I stumbled upon this quote by Abraham Lincoln while researching on this topic of culture, and it just immediately felt so true, and made me think about why that is.
Culture I guess is a way for human beings, whether in a country, a workplace, or even a family, to live and work with each other in a predictable, efficient, relationship-maintaining manner.It grew out of practices (ways of doing things) that have been proven to work at a time and thus accepted and followed by others.With time some became unquestioned sacred assumptions that people are told or forced to follow not knowing why or whether it makes sense any more.
For example, it is customary for people to wait in line for the bus or checking out at the supermarket in Hong Kong, so everyone can ride or pay in an orderly manner. However, someone from elsewhere may not be familiar with such practice and may consider it odd to wait in line when you can just fight your way to the front. Others on the line would no doubt get angry and make the person join the queue like them, and that person would most likely “learn” and follow suit, although more likely out of fear of repercussion rather than understanding.
While this example will more likely pass the understanding test, others such as “you need to be in a certain profession or drive a certain car to be respected” or “it is not ok to leave the office before your boss” may be less so. We may not agree but still follow them out of fear, of “societal pressure” or self-imposed “guilt”. While I’m not advocating breaking all cultural norms indiscriminately, I believe when we are following or enforcing some of them, it pays to ask ourselves why we are doing so, and whether it makes sense to us. Without such examination it would be so easy for us to end up as “copies”.
I came across two TEDx clips as well while researching on this topic. One is “How great leaders inspire actions” by Simon Sinek. Here Sinek proposes that starting your quest, be it your company or your career, with the “why” before the “how” and the “what”, is infinitely more inspiring and energising. Case in point is Apple, which tells you how they “think different” before anything they do or make. Would it be equally impactful if Apple just says it is selling fancy computers or beautiful mobile phones?
The other clip is “How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes” by Adam Leipzig. Here Leipzig proposes a quick and dirty way to come up with your life purpose with 5 questions:
· Who you are?
· What you do?
· Whom you did it for?
· What those people want or need?
· What they got out of it, and how they changed as a result?
It is with the last answer, on why we do what we do that help others in some way, that we can inspire others – a powerful elevator pitch when someone ask what you do, an invitation for someone to get to know us better as a person rather than just my occupation, and to see us as an original rather than a copy.