Space Archeology and Corporate Culture: Seeing the Big Picture

space archeology

Big Data or the Big Picture?

There is a lot of talk in business circles about the usefulness of Big Data and the ability to derive meaningful customer and strategic insights from crunching a large volume and variety of data sets. While I am a believer in the value of data, I am also equally a fan of “seeing the big picture” as a way of gaining insight about business and in particular, corporate culture.

Let me give you an example of seeing the big picture.  And in this case, a very big picture.

It’s called “space archeology” and has been pioneered by Dr. Sarah Parcak, associate professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

sarah_parcak_lost_pyramidsBasically, instead of searching for archeological historical sites on the ground, Sarah used imagery obtained from orbiting satellites to find previously undiscovered historical sites and to be able to see these sites even when covered over by agriculture and urbanization.  You might be interested in watching the TED talk by Dr. Parcak.

“This isn’t just another ‘gee whiz’ toy,” she says. “It’s a genuine scientific tool with proven, published results from Egypt to Syria to Italy to Easter Island. It has so much potential and possibility. It transforms every aspect about how we see and understand our past.”

By seeing the big picture, Dr. Parcak has been able to use satellite and infrared imagery to locate hundreds of undiscovered sites in Egypt and to gain new insights into the culture and history of ancient Egypt.

The Big Picture and Corporate Culture

My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.  —  Edgar Mitchel, Apollo 14 astronaut

Most of the current avenues for exploring corporate culture involve “point in time” surveys, assessments and at times, focus groups.  Questions are asked of a large number of employees within the company (Big Data) and scores are often grouped into categories and then correlated with company performance to infer the strengths and weaknesses of the current culture and to suggest how culture impacts performance.

To me, this approach seems dry and somehow unfulfilling.  Maybe that’s why many senior executives and CEOs still find the concept of corporate culture to “fluffy” to take seriously. However, when we take a big picture view of an organization, say a chart describing revenue growth or headcount growth, it immediately begins to suggest a story of evolution and change with profound implications on leadership, management, strategy and performance.

Take the following company revenue growth chart over the past    years as an example. Like looking down on a particular country or region from an orbiting satellite, here we see the “big picture” growth history of a company. Not just at one particular time period, but over the whole life of this company. It’s not space archeology, it’s “corporate culture archeology”.

culture history

 This big picture view of a company suggests some areas ripe for investigation to better understand the current corporate culture in relation to the past historical cultures?

  • Are the cultures of A, B and C different?
  • If so, how?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these three cultures?
  • How aligned are each of these three cultures with their relevant business and strategic objectives?
  • What changed between cultures B and C and why?
  • Are elements of Culture B impacting the recent revenue decline? How?
  • What are the major culture change levers that can be used to improve performance?

I’m certain you can think of another dozen important and insightful areas to explore given this big picture view of the organization.

Let’s see where big picture corporate culture archeology will take us in our quest to better align leadership, culture and performance!

The big picture doesn’t just come from distance; it also comes from time. ~Simon Sinek

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

 

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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