One of the strangest commercials I’ve seen recently on television is for a candy bar. In one scene, you see a group of spectators in bleachers waiting to cheer on their favorite athlete. You hear the starter pistol and the camera pans to show swimmers in a pool filled with caramel instead of water. It would be nearly impossible to swim in caramel because it is simply the wrong medium.

I’m pretty confident I didn’t bring some earth shattering revelation to you with this example. It’s painfully obvious and that is the point of this particular commercial. We have a clear understanding about how well we are able to navigate based on the medium. It’s more difficult to run when we’re in knee deep water or on sand, as opposed to asphalt. Our organizations are no different.

The medium that gives us freedom to, or restricts from, doing things internally is our culture. It can be like floating through space or trying to tap dance in ankle deep mud. Culture influences not only how we do things, but also how we respond to things. While there are a number of ways to respond to various events and circumstances, they all fall into two distinct categories.

Endure or embrace.

Whichever one your culture chooses will determine the level of freedom or restriction your organization experiences. Here are 4 key areas that can make or break an organization when they choose either an enduring or embracing culture.

  • Change – Enduring change is like having a 3 day long root canal. It brings focus to the uncertainty of change and is uncomfortable for most people because of it. Embracing change gives you the opportunity to see how improvements can make things easier/better. Let’s be honest…when was the last time anything improved without changing?
  • Difficulties – Enduring something difficult isn’t living, it’s surviving. If the bar is set at survival, then you aren’t able to thrive at much of anything. We view things as difficult based on either our skill level or inaccurate expectations. By embracing difficulty we position ourselves to increase our skills and realign our expectations to what is a healthier perspective. It makes us flexible and much more resilient to change.
  • Different opinions – We all have our sandpaper colleague who seems to believe their lot in life is to play the devil’s advocate…in perpetuity. When we endure them, we minimize our ability to actually listen to what they have to say. No one is right 100% of the time, and so no one is wrong 100% of the time. It’s important to understand that embracing the opinion of another doesn’t mean you have to adopt it. “I do not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
  • Correction – I have yet to meet someone who actually enjoys being wrong. If we endure correction, we are just placating the person doing the correcting so they will just get on with it. It puts us in a disadvantaged position to actually learn something from the correction. When we are wise enough to truly embrace correction, we are acknowledging our fallibility and can then (from a place of humility) learn not only what was wrong, but why it was wrong in that particular instance.
What is your organization’s culture? Your personal/family culture? Do you endure or embrace?
  • “Let’s be honest…when was the last time anything improved without changing?” <— the words I have lived my career by for decades! Endure or embrace, such a subtle distinction but a powerful one. Thank you, truly!

  • Good for you Kat. Thanks so much for contributing!

  • Superb piece, especially considering the growing emphasis on culture fit, which, if mismanaged hinders change by excluding difference.

  • Thanks for your contribution Joel. You’re absolutely right about excluding difference creating a bigger problem. I wrote a post called Why Workplace Diversity Is A Fraud that deals with that very issue.