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Organizational Culture (Part I): Introduction

by eyepopslikeamosquito (Archbishop)
on Jun 11, 2021 at 11:58 UTC ( [id://11133782] : perlmeditation . print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

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 Organizational Culture. 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? Sapiens 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

PM References

References Added Later

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.

  • Comment on Organizational Culture (Part I): Introduction

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Organizational Culture (Part I): Introduction -- autogestion
by Discipulus (Canon) on Jun 12, 2021 at 16:30 UTC
    dear eyepopslikeamosquito,

    as always thanks for you sane encyclopedism.

    >The recent turmoil in Perl's organizational culture ... made me realise that organizational cultural problems are dauntingly difficult ... For therapy ...

    I was and I'm exactly of the same mood, even if probably by a very different starting point. In my contributing in the above turmoil I suggested to face the problem analyzing the autogestion theory. I also suggested to hire a professionist (a sociologist or a psychologist) to help the perl community to get out of this impasse

    I said I come probably from a different starting point: I grown in the world of movements, internationalism, autogestion and so on. For me the Organizational Colture (thanks for this and links: it was an unkown word binomial expression until now) means autogestion and even if it is a clear concept in my mind I find it difficult to find some useful link: Workers' self-management is something very near even if in a specific and very different context.

    Infact I have started a little research (probably on the same time of you) to find some theoretical approach to autogestion but unfortunately it seems I was not able to find something.

    All movememnts I have partecipated over years claimed to be autogestioned even if many times it was just, sadly, an empty word, a slogan.

    - A step back to pre history -

    I enjoyed the read you proposed to us but I'd like to stress to another point of view. Before the Neolithic Revolution there was not the warrior class, nor wars in the sense we intend todays. The hunting and gathering society was not pervaded by idea of prevarication ( update see below for the wrong choice of word). The hunter is not a warrior: they hhave a profond respect for the animal they kill and for other beings and among them for humans.

    By the other hand with the advent of agricolture was possible to accomulate resources and recently (I cannot find the article I read about it..) historicians moved the Age of Warriors in the very near past, around 7000 BC, as consoquence of the possibility to steal and defend the resource accomulated with a newer and more productive agricolture.

    It is now (well not now but 7000 BC ;) that the original sin of the violence-power binomial appeared in its whole terrible form. We are still sitting there.

    - The mother of all sins: the power -

    So I'd date these ancient genetic impulses away from the hunter-gatheres era to a more recent period where the violence made it possible to put hands on a big source of food produced by a new agricolture. The accomulation of resources was specularly followed by the accumulation of power: city-state arose here and there ruled by a king, owner of the military power.

    Power comes into two flavors and while the first one is obvious (someone has some power) the latter is the other side of the coin: the frustration of not have power. Once the power concept (with its corollaries: prevarication and violence) it seems impossible to escape from it: or you have it in some degree or you have not. You cannot de-draw yourself from this background because everything is permeated by power. Lack of power bring frustration.

    Frustration by other hand makes some, many people to over excercise the power they hold, maybe in some micro environments: family, work toward their subjected, online communities..

    - How to break this chain? -

    We are so assuefacted to be the target or to excercise power that we end considering it something natural, inherent to the human being. This is not true and if we look around in our lives the best we can remember and live are situations where the power is absent and more prominently something different come in play: affect, esteem or love.

    Back to my little reasearch, only few things come to my mind: the Yugoslavian organizations of work was prominently aimed to revolt upside down the factory environment and was directly against capitalism but also against sovietic dirigism. I was not able to find some theoretical paper about this and anyway I think it is too much bound to the economic and political environment to be of some use.

    The other situation where autogestion was really applied was during the brief summer of anarchism, in Spain but I suspect they had no the time for too much theoretical investigations and they were wiped out so quickly to left very few. I have a book by Pierre Besnard, "The New World" and it contains a lot theoretical work (I must confess I have only glanced it..) but strictly bound to the French industry workers and federations of workers.

    More recently Noam Chomsky probably touched these arguments but I'm not able to point to something precisely due his huge production.

    In the middle '90s of the laste century Neozapatismo seriously affronted the crucial point of power, breaking it and reverting it using a mix of autogestion, comunitary control and personal responsability.

    How this is related to free software projects? A lot in my opinion. What I saw recently demonstrates we ( no|one|many perl communities ) are at a primary school level in this respect.

    -Conclusions -

    I think we need a big theoretic effort aimed to squeeze a definition of how an open source community or multi community has to work togheter sanely in the era of ipercomunication and lockdown. I have a strong suspect that a Code of Conduct is not enough at all. A new ethic of collaboration must be defined. The little power we have must be dissected, redistribuited and organized sanely and it cannot only be the origin of judgemnts and bans. Why cant we ask for the support of sociologists or psychologists in this? As I said we can live with some bug in the source code, but I suspect we cannot in community melting down itself.

    The other option is to capitulate.


    There are no rules, there are no thumbs..
    Reinvent the wheel, then learn The Wheel; may be one day you reinvent one of THE WHEELS.

      Thanks for your thought provoking reply (as usual ;-). Because of the many interesting points you raised, I'll make a separate response to each one that piqued my interest.

      > The hunting and gathering society was not pervaded by idea of prevarication

      I may have misunderstood your intent but -- taking prevarication to mean evasion of the truth; deceit, evasiveness -- it is widely accepted that prevarication was indeed common and widespread in hunter-gatherer communities ... and among many other Ape species too!

      Stronger, lying and bluffing is rife throughout the animal kingdom (not just in Apes), deception conferring strong evolutionary advantages. See for example:

      I'd also like to highlight, by quoting Sapiens, that the time scales involved indicate that the ancient hunter-gatherer era is the dominant influence on our genes today:

      For nearly the entire history of our species, Sapiens lived as foragers. The past 200 years, during which ever increasing numbers of Sapiens have obtained their daily bread as urban labourers and office workers, and the preceding 10,000 years, during which most Sapiens lived as farmers and herders, are the blink of an eye compared to the tens of thousands of years during which our ancestors hunted and gathered ...

      The flourishing field of evolutionary psychology argues that many of our present-day social and psychological characteristics were shaped during this long pre-agricultural era. Even today, scholars in this field claim, our brains and minds are adapted to a life of hunting and gathering.

      Why, for example, do people gorge on high-calorie food that is doing little good to their bodies? Today's affluent societies are in the throes of a plague of obesity ... If a Stone Age woman came across a tree groaning with figs, the most sensible thing to do was to eat as many of them as she could on the spot, before the local baboon band picked the tree bare.

        I may have misunderstood your intent but -- taking prevarication to mean evasion of the truth; deceit, evasiveness -- it is widely accepted that prevarication was indeed common and widespread in hunter-gatherer communities ... and among many other Ape species too!

        This may well be the case, but isn't very helpful. References to the animal kingdom must not lead to indulgence. As long as I define myself as human, there is a strong distinction between animals and humans - not wrt to the physical apparatus, where this distinction is pointless (which is why the term zoonosis is ridiculous), and not by the psychical pontential - but by the basic needs and aims of what can be coined human.

        Somebody said (was it Steiner?): "humans have instincts, while animals are instincts". Which of course is an over-generalization, since animals do love and have emotions, and the same or even more potential than humans, and many species are e.g. able to transcend themselves and help even members of other species out of critical situations (think dolphins). And then, much of human intelligence is instinct driven, is tied to instincts and nothing but a refinement of them.

        So, among the most basic needs of a human (his animal needs aren't looked at here, among which are many human liberties) are: transcendence and introspection, pursuit of knowledge and happiness (which is distinct from animal pleasure, but a delight of inner peace and achievement). This leads to the necessity of containment of men's animal condition and its instinct-driven forces (which btw is the meaning of Genesis 1, 28 "fill the earth and subdue it": it is men's own earthly condition which shall be subdued and filled with humanness). This never ever can be achieved by war against the animal condition, nor by negation or torturing it, only with love.

        Having said this and coming back to prevarication: the human needs are present and don't die, and if they are overcome by the animal condition and subdued (by self or society), they don't go away but are perverted, and lead to abuse of both the animal and human condition of the human being. And this is the kind of prevarication Discipulus talkes about, at least I perceive it that way. It leads to atomic bombs and gain of function virus research.

        I can smell abuse of power miles against the wind, and in hindsight I guess that this is one strong reason for me not to pursuit any kind of career whatsoever. And in the same notion, "Codes Of Conduct" are a bill of shame any community expedites to itself, not only to those who are blamed for making such proceedings necessary, but also for those who believe in fixing anything with that codes.

        Prevarication is related to privatization (in fact "privare" in latin means "to rob"), and capitalism is built upon privatization and abuse of power, and it is nothing but the expression of lack of "subdueing the earth" wrt some aspects in the above sense.

        There are and have been other ways. E.g., even in the US, and more so in Canada, there are small towns whose inhabitants leave their ignition keys stuck to the cars: to make sure anybody in need of a car gets one. There are as much or more unlocked doors in Canada (in percent of households) as those with rifles in the US. Go figure.

        perl -le'print map{pack c,($-++?1:13)+ord}split//,ESEL'
        hello again eyepopslikeamosquito,

        > taking prevarication to mean..

        Ouch.. I have this habit to choose words from my mother tongue hoping they have the same meaning (and the same semantic) in English due to their common latin roots!

        This time, as many other ones, I was was unlucky: it seems that English maintained a meaning closer to the Latin one, infact prevarication has quiet the same meaning of prevaricatio but in my language it took a more common meaning of violent arrogance or simply the act to overwhelm, overcome, overpower someone else.


        There are no rules, there are no thumbs..
        Reinvent the wheel, then learn The Wheel; may be one day you reinvent one of THE WHEELS.

      > I'd date these ancient genetic impulses away from the hunter-gatherers era to a more recent period where the violence made it possible to put hands on a big source of food produced by a new agriculture

      I don't think evolution works that fast. Given the time-scales involved (as noted in my earlier response) most experts believe there's a greater genetic influence from the (vastly longer) Prehistory period than the Neolithic revolution (aka Agricultural Revolution), which occurred only 12,000 years ago.

      > The hunter is not a warrior: they have a profound respect for the animal they kill and for other beings and among them for humans

      While that's often the case, it's a bit too romantic for my tastes. Quoting Sapiens again:

      It would be a mistake, however, to idealise the lives of these ancients. Though they lived better lives than most people in agricultural and industrial societies, their world could still be harsh and unforgiving ... modern foragers occasionally abandon and even kill old or disabled people who cannot keep up with the band ... when an old Ache woman became a burden to the rest of the band, one of the younger men would sneak behind her and kill her with an axe-blow to the head.

        It would be a mistake, however, to idealise the lives of these ancients.

        I have enjoyed and benefited by the film "Quest for Fire" by Jean-Jacques Annaud, based on the book The_Quest_for_Fire.

      Infact I have started a little research (probably on the same time of you) to find some theoretical approach to autogestion but unfortunately it seems I was not able to find something.

      Ernest Mandel has written about this topic. I do (or did, now where did I put it?) own a book titled "Autogestión Obrera" by E.Mandel, a remnant of my time in Chile, most likely a translation of Arbeiterkontrolle, Arbeiterräte, Arbeiterselbstverwaltung. Eine Anthologie, Frankfurt am Main 1971 which I don't own. Maybe there's an italian translation available.

      Autogestión, sí, but key is: accumulate to give away regarding power and money - in fact everything. This leads to the principle of subsidiarity and a different approach to money: it is not something to gain and hoard to achieve individual wealth, but a means to help others and foster things worth it - much like venture capitalism, but without the selfishness, concurrency and value-gaining inherent in capitalism.

      Capitalism stands on three legs:

      • property
      • alienation
      • concurrency

      Take away one of these legs, and capitalism topples. To make our time a better place to live (sic!) we need to weaken all three legs with their dialectic counterparts , much in the sense of how programmers virtues map to social virtues, understand each principle and put them in their right place. For now, I guess that most programmers are busy on the alienation leg.

      perl -le'print map{pack c,($-++?1:13)+ord}split//,ESEL'

        (Man, I wish I'd been on this thread when it was young and busy!)

        Could you say more about the legs of capitalism? I have a sketchy grasp of what "alienation" means in the critique of capitalism, and not a clue about "concurrency."

        Which means maybe I better not be too confident that I understand you about "property," TBH.

        So, by "property" I take you to mean the complex of ideas (and practices, and the embedding of ideas and practices in culture and law -- but, anyway) that (in their purest form) revolve around assigning people sole and arbitrary control of a thing, as follows:

        • One can have a right to such control, meaning that we're all supposed to uphold it.
        • Just about anything can be the object of such a right, and most things are.
        • That right exists as long as the object does.
        • It sticks to the person who had it last, unless that person voluntarily sticks it to someone else.
        • The idea of control extends as far as destroying the object, and to any other use or non-use of the object that the person chooses, regardless of anyone's benefit, harm, needs, or interests, except where the person who has the right agrees to enforceable limits on it, or the other interest is also a property right and the use violates it.
        • The idea of sole control condemns any interaction with the object not agreed to by the person, without regard to its effect on the object or lack thereof, the person's own disuse of the object, or, again, anyone's benefit, harm, need, or interest other than those also represented by property rights.
        That's what we're talking about with "property," right?

        Alienation, I understand in terms of an effect of capitalism, but not so much in terms of a maintaining cause of it. And possibly more of this is spillover from my musing about motivation in learning, than actual memory of my occasional glances at Marx. But I gather the gist is that when we all say you must labor for money to live, we trivialize the awareness and will that you dedicate to your labor as a human being; when you receive money for your labor, we take it that your labor is summarized by that money and your connection to the result of your work is severed.

        And for that matter, those who ought to lead but must manage for their living, whose job is to operate and maintain the illusion that money is the measure of all things, are walked gently into psychosis wearing a blindfold that reads, "It's just business, ma'am. Just, just business." And those who receive money they did not labor for, their awareness and will are not much encouraged to engage with life in ways that make them blossom, and so the system (and all our acceptance of it) trivializes them too.

        And moreover, despite all the wit and sweat that Madison Avenue uses to enchant the image of mundane goods not yet acquired, actually getting a thing by purchase, for money that supposedly equally represents one buyer's survival and another buyer's whim, one worker's puppetability and another worker's soul vocation, the same money that is supposed to sever that thing from its maker -- in short, participating in that system often terribly disenchants getting things that should have been quite special.

        And by Madison Avenue's sweat and wit, I mean four parts vodka, one part "put it next to some tits," and an olive.

        Well, since my accurate confession of ignorance is now smothered by hundreds of words of what I think I know, maybe I'd better repeat the part where I ask you to teach me -- what you in fact meant by each of the three legs, and also, what their counterparts would be.

Re: Organizational Culture (Part I): Introduction
by erix (Prior) on Jun 22, 2021 at 06:54 UTC

      Most languages are like stackoverflow: I have a question, I want the best answer. Perl is like PerlMonks: I have a doubt, I want to read an interesting discussion about it that is likely to go on a tangent. q-:

      -- tye in Re: What is PerlMonks? (why Perl)

      Wow, what a fantastic reference. Thanks erix! When this sort of thing happens, it reminds me why I love this place. I can visualize the New York Times headlines now:

      Perl Monks web site reverses global warming and eliminates warfare while improving the wellbeing of our planet's people and ecosystems!

      Ahem. Sorry 'bout that. Back to reality, it will take quite a while to digest this impressive and thought-provoking paper, so many fascinating and borderline intractable topics analysed. I have no idea yet which of the many interesting topics covered in this paper to discuss further (and am open to suggestion).

Re: Organizational Culture (Part I): Introduction
by cbcc (Initiate) on Jun 11, 2021 at 18:11 UTC

    This group must have expertise to advise corporations to guard against Ransomeware such as auto Pont-in-Time backups, passwordless remote server connection; Write Once file property, CFS file system, etc. Coupled with all that Perl can do, this seems like an area the group should be discussing and developing. Regards

Re: Organizational Culture (Part I): Introduction
by Anonymous Monk on Jun 14, 2021 at 09:26 UTC
    > monkeys
    If we want to discover the roots of racism in the 21st century, we need to look no further than Darwin’s (1859) The Origin of Species. The original title for this book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. This title remained until the sixth edition when in the 1872 printing it was changed to its present form.
    FYI, since you mentioned evolution