Beyond the Culture of Discipline: What makes a Great company and how Cultural Theory can help

D. Douglas Caulkins, an anthropologist at Grinnell College, Iowa, has used Grid-Group Cultural Theory to appraise and extend Jim Collins’ well known work on organisational culture, Good to Great (which is explained at http://www.jimcollins.com and about which you can read an article. )

Abstract
Jim Collins’s empirical study Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (Harper Business, New York, 2001) has made a worldwide impact on management and leadership practice and research. His concept of “culture of discipline” is central to his ideas for achieving enduring, sustainable organizations, whether in the business or nonprofit sectors. In this essay the culture of discipline is re-theorized in the context of Mary Douglas’s grid-group analysis to provide a home within a broader theory which will locate the culture of discipline in relation to alternative cultures. The framework is illustrated with applications in a study of small, high-technology firms in peripheral areas of the UK, leading to the recognition of an organizational form missing from most of the management literature and furthering the exploration of a model of humble and collaborative leadership as an alternative to the model of charismatic or heroic leadership growing out of American management culture.

[Image credit: Woodleywonderworks]

Prof Caulkins has done a very good job of this. Caulkins’ approach is to equate the ‘great company’, with its long-termism and its culture of responsibility, with the Egalitarian bias of Cultural Theory. If this is so, Collins could be said to achieve this without at any point scaring American business leaders off by sounding like some kind of cheerleader for socialism. To recognise this strand in American business thinking is to call into question the easy assumption that the typical American approach is Individualist. Continue reading