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Wally Bock

Let me recommend Deal and Kennedy's book, Corporate Cultures: the Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life, which is not back in print. This book gave me my favorite definition of culture: "The way we do things around here."


Now, my elevator story. In my corporate period I worked in a place like you describe. One day I had to stop by the office to pick up something and I had my son with me. He was carrying size.

We got on the elevator. Stony faces greeted us. "Hi!" yelled Dave, who had just learned to greet people. No response.

"Hi!!" he yelled, louder this time. Small smiles appeared but were quickly covered.

Dave took a deep breath. "HI!!!!!!!!!!" A senior VP started to laugh and reached out his hand toward Dave. "Hi yourself," he said. Now everyone had permission to smile.

Then the VP looked at me. I thought I was cooked. "When he grows up, I want him for sales," said Mr. Powerful.

Dave, by the way, is now a corporate support tech with the unique ability to talk to powerful executives about dumb things they've done and leave them smiling.

Steve Roesler

So the unspoken rule was: We'll act normal if the senior ranking elevator rider acts normal?!"

Now I'm thinking that maybe it would be fun to put out a call for "Breaking the Unbroken Rule" stories.

Wally Bock

I like that idea. The thing about unspoken rules is that they meet the definition for a taboo: "a strong social prohibition (or ban) against words, objects, actions, discussions, or people that are considered undesirable or offensive by a group, culture, or society." That means that breaking the taboo is likely to result in punishment of some kind.

Phyllis Roteman

Hi Steve,

Fun post. And something we tend not to think about often. (You and Bud were real rebels!)

In my early career, I worked for a company where one of the senior executives walked the halls in his socks. In meetings, he'd put his stocking feet up on a desk.

Yet I got scolded for breaking the dress code when I wore jeans to work. The injustice of it all. I was in my 20's and saw a big inequity here.

Of course now I know that there's an unwritten rule in many companies (unfortunately). Senior leaders are often excused for their bizzare or odd behavior(they're often called eccentric). I've consulted with many companies who acknowledge this unofficial rule...and just say "we deal with it."

In my case, my "revenge" was to break the rules (in a way that caused no real harm of course) by wearing my jeans on days when I knew execs were traveling (and playing rock music softly at my desk...another thing I don't think we were supposed to do).

I know I took this topic to another place, but it's such a rich topic...and fascinating how unspoken rules are interpreted, broken and perceived by people in organizations.


Steve Roesler

Wow, Phyllis,

Covert jeans and (quiet) rock music...isn't it fascinating what we'll do to put our little stake in the ground to just be ourselves.

Which is, I guess, the real issue about norms. How much will we coopt our natural selves to be part of something else? And when it reaches a sticking point, what will we do to try and shift the equilibrium or rebel in some way that allows us to stay a part of the "system" while getting the satisfaction of having bucked it a little?

Thanks for the addition...as these add up I'm going to do another post.

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