Your post hit on one of the things I find most interesting about the concept of politics. It was very clear to me, if I read your comments correctly, that you consider all corporate politics to be a negative aspect of company culture. And moreso, that our goal should be to drive politics out of our organizations. In my definition, I don’t think of politics as a uniquely good or bad thing, but rather as something that exists within organizations. Much like culture, politics can be positive or negative depending on the organization and the people involved.
As to the difference between politics and culture, I would suggest that politics is an element of culture. By my definition, corporate politics is the strategic and tactical understanding of the power and decision strucuture of the organization and the application of that understanding towards accomplishing a change agenda. You can apply politics towards something positive like getting approval for a new succession planning process. But, it can also be applied towards selfish agendas of personal gain or power grabs. Similar to what I would say about Washington politics, it’s not the politics itself that’s bad but instead the people and their motives that give it a bad name.
I do agree with you that politics today probalby does more harm than good within organizations because too many people apply politics to blatant self-promotion. But, I will also argue that if you are are to be successful within any organization, you must understand the politics of that organization and how to navigate that political realm if you hope to be successful in driving any significant change. The irony is that one would have to know how to “play” politics in order to change how the politics work.