The book is particularly interesting because the writers have determined, through research, that a tribe's culture can be revealed by the language that its members use. Five stages are described, and key themes of each stage are:
- Stage 1: "Life sucks"
- Stage 2: My life sucks"
- Stage 3: "I'm great (and you're not)"
- Stage 4: "We're great (and they're not)"
- Stage 5: "Life is great"
As a person/organisation moves up the Stages, their personal effectiveness leaps ahead.
The main cultural shift described in the book is the shift from Stage 3 individualism to Stage 4 collaboration. Much of business is argued to be in Stage 3, where the focus is on winning as an individual (hence the focus on the Stage 3 to Stage 4 shift).
If you had to comment on the waste management industry as a whole, you would probably conclude that it generally operates in Stage 2 (life sucks - I have to work in this low level role at the tip, or driving this truck or whatever).
Over the dominance of Stage 2 there is a small minority operating at Stage 3; they consider themselves to have been lifted from the "squalor". This might be Superintendents or others, and they characterise themselves as competing (and winning) at the expense of the rest.
For the industry to truly contribute to a challenge beyond self-advancement, and specifically to see itself as contributing to a broad environmental/social challenge of stopping waste, it must operate at Stage 4 at a minimum.
The problem is, argue the authors, Stage 4 cannot be commanded. It must be nurtured through explicit development of Stage 4 tribal culture. I won't go into how, but it comes down to attracting a critical mass of like-minded people, and an almost personal epiphany for each member of the tribe.
The point is that you cannot impose a Stage 4 culture on an organisation that is not working within this culture. Trying to comes across as cynical or hopelessly naive, or even both. It becomes on of those pathetic examples of dippy sloganeering that is so often mocked. And yet those slogans show the way once you have made the leap to Stage 4.
To me, this is where the waste industry faces its some of its biggest challenges. People who think about waste come up with succinct formulations of the problem and then put that out there. It falls on deaf ears. The thoughtful solutions can only be implemented by the people working in the field, and they are literally unable to hear the formulation. It is spoken in an alien tongue. The messages of "cradle to cradle" and "zeronauts" get dismissed because they make no sense. They are fantasy, not relevant in the real world.
It would seem that a way to actually advance the industry is to encourage that epiphany, to bring people to Stage 4, rather than focus on yet new formulations. It won't happen as simply as this, in part because people who have experienced the epiphany saw it through some formulation that struck them at the right time and in the right way. They believe they are helping by refining their pithy slogans.
So I am left wondering. Imagine how much good could be achieved if an organisation was created that quite explicitly targeted a Stage 4 culture. It recruited people who worked in this space, and did everything in its power to maintain that space. I think such an organisation would be incredibly powerful.
A waste organisation that saw culture and the greater good as central to its mission, the prism through which it made all other decisions. No doubt some have done this, but I'm not aware of them. It is much more common to see organisations where there are a few converts who place a veneer of culture across the organisation. It never really rings true, and so never really achieves what it could.
A waste organisation suffused right through with an incredible culture, now that is something I would like to be a part of.