Redbean - It was no surprise recently when yet another global car manufacturer announced closure of an engine plant dedicated to manufacturing large six cylinder petrol engines with the loss of 930 jobs. What was surprising were the press releases and comments by the CEO that they were surprised by the market move to smaller cars. He stated that “there was now a deepening trend away from larger cars”.
( Mitsubishi Press Release )
What annoys me is that for a small fee, say a million bucks, I could have spared an hour or so to tell them this several years ago. They would then have saved possibly the tens if not hundreds of millions they have spent trying to revive a dead horse.
Yet it would be difficult to convince an industry dominated by men obsessed by speed and power and disparaging of environmentalists, that small is beautiful when it comes to one of the earth’s great polluters and users of energy, the automobile. Their vested interests and cultural prejudice have kept them blind to the changing world as they mainly admire and mix with people of their own kind and the ingress of fresh ideas and alternate opinions are subtly discouraged.
I can just imagine the board meeting where the funky inner-city type from marketing presents her research on the future of the automobile industry as being small and green. The CEO would listen intently and then in one breath dismiss her hypothesis with “only faggots drive small cars”. The whole boardroom would shake with laughter and it would be back to business as usual.
Cultural prejudices exist in most industries. In a democratic and diverse society that is to be expected and differing viewpoints encouraged. Yet when this becomes a culture of prejudice it is detrimental to the organisation as a whole and the people involved.
The problems associated with cultural prejudice in many government authorities has been well known for years. From the security services and police to immigration departments not only do they build strong cultures but they also have the power to inflict great hurt on to people they consider ‘outside’ their idea of the required norm. Religious, racial and tribal prejudices are often the stem and, despite the work done around corporate diversity in the past generation, these are still present in the boardrooms of the world.
Yet prejudice is never far away even in seemingly benign environments. I am always amazed at how undergraduate students are despised in higher education. For many administrators and academics the ideal university would contain no students. The culture of prejudice among technologists in the IT industry is well known and parodied. The way doctors still talk at their patients rather than with them changes only slowly. Not only is this behaviour disrespectful but it is also bad for business.
New ideas can range from uncomfortable to outright threatening and so it is easy to build a culture of collusion where they are avoided. Many organisations get advice, do surveys and research but never really believe or act on the results. Shifting deeply held beliefs is the hardest work of organisational change.
My job entails helping organisations see new ways of doing things, envisage threats and opportunities not yet apparent and build cultures that are welcoming and responsive to new ideas. It is tough but rewarding work. Sometimes though I wonder why I don’t just get a job as an academic or a civil servant or work for a corporate in HR, or IT. But that may require joining a culture of prejudice.
Every organisation needs a regular check up of its diversity, biases and cultural prejudices to maintain its relevance but particularly to avoid being blind to social and cultural change affecting its performance. A diverse organisation that encourages different viewpoints is a healthy organisation. And they are usually great to work for and with.