Culture, by design not default

Parenting is probably the most primal form of cultivating culture by design

Anubhav Gupta
Updated: Sep 5, 2018 04:58:35 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

It is interesting how culture can be defined » The arts or other manifestations of human achievement regarded collectively
» The ideas, values, customs and social behavior of particular people or society
» The biological cultivation of living material in a medium i.e. tissue culture and so on

We celebrated International Women’s Day at our studio that has a proud 1:1 gender ratio across subject matter experts and design polyglots. It got me thinking about all the leading ladies in my life. My aunt who is a mother of two and a working professional (among her many other avatars) has balanced her roles beautifully. An intriguing story she once told me about her first-born – when he’d get uneasy and kick when he was in her womb, she would often sing to him or play music. As a colicky baby, the same tunes would calm him down and today alongside his career as an accomplished musician. Her second born may not have kicked around much in her belly, hence did not have the benefit of her humming nor any natural inclination to music but I wonder what she might have done in his young age to nurture the skills he is good at?

Apparently a developed human fetus brain has 100 billion neurons. At birth, an infant has 50 trillion connections or synapses between neurons. This is like a basic wiring plan - a gift from nature. Nurture provides for key synaptic connections to occur (or be pruned for lack of them) for brain/skill development and evolution. Much like the human brain, corporations too could be viewed as being neuroplastic. Culture is analogous to the basic wiring plan (but unfortunately not gifted by nature or necessarily in the genes of every corporation for optimal evolution). It typically develops organically and is usually rendered by default and not necessarily by design. In fact, it is rarely nurtured by design thinking which helps connect the dots for development and innovation. In intelligent corporations, culture must therefore be cultivated by design in both senses of the word.

Innovation (Culture + Design Thinking) = Evolution (Nature + Nurture)

To build on this analogy for cultivating the right culture, filling nature’s boots isn’t easy. From my experience, below are 10 tonics that may help cultivate your organisation’s culture or nature for innovation:

Clarity in Intent for Innovation
Intent for evolution in nature is clear. By putting internal and external customers at the heart of your corporate culture, the intent for innovation to make a positive impact in their lives and the world at large should be made clear.

People Before Process
Life/human centricity is common to both innovation and evolution. Processes in culture and nature help but design thinking and nurture are based on empathy to bring about real progressive development.

Diversity and Inclusion
Mimicking nature’s diversity and inclusion is not easy. It is a proven fact from history that richer diversity and an inclusive culture make for an evolved collective (or corporation) as demonstrated in their achievements through innovation.

Participation and Collaboration
Nature provides the possibility for every neuron to participate and collaborate with any other in the evolution process should that be actively nurtured. This analogy should hold true for culture to enable very individual in a corporation to become a part of the innovation value chain.

Structure for Unstructured Permutation
Cultivating the right culture by design and nurture through design thinking can help make innumerable synaptic connections within a corporation. The possibilities for innovation are endless much like in nature for evolution.

Measurement for Success and Failure
The rule, survival of the fittest in nature holds true for evolution. This must be built in culture and nurtured through design thinking for a perpetual innovation cycle.

Rest, Recreation and Inspiration
Design thinking can nurture culture through various stimuli that can breed innovation much like a mother nurturing her young in mind, body and soul for skill development.

Customisation with Standards
While nature provides for standard subsets but allows for uniqueness to develop within each, corporate culture too must encourage for customisation within standards.

Recognition, Rewards and Celebration
Corporate culture must recognise, reward and celebrate both individual and team achievements to foster innovation much like nature does in its own way to propagate life and nurture in its way to develop for evolution.

Stories, Traditions, Folklores and Legends
These play a big role to pass key information through design thinking in culture and nurture in nature for innovation and evolution respectively over future generations.

Parenting is probably the most primal form of cultivating culture by design. Modern day biologists have excommunicated the ‘vs.’ in the nature vs. nurture debate to recognise the value of both for evolution. In my view, for corporations, we must cultivate the right culture by design and nurture it using design thinking to responsibly parent for innovation.

The author is EVP at Godrej Properties

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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