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Press releases, updates and important announcements from AOM Organizational cultures are ripe for change when the familiar starts to seem odd

24 Jan 2022

Originally found at by Michael Brown

Imagine having never seen a handshake.

You would know nothing of the different levels of importance and intimacy, when it should be done, what's happening during the shake and even whether you can learn something from the shake itself. Trying to learn about it all at once would be akin to learning a new language.

For everyone else, the answers to those questions and dozens more are simply taken for granted—and the handshake, which has survived since time immemorial, long persisted in society as though it were decreed from on high and written in stone.

But the handshake—or private property, organizations and even democracy, for that matter—are not as ironclad as they appear, according to Chris Steele [research in Academy of Management Review], a professor in the University of Alberta's School of Business who argues in a new paper that the enactment of institutions we take for granted can hang by a thread and can actively generate change.

"In some ways, institutions are incredibly precarious because all it takes is to meet somebody else who also says, "It doesn't have to be like that," and suddenly you can start thinking about how it could be otherwise," said Steele. "Sometimes it doesn't even take that much."

Another example is the act of purchasing something. Steele explained that within a store, shoppers don't stop to think about private property, the market system or capitalism, let alone what money is, what sellers and buyers are or what a commodity is.

"All of that's in the background. It's stuff that you know and that you can use to make sense of what's happening in front of you, otherwise none of it would make sense," he said. "Sometimes it still doesn't."

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Read the original research in Academy of Management Review

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