Resolving a Culture Clash

A couple of months ago I enrolled in a course in small business management because I thought it would help me in the process of moving from employee to self employed. I have picked up some useful information, and met some fantastic people. Nevertheless since the course began I have been feeling like a fish out of water. For some reason I seem to be constantly struggling against the tide and wanting to challenge what we were being taught.

I am coming to the realisation that the root of my dissatisfaction is at a very core level, its a culture clash between the philosophy and values of the cultural creative (represented my me) and the philosophy and values of the modern (represented by the course, and traditional approaches to small business). Putting it very simplistically, cultural creatives place a high value on things like learning, and personal and spiritual development, and tend to prioritise these over what moderns tend to value more highly such as scientific thinking, money and success. I feel trapped in a culture clash where my way of viewing things is always going to be a minority view.

My aim in doing the course was to pick up some helpful tips, meet people interested in small business, and make local contacts. Although these things were achieveable, the reality of the course was that it demanded a lot more time and effort than I wanted to put in.  Although I tried to adopt a light-handed approach, doing the minimum to “stay in the game” it still seemed like too much to me, and yet not enough to come across as a “serious” student. I began to resent the amount of work that I was being asked to do, especially the exercises that I felt were of no direct relevance to me.

Here are some of the areas that I had difficulty adapting to:

1. The rigidity of competency based training.

The concept of competency based training is built around the belief that what students need to learn can be broken up into little pieces, called competencies or learning outcomes. To get the qualification, students need to demonstrate competency in every outcome. This is a very reductionist, scientific approach to learning, which assumes that the whole is the sum of its parts and compentency can be achieved by mastering each of the parts. This works well in situations where it is critical that a practitioner develop skill in specific technical details, such as getting a pilots licence or learning first aid. However there is a difference between being taught competency in individual tasks or skills, and being educated in a field of study so that you can utilise it for your own purposes. I found the need to spend time on every task, regardless of its relevance or interest to me very frustrating. However thats was a fundamental characteristic of my course.

2. Attitudes to customer service

“The customer is always right” is a well known saying in the customer service arena. But is it true? Like any saying, it contains a truth, but not the truth. It is teaching us that we need to listen to our customers and try to understand their point of view, or we risk losing them as customers. However there are situations where the customer’s demands are unreasonable or their behaviour is unacceptable. There can times when what a client wants is not in their best interests and it is unethical to give way to their demands. Tradition customer service training does not seem to address the more complex types of client relationships that are faced by professionals.

3. Attitudes to money.

There seems to be an assumption that people become self employed because their primary goal is to make money. However this too simple a view. People go into business for many reasons, some of which are to do with lifestyle and a desire for independence and creativity. Of course most of us need to earn an income, but we aren’t all trying to be Steve Jobs. Our motivations for going into business can have a big impact on what we need to learn, and how we want to operate.

4. Attitudes to planning.

One of the mindsets that is common in our time is a high emphasis on goal setting and planning. This is also evident in a business course, where the primary purpose is to create a business plan. However many of us are exploring different ways of moving forward which are less structured and more open to emerging information and opportunities. This is a much more exploratory form of operating, based on  a general direction and purpose, rather than specific goals. Of course in some circumstances, good forward planning is essential, particularly if you need to borrow or invest a lot of money in advance. However excessive planning and research can also act as barriers to action in situations which are able to be more flexible and don’t warrant a complex planning process.

I have come to the conclusion that I have been struggling because I want to learn what I need to learn, when I need to learn it. I am more comfortable doing this for the instrinsic value of the learning rather than external validation. My general aim is to evolve a way of earning a living that allows me to explore my creativity, autonomy and independence, which is pointing me in the direction of self employment, although this may be part of a mixed model with more traditional employment. I don’t have a well developed plan, because the process is still unfolding, and I am learning as I go.

The upshot is that I am dropping of my course because it is not a good enough fit with my learning style and goals. Staying in a situation that doesn’t feel right was becoming counter productive because it was drawing my time and attention away from my own priorities and making me frustrated and grumpy.

I am very grateful to have come across the concept of the cultural creative because it helps me understand myself in a sociological context. It explains my inability to fit in comfortably to  this particular course as a culture clash, rather than a personal failing, or for that matter as a fault in the delivery of the course. Some situations are just not a good fit, and its more productive to move on than fight the system.

Although I will miss my classmates, I feel a sense of lightness that I won’t need to spend hours each week on homework. Its as if I took a detour up a rough and effortful track, and have found my way back to the main path.

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