The recent turmoil in Perl's organizational culture, discussed recently here at Perl Monks in:
left me feeling sad.
Sadder after reading of the Australian Defence Force's long-drawn-out battles with cultural change:
because it made me realise that organizational cultural problems are dauntingly difficult -
and often prohibitively expensive - to put right.
For therapy, I've decided to follow up my
nine-part series on Agile processes in organizations
with a new (ten-part :-) series of articles exploring the perplexing multi-disciplinary topic of
There's certainly no shortage of material, with a mind-boggling number and variety of disciplines in play, such as:
Please feel free to mention other disciplines I've overlooked or that you'd like to see discussed.
A possible breakdown by topic is:
- Broad Overview of Organizational Culture
- Meta Process: that is, a process to build a process to effectively change Organizational Culture
- Culture variation in different countries
- Software Industry Culture
- Open Source Software Culture
- Perl Culture
- Perl Monks Culture! :)
- Space/Aircraft Industry Culture. As a space nut, I doubt I'll be able to restrain myself from scrutinizing the
impact of organizational culture on the Space Shuttle Challenger
and Columbia disasters.
Again, feel free to suggest other topics you'd like to see discussed.
Please note that I'm just an interested layman on all these topics, so please correct me when I veer off course.
I also welcome your feedback and opinion, along with insights, anecdotes and any useful citations you may know of.
To kick off this series, given that I've just finished reading Sapiens, I thought it'd be fun to speculate on how our early evolutionary history
helps explain some of the peculiar and counter-productive behaviour we witness today.
Around 2.5 million years ago, an unremarkable new species appeared in Africa.
Now, I doubt these early humans, enduring their daily battle for survival along with many other species,
had any inkling back then that they would one day walk on the moon, split the atom, map the genome,
calculate the age of the universe ...
and compose Perl programs, obfus and poetry.
How on earth did this unremarkable and physically weak new species win this brutal evolutionary war?
revealed the (surprising to me) secret:
A green monkey can yell to its comrades, "Careful! A lion!".
But a modern human can tell her friends that this morning, near the bend in the river,
she saw a lion tracking a herd of bison.
She can then describe the exact location, including the different paths leading to the area.
With this information, the members of her band can put their heads together
and discuss whether they should approach the river, chase away the lion, and hunt the bison.
Homo sapiens is primarily a social animal.
Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction.
It is not enough for individual men and women to know the whereabouts of lion and bison.
It's much more important for them to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom,
who is honest, and who is a cheat.
... The most important information that needed to be conveyed was about humans, not lions and bison.
Our language evolved as a way of gossiping.
Do you think that history professors chat about the reasons for the First World War when they meet for lunch,
or that nuclear physicists spend their coffee breaks at scientific conferences talking about quarks?
Sometimes. But more often, they gossip about the professor who caught her husband cheating,
or the quarrel between the head of the department and the dean, or the rumours that a colleague
used his research funds to buy a Lexus.
Only Homo sapiens can speak about things that don't really exist.
You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising
him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.
But why is it so important?
Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively.
We can weave common myths.
Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.
Ants and bees can also work together in huge numbers, but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives.
Sapiens can cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers.
That's why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos.
(Update: so far researchers have failed to locate lawyer bees; bees don't need lawyers because there
is no danger that they might forget or violate the hive constitution).
Myths and fictions accustomed people, nearly from the moment of birth,
to think in certain ways, to behave in accordance with certain standards,
to want certain things, and to observe certain rules.
They thereby created artificial instincts that enabled millions of strangers to cooperate effectively.
This network of artificial instincts is called culture.
The theory of evolution tells us that instincts, drives and emotions
evolve in the sole interest of survival and reproduction
... yet when some of these evolutionary pressures abruptly disappear (due to sudden changes in human culture),
these hard-won instincts
do not instantly disappear with them ...
which explains why today young men drive recklessly and fight in pubs.
They are simply following ancient genetic impulses that, though counter productive today,
made perfect sense 70,000 years ago, where a
young hunter who risked his life chasing a mammoth outshone all his competitors
to win the affections of the local beauty.
Sadly, those same successful macho genes today give us a mouthful on Perl mailing lists, IRC and Twitter.
With their brain growing (to keep track of the thousands of connections, deceits and subterfuge required for superior gossiping)
and their hips narrowing (to facilitate walking upright), evolution favoured early births
... leading to helpless babies ... requiring a tribe to raise them ... favouring those with strong social abilities.
Being born immature and with a big brain further allowed humans to be taught more flexibly than any other species --
which explains why we witness today the appalling spectacle of impressionable youngsters being
effortlessly led to love Python and hate Perl.
Other Articles in This Series
Updated: Make Homo sapiens stand out from surrounding text, and with the species name (sapiens) in all lower case, a convention used by biologists, such as erix. 13-June: added bee lawyer joke to quoted Sapiens passage.