I was but a babe in arms when Jimi Hendrix shuffled off this mortal coil but I remember him nevertheless; he’s an icon of the 60’s counterculture with his psychedelic treatment of the Star-Spangled Banner and the whole setting-his-guitar-on-fire. The blue hairs neither understood it nor liked it.
Counterculture: a culture with values and customs that are very different from and usually opposed to those accepted by most of society; also: the people who make up a counterculture (Merriam-Webster)
In other words, it’s a subculture or group of people with values, norms and behaviors that differ greatly from the mainstream. It’s a specific population of people, during a well-defined era or timeframe, whose shared and collective actions and beliefs achieve enough critical mass that they impact the larger society/culture.
Countercultures exist in organizations too.
Look…there are any number of companies that believe they have the culture thing right; the recruiters tout it during the hiring process and consider it the most critical component of the entire “brand” that’s conveyed to candidate communities. New hires are evaluated on culture fit and that ‘fit’ may be viewed with as much importance (or even more so) than specific skills and experience. The leaders, managers and HR team make sure that decisions are made or policies/procedures implemented that align with and support the culture. (I think it’s fair to say the organizations that view their culture as a unique differentiator are the ones that focus on culture fit; there are still loads of companies that don’t give it much consideration at all).
But organizational culture, being comprised of the collective norms, behaviors, actions and attitudes of the members of the organization is continuously evolving and always shifting – often imperceptibly. And somewhere, deep down in the bowels of any organization, there’s a workplace counterculture. Yes…even the “good” ones.
Now we’ve seen workplace countercultures at work on a large scale; changes have swelled up from the ground bringing us, over the last decade or so, casual dress, BYOD, and flexible work schedules. No arguments here; many of these are things that we (the collective we) think are pretty damn great.
I’ve also seen countercultures bring about change on the organizational scale when, in a defined time frame, the collective actions, beliefs and vocalized needs by the rank-and-file influenced a culture shift to a different state for the entire group.
That’s been pretty fascinating to watch.
According to those who study these things there were two primary reasons for the decline of the 60’s counterculture. First, the primary political goals of the movement – including gender equality, civil liberties, civil rights – were realized. Although, naturally, we could argue if all goals were achieved.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, many of the social attributes of the movement such as the sexual revolution and a free-wheeling ‘live and let live’ mentality were co-opted by the mainstream.
When Mike Brady got a perm and he and Carol became the first TV couple (the show ran from 1969 – 1974) to sleep in the same bed they had, in essence, joined the counterculture.
I never heard Mike Brady bust out some “Purple Haze” from his home office but I think he still answered the query “are you experienced?”
Groovy Mr. Brady!
image of Jimi Hendrix via wikimedia commons