• Phil Marken

CULTURE - What is Culture and why does it matter?

Updated: May 15, 2021


Using the findings of the York MCN Cultural Values Survey to develop the leadership we all need to make wise decisions based on strong, positive values.

During 2020, [186] people completed the York Cultural Values Survey.

This is a series of foundation stone blogs expanding on and contextualising the cultural values sense-making process into our everyday worlds.

Find out more about this journey, and how you can get involved here: York Cultural Values


Upon hearing the word culture, many think immediately of music, art, religion, language, ethnicity or heritage. These are all beautiful and important aspects of culture, and form a strong and extremely meaningful part of th picture. As well as these, there is so much more which happens on a day to day level which is incredibly important to the cultural identity of a place, and the way the culture of a place changes over time.

Understanding culture is central to understanding how a city operates, how it is developing and how the future comes into being. If we use a nature metaphor, activities and actions are like the weather, and can change quickly moment to moment - and culture is like climate, it is the pattern of weather (or our activities) over a longer period of time.

Faith and worship communities, artistic and creative communities, communities of practice around music and the arts, regional and local heritage, are all examples of where traditions might be followed, as a guide for how to behave in certain situations. These traditions are how our cultural memory operates, and show how sometimes traditions can act as a wise guide and serve us well.

Sometimes these traditions are very useful, helping us remember past successes and replicate it. We learn from the experience of the past, honouring those who have shared their learning by remembering and re-enacting.

On the other hand, sometimes we might follow traditional behaviour even if it might be a bit out of date. My very good friend told me a story once of how she learnt to cook a joint of meat by watching her mother. Every time she was preparing the meat to cook it, her mother cut off ⅓ of the meat and put it aside.

Eventually, my friend asked her mother why she cut that bit of meat off and put it aside, and the mother just said, “that’s how I learnt to do it from your grandmother”, so my friend went and asked her grandmother why they did it like that and the grandmother just said “That’s how I learned to do it from my grandmother”.

Then one day when visiting her great grandmother, my friend asked about cooking that type of meat, and why they prepared it by cutting ⅓ of the meat off and putting it aside, and the grandmother just had a big belly laugh as a reply and said “that’s because the oven was so small we couldn’t fit it in!”.

So, aside from celebrating the fact that my friend had the ability to check on how a family tradition came about by still having three generations of her family to ask - this story shows us that sometimes traditions come about because of a structural barrier or a making the best out of what we have, like a small oven. If my friend had not asked her great grandmother, she may have carried on an outdated tradition for another generation - or indefinitely.

As the systems and structures which we use in our lives change, so too can we change how we respond to and work with them. But if the traditions are not evolving we can be a bit stuck in an old version of a once useful operating system, which is now out of date.

Traditions can seem set in stone, until someone comes along and asks a curious question, leading to an innovation which suddenly changes everything. Tradition takes on the new learning and is updated. Normally, when this happens, the person who is innovating and changing traditional practice might be called a trailblazer, or a cultural leader - and it is their own leadership which helps steer their actions and create new patterns for ways of doing things.

If you would like to have a conversation about this article of pthe cultural values sense-making process so far, please contact Catherine Scott: thentic personal and organisational leadership is the modifier (the magic sauce which makes everything tastier). This authentic, generous leadership helps us plan a course into the future which is authentic and aware, and clear authentic values are the way which leaders can begin to create opportunities for everybody to participate in making wiser decisions that are relevant to them and their experiences.


If you would like to have a conversation about this article or the cultural values sense-making process so far, please contact Catherine Scott: catherine.scott@yorkcvs.org.uk / 07522 229833

41 views0 comments