 10:14:50 +1000
From: Bruce Howlett <>
Subject: Culture

Hello all,

For the last couple of weeks there has been brisk debate on the SUN list
about the possibility of manipulating "culture" within an organization
in order to support change management initiatives etc.

If Price raised the topic of memetics. I confess that I know almost
nothing about memetics. But it occurred to me that if culture is an
unintended result of structures and processes, then the method of
transfer and control of culture is by memes. Following is a copy of
If's post in response to an early post by me, followed by a recent post
(also by me) summarising the debate thus far.

I would be most appreciative of any comments.


Bruce Howlett.

If Price wrote

<< << I identified very strongly with If Price's perspective of
organizational culture in his paper "The Unwritten System Rules OK!".
In "Victims of the System or Systems of the Victim", Gene Bellinger
says, "In systems of human interaction what emerges is culture.">>

>>All human endevour has an outcome which is important (for whatever
reason) to humans. >>

Does it???

>> If culture is both a process and an outcome, is not the key to understanding it to be found in the study of systems that model cultural interactions.>>


>> The game is about success. Success is about power (or leverage) over
other humans in order to gain material profit or more power. >>

The absolute game is about success for the genes or memes that enable
respectively our organic and our organisational bodies. They have their
agenda - copies- and being mindless replicators care not what they
destroy provided only that they copy. Memetic patterns create rules
which both enable and limit. To limit human success to leverage for
profit or power is to fall victim to some very powerfful memes.


If >>

Bruce Howlett wrote

<< Greetings SUN members,

Updated list (bundle of relations) on understandings about culture:

1. Culture is seen as an emergent layer that is untouchable because we
only see the results of culture, not the actual process of culture in

2. Processes can and usually are effected by the culture of an
Any process can be part of culture.
The distinction between process and culture is that a process is
designed with intent, whereas culture “just happens”.

3. Structure can and usually does effect culture.

4. Values held by individuals are the main motivating force of actions.

5. All processes are bundles of relations.
Processes are created based on values and beliefs.

6. (It is possible that the idea is too big to simplify into a single
Regardless of the size of a system, the whole must be considered in
the interest of
understanding the system.

7. There are major ethical problems in tampering with culture.

8. Culture results can be classified by interactions with the

9. Culture forming inputs are ignored mainly because they are relatively
microscopic and
only generate outputs if the majority of individuals in the
organization subscribe to
a cultural artefact as a norm.

10. Culture changes very slowly, because there are both driving and
balancing events occurring all the time.

I have a problem with 7, as Gene points out, any intervention represents
tampering. Does this mean that accidental or unaware incremental change
to culture is OK but deliberate, aware change is not OK?

I heed If’s advice on memes. I actually subscribe to Ralph Waldo
Emerson’s definition of success. However, constant interaction with the
business world leaves one with a more cynical outlook.

Aim: to design a “culture changing process”. This may be a framework
that could be fleshed out with appropriate knowledge to suit various
situations. Framework may include operating principles, ethical
guidelines, measuring instruments, implementation process, known culture
changing structures, etc. Any ideas?


Bruce Howlett >>

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