Discover more from Oleksii Sidorov
The cultural roots of startup principles and founders' ambitions
Your dad did real work in a factory, and you write shitcode for a loss-making venture, could it be your ancestors’ fault?
The Culture Code and The Culture Map have always been in my head as books with competing ideas on the same topic. They both are quite popular, and I often heard about either one of them or both recommended together. (Follow the links for their full audio versions)
In fact, the truth couldn’t be further apart, if the Map really looks at how different cultures interact and how to apply it in business, the Code looks at one culture from the inside (mainly American culture) and tries to explain why we treat things and see the world the way we see it and not otherwise.
If the Map can be treated as a manual guide, the Code was deep and self-reflective for me and surprisingly helped me to connect a lot of dots not for Americans, but for myself.
One of the most unexpected things I realized is how much startup culture is in its nature inherently American culture. Take for example beliefs like:
Fast opportunistic action > Slow well-researched decision
Practice > Theory
Flexibility > Planning
Motivation through work and achievements > Easy life and comfort
Flat structure > Hierarchy
Working Relationships > Personal Relationships
But this is not a universal truth, it’s the American truth. In Europe, for example, because of its philosophical schools, it is considered appropriate to first understand the subject and then apply it, rather than to just try and then combine observations into a practical model. It even reflects in how kids are taught in schools. In Germany, well-coordinated planning in advance works quite well. In Japan, there is a strict hierarchy, that didn’t prevent it from developing one of the largest economies. In China, half of the businesses are based on nepotism and personal relationships.
If all the capital was poured into startups from China, do you think they would still develop according to American values?
Somewhere in France, work, achievements, and money are dirt that is vulgar to discuss in a decent society, and the proper goal for a man is more likely to be a carefree aristocrat-like life, full of art and lofty matters. It may seem like caricatured stereotypes, but in fact, it can be seen in the fabric of society and in what makes its mentality.
America is a culture of people who started from scratch, and who fought in a noble battle for their survival. “Making it“ there meant going through the hurdles of a new life, succeeding in your business, and earning a fortune so your children don’t need to go through it. Of course, in such a society, people will devote themselves to work, and when asked "So, what are you doing?" will think about their craft first. Money in such a society plays the role of a War Medal, proving that this person is able, that they achieved what they fought for.
It's interesting that even though Americans are talking about escaping the rat race a lot, in fact, many of them enjoy this very race and the feeling of sense it gives them, to an extent that they adopted it in a national subconscious.
And now compare it to the centuries-old wealth in old Europe, where money (or lack thereof) was passed down from one generation to another. I won't tell anything new if I say that even modern Europeans don't worry about money too much, because in their memory resources have never been a problem.
Even European politics is built with these priorities at its core, making sure no one would need to work very hard no matter what happens.
It’s interesting, how in Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries, we got our own cocktail with serfs, Soviets, and the 90s. There has always been a thin layer of elites, but at the same time, it did not have time to spread out and flatten as it did in Europe. And in this sense, our current generation is closer to America than to Europe or Asia.
I grew up with the understanding that there is no comfortable middle with a decent quality of life that anyone can get—there are only those who are at the top and those who are at the bottom. If you're "like others," then you're at the bottom. That's why I see a huge appetite for work and achievements in our people. Additionally, I also don't think about money as something that can be spent on goods. Probably it’s because I’ve never really encountered luxury life, and don’t have any desires associated with it, and generally I found my own comfort in spending the minimum I can spend. But at the same, I still want to have a lot of dollars. Why? (See: America) A medal of honor, proof that you broke out and made it, and are no longer like others! Madness, I know, but it is seeded very deep, and probably can only be re-programmed via years of living in a different society without seeing the tops and bottoms (American stratification does not exactly help with it).
Overall, there are a lot of such aha-moments in the book.
For example, the fact that American culture basically embodies youth, which is expressed in what it exports to the rest of the world, how awkward it is about sex and excited about violence, or how retirees behave like 20-year-olds and ask their grandchildren to call them by a first name. Tell me it’s not real.
Or another example with shopping: the research shows that for many shopping is a social activity, not a task. Smart founders will think "Then, what makes an ideal ecommerce experience?" Maybe we are moving in the wrong direction trying to decide for a user, and all this time users just needed a "get friend’s opinion" button?
Long story short, love your parents, read good books, and think about your motivations. Maybe the reason you act the way you act is not you, but all those who were there before you 👁️👁️
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