“You don’t change culture by critiquing culture. You change culture by creating culture.” – Andy Crouch, Fermi Q Conference NYC 2008
Andy Crouch was one of the speakers at the Fermi Q Conference in April. In our conference swag-bags, we were given a sampler (chapter 4) from his forth coming book titled Culture Making. I read it and encountered some interesting ideas.
One of my biggest foibles is thinking that I can come into any new situation and make a profound impact. Now that I write it down, it looks a lot like arrogance. This may be possible on some small scale things, but as I become involved with more sophisticated systems (corporate, political, cultural, religious) I realize that a fresh face with a new idea is nothing new. It’s extremely uncommon to start work in a company out of college and become the next CEO within a year. It’s extremely uncommon for a person to get off their couch with a “great idea” and get it adopted by city leadership. It’s extremely uncommon to walk up to group of people outside of the church and convince them that a life dedicated to following the teachings of Jesus Christ is worth pursuing. I have come to realize that all of these different systems are extremely nuanced and require a significant amount of learning before anyone is able to contribute in a profound way.
Crouch says “creation begins with cultivation – taking care of the good things that culture has already handed to us. The first responsibility of culture makers is to not make something new but to become fluent in the cultural traditions to which we are responsible.” We almost have to spend time imitating the culture that we want to participate in before we can credibly contribute to it. This may look like spending time at City School Board meetings just to learn the key players, how the meeting are run, who creates the agenda, what other outside players are always present in the crowd at the meetings, who has the ear of the media, etc. For corporate leadership it may look like dialoging with your supervisor about the corporate organization chart to learn the roles of each position within that company, asking to be involved with proposal writing, getting involved with business development, mentoring new employees through the day to day processes, etc. For a Christian trying to bridge the gap with a group of people that don’t see the utility of following Christ it may look like immersing yourself in their community, asking open-ended questions and truly listening to their response, get out of your head and truly try to learn what it’s like for them, establishing authentic friendships, truly offering your presence to them, etc.
Discipline is required of us before we can create. Crouch illustrates this idea with an example of his piano playing ten year old son. His son hates playing scales for practice on the piano. His son looks forward to the day when he can stop playing scales and start playing “real music”. He tries to tell his son that the more serious about piano he becomes, the more scales he is going to play, and that professional musicians often times spend over an hour each day on the basics of their instrument. “The discipline of playing scales is a prerequisite for forming the faculty with the piano that equips a musician to create a new song or perform an old one with creativity and fidelity”. He continues “So underneath almost every act of culture making we find countless small acts of culture keeping. That is why the good screen write has first watched a thousand movies; why the surgeon who pioneers a new technique has first performed a thousand routine surgeries; and why the investor who provides funds to the next startup has first studied a thousand balance sheets”.
“Cultural creativity requires cultural maturity”
With all of the endeavors that I have been getting involved in lately, I have been working to keep my arrogance at bay. I have instead started learning as much as possible about the system. This is difficult because it takes time, and patience.
That being said, you can’t become to enmeshed in the system that you lose your creative edge. You will contribute nothing if you start thinking like they think. In order to influence change you have to insert your ideas within the existing system framework.
Has anyone else been frustrated because you feel that no one is listening to your solution or your good idea?