Organisations often seek to control human behaviour by imposing some form of culture. This imposed culture is declared on mouse mats, screensavers, exhibition banners and employee contracts. The organisational culture is declared as a series of values and visions and a mission statement, usually involving extensive use of the words ‘passion’ or ‘passionate’. Values and visions are often elicited by a facilitator during a dreary offsite at an airport hotel somewhere, and the mission statement may have been authored by some wacky poet-in-residence or thought up by the CEO’s wife.
Although missions, visions and values are generally ignored by employees, it is because they are largely irrelevant, rather than dereliction of duty. The only time they really care about values is at appraisal time, when part of their compensation depends on how well they ‘have lived the values’. Beyond the synthetic boundaries of the imposed culture is the real culture in the collective memory that lives outside the corporate brain in the collective identities, values and beliefs reflected from the individual intentions, needs and views.
Culture is the group memory that enables individuals to integrate with the collective, the future to connect to the past, the incorporation of new knowledge with old wisdom, and the unknown to speak to the known. This memory is not manufactured but emerges, like a dream, from a vast numbers of interconnected neuronal complexes playing in concert. Like our dreams, our real organisational cultures are dynamic stories of self 0rganising connections between our individual identities, values and beliefs.
Rather than being just some asset sheets and incorporation certificates, our organisations are dynamic patterns of autopoetic connections between the participants. For all its material wealth, an organisation is a human achievement; it is the expression of individual aspiration working together to discover a bigger dream. As that bigger dream is explored, structures begin to form, not from annual reports and HR manuals, but from the reflection of collective meaning, purpose and awareness.
The structures that begin to emerge are not bounded by more limitations and regulations. Instead we see communities coalescing around their collective dreaming, and gathering the unstoppable momentum of dreams whose time has come. From start ups in garages in Silicon Valley to boffins in sheds in the Cotswolds, collective dreaming brings us a mythic consciousness that goes beyond the higher consciousness of reason and factual knowledge. It is not usually a single technology or one brilliant individual that makes the difference; the most successful organisations are the ones that dream.