Some years ago it was popular for OD consultants to observe that
many US organizational culture “managed by emergency.” s. In my several ongoing engagements with US groups, after living in France for some years now, it seemed to me that people in these organizations rushed about in a constant state of urgency, “putting out fires.” I won’t tell stories at length or repeat the literature on the effects of this kind of management on planning, productivity and morale, but I do want to share an observation about it that I did not remember seeing in this kind of discussion. It is much more of a cultural and personal insight. It comes from my US soul with the perspective of living abroad for many years now. The urgency is both part of me and something I recognize in others like me….

US culture values time as money and wasting time as at least secularly sinful. We were taught in the the Calvinistic vein that “idleness is the devil’s workshop,” rather than that “Leisure is the Basis of Culture.” We are unleislurely, according to Aristotle, in order to have leisure. But why then do we resist leisure when we have adequate resources to take it and profit from it. What is the root of the compulsion, greed, insecurity that leads to chronic workaholism? In short, why, in a US restaurant does the bill always land on the table before I have finished my coffee?!

I suggest that one of the psychological mechanisms that drives us to live in and perhaps revel in states of urgency is that it provides identity and hence importance, making us significant and needed. In a culture where we are largely defined by what we do rather than where we are from, doing is the key to identity and self esteem. Urgency is the attitude that broadcasts to ourselves and others that we are here to do what we do and to be heroes at it. Having something to do helps me sense my worth; having something urgent to do undergirds my sense of capability as well as tells others that I have a role, an identity in something that concerns us all.

Dr. George Simons, is the editor and betimes author of the diversophy game series ( and coauthor of eight instruments in the Cultural Detective series. He is currently working on the online development of intercultural learning through gaming in Second Life. He sits on the board of directors of both SIETAR France and SIETAR Europa.

Dr. George F. Simons
Résidence L’Argentière, Bât-A
637 Boulevard de la Tavernière
F-06210 Mandelieu la Napoule (FRANCE)

tel +33 4 92 97 57 35
+33 (8) 77 92 33 70
portable +33 6 14 82 60 90
skype: gfsimons

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 20th, 2010 at 7:16 pm and is filed under cross-cultural differences, General, international business, North America . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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