It’s Culture, You Stupid!

Posted on: May 9, 2007

I believe culture will always be the answer. It may not always be the ultimate answer but I believe that culture is always playing a role in every problem within an organization or a society.

Culture is Everything

When Lee Kuan Yew became the Prime Minister of Singapore he knew he did not have a rich land he could explore. In fact what he had was probably the smallest country in the whole world. God obviously did not inherit Singapore with enough natural resources like Indonesia or Malaysia. So Lee Kuan Yew knew that the only way he could make his country a prosperous nation was by exploiting its human resources. He knew that was his only choice. And to make it happen he knew he needed a cultural revolution! Lee Kuan Yew successfully transformed Singaporeans into a society of people who are proud of their nation and who always thrive to seek perfection. But in doing so he always reminded his people not to forget their religious and Eastern values as he once said, “Be modernized but not westernized!” First, his approaches were considered ridiculous by many people but now Lee Kuan Yew is a living God to people of Singapore.

Not only in a country like Singapore that culture was considered as the key to prosperousness, Jack Welch, the famous CEO of 20th Century, knew from the beginning that if he had had to fix General Electrics culture would have been his number one priority. Jack Welch wanted to make not only a big organization but a winning organization. He declared a revolution. He first sold out several GE’s business units, made a big layoff within the organization affecting more than 100,000 employees (a decision he said to be so tough), eliminated layers of management in the company, and made his famous announcement to GE’s business-unit leaders, “Be number one or number two in your market, if not, you’ll be fixed, closed down, or sold!” Then Jack Welch transformed GE into a learning organization, a new culture that was always eager to find new knowledge not only from the organization itself but more importantly Welch encouraged all his employees to seek knowledge from the outside and competitors. This learning culture proved to be so effective and powerful that its legacy can be seen even until today.

So, who says that Culture is nothing? It’s everything, you stupid!

foto diambil dari sini


36 Responses to "It’s Culture, You Stupid!"

Yes, you’ve got a serious point. Culture IS important. But do you really think culture is EVERYTHING?

For instance: in order to have a prime minister like Lee Kuan Yew, British colonialism had to be obsolete. And the British Empire only became obsolete because of World War II – the United States took over and supported nationalists in their struggle for independence all over the world. But only if they were willing to side with US capitalism against Sowjet communism.

So, I guess it was not just cultural change which brought about a prosporous Singapore. Preconditions like shifting economic interests and political power on a worldscale, were neceassary to produce the chances Lee took.


I was trying tp figure out by myself why Singapore is advanced. I am sure it is about the people and the system. This is what I observed that where everyone is so “kiasu” and they struggled with their study. Besides, they really have commitment to build their nation. Of course Lee Kuan Yew has a strong influence in this case that he burned the Singaporean’s spirit. Then, the system of everything here is so superb and I seldom meet that in Indonesia. I don’t know how they tried hard to get the best transportation system, education system, town arrangement and so on.

Ok, I am off.

Nice article Tasa, I like when U talked about Jack Welch.

Thanks Mr. Colson, Septian, and AdhiRock for commenting.

Yes, it is true that culture is not everything, everything but it is certainly something very important that I think it is the fundamental “strategy” for every group or society in order to be superior. There was this research in late 90’s that found that in 60’s the economic conditions in Ghana and South Korea had been the same, but now? The research suggested that culture had been the number one reason why South Korea could achieve what they are having right now.

For my point a view, a country could have everything they can think of but without enough cultural ability they will eventually end up in stupidity. But yes Mr. Colson it true that Lee Kuan Yew got a lot of help from the situation back then, something that Malaysia is still pissed off about.

You are right Septian, they got the system. And that system is to be implemented not to be broken. So, you’re a big fan of Jack Welch AdhiRock?

Tas…..pantesan kita org endonesia jd bangsa yg pemalas ya?
wong segalane udah ada dr sejak lahir…….
negara nya kaya raya…….ya jd nya ginnni deh…..
bangsanya ga maju2 malah…..

Mungkin juga ya mba Nila. Kayak lagu Koes Ploes, “Orang bilang tanah kita tanah surga, tongkat kayu dan batu jadi tanaman.” Orang kita jadi males berusaha keras, la wong batu aja bisa jadi tanaman. Hehe.

nice post, salam kenal juga. 🙂

So how are we going to change this ‘Indonesian’ culture?

Is web2.0 can be a good start by more people aware of this issue? I mean, most of us know what the problem is, but who is going to take the leadership to change it?

For example, just on the traffic issue alone, who is going to take the leadership of being discipline on the road? The government? The police? Or the road user itself?

By using examples you have laid out, it looks like it takes a leadership (with influence and power) to actually start this cultural revolution. So, in our case, are we going to be forever stuck with this ‘Indonesian’ culture forever, as no leadership has emerged so far?

Hey Tasa,
Culture is defenetly important. I think that Culture and Power are very valuable…but Power unfortunately MANY times outweights culture…. and sometimes they balance each other…. Culture its constantly changing and it adapts to the demands of its time… like u say ” modernized”….. interesting analysis 🙂

Culture is very important, but everything is about system. Culture is only a part of the system as well as the human resource itself.

Changing system also changing the culture. For successfuly changing, we need the great leader who can make the changing goes well.

This is just my humble opinion.

Joni: Salam kenal 🙂

Rusdy: Yes, you are right. In most cases it took a great leadership to change a bad culture into a good one. And as far as we can see, it seems that we don’t have any powerful leaders that could do that job. But, changes may not always start from top to bottom. I wonder which one is more important, culture or leadership?

Bencomo: Mmh, Power VS Culture. I don’t quite understand what you mean by that, but from my point of view they are two different aspects. A lot of people manipulate cultures in order to get power and I guess that is the reason why you see that power is exposed more. Example: in a nation where the people are not well educated (resulting a bad culture) the tyrannical leaders may use this condition and mantain the culture, keeping the people in stupidity, in order to get power easily.

Dewo: I think it’s the opposite. From my perspective, a system is a result of a culture. A good culture will make a good system and a bad culture will most likely end up with a bad system too. If a culture is an untangible condition (can’t be seen) then a system is a systematical procedure which is obviously a tangible condition. A system is something that people agree consciously based on the culture that they have. No matter how good the system is if the culture is bad, I’m sure the system will not work. Example: People of Singapore have a belief that clean is good (untangible/culture) so when the government puts trash bins all over the country (tangible/system) the people will automatically put their rubbish into the bins. If people of Singapore did not have that kind of belief even one million trash bins wouldn’t solve the cleanliness problem.

Nice thoughts 🙂

Laporan! Blogmu udah aku tambahkan di blogrollku. Add aku juga yee… thanks! 🙂

@Guebukanmonyet: It has not always been like that. Half a century ago – I’m told by some well informed friends who lived there at the time – Singapore was dirty as hell. But somehow the attitude have changed.

I think it did happen because of a strong, autocratic leadership (which unfortunately can easily change into a dictatorship) with a clear vision of the future, that shifted from the political left ( which I personally like best) to the political right ( which I personalle dislike), that managed to show economic successes to people, and because of that could persuade/force the citizens to hygienic ways of living which included an effiecient and organized way to dispose of the daily/weekly garbage as a part of a good/better public health care.

Culture change was part of it all the time – like a necessary lubricating oil for the system.

( However, Singapore may nowadays excell in a materialistic way, the cultural climate seems to me to be rather petty-bourgois)

Yes, I agree that Singapore was a messed up country back then where the people just did not follow the rules. Had the culture been good at that time Lee Kuan Yew wouldn’t be considered a great leader.

In my opinion, a culture can be defined simply as a habit that people believe in doing that has been going on for such a long time. That is why changing a culture is so difficult. Many times, changing a culture requires force and perhaps a little bit of “dictatorship.” My question now, is the process of forcing a society to change its culture called a system? If system is defined as a systematical procedure of doing something then in my opinion a system alone is not enough to change a culture. But asking which is part of which between culture and system is like asking, “Which comes first, an egg or a chicken?”

what keeps us moving? it’s the manner that comes together in one package inside us all since we were born. there are unwritten laws around us.. so..i dont think there’s any system needed to change a culture..

i dont think culture is everythin cuz as you said you can change it… trickyyy… you cant rely on somethin that basically means everythin but then it’s changable.. if it’s everything, im afraid you cant change it.. you can only improve it… put a lil whip *slap!* and a lil motivation.. let them SEE what they can get from this culture improvement..
hhhhwell.. i have seen lots of “westernize” word in your writings.. you make it look bad..
dang.. if there’s a white, then there’s a black… equal, that’s the word you always include.. but i believe there always be a good thing in every culture.. dont change it.. just improve it.. fix the bad things.. dont be a dictator, just put a lil emphasis (or power, like Yheudy said).. it’s human we’re dealin with.. some of us may not have been to some places in their brain..

peace from the monster who lives under your basement.. wait.. i used that one before..

peace the woman with the gas problem!

Lam kenal Bung…. hehhee…. postingan2 yg menggugah kesadaran, menegur dg sopan, dan mengakui kita masih perlu banyak berbenah… gud-lak lah.. 😀

Brillie: Thanks ya, blogmu juga sudah dimasukkan di blog ini.

Hannee: Mmh, if there weren’t any systems in this world then we would live in a total chaos. A system is something that tells people which is right and which is wrong, so basically a religion is considered to be a system too as it tells people to do the good things and avoid the bad things. Imagine if there was no system or law at all in a society? People would do whatever they want regardless what other people think. System and culture are two interchangeable elements, a system that is implemented in a long time can create a culture and vice versa. System is the TOOL while Culture is the GOAL (commenting Dewo’s opinion). That is why a system is needed to change a culture into a better condition. Example: A parent puts his rebellious son in a military school so he can be a good boy because the school gives its students a system that teaches discipline.

To improve actually means to change too, you know. If changing means to change something into a better condition or a worse condition then improving simply means changing something into a better condition.

And in my opinion culture is everything. Of course it is not “everything” like I mentioned earlier since nothing is everything as they complete one and another. But no doubt that culture is the most valuable asset that a society can have, it is untangible yet it is very powerful. Big companies like GE can still survive in this globalization just because they have a learning culture where its employees are always eager to learn something new every day. And not because it is changeable that it is not important. A culture has to adapt within the current condition and situation in order to survive. Just like our parents who survived in their time, now we have to survive in this new kind of era.

Yes, just like I always say that this world needs a balance that indeed there will always be the West and the East. Not everything from the West is bad of course, I never said that, but it is not everything from the West is good at the same time. Just like many leaders from countries in the East say to the West, “Yes we want your technology, we want your internet, and your democracy. But we don’t want your free sex and your other irreligious moral values.”

When I said that “dictatorship” is sometimes needed, it does not mean the kind of dictatorship that will oppress the weak but it essentially means that we need a leader who is stiff and can’t be bought when he or she is implementing the system. Especially for countries like Indonesia where the law can be bought so easily.

Btw, what gas problem you have? Whatever it is, fix it!

cc-line: Salam kenal juga. Yep kita semua memang perlu berbenah, terutama saya pribadi yang penuh dosa 🙂

Interesting, interesting. Allow me to wander a bit off topic.

Let’s revisit the Singapore example.

Singapore is part of South-East Asia, right?
Singapore was just another South-East Asian city half a century ago, right?
Singapore has a worldwide competitive and thriving economy nowadays, right?

But, in order to get there, didn’t they have to cut most of the links with the original culture of their ancestors, to do so?

And didn’t Singapore change into an all out secular society walking the road to economic success?

Well, my point is: I don’t think you can have the advantages of western technology (which is Japanese, Corean or Indian technology as well) without (at least part of) the values that go with it ( which, I like to think, are not primarily about free sex, but mainly about human rights and the absence of – religious- restraints).

wow interesting discussion…im sory if im not good write in english..but try is better than never try..hehehe

So Mr. Colson im agree with your opinion that singapore can be a great country not only becoz Mr. Lee can implement good culture in their society but also he is a strong autocratic leader, beside that he is the man who “being great” by british colonialism…ok but my opinion is singapore can be prosporous country becoz they have lee (great leader), they have cultural society and they have the system and this factors can bring Singapore to the competitive nation which have economic interest and political power..British colonialism is only a history…

My question for you Mr. Colson is…Indonesia doesnt have lee, we only have SBY and SBY is not the autocratic leader…the second is society avoid the system, they dont like to obey anykind of rule and law…they are uncultural society…SO the problem is Indonesia have a “heaven natural resources”with uncultural human resources…and you can ask yourself?how long Indonesia can stand on this situation in Globalization Era…We’ll be a slave in our nation…

Thats why me and Tasa believe culture is everything for Indonesia…and hope Indonesia can be the glorius nation..

Wait for your visit to Indonesia Mr. Colson, i’ll show you the uncultural of indonesia society sorry if my english bad..
thx you


Mr. Colson: Yes, you are right. In improving a culture and trying to adapt to the current condition many consequences are unavoidable for sure. For example if Indonesian government wants to make its young generation more-internet capable then the government obviously has to give the young people the internet access which will lead into a condition where a cultural assimilation is happening quickly or even radically.

That is the challenge that developing countries are facing. How can you be globalized but still conserve your traditional values within the society? But I think Japan is a good example of how an advanced nation whose technological products are everywhere can still be a “traditional” country at the same time. Although it seems that the country is also facing a hard time to maintain their youths to keep respecting their traditional values.

Udiot: Yes you are absolutely right. Indonesia does not have great leaders who can change this country into greatness. Although I support SBY I have to confess that he is not that good, but the thing is he is the best among the worst. What we need is a leader who has a motivation like Soekarno and a humbleness like Mahatma Gandhi. Anybody?

Cool I love this discussion …..well tasa when I say power I mean money!! Who ever has the most are the ones who run the system. About the east and the west… the east and west have both good and bad things!! Clearly there is no perfect system or culture… So I think its up to the new generation to keep up their good values and not forget them and still be able to accept the good things that come with technology, like Mr. Colson said human rights etc… Anyways culture is always changing so lets make sure we change it to an improved one….I think that immorality exists in every culture the east as well as the west…The difference is that it is more out in the open in the west than in the east… So, its a waste of time too point fingers…instead one should focus on how one is going to improve the culture without forgeting the good moral values…. and most important without forgetting God!!
(Indonesia needs a leader right? Y not u Tasa… I see potential lol)

kritis banged sih ni orang…
hehehe ^_^

kak Tasaaaaaaaaa……
masih binun ttg skripsi neyhhhhhhhhh……..
helllpppppp meeeee….

eh, kok kalo komen di sini avatarku ga nongol ya kak..? padahal aku dah jd member gravatar dan juga udah masukin photo profile diblog WP.comku..

You are right: Japan in many ways is modern as well “traditional”. But after WWII two “holy” pillars of the old culture had to be abolished to accomplish this result: the military was rooted out and the Emperor lost it’s Godlike status. So modernity is not about leaving all traditional ways behind, but to get rid of those values, habits and norms that hamper progress.

I think Yheudy Bencomo’s joke maybe very near the truth. It’s by the young, well educated, ambitious middle class citizens ( there seems to be about 40 million of them), the innovation has to be brought about. For instance by reducing the habit of bribing, the hierarchical way of thinking, the custom of immediate spending in stead of accumulating capital and giving top priority to public services. Siding with SBY might not be a bad idea, by the way.

If good old Robert K. Merton is right (you may check a summary on:, this for sure will happen. He theorized that groups that are ambitious, that have clearcut goals (about what constitutes success in life) but that are thwarted by the ruling norms and habits of their society, will adapt by innovation (or even rebellion) in stead of conforming. Which would be good. (But one has to beware of the dangers of ritualism and retreatism that loom as well – looking for (religious) solutions fromthe past is not going to be of much help).

So I bet a breakthrough in Indonesia in the next ten years will take place. A modern mixture of Sukarno and Ghandi is not impossible if the group of promising youngsters of RI dare to deviate (if the danger of a theocracy can be avoided).

This is turning out to be a lively discussion especially since I’m Singaporean. 😀

Anyway, just wanna say that I’m on the stand that culture is something significant and should never be taken lightly, or even sidelined.

Economic progress does not have to take place at the expense of shedding traditions.

Anyone heard of Brunei Darussalam. 😀

If anyone thinks that Brunei’s economic success is attributed solely to its huge natural gas resource, think again.

Disregarding traditions in order to progress economically is just a myth stirred up by WB, WTO and western economic giants.

As colson mentioned, priority to public service and accumulating capital is important. But this does not mean a country has to shed off cultural traditions.

Sorry, the site I mentioned above in fact is:

selain kultur, mungkin kita di jajah terlalu lama kali..mending klau di jajahnya ama orang england, kita kan di jajahnya ama belande.. btw kayaknya kita butuh revolusi sosial kali..

Bencomo: Yes, money is the tool for people to get power. I guess money talks everywhere, even a 5-year-old child knows that money is something. I agree that every culture has its weakness. That is why it is hard not to point fingers at: It is their hollywood that teaches poor countries’ young people that free sex is ok or divorce is just another routine in life. And since today world is so much attached to one and another, all cultures are assimilated so fast, one of the most important cultural strategies of a nation is to keep its culture assimilated in a proper way that is by choosing which values are good and which are bad. In doing do, “pointing fingers may be necessary.”

Nieke: Wah kenapa emang skripsinya? Japri aja lewat email. Udah log in sebelum ngasi komentar? Harusnya mah nongol. Tapi link nama kamu emang salah, berarti ada yang salah tuch. Coba dicek lagi. Apa kabar Trisakti?

Mr. Colson: Yes, I believe there is still a hope. Let’s wait the old people in the power to step aside, I believe their time is almost over. Those people were part of Soeharto’s regime and when Soeharto collapsed most of them could still manage to be in influencial positions, therefore Indonesia can’t make dramatic changes right now. And thanks for the link, I’m going to see it. Btw, you are right about the middle-class young people, this article shows that it is actually the middle-class people who have the most ambition to achieve more in life, and it’s called status anxiety.

Yunir: Since you’re a Singaporean, you can tell us what kind of culture that your people have. Do you think it’s a powerful one that might survive in the next hundreds of years? And yes I believe that people of Brunei Darussalam can be a good example how a prosperous nation can still preserve its traditional values in achieving economic progress. But, what about the “dictatorship” of the dynasty? Do you think that people there would still accept that kind of government if they didn’t have any oil resources?

Jaloee: You are right. The so-called Eastern countries were occupied by The West for hundreds of years. Indonesia for example, we were occupied for more than 350 years, compared to our 62-year independency, what a long time! And now we are still being occupied by this thing called globalization. What an unfair world we’re living in. Capitalism says it takes and it gives, but unfortunately in most cases capitalism takes too much compared to what it gives. And only the big countries with its economic organizations, like Yunir said, could be able to implement this perfectly.


This discussion is going interesting and HOTs.

Singapore’s culture is the necessary result of national policies implemented by the ruling party. As long as they remain in power, I think Singapore’s culture will remain.

Indonesians on the other hand, have more avenues for cultural influence. And this is where I think Civil society is relevant – in both strengthening pre-modern traditions as well as calling on for citizens to be more proactive in building the economy.

@yunir: I love the boldness of your hypothesis that “strengthening pre-modern traditions” will facilitate a booming economy. But at the same time it puzzles me.

I wonder in which way you think that will come about – and by which elements of which pre-modern tradition.

Hi colson, I’m sorry if I wasn’t being clear.

But I did not mention any hypothesis. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

I am merely saying the two can and should co-exist together.

That’s an interesting discussion. When you look at the definition of “culture” from a dictionary such as the, you will find tons of meaning. It covers almost every single perspective of human activities and the result of their activities. One of the definitions is “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.” You see, like you say, that’s is everything.

Because of that, to change a nation, you have to change the people’s culture who live in that nation. That’s why Moe Ze Dong conducted Cultural Revolution in China, The Emperor of Japan restored his kingdom known as Meiji Restoration and Renaissance took place in Europe to reinvented themselves.

What did or what will Indonesia do?

Great article, Tasa.

Beni Bevly

@ Yunir, I owe you my apologies. So: sorry, I should have been more careful.

Yet I still think your statement is challenging. To me it seems you say Indonesian civil society has a lot of opportunities to further premodern culture ( the dominant set of values, norms and habits in a society) – and to promote a more proactive attitude towards economic development as well.

We agree, I think, on the relevance of civil society in this context. But I’m afraid I am just to ignorant to understand how emphasis on premodern traditions can result in a kind of civil society that is compatible with ( or even favourable to) a successful economy.

What kind of relationship(s) do you have in mind?

setuju bung, semuanya bermula dari budaya kita….perubahan bangsa ini ke arah kemajuan hanya bisa tercapai kalo kita ‘berani’ merevolusi budaya kita….revolusi gak berarti harus mengganti semua…tapi yang penting adalah itikad dan kemauan semaua elemen…gak ada lagi saling menghujat, tapi mari bekerja…

This has turned to be an exciting discussion 🙂 Thanks guys.

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guebukanmonyet is Tasa Nugraza Barley. He's a free man with unique thoughts and dreams. He sees his life and this world differently from anyone else. That's because he knows what he wants; and for that reason he doesn't want to be the same. Read why he blogs, here.

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All articles and essays were written by guebukanmonyet. Before commenting remember that Life Accepts Differences.
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