Encore: What will you leave behind as your ‘culture’?

Encore: What will you leave behind as your ‘culture’?

Over the past two weeks two friends – one in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town, have been mugged. Well, hijacked I guess is the more appropriate, or “in” word. But, as I always agreed, a rose by any other name will smell as sweet…in this case, perhaps the metaphor is far too “rosy”, rendering it almost paradoxical. Be that as it may, in both cases – one was a car-jack and the other a house burglary. While my friend and his wife were in the house, the thugs took everything they could lay their brute hands on while my friends were lying face-down – at gunpoint.

And I know these are not unfamiliar events – that they happen daily – to “other” people, and that when it comes closer to our homes we want to raise a stink.
But, seriously folks, have we become so desensitized to these happenings that we no longer care? “Oh, you should at least be happy that you are still alive,” is the response from the happy clappies who are trying to see the “positive” side. The positive side? Really? So let me get this straight – as middle class as this argument may come off: I work hard all my life to have a few meager possessions – only so that some hooligan who thinks he is entitled to appropriate said meager possessions for himself – to sell to someone who is only too eager to buy them at half or a quarter of the price – can come and take them from me by force, while I lie there, helpless, and afterwards I have to thank them for not killing me?

Is that what this country has become 20 years into our celebrated democracy? And still we are boasting the most forward-thinking constitution… And still I have to go to the polling booth and cast a vote for some party that will either themselves steal my money, and will not protect me from these animals?
Methinks there is something horribly rotten in the State of Denmark.
So now my friends are living in constant fear.

The one has taken out a second bond on his house to make the walls higher, put up electric fencing and a cctv system.
The other is having constant nightmares about the incident. The latter was locked up in the boot of his car for several hours.
Just the day before the incident he sent me an email about “culture” – it was in a work environment context, but on the phone he said to me that it is quite a good yardstick by which to live. The context of the email was a letter that Brian Chesky, AirBnB founder, wrote to his colleagues. And the crux is that we need to create a culture, a creed by which to live and no matter what, we should strive to not mess up that culture. Apparently they received a large amount of money from an investor, and the email goes something like this. One of the reasons he invested in them was their culture. But he had a somewhat cynical view that it was practically inevitable once a company gets to a certain size to “f#ck it up.”

The CEO then asks himself: “Were we destined to eventually “f#ck up our culture? Culture is simply a shared way of doing something. Our culture is the foundation for our company. We may not be remembered for much after we are gone. The thing that will endure for 100 years, the way it has for most 100 year companies, is the culture. The culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation. If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products.

The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing. People can be independent and autonomous. They can be entrepreneurial. And if we have a company that is entrepreneurial in spirit, we will be able to take our next ‘(wo)man on the moon’ leap. Ever notice how families or tribes don’t require much process? That is because there is such a strong trust and culture that it supersedes any process. In organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes. Problems will come and go, but culture is forever.”
Hmmm…made me think. What do we need to do as country to create a collective culture that is going to speak to our children and our children’s children? Will we be teaching them that if you don’t have, go and intimidate or hurt or kill those that do, and take their stuff?

Email: rafiek@mweb.co.za