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Culture Eats AI Self-Driving Cars For Lunch

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at July 15, 2021

As many headlines will ostensibly tell you, culture is apparently quite hungry and always eating someone’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

That’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek commentary, but the expression that culture is eating something comes up quite a bit. The general emphasis is that culture will tend to intercede in whatever the matter consists of. Furthermore, culture will rule the day when it comes to whether the matter of focus will succeed or falter.

I’d dare say that this is a kind of viral saying that rolls off the tongue and enchants the imagination.

We are dutifully fascinated when told that one thing can overtake another. This can either be surprising and therefore startlingly informative, or perhaps be construed as mundane though well worth pointing out for those that hadn’t given much thought to the issue.

Dog bites man is an example. This line is bound to be notable, depending upon the circumstance. Switch it around and indicate that man bites dog, which then can be particularly eyebrow-raising. Nearly in any direction, the line is going to be sufficiently intriguing to draw your attention. One thing is overtaking another.

Note that the overtaking posture proffered about culture is that it is seemingly eating something.

What makes the saying especially catchy is that it decisively exploits the altogether analogous analog of eating, which is certainly a vital essence-of-life consideration. Presumably, those that don’t eat are doomed to expire. You have to be eating. We all can relate to the notion that one thing is eating another, just as the eternal struggle of a predator seeking and eating its prey is always on our minds (somewhere in our deep recesses).

Most tracing of the “culture eating” aspects seem to credit the earliest known variant to the famous management guru Peter Drucker, though as will be explained in a moment, there is much haziness about this attribution.

Supposedly, this line was uttered about corporate strategy: Culture eats strategy.

To clarify it, I’ll augment the line to say this: Organizational culture beats organizational strategy.

You see, there was a period of time when the corporate strategy was the hottest buzzword of the day. Top executives were supposed to get their act together and put together a vaunted corporate strategy. This entailed laying out where the firm was going and how it was proposing to get there. Without a roadmap about the strategy of the corporation, all else was likely to flounder and proceed without any substantive direction or purpose.

The corporate strategy seemed to be at the top pinnacle of things. If you had a corporate strategy, you were set. Nobody could try to refute such contention that you had to have a stated corporate strategy since the alternative of having no corporate strategy could be readily shot down as a grand omission and your organization would roam aimlessly and fruitlessly.

Along comes a presumed hidden factor that could knock the revered corporate strategy off its lofty perch.

Organizational culture.

Yes, it certainly makes sense that the culture of a firm can shape the fate of corporate strategy.

If the people within a company are not going to rally around its corporate strategy, the strategy will likely never see the light of day. It will be nothing more than a paper-based exercise. You need to be mindful as a leader and get the organizational culture to accept and promulgate the corporate strategy.

Of course, worse still, if the company culture is in opposition to the corporate strategy, for sure things are going to go awry. People inside the firm will readily find ways to subvert the corporate strategy, either doing so by outward intent or by the invisible hand of the company culture all told.

The beauty of the line that culture eats strategy is that it is entirely straightforward and doesn’t necessarily need a bulky explanation to drive home the gist of the matter. For some leaders, this was a mundane point, yet they were nonetheless skirting past their company culture and trying to ramrod a new corporate strategy throughout the firm. Thus, despite the powerful nature of the line, many were not seeing the utility of the underlying assertion.

Other leaders saw this line as entirely inspirational and an eye-opening revelation. They were unsure of why their corporate strategies were flailing and not catching hold. It could be that they mindlessly walked right past their own company culture. This in turn led to a huge niche of consultants, books, courses, and the like that told leaders how to get their organizational culture to shift or be transformed as needed.

I’d like to think that Peter Drucker was the originating source, but nobody can seem to definitively pin down that Peter Drucker uttered this line as the deriving source. I knew Peter firsthand, primarily as an academic colleague, and can attest that it is the kind of catchphrase or clever witticism he was known for coming up with.

There is a cavalcade of references in the literature attributing the line to him as the initial source, but these are all secondhand and done without any specificity of when he said it and nor where or in what context. Adding some credence to the attribution, there are some documented indications that the CEO of Ford attributed the line to Peter (that was Mark Fields at the time), though again this is not fully cited and though perhaps adds to the potentiality of Peter being the keystone source, we are still left with a bit of a mystery.

Continuing, an additional twist to the line is the part about when the eating takes place.

Eating for humans seems to take place consisting of three general square meals a day, occurring at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When you mention that something ate something else, you can embellish the phrasing by stating which meal of the day the act took place.

Therefore, we can state this: Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Realize that without including the part about being “organizational” there is a bit of added generalization taking place. Anyone reading the line might assume that culture of any sort will always be eating a strategy of any kind, pushing us far beyond the boundaries of thinking about companies and how they operate. Whether this broader general case is applicable can be up for heated debate.

So, as more fully elaborated in this instance: Organizational culture eats organizational strategy for breakfast.

The nice thing about adding the time of day to the eating process is that you can then try to do a one-upmanship of the line. You can state that Y eats X for breakfast, while Z eats Y for lunch. Voila, Z is now the top line of the predatory scale.

To see how this works, assign “culture” to Y, assign “strategy” to X, and assign “power” to Z. Envision that we were to state that culture eats strategy for breakfast, and then we could try to do a grandiose topper by claiming that power eats culture for lunch. Boom, we just created a catchy phrase. Exciting!

But Z had better watch out since there is the chance that S eats Z for dinner (whatever you wish to assign to S, you are welcome to do so).

Do you see how that progression can be handy?

Though this might seem like somewhat cynical posturing about the mealtime aspects, please know that the mealtime does cleverly amplify the already meaningful expression. We relish those simplistic sayings that have a kernel of truth and can spoon-feed us with catchy wording.

Indeed, I have a new one for you: Culture eats AI self-driving cars for lunch.

Okay, I admit that this is once again a leveraging of the culture eating sage advice, but I assure you that it rings true and provides yet another hearty and memorable indicator of what we need to be watching out for. And in this case, I’m referring to societal culture rather than organizational culture, plus I’ve chosen the mealtime of lunch rather than breakfast or dinner (I’ll explain why, shortly).

Before we can jump directly into the gist of this powerful message, it is important to ensure we are all on the same page about my reference to AI self-driving cars.

The future of cars consists of AI-based true self-driving cars. There isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, and nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

Here’s an intriguing question that is worth pondering: How will today’s societal culture be a means of shaping the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars?

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As further clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Culture On Top

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

The core premise that we want to examine is that culture purportedly eats AI self-driving cars for lunch.

First, what does that exactly mean?

Returning to the earlier discussion that provided some definitional fundamentals, when culture “eats” something there is an implied indication that culture is interceding in whatever that thing is. More so, culture will rule or win the day when it comes to whether that something will succeed or falter.

In this instance, the implied general assertion is that society and its cultural norms will bear heavily upon the advent of AI self-driving cars. The bearing will be so strong and persistent that the outcome of achieving self-driving cars might be determined by the pressures of culture.

This is somewhat surprising to some. If your attention is riveted solely on the technological elements of self-driving cars, you might fail to see that the cultural elements surrounding the fielding and use of self-driving cars are a huge determiner in whether self-driving cars are going to be accepted on our public roadways.

A classic technoid viewpoint of the world is that you can simply toss your technological creations into the midst of everyone and see how things perchance go. Fail fast, that’s the touted mantra. The problem with this kind of witticism is that it utterly fails to gauge human reaction to technological innovations. Time and again, there are plenty of cases whereby technological wizardry was foisted upon the public and the reaction either dented the adoption or perilously undercut and nearly eviscerated any future potential for the presumed breakthrough.

Numerous possible paths are entailing how culture is potentially going to eat AI self-driving cars.

We begin with the proverbial 600-pound gorilla which is the nature of safety as it pertains to the use of self-driving cars. This serves in exploring the intertwining of cultural perceptions of safety pertaining to cars and correspondingly the perceptions about such safety as associated with the emergence of true self-driving cars.

In the United States alone, via today’s conventional human-driven cars there are about 6.7 million car crashes annually (that is a count based on reported crashes, so there are likely a lot more crashes if you were to include unreported crashes too). Sadly, those abysmal crashes annually produce about 2.5 million injuries and approximately 40,000 fatalities. For more coverage on those kinds of driving-related statistics, see my discussion at this link here.

I bring up the existing litany of car crashes to try and ferret out the meaning of safety when it comes to driving a car.

One means to define safety is based on the existing “default standard” as accepted by society and our culture of today, per the numbers just highlighted. Presumably, if you can attain a lower number of car crashes, or a lower number of injuries, or a lower number of fatalities, you could contend that the driving circumstances are safer than they once were.

As an aside, this is a bit loosey-goosey because we would likely want to also include the number of miles driven. Rather than concentrating on the counts per se, we ought to even out the playing field by calculating ratios of the number of car crashes per the number of miles being driven. Likewise, we would want to compute the number of injuries per mile driven and the number of fatalities per mile driven. I say this because otherwise, you could potentially and easily trick the numbers by simply restricting how many miles can be driven, getting a hefty reduction in the foulness but cheating somewhat by that mathematical mischief.

Right now, how many car crashes and corresponding injuries and fatalities are we as a society willing to tolerate when it comes to true self-driving cars?

It would seem that we ought to be willing to accept some semblance of sizable counts, as long as those counts appeared to be lessening the counts (or ratios) associated with human-driven cars. In essence, we would rationally be willing to exchange human-driven cars for self-driving cars by the very logical thinking that we are stridently going to be reducing the number of injuries and fatalities related to cars of today, assuming that is indeed the case.

But that seems to be an unlikely sentiment as expressed by existing culture.

Some claim that any crashes by self-driving cars are not to be allowed, never ever. Meanwhile, some pundits and vendors are going around and recklessly touting that self-driving cars will be uncrashable (see my debunking of this terrible myth, at this link here). All of this is fueling a perception that the number of car crashes that society will tolerate in the case of self-driving cars is zero.

That’s unfortunate.

There is a zero chance of attaining zero car crashes involving self-driving cars.

We are going to have car crashes that encompass self-driving cars. As a quick example, consider that a self-driving car is coming down a street and a child suddenly darts into the middle of the street. The physics of the situation is going to come to the forefront. Even if the AI driving system immediately detects the child and slams on the brakes, the distances and timing are going to overtake any viable driving actions. I’ve covered these types of scenarios in many of my columns, so I won’t continue herein to further expound on it.

The point overall is that our cultural predilections or societal perspective about what constitutes safety as it relates to driving are going to overtake the efforts of crafting and fielding true self-driving cars. If we only are willing to accept zero crashes as the safety metric for driverless cars, you might as well turn off the lights and send everyone home that is embarking upon devising them.

Thus, culture eats AI self-driving cars.


There are more twists and turns on this topic.

For example, one hope is that self-driving cars will bring forth an era of mobility-for-all.

The idea is that those in society that today are mobility disadvantaged will finally have an opportunity to make use of cars as a mode of travel. The presumption is that the cost of the use of self-driving cars will be a lot less than the comparable cost of utilizing human-driven cars (partially due to the excising of the labor component involved in driving). This will open widely the use of automotive transportation and we’ll see a boon in vehicular travel as a result of self-driving car pervasiveness.

Suppose though that the pricing for the use of self-driving cars is somehow exorbitant. I’ve analyzed the claims by some that self-driving cars might be extraordinarily expensive and thus only the rich and famous will have access to these autonomous vehicles, see the link here.

Contemplate what society and our culture would do if it turned out that self-driving cars were only available to those with grand wealth. I’ll let you ponder that one. I think it would be fair to assume that culture would end up eating self-driving cars in that somewhat glum scenario.

As a final word, for now, there is something else about these types of sage credos that is worth giving a modicum of attention to. You can usually reverse them and discover equally enlightening insights.

Let’s try that.

Going with the commonplace version of culture eats strategy, we can try reversing this saying and claim that strategy eats culture. How so? Well, if you prepare your corporate strategy wisely, it would presumably encompass how to shift the organizational culture to aid in attaining the corporate strategy being proffered. By anticipating the role of culture, you could overtake the overtaking that otherwise by a failure of omission potentially might occur.

The prey becomes the predator if you will.

This makes indubitable sense.

We can give it go with the topic of self-driving cars too. Perhaps true self-driving cars will eat culture. In essence, the advent of self-driving cars might shift our cultural norms and cause us to collectively rethink the nature of cars and our beliefs about automotive travel.

The initial thinking was this: Culture eats AI self-driving cars for lunch.

But maybe we can also imagine this: AI self-driving cars eat culture for dinner.

Well, all this talk about eating has made me hungry, so I’m off to get a bite to eat. While dining, I’ll be giving more thought to this whole cultural thingamabob and the emergence of self-driving cars, and perhaps you might find it handy to do so during your next breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Bon appétit!


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