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Cross-Cultural Psychology

Plot a Coup Against the Status Quo

Discover the best chance to change the unhealthy habits of your culture.

In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari argues that humans didn't domesticate wheat; wheat domesticated humans. Wheat encouraged us to change from hunters and gatherers to growers and harvesters. We have worked for wheat for thousands of years. We have given our most precious resources -- our land, water and energy -- to do wheat's bidding. From a few random outcrops scattered across the African plains, to organized agriculture, and finally to agribusiness with millions of acres supported by a massive industry: wheat, it seems, is winning. All that wheat isn't so good for our health, but we humans have been very good for wheat's health.

The status quo is like wheat: it gets you to do its bidding without even asking. Perhaps people at your company have a way of saying one thing in a meeting then doing another, and you accept that dissonance as "the way things get done here." And the more you learn how to get things done, the more you cement the status quo. The more people who "get it" -- that is, the more people who figure out how your place really works -- the more the status quo grows in energy, mass and scale.

It's hard to change your company's culture, in part, because it's hard to see how the culture works to preserve itself. It's hard to change the "old boys' network" or the way that the power structure sits in headquarters.

Like wheat, the status quo is programmed to propagate.

The status quo flourishes because of an aspect of humanity that Harari suggests led modern humans' ascent to the top of the food chain. We were more successful than other humanoids with which we shared the planet tens of thousands of years ago because of our ability to create and believe in collective fictions. Intersubjective realities like nations, money and religion enable massive collaboration. Neanderthals were limited to cooperation within sight and sound: the limit was about 150 members of the tribe, ruled by an alpha member. But modern humans can organize into groups of many millions because of our belief in the stories we create. The Neanderthals' exclusive reliance on objective, observable reality was, Harari argues, their undoing.

A status quo culture is an intersubjective reality that has emerged organically. The only way to overcome the momentum of this collective fiction is to create a newer, more powerful, more purposeful intersubjective reality: a coup.

Gather like-minded rebels who are willing to target and take down the waste that blocks productivity, progress and passion, and plot a coup against the status quo. Galvanize the group around the purpose of saving the organization from itself. Plot a coup to tear away the silliness and the sabotage. Plot a coup to protect the heart of your organization. Protect the things that support healthy growth, healthy customers, and healthy employees. Plotting a coup against the status quo is the ultimate act of loyalty to the purpose and promise of your organization.

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