Yuletide and the Subversion of Culture

This year’s festive blog…


Apparently it’s the shepherds that are the giveaway.


I’ll freely admit that I’m outside of my bailiwick here, and I’ve no wish to offend anyone inadvertently, but I think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that if there was a historical Christ, he or she almost certainly wasn’t born towards the end of December.  My RE teacher, over 35 years ago, thought that September was more likely.

I think it’s equally generally understood that one of the reasons that the Christian church ‘went viral’, other than the sponsorship of Emperor Constantine, was its co-option of earlier, Germanic/Pagan beliefs.  If that’s the case, then this strikes me as having been a very smart move on someone’s part.

Yule, I believe, was a Pagan mid-winter festival.  The winter solstice was over, the Sun was on the mend, the days would start to lengthen.  It was as good an excuse as any for an almighty blowout, at an otherwise miserable time of year.  (Which, to be fair, is one of the reasons I raise an eyebrow when I’m lectured to about our tendency to forget ‘the real meaning of Christmas’ during our annual binge.  But I digress.)

So Yule becomes Christmas, and Christianity mightily prospers.  To this day we have Yule logs, holly and mistletoe, but nobody is in any doubt about why we sing carols and expect School nativity plays.  Historical veracity is a non-issue.

Which brings me, as Jeremy Clarkson would say, to the Toyota Ya… er, to business strategy.

Because culture, intangible and largely unmanageable as it is, is the reason why some strategies embed for decades, why some business models prove impossible to duplicate, why some things that should never happen do, and why some things that shouldn’t happen recur repeatedly.  And why many rational strategic initiatives fail.

We can analyse the ‘cultural web’ of a business, the ‘paradigm’ and its interrelationship with organisational structures, narratives and symbols, power and politics, control systems, rituals and routines.  But we can’t do much about it.  A business is a complex, highly non-linear system, that defies calculation.  And culture is an emergent phenomenon thereof.  A bit like Life on Earth.

Typically,  radical culture change only happens if there is a crisis.  It doesn’t really happen after a corporate takeover – a culture is usually annihilated over time.  Very occasionally it is brought about by phenomenal leadership, but even then rarely without significant levels of  staff change.

Which is why the idea of co-option of existing cultures in the service of another goal is such an interesting idea to ponder.  I don’t recall seeing this done effectively in commercial life.  Maybe it has and I’ve just missed it.  I’ve seen highly vacuous and superficial failed attempts.  Maybe business has something to learn from the Christian church, as well as the Protestant work ethic.

Merry Christmas.



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

One thought on “Yuletide and the Subversion of Culture”