Culture as a framework for invention.
Culture has been on my mind lately after having read Grant’s latest, and very useful, book and because we are working on a bunch of different projects at the moment where culture and the impact of culture play a very big role. Specifically, I have been thinking a lot about the fact that:
- Culture is a framework for invention that inspires inventors
- Culture is a framework that allows everyone else to evaluate the invention
Fashion is a good example of these dynamics in play. Most trends have their basis in a reaction to something that’s happening in culture. Becky pointed this out very recently in some research she did for a Nordstrom project. Pulling from lookbook.nu, she discovered a series of different trends:
All of these are commentaries upon culture or aspects of culture which are subtle, nuanced and depend entirely upon a subtle and nuanced understanding of culture in order to appreciate. Taken literally, many of them would be meaningless or would have an entirely different meaning than intended. Therefore, culture not only inspires these trends, it is also essential for appreciating these trends.
The Facebook phenomenon has reached fever pitch and one thread to have emerged is the introspection by global leaders from outside the US regarding the state of innovation in their countries. In particular, China has been in the news frequently, wondering whether and when she can produce innovation of Facebook magnitude. Characteristically, conversation has been confined to the impact of the political system, or the state of the educational system, or American Manifest Destiny, very little discussion has been given to culture.
American culture was exported and consumed long before Facebook. And American culture sowed both the seeds of Facebook’s creation, as well as its adoption by people all around the world. Were it not for our common reference points in American culture, Facebook might have seemed as impenetrable and alien as Sina Weibo is to us.
Nien, recently put together a brilliant presentation on how modern brands can change culture. One of his insights is that the structure of a modern brand – i.e. built around a purpose – is essentially a model of culture.
Therefore, when companies adopt a modern branding model they are also adopting a model of creating and disseminating a culture that is specific to themselves. In doing so, they are also sowing the seeds for invention and evaluation that favors them and their ideas.