Over the past 20 to 30 years the safety culture of the oil patch has changed dramatically resulting in large decreases in accident and injury frequency. Additional changes in culture might achieve further gains. Though engineers and managers understand that culture matters, most will have only vague ideas about what culture is, what it does that is important and how it might be improved.

The paper addresses culture based on several key concepts including:

  1. Culture is learned.

  2. There are cognitive and social limits to the kinds of cultural attributes we can learn.

  3. Most learning in the areas of culture is tacit rather than explicit.

  4. Team dynamics impact learning by individuals in a group.

  5. Culture is created by leaders. Managers manage within a culture.

The paper weaves together important insights from leading researchers in several fields of study including:

  • Schein - organizational culture and leadership

  • Argyris, Schon – action science

  • Barron, Kerr – team dynamics

  • Shelley, Fisk - social cognition

  • Klein – naturalistic decision making

  • Weick – sensemaking

  • Edward Wilson – social evolution

  • Taylor, Van Every – pragmatics (communication theory)

This paper provides background information for those interested in improving the culture of their company and/or of the industry and attempts to answer the question "Why does culture matter?"

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