Think outside the box – a cliché in business world. If you agree that creation is essentially dual in nature, and that seemingly opposite principles are ‘bound’ to each other by tangible or intangible forces, then it should not be difficult to understand that the conceptual opposites – problem and solution – should also occur in pairs. In highly competitive business environments where heavy-weight words like radical change, groundbreaking technology, breakthrough invention, innovation, etc. are tossed around abundantly because they are required at times, misunderstood some times, and sounds fashionable many a time, it’s difficult to see the sensibility and practicality of ‘thinking inside the box’. This approach looks at the problem as a part of the system that has one or a few ‘wrong notes’; a local-area malfunctioning that requires fixing and that is all. The fixing or the intervention is done from within the system using the very elements and processes of the system. This is an organic approach, and by its very nature thinking-inside-the-box approach gives a sustainable solution to the problem. It is sustainable because the solution is brought about from within the system by using its own constituents without introducing a foreign element. When a totally new element or process is brought in to a system to address a problem, which is what a think- outside-the-box approach would do, the new element dominates the existing system due to the importance attached to it by human intervention, and it tends to change the entire set-up around it in compliance with it’s own nature. Eventually, the whole system is subjected to unnecessary change, when all that is required is a simple, local addressing of the problem area. Yes, sometimes the very foundation requires change. But that is altogether a different situation. The situation in this case is a need for invention. And this requires out-of-the-box thinking because thinking out of the box is essentially a creative and inventive act. But for finding solutions to problems and even for improving a situation, the way is to think inside the box. It would do much good if we know what we are addressing and what we want – whether a problem or a system-change and whether a solution or an invention. The following quote sums it well:
“If you never venture outside the box, you will probably not be creative. But if you never get inside the box, you will certainly be stupid.”
– Christopher Peterson
I am not going to dwell on the academic definitions of organizational culture; there are a lot of books that deal with this subject. The aim of this blog is to give a few ‘tips’ on how to assess an organization quickly, say within the first 20 – 30 minutes of your interaction with it. Organizational culture is the expression of the mindset, character and attitude of all the people working in it, right from the CEO to the watchman. It is the collective mindset of an organization which reflects in each and every entity within an organization – both human and non-human, tangible and intangible. A visitor to the organization may not have the opportunity to interact, or even just observe the CEO, but certainly would have such a chance with the watch man, lift man, the receptionist and people of that cadre: The people in the lower wrung of the organization’s hierarchy. There are many types here, but can be broadly categorized into three: the rude and the intimidating type, the ‘mechanical-plastic-expression’ type, and finally the warm and the approachable type. A happy employee with the right kind of grooming from his/her management will naturally adopt a benevolent and considerate disposition towards the visitors. The same holds good for the person from the organization whom you are supposed to meet and are at a higher level in the organizational hierarchy. Even if the person is going to be a tough interviewer, he/she will not, even for an instance, breach the boundaries of professionalism and never assume an intimidating stand against you.The company’s culture will be reflected in all of the employees’ words and body languages . Considerate and ‘true’ politeness (not the ‘mechanical’ politeness), especially when reflected at the lower most level of the organization, is a sure sign of a people-oriented organization. Neatness is yet another strong indicator of an organization’s culture. The general cleanliness in the reception area and even the way newspapers and journals are arranged, speaks strongly about the culture followed there. A shabby, carelessly arranged reception area is a big giveaway of a shabby organization as well. Any organization can have wonderful vision and mission statements, because they know that these are the areas where any interested person would first check into. So, these are not the aspects you should be measuring if you want a true assessment of the company, as these can be ‘performed for the gallery’. Watch out for the small, subtle indications where careless organizations usually miss out. In my experience, it is usually these small giveaways that proved to be the accurate measuring scale of an organization’s culture. In fact, this method of assessment holds good even for assessing a home or an individual, because ‘God is in the details’.