Hardly anyone would argue that culture is the key shaper of both our actions and our worldview. Similarly, most would agree that culture is both powerful and elusive.
While we may agree on culture’s influence on behavior, few agree on what aspect of a cultural cause is at work at any given point in time. People argue for or against some influencing aspect of culture and consequences on everything from the current refugee crisis in Europe to the ever-changing color of our clothes. Certainly, arguments about living within a culture of rapid technological change are replete with assumptions about cause and effect with the most recent attribution being the sudden popularity of disruptive leadership as an explanation.
We think discussions about the cause of culture and its effect on us are useful only to a point. Perhaps a more useful way to view culture (and to effect a cultural transformation) is to simply observe culture and behavior without taking a fixed position.
The idea of viewing something through multiple lenses or contexts has been key to good strategic thinking and is not a new or revolutionary notion. Good strategies have a holographic quality that assumes the more options examined, the better the end choices. We think the same process can be applied to cultural determinations.
In the spirit of holographic examinations, we offer the idea that we do not live in a culture primarily made up of technological change or even disruptive change. Of course, technological change is a fact of life but it may not be a satisfactory explanation for some of the unusual behavior observable around change. For example, long lines camping overnight for the chance to purchase a new pair of Air Jordan’s followed by irrational combative crowds should not be attributed to technological improvements alone.
How We Got Here
It could be that tennis racquets and golf clubs started it all. In the early 1960s, composite materials started their entry into sports. Graphite became the material of choice and wood relinquished its first place with the sporting public.
Composite material in sports was joined by the relentless march of transistors then microchips. It might be that the economic rewards for destabilizing the traditional had a profound effect on shaping a culture of obsolescence with generations of consumers expecting every desire to quickly become undesirable. Any number of social demographics (mobility, divorce, job change, education) from that period until now support notions that a culture of obsolescence has been highly influential.
Of what value, then, is it to think of our culture as a culture of obsolescence rather than a culture of technical change?
Passions for obsolescence as a cultural context might shed light on some of the costly decisions CIO’s and CFO’s make annually in favor of technology improvements. Examining capital expenditure decisions under the lens that capital investments in technology might be a response to a cultural passion for obsolescence rather than customer-desired improvements, could limit all-too-frequent mistakes.