Politics, diversity and organisational cultures

Some people have asked me whether I am going to write a ‘What is David Cameron reading?’ piece, following last week’s blog prior to the Labour Party Conference – see the post below on Gordon Brown and poetry.

Not sure about Cameron, but Michael Gove – the shadow Education Secretary – is clearly a very well-read guy. He gave a recent speech to the Qulliam Foundation, on the theme of Britishness, in which he quoted – among various others – T.S. Eliot.

Eliot’s famous dictum on Culture (Notes Towards a Definition of Culture) makes the case for a broad definition of culture, in which “a constellation of cultures, the constituents of which, benefiting each other, benefit the whole”.  This is an eloquent and powerful – and, indeed, written in 1948, remarkably prescient – assessment of the emergence of a multi-cultural British society.

But it is also a little too simplistic and naive. Part of acknowledging the existence and benefits of a ‘constellation’ is that the different cultures may well not happily co-exist.  A multi-cultural society is often not at ease with itself, but is one in which different cultures stuggle to articulate their differences and complementarities.  Take a look, for example, at The Samosa. This project is not about how marvellously we all co-exist, but how identity is often under threat, and needs to be articulated. Identity is always in development.

The same is true of organisations going through change.  Many senior managers want calm and co-existence – constellations happily existing side-by-side.  But innovative managers will seek to disrupt such inertia, and will cherish the dynamism of difference.  The trick in running a successful and dynamic organisation is to learn how to nurture and support new thinking, sometimes disruptive thinking and ideas – it’s here that competitive advantage is gained.

But I’m not sure that David Cameron would necessarily agree….

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