Step Towards the Middle

Imagine a line with a Nike “Just do it” Swoosh on one end, and a “Keep Calm” meme on the opposite end.

In Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar H Schein, he details a similar continuum with “do” on one extreme and “just be” on the other. Schein uses it as a means to examine cultures. What makes this model extra useful is that in the middle he places a third marker, “is and can become.”

So what’s that actually mean?

For starters, think of each end as what an organization sees when it looks in the mirror. “Do” and “just be” are cultural identities.

For example, many businesses operate under the mindset of grabbing the proverbial bull by its horns and dominating a situation. It may help to picture these companies operating as a machine. Machines often have a hard time looking at the world outside of their designed purpose.

Comparatively, other business cultures embrace nimbleness to survive in their environment. We can picture these companies operating as organisms in an ecosystem. Organisms can struggle to create machines that complete tasks with narrow purpose since they always are thinking so broadly.

The admittedly reductionist extremes work for defining cultural identity. However, if we’re looking for ways to bend, shape, or change culture, we need that third marker.

The extreme is the starting block. The next step is always towards the middle. Schein’s “is and can become” is a developmental step.

After a “doing” business responds, we can help it to reflect on the environment. Nike makes the shoes, but the next step is to connect them to the culture of running. How do you find the people to actually wear the shoes?

After a “just be” business reflects, we can help it look for something to actually do. A runners club has a lot of feet that need shoes. How do you find the sponsorships and interests that keep manufacturers wanting to improve their products?

Development is always about contextualizing current and desired behaviors in a way that everyone involved can understand.

By continually stepping towards the middle we can both honor the existing culture and find the innovation we seek.

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