Monday, August 30, 2010

Nice Standards: Cities as Organizations

I am a social migrant.

I see things from the outside because I don't really belong anywhere. That's why it is easier for me to pick up inconsistencies, things of interest and be much more critical of how life is set up in different places.

Culture is a weird thing. I have been thinking about it a lot. Culture is like Bin Laden: it is there but nobody has ever seen it.

Nice is a city in France on the Cote d'Azur, and it's an homograph with the English word "nice". I felt particularly creative about writing today. Reflecting back on my holidays a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly realized that cities are just like organizations: they have their own corporate citizens, their rules, regulations, and norms (explicit and implicit). Cities go through the same cycles: decline, revival, blooming, and then decline again. How exciting is that? The French Riviera has been a glamorous holiday destination for thousands of French and foreigners for many years. Nearby Cannes and St Tropez can vie with Hollywood for the first place in which city has seen more millionaires per square meter.

What do we see today?

  • any language is spoken but French. How disappointing! Russian, English, Italian, but not French! I go to France to be sneered at, to experience that famous shrug Peter Mayle was writing about, and what do I get instead --- the standard smily irritating American service. 
  • there are four categories of businesses most popular in town: lawyers, doctors (particularly geriatric services), real estate agents, and funeral services. Just the right marketing mix for a holiday destination.
  • people play the accordion on the beach and sing. Maybe I don't understand something, but my idea of high culture is somewhat different. 5% of intellectual elite is our last hope, I guess.
How do you tell a good restaurant from a bad one? The first thing that I always look at is the quality of napkins. When a restaurant opens, they are nice, think and expensive. As time goes by, they become thinner and resemble toilet paper more and more. To me it is an indication that I need to look for a new place to socialize. Same with cities and organizations. Signs of decay, or as Lynda Gratton coins it, "permanent frost" must shun you away like plague. Why do you think Goldman Sachs pays so much attention to recruitment? Because people constitute the culture. Culture is the ultimate driver of any organization.

At the very beginning of this blog post, I mentioned that you can't really see the culture. You are in it, like a pickle in the marinade, and if you are not careful enough, you may just as well get marinated. How do you abstract yourself from what is happening around? How can you keep your immunity to changes happening around you, when they happen for the worse? 

We don't know who discovered the sea, but we are sure that it was not a fish.


  1. and i thought your post would be about city management models, zero-based budgeting and performance measurement :)))))

  2. hey hey hey! this is a blog about HR and related matters, not Financial Management or Cost Accounting :)



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