Strong and Weak Cultures

Continuing down the same path, I believe there are two different kinds of cultures: strong and weak. This speaks to how a culture translates its underlying principles, or values, into everyday life.

In a strong culture, the abstract principles (values) are translated very directly into people's day-to-day lives. The military, for example, has a definite set of values and a very strong culture. Whether or not you agree with these values, you have to admit that they are translated into daily use very rigorously and consistently; they are enforced through external rules and regulations, as well as through education that is absorbed internally. The prevailing culture of the 1960s was also a strong one, characterized by distrust for authority and a desire to question all social conventions. Once again, whether you agree with these values or not, you have to acknowledge their powerful influence on people's behavior at the time. I remember, for example, how difficult it was to "organize" a peace march, because the participants were so anti-authorityleaders had to explain and justify every "request" they made,[2] and "enforcement" came almost entirely from peer pressure.

[2] Yet, ironically, some members of this culture had "non-negotiable" demands. We lived in interesting times.

Not all cultures are that strong, though. Some have a set of generally accepted abstract values, yet these do not really inform daily life. In Western culture, for example, the degree to which churchgoers apply their religious values to daily life varies widely. Some churches and sects have a very strong culture and strive to place religious tenets at the core of every act and thought, day in and day out. Other sects, in contrast, are much more laissez faire with respect to regulating daily behavior and treat faith as the most important value.

The strength of a culture depends, finally, on two factors. One is the degree to which the values of the culture are codified and effectively transmitted to all. The second is the degree of pain people suffer for straying outside the cultural norms. The strongest cultures, obviously, are those in which all members clearly know and understand the "code," and also recognize that the penalties for violation are harsh. Whereas strong cultures are successful at translating their abstract principles into daily actions, weak cultures do this much less predictably and effectively.

The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
Year: 2006
Pages: 269 © 2008-2017.
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