I heard last week that a poem I wrote recently as the narrative for a recruitment film for an oil company has picked up two awards for TV and film writing in the States. It was a cheering piece of news and quite unexpected. One tends to do the job, get paid for it, and move onto the next thing.
That said, I did have the feeling at the time that it was a good piece of work. A lot of that was down to the director, Nick Francis of Casual Films, who proved a patient and considerate collaborator as we batted back and forth draft after draft, struggling to get the ideas and emotions in the words to align with the footage he had taken.
You can see the film in several places, one of them being YouTube, where two people have commented. One says, ‘This is so cheesy and bad that it’s comical.’ The other says, ‘Awesome video!’ Between them they pretty much run the gamut of critical analysis to be found on such sites.
Cheesy it might seem to the cynical outsider, but it certainly had meaning for people within the business itself, Taqa Bratani, the flagship, North Sea arm of the Abu Dhabi national energy company. There were, apparently, tears at in-house screenings.
Of course the combination of rhythmic words with images and music can convey feelings that are much harder to elicit on the page. The film gave us the means to say things about the culture of the organisation that could not have been expressed with anything like the same impact, if at all, in print or even in presentation.
It leads me to believe that organisational culture is as much if not more about things felt as things thought, which is why attempts to define it often prove so clumsy and difficult.
Only today, writing a proposal, I found myself suggesting that to answer the question What is culture? we have to start by looking into our hearts and asking ourselves what we feel as individuals about what we do and why it matters. We have to look at the stories we carry with us about our work and the effect it has on the wider world. We have to think about what connects us to the people we work with.
Sharing these thoughts, feelings and stories helps people better understand the values and sense of purpose that they have in common. Taking time out simply to be human, to reflect and feel and share what it means to belong to a particular group of people, seems a far better way of getting to a definition of culture than setting about it with calipers and a slide rule, diagrams and analyses.
Why should any of this matter anyway? Because only then, only once we understand our own individual passions and drives, can we start to ask the collective questions that seem so important to organisations: What’s the point of us, where are we going, and why?