The Power Of Cumulative Culture Change

In a rapidly globalizing world, organizations must be able to adapt to change quickly. However, research has shown that organizational culture change is often slow and challenging. This blog post explores the concept of cumulative culture change and how it can create lasting change within an organization. We will also provide examples of how this approach has been successfully used.

What is Cumulative Culture Change?

Cumulative culture change is a gradual change to a group or organization’s shared beliefs, values, and norms. It occurs over time as members of the group or organization interact with each other and their environment. The cumulative effect of these small changes can be significant, eventually leading to a new cultural identity for the group or organization.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead first proposed cumulative culture change in the early 1900s. She observed that cultures are constantly evolving and changing, even without any major upheaval or external event. These changes accumulate over time, gradually altering the culture. Mead called this process “the making and remaking of culture.”

Since then, cumulative culture change has been studied extensively by social scientists. They have found that it is a significant force shaping societies and organizations. In recent years, business leaders have also become interested in cumulative culture change and its potential to create lasting organizational transformation.

Several factors contribute to cumulative culture change. One is social learning: individuals learn from each other as they interact within their group or organization. This includes formal education (such as training programs) and informal learning (such as observing others’ behavior). Another factor is imitation: people tend to imitate those around them, especially those they perceive as successful or respected group members. Finally, there is a selection: over time, groups and organizations naturally select specific traits and values for survival and success in a given environment.

How Does Cumulative Culture Change Work?

To create lasting change in an organization, it is essential to understand how cumulative culture change works. A gradual shift occurs as people adopt new ways of thinking and behaving. This process happens over time and is created by the actions and behaviors of the people within the organization.

Cumulative culture change requires three things:

1) a shared vision of what the future should look like,

 2) a set of guiding principles to help make decisions along the way, 

 3) willingness to experiment.

The first step is to develop a vision for where the organization should be. This should be something that all members of the organization can rally behind. Once this vision is in place, it will be easier to identify which behaviors need to change for them to become a reality.

The second step is establishing guiding principles that help everyone make decisions aligned with the shared vision. These principles should be based on values important to the organization and its members. They should also be flexible enough to allow for experimentation.

The third step is encouraging everyone in the organization to experiment with new ideas and approaches. Creating an environment where people feel safe taking risks and making mistakes is important. This is how progress will be made toward the shared vision.

Cumulative culture change takes time, but it is possible to create lasting positive change within an organization.

The Benefits of Cumulative Culture Change

Organizations that embrace cumulative culture change reap many benefits. Perhaps most importantly, they create a more agile, adaptive organization better equipped to respond to the ever-changing business landscape.

In addition, organizations that focus on cumulative culture change tend to be more innovative and have a higher level of employee engagement. This results in a more positive work environment and increased productivity. Finally, these organizations can attract and retain more talented employees, further strengthening the organization.

The Drawbacks of Cumulative Culture Change

When changing an organization’s culture, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every organization works differently, so what works for one organization may not work for another. That being said, some potential drawbacks to the cumulative culture change must be considered before undertaking such a change initiative.

One potential drawback is that it can take a long to see results. Because cumulative culture change relies on small, incremental changes over time, it takes time for a significant cultural shift. This can be frustrating for those eager to see results and may cause them to lose patience and give up on the initiative altogether.

Another potential drawback is that not everyone may be on board with the changes. In any organization, there will always be those who resist change. With cumulative cultures change, these individuals may feel like they are constantly being asked to make adjustments without seeing any real benefits. This can create tension and division within the organization and ultimately derail the initiative.

Finally, cumulative cultures change requires a great deal of commitment from leaders and employees alike. Leaders must be committed to driving the changes, and employees must be willing to embrace them. If either group is unwilling or unable to do their part, the initiative will likely fail. Without buy-in from both groups, it will be difficult to sustain the changes over the long term.

These are just a few of the disadvantages of cumulative.

How to Implement Cumulative Culture Change

Cumulative culture change is a process of slowly and gradually shifting the norms and values of a culture. It can be done through various means, such as education, media, and government policy. The key is to start small and build upon each success.

One way to implement cumulative cultures change is through education. This can be done in schools, universities, or even informally through community groups and events. People can see the value of diversity and inclusion by raising awareness of different cultures and their values.

Media can also play a role in cumulative cultures change. Representation matters, and by seeing diverse cultures represented in the media, people can begin to understand and accept them. Government policy can also help to shift cultural norms. For example, affirmative action initiatives help level the playing field for underrepresented groups.

It will take time for cumulative cultures change to take effect, but it is a powerful tool for slowly shifting societal norms toward greater acceptance and inclusion.


We have seen the power of cumulative culture in our and others’ lives. When we have seen how small changes can lead to significant changes over time. We have also seen how important it is to keep making these changes, even when it feels like we are not making progress. Please join us in making these changes in your life and those around you. Together, we can make a difference.

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