Is it compatible?

Why cultural transformation is difficult?

In many cases, the failure is rooted on the lack of acknowledgement on incompatibility of the existing culture toward the expected new culture. This is a fundamental driver that determines whether a change initiative will become a real transformation, or merely a rhetoric.

In recently Surabaya’s Taman Bungkul case, Tri Risma, the Mayor of Surabaya must manage her own anger and regret, following the destruction of the city’s best garden during a free ice cream event held by a big consumer goods brand.

The expectation was, no matter whatever type of crowd gather in that event, there should be no violation on public facilities, such as public garden.

As much as this has been evident in Surabaya in the last few years, at that event, unfortunately for some reasons, people lost control and destroyed many parts of the Taman Bungkul garden during the free ice cream event. Apparently, their self-awareness, and therefore also their self-control mechanism, were not entirely effective that time.


How’s that possible?

The way I see it, the expected culture of collective ownership on public facility is not yet compatible with the existing culture people hold, which view public facility as the government’s own and solely responsibility. The ownership of public facility is there, for sure. But it is not deeply influential to a degree that it can overcome the ‘traditional’ mental model of seeing public facility as nothing they should be responsible for. At that particular event, the ‘old’ ways won over the ‘new’ view.

Another outlook is also available at a bigger scope: The general election.

One of the issue in regards to Indonesian 2014 election is money politics in legislative election. Despite all the campaign against corruption, bribery and money politics, the culture of giving and accepting gifts is still strongly rooted in Indonesian society. Hence, gift in forms of money a day before election is easily be seen as natural social exchange, just like any other type of gift. It is indeed improper, since the gift is provided not as a sincere gift, but definitely a transaction for political support. In accordance to this formal perspective; a money gift is identified as undue contribution for improper political transaction.

But from cultural perspective, a gift is a social gesture. And this gift before election day is a grey reality, which most people see it as hideous gift, and yet, there is hardly a way to prove it as wrongdoing. As much as the hidden intention behind the gift seems to be suspicious, it is not easy to formally prove what is hidden there.

This is an incompatibility between popular democracy and giving culture. Loosely inspired by Huttington’s term, it is a clash of two different mental models that govern people’s action.

However, that is not all to it. I think in the upcoming presidential election, this same situation will note be repeated. Why? Because the incompatibility that influence people’s behavior will be different when it comes to the presidential election. The clash will be between the strong figure-oriented culture versus political party culture introduced by modern democracy.

And obviously, the figure-oriented culture has been within the society’s blood for a long time, while ideological or interest-group formalization through political party is an ‘imported’ culture.

Such incompatibility can also be identified in many other aspects in our life, where the expected new behaviours are constantly challenged or even be revoked by the ‘old’ habits.

In business and other types of organization, the same incompatibility often taking place. In most cases, changing of people is believed to be the solution for this incompatibility problem. People do not easily and immediately adopting new culture. Hence, to change the culture immediately, whoever that does not adopt the new culture immediately need to be replaced by others who can adopt to the new culture with less resistant.

Nevertheless, such replacement strategy is not always effective, or even possible. In addition, such change is merely a demographics change and not a transformation of organization culture. A transformation is only happen when good qualities of the past or current culture are evolving under the influence of a new mental model toward a new constructive culture that fit toward the future.

Thus, a transformation is the best response toward incompatibility of cultures. Such transformation could only happen when three steps below are observed.

First, the understanding of the current culture, particularly on people’s mental model that really influencing the culture, serves as the platform for transformation.

Second, the actor of transformation must understand the social structure in which the transformation will take place. In this step, we talk about political groups, floating mass, opportunist, and other types of social agents/agencies that define the dynamic. This will be essential for the social engineering within the transformation process. In other words, to re-construct the culture, the social structure need to be re-engineered, from the existing construction to a new one.

The last step is to design a new set of mental models that fits with the current environment, and yet, evoke the urge to change in the critical players. In other words, introducing new habits. Not just any new habits, but new habits that will inspire many others to adopt, and will lead to a social re-construction of collective habit; vis-a-vis culture.

Then, one question always remain……Do we have enough patience to let this process take place?




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