Organization Culture is defined as the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. Social psychologist Edgar Schein identifies three distinct levels within organization cultures. Artifacts,
or tangible elements can include facilities, furniture, dress code, to the myths traded about the organization. Values
, or professed beliefs, goals and philosophies regarding the organization's culture. Assumptions,
or unconscious perceptions, feelings and deeply embedded behaviors that constitute the essence of culture. Schein's levels are useful to distinguish the different forces at play. An organization may espouse certain aesthetic choices and moral standard, but is driven by an opposing set of "unspoken rules" (1992).
Organization Culture: China's Creative Industries
China's creative industries, which I opt for a straightforward categorization of the arts, media and design sectors, is uniquely influenced by its shift from a world manufacturing power to a desire to become a R&D and brand power. As cost of labor rises, state-owned industrial factories face unprecedented decline. Indeed, with only 1.53% of the work force in the cultural sector in 2008, the government is aware of an increasing "cultural trade deficit." The world grew up using "Made in China" products, but Chinese youth grew up watching Korea soap operas and American iPhones. "Created in China" was nowhere to be found.
Initiatives to increase China's innovation and "soft power," or cultural influence is in the forefront of government policies. This manifests in innovation zones that cluster creative real estate, investment into traditional arts forms like the kunqu opera, to speeches from every recent social and economic development initiatives.
Because of its inherently political nature, scholars have argued that creativity has been "sinified" or harmonized in China. Sectors like art and media especially, while enjoying a boom in the recent years, continues to tread against a murky line of censorship.
It is then not surprising the word for innovation/creativity, chuangyi
(literally "to make new ideas"), was introduced to Mainland China in the advertising industry through international conventions (Keane, 2013). Unlike the sectors of art and media, the design and advertising sectors are "non-sensitive media" due to their largely commercial context. The proliferation of multinational creative agencies at the turn of the millennium, followed by many independent, home-grown agencies thus give way to a diverse and dynamic industry with relative freedom to explore innovation possibilities that are apolitical.
Measuring Organizational Culture
There are numerous qualitative and quantitative measurements used to explore what makes a organization culture good. The following model is referenced for its simplicity and prevalence. Robert A. Cooke's Organizational Culture Inventory (1987) model groups organizational culture into three types:
A Desire for Openness
- Constructive cultures - discussions and exchange of ideas encouraged; this is the most efficient culture for organizations involving complex processes and teamwork.
- Passive cultures - pleasing superiors first to make position safe and secure.
- Aggressive cultures - competition against each other so that each one performs better.
In a transitioning economy, China's organization culture of its creative industries is affected in complex ways. Many firms have inherited the legacy of a controlled economy with top down leadership. Studies have shown firms in the private sector have a preference for simple organizational structures with everyone reporting to the top (Hout, 2014), aligning toward Cooke's passive culture
. The demands of a freer market economy, however, drives cut throat competition that also foster an aggressive culture
Within most private sector, and especially the creative industries, high power distance relationships get in the way of innovation. As an executive coach who works in Southeast Asia explains: "Senior-level people get no information, and believe that they have nothing to improve upon, and junior-level people do not bring ideas forward. It's hard to innovate under these conditions" (Sweeten, 2012).
Innovative companies are ones with high aspirations and an "openness to experimenting with radically different management techniques and practices" (Hout, 2014). Indeed, household Chinese tech brands like Alibaba, Youku, and Huawei are known simultaneously for what they do, as much as how they do it. Many companies are seeing the importance of breaking away from collectivist management in order to innovate and grow. In other words, they are making moves toward what Cooke defines as constructive cultures
, or cultures that promote open discussions, idea exchange, and flatter hierarchies. Below are brief case studies demonstrating this impulse.