How the “American Nations” Have Shaped USA Corporations – Third in a Series: The West
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, I’ve placed the nine nations of the USA into three regions: North, South, and West.
1) Yankeedom, 2) New Netherland, 3) The Midlands;
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 West. 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 “El Norte.”
AREA- El Norte
The area of El Norte (“The North” in Spanish, since it was formerly the northern part of Mexico) encompasses south and west Texas, southern California, southern Arizona, most of New Mexico, and parts of Colorado (as well as many parts of northern Mexico).
In the late 16th century, Spaniards had discovered a trading route over the Pacific Ocean to California, before it sailed south to its port in their colony, Mexico. Spanish Jesuit priests went up the coast on El Camino Real (“The Royal Highway”) to establish 21 missions to convert the Native Americans; hence, most of the coastal cities are named after saints (e.g. Santa Barbara, San Francisco). Today, roads such as Rodeo Drive and Cañon Drive (in Beverly Hills) are pronounced with Anglicized pronunciations. For example, Cañon is pronounced “CAEH-nun” instead of “cahn-NYON,” which means “canyon.”
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, but the Mexican-American War soon after ensued and ended in 1848, with the Gadsden Purchase. This purchase created a territorial line between modern-day Mexico and the following states: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Baja California (“Lower California”) is a peninsula which is the 31st state of Mexico; many Californians continue to believe that it is an extension of the USA state of California (formerly, “Alta California” in Spanish, or “Upper California”), not knowing the history.
Because of the long Southern border and history, Mexicans comprised 32% of the foreign-born population of the USA in 2008. This is the same proportion as the Irish had in the USA, during the late 19th Century. The Catholic Irish (and, subsequently, Catholic Polish) were ridiculed for having a different religion, accent, language, and for their indigent background. To a certain extent, the less-than-welcoming treatment of masses yet to be assimilated continues to be the case today. Many companies and families welcome the cheap labor on the one hand, while holding out an arms-length distance reception with the other.
Independent, Self-sufficient, Adaptable, Work-centered, Diversity
The Spaniards invested little into this area for roughly 200 years, so all inhabitants were pretty much left alone and were required to send 20% (1/5) back to the Mother Country – this became known as “La Quinta,” (the one-fifth) – a name borrowed for a local motel chain.
CORPORATE EXAMPLE- Halliburton
Independent, Self-sufficient, Work-centered, Diversity
“They have great benefits and you can make a lot of money if you work in the field.”
“Very diverse work environment, you can meet people from all over the world here.”
AREA- The Left Coast
The Left Coast extends from central California (Monterey) all the way to the capital of Alaska (Juneau). This includes San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and the Canadian city of Vancouver – which sits close to the border with the USA.
The Left Coast was originally colonized by two groups: 1) New England merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen; 2) Greater Appalachian farmers, prospectors, and fur traders. In 1848, gold was discovered in California (a.k.a. “The Golden State”), and one year later (1849) the Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of people from across the USA by covered wagon, and from across the world by sailboat to the San Francisco area. These people were known as the “forty-niner’s” – which is the historical name adopted by the San Francisco football team, the ‘49’ers.
The Left Coast is the home to two large movements: 1) Environmental Consciousness; 2) and the Tech Revolution. It is the birthplace and address for Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, and the world-renown Silicon Valley. This nation (along w/ New Netherland) is highly progressive, as it has initiated the Gay Rights movement, the Peace movement, and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s. Eastern practices, such as homeopathic doctors, yoga, and feng shui, have blended into the lifestyle of many. The cultural fusion(s), combined with the progressive nature, creates a perception that many fellow mainland Americans find “strange,” “earthy-crunchy,” “hippy,” and “fruits & nuts.”
Intellectualism, Purpose, Environment, Risk, Non-Linear (Systemic)
The Left Coast has retained a strong strain of New England intellectualism and idealism even as it continues to embrace a culture of individual fulfillment. It combines the Yankee faith in good government and social reform with a commitment to individual self-exploration and discovery. Founders Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Jobs (Apple) did not finish college, yet created multi-billion dollar businesses from ingenuity.
CORPORATE EXAMPLE- Microsoft
Innovation, Systemic, Egalitarian
“Work-life balance is incredible, benefits are amazing, salaries are slightly above market rate. Microsoft is able to work on software a scale of complexity that I would argue has never been met elsewhere… The complexity of shipped software in this day and age is mind-boggling, yet done with shocking effectiveness.
It’s also a company that struggles with the dilemma of making more money than it ever has before, but also being more irrelevant than it ever has been before. Classic innovator’s dilemma at work.” – Adrian Aoun
“Microsoft HQ’s lack of oppressive ostentation was so precisely calibrated that a cynic could be excused for experiencing this non-corporate corporate culture as oppressively ostentatious in its own right. As ‘in your face’ as any thrown pie.” – Dee Findlay Stewart
AREA- The Far West
The Far West nation has expansive territories which include northern Arizona, the interiors of California, Washington, and Oregon; the western halves of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas; Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Alaska. (It extends far north into Canada: portions of Yukon, and much of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba).
Mining districts and railroad companies led the colonization of the Far West. This era was named “The Gilded Age” by Mark Twain, in 1873. During the late 19th century, the railroads launched a large-scale marketing campaign to lure people out to populate the area, but the allure ended the winter of 1886. There simply wasn’t enough rain for farmers and cattlemen to survive, and they left in droves.
Since the railroads had no competitors, they were a monopoly and charged whatever they pleased for rail fares. For example, it was exponentially more expensive per mile to travel into or out of the Far West than travel from coast to coast. Corporate control over Far Western politics and society was pervasive. For example, the now-defunct Anaconda Copper literally ran Montana, buying off judges, local officials, and politicians in both parties and, via the “cemetery vote” (i.e. using the names of dead people to vote), thereby controlling the state’s elections. Until the 1970’s, it maintained “hospitality rooms” (i.e. prostitutes and liquor) at the state capitol in Helena, for those legislators partial to their cause.
It has become a hotbed of labor unionism and socialism.
Equality, Group orientation, Environment
The Far West came to resent both corporations and the federal government, while at the same time demanding to receive federal financial support. Its inhabitants rarely challenge its corporate masters, which continue to play a powerful hand in politics.
CORPORATE EXAMPLE- Wynn Resorts
Equality, Collaboration, Group orientation
“Money is great, good full time hours, you start training on first day, very helpful managers.”
“Good managers who care about your growth. Great pay and benefits. Hard to get promoted. Nobody leaves and limited growth at this time.”
“There are not many management positions available as you continue your career growth which makes it very hard to advance.”
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. Sometimes “different” is just that, and nothing else. Much like the Native American proverb: Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.
Now with world-wide access to technology/globalization, the world is made smaller. Your consumer is the world market, which is phenomenally diversified. Corporate USA has to shelve the concept of the “Melting Pot” (i.e. having everyone assimilate into one style), because the “game board” has been replaced. To operate on that “Old World model” is a strategy designed for failure. The strength(s) of any system is to build upon its strengths as its brand, and diversify its C-Suite and Board to reflect the marketplace.
There’s a story behind your values.
Please see the other regions in this three-part series: the North, and the 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. We increase retention. Visit CorporateLookingGlass.com.
Colin Woodard, American Nations. pp. 10-12, 214, 247, 249-251, 261
(Executive Names Withheld for Confidentiality Purposes)
*For your information only.
Posted on March 23, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged '49'ers, Amazon, Apple, Colin Woodard, Gadsen Purchase, Google, Halliburton, Microsoft, Silicon Valley, Twitter, Wynn Resorts. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.