Everything an organisation has ever learned is fiction

December 13, 2016 by Mikko Leskelä

This guest blog is a part of our Christmas season blog series

I once attended a seminar on ”Strategy and Culture” as a speaker. I was the last one of four presenters.

It didn’t require much to do well, really. For it happened that the first three presenters all started by showing the exact same quotation attributed to Peter Drucker. ”Culture eats strategy for breakfast” said their Powerpoint slide number 2. It was their opening line. But the story never got any deeper. The total lack of any response from the audience seemed to say: ”Ok, as if I didn’t already know that. So, tell me what is there to do?” But they never did.

#Why is it so hard to build anything insightful on such an obvious fact?

‘The answer occurred to me big time when reading Yuval Noah Harari’s masterpiece Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind. The Hebrew University history scholar’s main claim is that the biggest enabler for humans to collaborate as big groups is their ability to create fiction and then believe it themselves. A big group might be for example a corporation with 200 employees. Or 200.000.

Very big collaboration requires very big fiction. Money is such a story, actually even stronger than God: it stands only if there are enough people that believe in it. And we ALL do, globally. Corporate culture is also such, only smaller, and so are the multiple micro cultures that live in corporations.

And herein lies the problem: to understand cultures of your workplace it will require that you first understand that every culture is a fiction. Even the one you yourself hold the dearest. There is nothing that you hold true of your organisation that is not based on some kind of fiction.

Now, we are not wired to do that; instead, what comes naturally to us is believing our own fiction, not taking and outsider’s view on it. And of course sharing it on LinkedIn, on colorful background.

Or on Powerpoint. Make no mistake, in that seminar I too had a slide to skip.

Mikko Leskelä

is a partner and strategy consultant at Gemic. Gemic is specialized in understanding culture. Its clients include Audi, BASF, Duracell, Procter&Gamble and Ratiopharm.

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