Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Stovepipes" and Culture

Global Province is a management consulting group with an enlightened viewpoint. In its Letters From the Global Prince section of its website, there are often eye-opening observations about the world around us. Here's a blurb about culture and the lack of communication between subgroups:

Stovepipes. We emphasize that culture is a mosaic, a quilt of widely different strands running through society. It’s not painting, or music, or spices, or a night at the opera, or rap—but all of these woven together and more. Today it’s inextricably global, for culture of any merit no longer respects borders.

It is a catalyst because of ‘stovepipes.’ ‘Stovepipes’ is consultese-shorthand that describes the structure of old-style companies where the different parts or departments don’t converse with each other very well. It’s an American Express where you may have to talk with 4 people—instead of one—when you want to find out about travel, or hospital insurance, or about the points on your credit card, because the company is so compartmentalized that the left hand does not know what the right is doing. It’s every telephone company where you are lucky to be able to talk to anyone (all the telecoms are very understaffed in customer operations, maintenance, and several other areas), and you may talk to as many as 5 people trying to discover your service options if you need to telephone Paris a great deal. The consulting firms themselves are full of stovepipes, and knowledge is not shared well between different practices.

That said, the ‘stovepipes’ that really matter in modern commerce are not those inside companies but those strewn through society and scattered about the world. Neurologists understand very little chemistry—an impediment to research advances. Boutique businesses have a primitive understanding of internet commerce—without which they cannot survive. The U.S. knows little about Indonesia, the world’s major Moslem country, and even less about the Bandas where Ms. Alwi grew up. The more complex the society, the more numerous its stovepipes.

Culture weaves together the world as it is, bringing together spices, the Bandas, cooking, New York, a host of media, and much more. It provides the neural circuitry along which ideas can move. Culture knocks down stovepipes, so that a society can become interactive.

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posted by Brian at 10:26 AM

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