Bears in Camp: Using Culture to Overcome Fear


I was at a Scout Jamboree in Southern Alberta two summer ago, in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Beautiful country with lots of wildlife.

Including bears.

Being Scouts we were prepared. Everybody received instruction on food storage, garbage disposal, and cooking protocols. Young men and women were on stand-by with ATVs and walkie-talkies to respond to any bears that might wander into camp. Rally points and head-counts were established. Think of a fire drill except with bears.

About the fifth day just before supper we go those bears. Right in the heart of 1500 campers. On the siren’s signal we rallied at the sub-camps (large groups of people being a deterrent to bears), and after they proved difficult to dislodge we more at various larger collection points in the facility. Away from our supper and closer to the few hard-sided buildings in camp. Everything was going according to plan.

Scaring Off The Bears

Except for one thing. These kids were tired after a long day of running around in the woods and playing on the water. They were hungry. They could hear the ATVs driving up and down the trails chasing the bears and not having much success. Some of them were starting to get scared. It was time for some leadership!

I leapt on the nearest rock and started singing the silliest, most juvenile “action” song I could think of called “I Found a Bug”. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but let’s just say that bugs get eaten. At first people thought I was crazy. This happens a bit so I’ve learned to ignore it. It didn’t take long for the 200 kids at our rally point to start singing along. When I was done two of the Scouts wanted to lead a song themselves. My plan was working. The kids were taking over.

One after the other Scouts got up on the rock and led a song, story, or skit to keep themselves entertained while the bears were chased through the woods. I think my singing have even helped scare them off! Half an hour later the all clear was sounded, and we returned to our campsites prepared our supper, lighter of step and smiles on our faces.

Values are Culture, Culture is Brand

I believe that the stories we tell ourselves, the songs we sing, and the ritual we indulge in is what makes us human. Other animals can use tools, some animals may even use language. We don’t know. But as far as we can tell we’re the only ones that pass knowledge on from generation to generation verbally.
This is a powerful force in our lives, one that we sometimes hesitate to indulge in. We’re suspicious of being manipulated, and rightly so. We don’t have to reach too far back into history to find examples of these forces being used for evil or personal gain.

Yet this is the essence of leadership, good or bad: to nurture and leverage the group consciousness to execute a goal or task that one person cannot accomplish alone. Many business leaders force success by dint of personality, intellect, or sheer stick-to-it-ivness. Yet in the end how effective are they really? How long do their accomplishments last after they’re gone?

If all you want or need is to make money, then there are many ways to do that. If you want to have a real effect on the world you’re going to have to work through others. The others that believe the same things you do, value the same things you do, and will continue having an effect long after your presence has faded.

What is Your Company’s Culture?

Values are culture, culture is brand. What stories does your company tell about itself? What is the real brand that emerges in times of stress?

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