How the “American Nations” Have Shaped USA Corporations – First in a Series: The North
Historian Colin Woodard, author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, examined the events of the past four centuries to understand the forces that drive our behaviors across the nation.
Woodard describes how the continental USA is comprised of primarily nine nations, since each region throughout the continent has a distinctive history that creates a unique identity — often times resulting in cross-cultural conflicts today. (There are another two nations located in Canada, with some spillover of the Midlands into Ontario). For simplicity’s sake, the nine nations of the USA are placed into three regions: North, South, and West.
1) Yankeedom, 2) New Netherland, 3) the Midlands;
South (a.k.a. Dixie Bloc)
4) Tidewater, 5) Greater Appalachia, 6) the Deep South;
7) El Norte, 8) the Left Coast, 9) the Far West;
10) New France (also exists in Louisiana — exception of New Orleans), 11) First Nation.
The focus of this blog is on the North. Below is a brief account of the historical influences and values of each nation; and an example, per nation, of a regional organization to illustrate how the values are reinforced and exemplified within the organizational culture.
We begin with “Yankeedom.”
The area of Yankeedom comprises the northern strips of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, parts of the eastern Dakotas, and Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Canadian Maritimes.
Calvinists (a.k.a. Puritans) were strict about their associations with anyone who was not a member of their religion. They would not allow anyone who did not convert to Calvinism to settle within their colony; violators were expelled (at best). In order for everyone to read the Bible, everyone had to be literate. Therefore, when a new town was established, public school houses and salaried teachers were the first aspects of infrastructure established, after church and home. Harvard was founded just 6 years after the first Puritans had arrived. The struggle for women’s suffrage was conceived and fought by reformers in Yankeedom, e.g. Susan B. Anthony (Massachusetts Quakers), Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton; and Carrie Chapman Catt.
Self-government, local political control, education, the Protestant work ethic, and direct democracy has remained central to Yankee culture. All this would support the pursuit of the “greater good” of the community.
CORPORATE EXAMPLE- General Electric
Egalitarian, Professional Growth/Opportunities, Teamwork, Work Ethic
“It was remarkably egalitarian — if you had a PhD (and not a manager) you were a “member of technical staff”, and one salary bracket and totem pole included everyone from the new PhD’s to a Nobel Prize winner.”
“Cooperative employees with knowledge sharing which helps to build a good team.”
“Abundant opportunities to develop skills, Challenging assignments, Workload is huge.”
AREA- New Netherland
The area of New Netherland is what is now known as greater New York City, the most densely populated part of North America.
The Netherlands was so progressively liberal in its thinking and lifestyle that this is what prompted the Pilgrims to flee to the American wilderness…to exert stronger control over their children’s upbringing; not because they were suffering religious persecution. By the time the Dutch West India Company founded New Amsterdam, the Netherlands’ role in the world economy at that time is equivalent to that of the USA in the late 20th century. They were so far ahead of the rest of the people of 17th-century Europe with their commitment to free inquiry. This practice led to their universities being second to none.
The New Netherland government’s primary focus was to promote world trade for the explicit purpose of financial gain, which meant that it was strategically obliged to embrace diversity in order to increase efficacy of process and production. They did not “celebrate” diversity, rather, they tolerated it, because they knew the alternative was pragmatically far worse. Insistence on conformity—cultural, religious, or otherwise—was self-defeating, causing strife and undermining trade and business. Underscore: This nation was no more moral than its English counterparts. Slavery was introduced to what is now the US by the merchants of Manhattan (early 17th century).
The English conquered New Amsterdam in 1664. New Netherland was renamed New York, the personal preserve of King Charles’s brother and heir, James, Duke of York. But, the Dutch negotiated an unusual surrender agreement which was to ensure the survival of Dutch norms and values. Nonetheless, most Dutch names were anglicized. The city originally extended only as far as Wall Street- where, in fact, the Dutch had built a wall; and the main road, Breede weg (Broadway), passed through a gate in the wall and continued on past farms, fields, and forest to the village of Haarlem (Harlem). Ferrymen rowed goods and people across the East River to the villages of Breukelen (Brooklyn), Vlissingen (Flushing), Vlacke Bos (Flatbush) and New Utrecht (now a Brooklyn neighborhood), or across the harbor to Hoboken and Staaten Eylandt (Staten Island).
Tolerance, upward mobility, and an overwhelming emphasis on private enterprise are tenets which are really the legacy of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. And, while New Netherland had Tammany Hall (i.e. political machine associated with corruption and abuse of power), it has come to value cultural diversity, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression.
CORPORATE EXAMPLE- Goldman Sachs
Strong Diversity, Work Ethic, Meritocracy, Entrepreneurialism
“Goldman Sachs genuinely makes a concerted effort to hire a diverse pool of people and ensure that there is a culture fit at the point of hiring. This is definitely not PR/lip service to the concept but a fundamental belief amongst senior management.”
“Environment conducive to taking initiative, challenges and making your opinions count. Hard work. Long hours. You may have to forgo the ‘life’ part of the ‘work-life balance’ sometimes!”
“There is an entrepreneurial culture/attitude which is part of the DNA of the firm and allows anyone with a good idea to flourish and succeed. There is a great collegiate atmosphere on the trading floors where MD’s will sit next to new graduates and share thoughts and experiences.”
AREA- The Midlands
The English Quakers arrived to the shores of Delaware Bay, and formed its cultural hearth in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Midlands nation includes northern Delaware and Maryland, southern New Jersey, central Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, northern Missouri, most of Iowa; and the eastern halves of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. It shares Chicago (with the Yankees) and St. Louis (with Greater Appalachia).
Most Midlanders have been of German descent- not Anglo-Saxons- comprising the largest group in this area, since the late 1600’s. They have been extremely skeptical of top-down governmental intervention.
The Midlands was founded by Quakers (a.k.a Friends), and William Penn was one of the most famous Quakers in England and quite affluent. Penn’s vision was to create an environment where people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds could live together in harmony. He stood for personal (political and religious) liberty. The Quaker religion had no special status within the colony’s government, because Quakers live(d) by example, not by coercion. The first formal protest (1712) against slavery in North America was articulated by German Quakers in Germantown, PA. Penn ran the colonial government for several years without collecting taxes. In 1682, Penn sent 23 ships to Pennsylvania carrying 2,000 colonists. He was able to populate Philadelphia in just four years to 8,000 — a level that took the Tidewater nation more than 6x as long to achieve (25 years), and the New France nation nearly 16x as long (70 years).
Indiana’s borderlanders referred to themselves as “Hoosiers,” a Southern slang term for “a frontier hick” (having come from Kentucky or West Virginia), and was adopted as a badge of honor by the Appalachian people of Indiana.
Pluralism (i.e. the belief that people of a different faith, race, class, etc., can live together harmoniously) has largely contributed to making the Midlands the most philosophically autonomous of the nations. Being American had nothing to do with one’s ethnicity, religion, or language; it was a spirit or state of mind.
“Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom & no such thing as publick (sic) liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin, 1722.
CORPORATE EXAMPLE- Hershey’s
Self-Direction, Work Ethic, Community, Egalitarianism
“From the top down there is a very clear message of where Senior Management wants the company to go and how everyone is expected to work hard to get there. Additionally, as you go about your daily work, you hear people talking about these goals and how they can meet them through their work. This creates a very unified atmosphere to work in and pushes everyone to perform.
If you require a lot of direction, then Hershey may not be for you. We tend to try and push decision making to the lowest levels that it makes sense to do so.”
In sum, we are each the sum of our experiences and the product of our culture. We have been shaped and influenced by the external forces that surround us. Identity is destiny.
There’s a story behind your values.
Next in the three-part series: The South (Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, the Deep South).
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, a “dot” person, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. Transitions made seamless. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.
Colin Woodard, American Nations. Pp. 5-7, 57, 60, 65-68, 70, 95, 97, 144, 184, 190, 257, 260, 269, 297, 308
(Executive Names Withheld for Confidentiality Purposes)
Quora: Rex Goldman, Arpita Shah, Ken Meltsner
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Posted on March 9, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged American Nations, Colin Woodard, Freedom of Conscience, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Hershey's, Midlands, New Netherland, Rival Regional Cultures, Yankee. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.