Culture: The Driving Force of the 21st Century

Presented at the Travelroute 1 Conference on Japanese/Canadian Tourism Business Opportunities
Toronto, Canada
April 3, 1997

You may wonder what a former Bay Street lawyer, transformed into a strategy and policy consultant, is doing chairing and speaking at a conference on travel and tourism. I am clearly the outsider in the crowd. However, I hope I can show I am not as far outside as may appear.


Strategic and policy consulting requires basing particular advice and assessments on an understanding of the forces which are changing the structural and systemic features of our world. The premise is that a better understanding of this basic strategic context can lead to more reliable assessments and sounder responses in relation to particular events and decisions. Context did not matter so much when structures and systems were stable and changed slowly. But this is no longer how it is. Context is now central rather than peripheral. The key is to identify the major structural and systemic forces which are at work at any given time; to recognize that the forces always work; and to act on the basis that the only real question is whether the responses to those forces which you and the other players make are functional or dysfunctional.


This approach led me to realize that what we have been experiencing since the early nineties has been the emergence of a truly New World reflects changes which in their cumulative impact are without precedent in all history. Moreover, they stand to be irreversible, short of major geopolitical disaster. The New World constitutes a once-in-history watershed of dimensions which are incalculable.


Two conclusions about the likely systemic impacts of this New World underlie my view that culture will be the driving force of the twenty-first century. As you will see, my concept of culture is an encompassing one. It is not restricted to the arts or mass media. The first conclusion is that culture will quickly and increasingly be the shaping value-added or value-subtracted competitive factor impacting companies and countries on the economic side. The second is that culture will also determine over a somewhat longer period how functional or dysfunctional political and social responses in different countries and societies are to the New World forces.


My task today is to provide a larger context than that of tourism and travel within which to consider the industry issues under discussion at this conference. The political, economic and policy forces at work in the world provide that context. Moreover, the emerging dominance of culture in the New World provides a unique context for travel and tourism which it did not have before the arrival of the New World. This means that both travel and tourism will be more important and pervasive than ever. Culture affects how we go about doing things in the world of everyday. It also affects what we dream about. So do travel and tourism.


The following sets out a brief outline of the main elements behind my assessment that culture will be the driving force of the next century:

1. Great structural transition

The twelve years from 1989 to 2000 would see a set of major structural changes in the main industrial countries. I call this the Great Structural Transition. No industry – including travel and tourism – has escaped their impact. We all know how difficult and painful those changes have been. But we have also been undergoing even profounder systemic change at the same time. This systemic change goes well beyond structural and long-cycle changes. It stretches backward and will stretch forward over much longer periods.

2. The great historic transformation of the late 20th century

I call this systemic change the Great Historic Transformation of the late 20th Century. It became clearly visible at the beginning of the nineties, after the economic reforms of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and the end of the Cold War. The result is what I call the New World. It involves two basic elements new in all history: the first is the shift from a producer-dominant to consumer-dominant society, resulting in ongoing and pervasive institutional transformations. These in turn have given rise to a wall-less (but not yet borderless) economic world. The second element is the emergence of a single world out of many worlds. The result in the late nineties has been an urgent and daunting need for an exponential increase in the number of those countries to be effectively brought insides the inclusive, but until recently still partial, international economic order established after the last war. The combination of the shift to a wall-less world of consumer dominance and to a single inclusive global political and economic order involves changes on a scale that are deep and pervasive and will take decades to assimilate.

3. Economic policy and technology convergence

The New World will force a growing convergence in fiscal responsibility, low inflation, free and flexible markets (including labour markets) and the use of technology. Countries and organizations which cannot achieve this convergence will increasingly fall behind in the New World. There will be no respite, as the forces of the New World will relentlessly press laggard countries and organization in this direction. The price of non-adjustment or dysfunctional adjustment will come high. The one thing that does not lend itself to convergence in any short period of time is culture. For this reason, one need not fear that the forces of the New World will make all cultures the same. The reverse is more likely, because the differences in cultures will come more and more to the forefront.

4. Consumer dominance

Globalization and Information and Knowledge Technology (IKT) are the current buzz words. But they are only two of the elements constituting the New World. More fundamental is the emergence of a consumer-dominant society. As long as production scarcity was the great problem of mankind, societal structures and cultures reflected this in producer dominance. Now that scarcity is not in and of itself the primary problem of mankind, societal structure and culture are increasingly reflecting this change toward consumer dominance, even where they deny and resist it. This process will take many decades. It involves a once-in-history shift in the most fundamental focus and organizing principles of society. The fact of lagged or dysfunctional adjustment, however, does not mean the forces of the New World are not real here and now. These forces are unaffected by laggards or those stuck in the structures, culture and behaviour of the old world.

5. Other New World elements

Other relevant elements of the New World are: the growing institutionalization since the end of the Cold War of an inclusive global order; the decentralized decision-making power and adjustment capability of every-spreading freer and more open markets; the vast increase in global savings and their global availability; the exponential increase in technology and its ease of transfer anywhere in the world; and the increase in the number of societies stable enough and well-educated and focused enough to make productive use of such technology and savings.

6. Culture always significant

There is no doubt that culture has always been significant to the histories and successes or failures of different countries. However, the hitherto dominant forces have been military, political and economic separately and in interaction one with the other. The primary relevance of culture has been in relation to those more overtly visible forces. The New World, however, will see political and economic forces become increasingly dependent upon and subservient to the cultural forces which they have unleashed.

7. Scarcity of mutual accommodation skills

The emergence of a single inclusive global economic and political order means that people who have never had to get along with each other or work together must now do so. Not all societal or organizational cultures have been equal when it comes to finding effective ways of mutual accommodation to enable the more successful pursuit of individual and group goals. Clearly those cultures that are able to do this will have an advantage relative to those who find it more difficult.

8. Micro over macro

More of the issues that count in the New World will be confronted at the micro rather than macro level. There will always be overriding macro constraints on what is achievable at any particular time. Nonetheless, the cumulative overcoming of those constraints will less and less come from macro policy changes or executive edicts from the top. Instead, the ability to move beyond the macro constraints will depend more and more on the micro level of individual organizations. The key source of micro advantage or disadvantage will increasingly be at the level of individual workplaces. Hierarchical, control-driven structures will be less and less responsive to this reality. As Chrysler’s Thomas Stallkamp explained to the Japan Society Autoroute One Conference eighteen months ago, when talking about Chrysler’s approach to supplier relationships, what Chrysler and its suppliers are really doing is surrendering corporation sovereignty in order to gain more control over the situation. Neither Karl Marx nor Henry Ford would have understood such a culturally alien concept.

9. Horizontal and vertical forces and real time

Two other New World fundamentals are creating serious societal and political imbalances that only functional cultural responses are likely to be able to meet. First, most of the driving forces which led to the New World have been structurally horizontal in nature and have destroyed or diminished vertical forces and structures in their wake. Horizontal forces are indifferent and uncaring when it comes to any one individual. This is both what is good about them and what can be bad about them. Horizontal forces respond to the need for equal treatment, regardless of who you are. They do not respond to the need everyone also has to feel special. By contrast, vertical structures, even those that are quite dysfunctional, help to give individuals a sense of having a place and being cared for. The second New World fundamental is that of real time. Real time also does not care about individuals. It does not recognize the different scale of human time, which reflects the developmental and other needs of individuals one at a time. There is a political and social need, as well as a cultural need, for the right balance between horizontal and vertical forces and between real and human time scales. In the case of a United States, at one extreme, the need in most cases is for strengthening the vertical forces and for greater recognition of the human time scale. In other countries, with dysfunctional vertical structures and excessive resistance to the realities of real time, the need will be for a re-balancing in the opposite directions.

10. Authority of the subject matter

The producer-dominant world of all previous history led to dominant positions within that world based on power and authority derived from military strength and entrenched ownership-based, hierarchical control systems. In the 19th century, these not surprisingly provoked counter forces in the politics of Marxism and socialism and in the organization of trade unions. The New World forces have now undermined those sources of power and authority, and the ideologies and institutions spawned by them. Today, more and more, authority rests in the subject matter itself; in the full sharing of available knowledge of that subject matter; and in broadening understanding of the subject matter, including of that most important of all the relevant subject matters, the individual human beings involved. Different cultures, and different groups within particular cultures, will vary greatly as to where authority and power lies. Getting the balance right, and re-getting it right, for one’s own changing circumstances, will be a central cultural challenge for the organizations and societies of the twenty-first century.

11. New world of work needs a new post-Protestant ethic

These changes have to a very large extent been both drivers of and driven by changes in the nature of work and in the workplace itself. The old producer-dominance era is being superseded, but its Protestant ethic of savings and work has not been. The old Protestant ethic must now, however, be supplemented by four additional elements comprising what I have called the post-Protestant ethic. These are value (not paying too much for quality); openness; accountability; and voluntariness. Where organizations and societies choose to sit on the cultural spectrum of those six values will be extremely important in determining how they do in the twenty-first century.

12. Society and the human imagination

Canada’s great cultural critic Northrop Frye has said that we live in the uncaring world of nature inside a cultural envelope. In this view, it is this cultural envelope, in which the human imagination resides, that makes us human. Culture is a social achievement out of which individual humans as we know them emerge. Culture and society have no independent existence and would be meaningless if no individuals emerged from them. But likewise, individuals would not be human, if they were not the creatures of culture and society. The two great and ultimate subject matters of the human world are thus culture and society on the one hand, and individuals on the other. Each of these human subject matters, more than any other thing, is what is most worthy of respect and most urgently in need of understanding and self-understanding. This necessity in turn drives us back closer to our own human nature. The cultures which hope for success in the New World will effectively force individual into recognizing their own need for a more consciously articulated understanding of the true character of human nature in general, and of their own human nature in particular. This understanding in turn will lead to the questions of their own relationship and chosen sense of fiduciary obligation to the society and culture which have given them their underlying human shape and substance.

13. Filling the emerging void of the New World

The forces of the New World have profoundly impacted the values and institutions which support people’s sense of attachment and meaning. No society is able to rely solely on what worked in the past. This means that the forces now at work will over time force new cultural responses to meaning and attachment, to self-worth and to the personal need for security and stability. Systems built on walls and controls – let along those built only on authority and power – no longer do for people what they once did. In North America, no matter what your political outlook, it is clear neither governments, nor corporations, nor individuals and their families, have the effective reach to cope with what is needed to address what is felt to have been lost or to restore in contemporary form the needed sources of human attachment, meaning, security, stability and self-worth. It will be socio-cultural developments, most of them of a voluntary rather than enforced organization nature, which will fill the void. Once again, the issue will be whether the void is filled functionally or dysfunctionally.


There are obvious culture links at all levels to travel and tourism, on the one hand, and business, economic and political developments, on the other. But at a deeper level, travel and tourism are very much about taking oneself out of one’s everyday world and entering another world. This other world is in many ways more a matter of imagination. What may seem like real world travel or tourist destinations often turn out to be destinations of the human imagination. This world is also in many ways more satisfying in a human sense than that real world. Culture at its deepest level is a way of entering another world that at one level is not yours, yet also in many ways feels more your world than the real world does. The Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco and Chattanooga in the songs of the thirties and forties are far more powerful as myths and metaphors than as representations of the real thing. The same is true of the Berkeley Square where the nightingale sang and the Dover of bluebirds and white cliffs in the songs of wartime Britain. And it is true of the Prince Edward Island of Anne of Green Gables. When the Japanese rate Prince Edward Island fourth after London, New York and Paris as a place they want most to visit, it is clearly not the real Prince Edward Island of the everyday world. It is the imaginary Prince Edward Island of the Anne of Green Gable books by L. M. Montgomery. It is the visual Prince Edward Island of the Anne and Avonlea films of Kevin Sullivan. Prince Edward Island is a destination of the human imagination.


Where then does culture fit in? I think it involves both inner-directed and outer-directed dimensions and fits in at several interrelated levels. Culture will impact individual organizational performance, primarily around the way in which work is organized. It will also affect how the organization reconciles the issues of value to its customers for products and services with value to the customers for its equity shares and how the various producer participants share in the rewards of successfully delivering those values through the organization to those two sets of customers. These cultural impacts are very much in the here and now of productivity, rising real incomes and competitive performance, and will not brook delay in response except at a cost. Culture will have decisive impacts on societal and institutional adjustment and on the capacity for timely functional adjustment. Culture will determine the extent of success and failure in reconciling competing claims within a society. And culture will affect individual and society stability at the deepest levels, including confronting the existential issues of suffering, loss and death, as well as of courage, redeemability and hope.


Less and less in the New World will the pseudo-hiding places of the old producer-dominant world remain to insulate individuals and societies from these issues. This constitutes a great human opportunity. It opens up the prospects for a great broadening of human freedom beyond the dreams of utopia. It also constitutes a high risk for human sense of societal and organizational security and stability. The tensions between this great human opportunity and the accompanying human security and stability risks will be major shaping influences in the evolution of the cultural performance of different individuals, organizations and societies.


Cole Porter once asked what is this thing called love, which makes the world go around. The question for us is what is this thing called culture, which is to drive and shape the next century? I use culture to mean the characteristic ways in which people or a group respond to what is put in front of them. It may be anything from birth to death, facing a business or political challenge or choosing travel and tourist destinations. Once important shaping aspect of characteristic responses will be values. These in turn will rest on some sense of what it means to be a human being and of the changing ways in which that meaning is to take form for widely-difference peoples and individuals with widely-different histories under to prospective conditions of the twenty-first century.


Culture at its deepest level has paradox at its base. This is not a matter of choice but a matter of the human condition. The world of paradox on which culture rests is unlike the usual worlds of science, technology and economics. Those worlds are more to do with either/or, black and white, good or bad, right and wrong, and yes or no. They are the worlds of cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. The last six hundred years of Western culture – but, not of Japanese or Eastern culture – have rested on these unreconciled opposites. It is a world like that of the computers, where everything is and must be always one thing or another, but certainly never both.


This has given the more visible and public part of Western culture tremendous power. In a very real sense, it has for some time increasingly enabled the so-called Western countries to dominate the world. But it has also contributed to the tragedies of the Western-dominated century which we have just come through. Moreover, it is now clearly challenged by the either/ors and blacks and whites of xenophobic nationalism and intolerant fundamentalism from within the Western world, as well as from other parts of the world which are resisting the Western world.


We live at all times in two worlds which we are forever trying to reconcile. This is never easy. It is in a very real sense a life work which is forever in progress. Sometimes and for some people, the challenge of the two worlds is too great. Instead, they may try to ignore or forget one of the two worlds, in order to avoid or minimize the stress and tension felt around their lack of reconciliation. One of the worlds is the uncaring horizontal world of Nature, technology, markets, rights and democratic majorities. The other is the vertical world that, at its best, recognizes and cares for what is special in individuals. For several hundred years, the horizontal has been gaining on the vertical in Western countries. As already discussed, the time for re-balancing is at hand, and the challenge is primarily cultural.


One image in the West is the biblical story of the Garden of Eden before the Fall – when the two worlds were still one. The Nature of the Garden did care for man; the Nature outside the Garden does not care for man. The metaphoric imprint of that lost Eden Garden world remains in the Western mind – perhaps in some form in all minds – and is never fully forgotten. At the deepest level, all cultures are in one way or another developed to help us live in the two worlds and to find ways of reconciling them in our lives, if not in our philosophies. At a less deep level, culture shapes our approaches to each of the two worlds; on the surface, separately, but underneath, always somehow together.


The two worlds can thus be seen as the world of hard-nosed fact or so-called reality, and the world of human imagination, in which the hurts and losses of the real world can be transformed and redeemed and we can be made whole and free again. It is the human world that has a real past and a real future. Cultures differ in their sense of this past and future. Nonetheless, for all cultures and for all humans, there is no escape from the reality that the present is where the past and future live. The quality and success of societies, groups and individuals will revolve around their cultural understanding of their own pasts and of their futures. If they are lacking any real sense of the past or any real vision of the future, their present will lack necessary substance and thus make them prey to demons and to the merchants of power and other addictions.


The Irish-English playwright/dilettante Oscar Wilde put the same issue this way: “The past is what should not have been, the present is what should not be and the future is where artists live”. This differs only a little from my conception that the present is where the past and future live. So, at the very deepest level, no matter the shape or history of any particular culture, it is in the present that both the past that should not have been, and the future that is the redeeming and transforming artist in all of us, live. The present is where we hurt and feel loss for what has passed. It is also where we can envisage ways to secure a future which is freer and closer to our hearts’ desires.


It is one of the great difficulties of politics that it must always try to deal with and reconcile the realities of both the so-called real world that does not care and the caring world of the heart’s desire. How one’s political and societal culture characteristically copes with the central difficulty will be a key determinant of economic, political and social outcomes. The greatest political leaders understand the need for that reconciliation and work toward its achievement. Weaker leaders opt for one of the two worlds at the expense of the other and in the end usually hurt rather than help the situation.


I would like to provide just two examples of the real world relevance of the discussion so far, one Japanese and one Canadian. Two Japanese professors at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo published a book two years ago called “The Knowledge-Creating Company”. The book started off as follows: “Japanese companies remain an enigma to most Westerners. They are not terribly efficient, entrepreneurial or liberated. Yet slowly but surely, they have advanced their position in international competition.” The authors say none of the reasons usually advanced are the right ones. Rather, they say success comes from the ability of Japanese companies to innovate continually, incrementally, and spirally through organizational knowledge creation. They link this ability to the strength of implicit and both/and thinking in Japan as against explicit and either/or thinking in the West. They believe Japanese companies see themselves more as organisms, while Western companies see themselves as machines. In the best Japanese knowledge-creating companies, the authors see the organization, rather than an individual, creating the knowledge. Their analogy is to English rugger where every member of the team moves together, rather than American football, where after the line does its work, the ball is moved or passed in a way which only involves a part of the team for most of the play. I believe this to be an important book, not only for its insights, but because the framework for evaluation reflects Japanese as well as Western approaches. In the past, even Japanese authors have tended to accept Western ways as the normative standard in assessing Japanese business behaviour. This book accepts neither Japanese nor Western ways as overriding.


I can also give you a different real world example from Canada’s brief military history. Two nights ago, I saw the first forty minutes of an upcoming two-hour television program on the battle for Vimy Ridge in 1917, written and produced by the well-known Canadian producer, Richard Nielsen. Few Canadians, let alone non-Canadians, know how important the capture of Vimy Ridge and its lessons were to ultimate victory 18 months later; or that Canadians were the only force in four years on the Western Front on either side to capture a fortified ridge. Even less do they have any understanding of why Canadians were able to do it. As with the successful Japanese companies, the answer was not a traditional one, such as that they were smarter or braver. It was that, unlike the military forces of the other countries, Canadians were not culture-bound. There were virtually no social or attitudinal rigidities. For example, the Canadian General Arthur Currie did something in wartime seventy years ago that few business leaders would dare do today in peacetime. Apart from the date for the attack, every man, from private to general, had full access to the maps and plans. While this is not the place for an extended discussion, I have to come to believe that not being culture-bound is perhaps Canada’s fundamental distinguishing and valuable cultural characteristic. I also believe that in the New World of the next century, this is an intangible cultural resource which can transcend in hard economic value the natural resources for which Canada has long been noted.


I have traveled to Japan regularly over the last fifteen years. Its culture has constituted a continued source of enjoyment. The profound differentness of the culture has also constituted a fundamental challenge. What has been important for me is not so much what I have learned or failed to learn about Japan. It is what I have learned about us in North America – about our American neighbours, and about Canada, Canadians and myself. The thought I would leave with you is that differentness can provide the mirror in which we can all better see ourselves as well as others.


Here is how I finally set about to construct my own Japanese mirror. Over a number of years I developed a matrix of what I call “opposite collective characteristics assigned between japan and the United States (as the extreme end proxy for Western)”. The current number stands at 106 opposing characteristics – many obviously not fully exclusive of others. If I were to put the nature of the differences in simple terms, while always recognizing that each overtly dominant characteristic paradoxically and unavoidable contains its opposite, I would say these Japanese cultural characteristics are more feminine, group and inner, and are oriented toward social concern, vertical structure and personal relationships. By contracts, American cultural characteristics are more masculine, individual and outer, and re oriented toward freedom, horizontal structures and impersonal rules.


The great American psychoanalyst Erik Erickson once said that being an adult meant asserting oneself in ways that enhance the ability of others to assert themselves. I think this indicates the kind of culture that has become an imperative for economic, political and social survival in the New World. You will see that it is a both/and, rather than an either/or, proposition. You will also see that asserting oneself is characteristically masculine, while seeking to enhance others is more characteristically feminine. First, a culture for survival in the New World must be an adult culture. Second, each of the Japanese and American cultures needs to be rebalanced to include more overtly masculine elements on the Japanese side, and more overtly feminine ones on the American side.


I will conclude by going full circle. First, I hope the examples of the knowledge-creating company for Japan and Vimy Ridge for Canada have persuaded you that culture is very real for two very real worlds of business and war. But, second, I want to use the link between culture and travel to resolve the mystery of why the Japanese have chosen the Prince Edward Island of Anne of Green Gables as the fourth most desired global travel destination.


The reality is that the Prince Edward Island of Anne of Green Gables is a cultural destination to an imaginative world closer to the heart’s desire. But why Anne and Prince Edward Island? I will not try to comment on factors particular to the Japanese. After all, the Japanese are not unique in their love for Anne or in traveling to Green Gables and Prince Edward Island. I think the appeal is more universal. If I were facetious, I would say it was because the only truly adult people in the story were male: Marilla’s unmarried brother, Matthew and Anne’s would-be boyfriend, Gilbert Blythe. Perhaps, that is because they allowed their feminine sides show more readily than Marilla and Anne. Perhaps, also, there were good reasons why spinster Marilla and orphan Anne held back their more feminine sides for as long as they did.


I suggest that the real reason is that Anne of Green Gables is set in a kind of Garden of Eden that does seem to care for its human residents – sometimes more than the humans in the story seem to care about each other. In addition, it is a classic romance, in the sense that Northrop Frye ascribed to the late plays of Shakespeare. Individuals assert themselves in ways that get in the way of their own happiness; societies divide; and hurt and loss ensues. But then the redeemability and the transformability of the world reasserts itself and individuals and the community are united and reconciled. It is this dream of unity and reconciliation set deep in human hearts which is the true travel destination. This is so, not just for those who go to Prince Edward Island, but also for those who just sit at home and read Anne of Green Gables books and see Avonlea films. Travel and tourism will always serve many purposes. The most compelling destinations, however, will always be destinations of the cultural imagination which seeks fresher, freer and better worlds than the places we live in every day.

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