Quarterly Culture Inspiration: October 2019

Every quarter, I share helpful summaries and excerpts of the best books, podcasts, and articles I’ve read about organizational culture.


Book: The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson

Psychological safety is a hot topic right now. We wrote about it in our book, and it’s been written about in The New York Times and many other places. Amy Edmondson is the HBS professor behind it. She defines it as the “belief that the work environment is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Edmondson explains how psychological safety can vary between groups within organizations, and how a lack of psychological safety brought down VW, Wells Fargo, and Nokia.

Article: “The Office: An In-Depth Analysis of Workplace User Behavior”

This New York Times series is a fun illustrated look at the modern workplace, including Personality Tests Are the Astrology of the Office, by Emma Goldberg, and The Plight of the Office Introvert, by Ethan Hauser.

Podcast: Can You Really Bring Your Full Self to Work? On Being podcast

Jerry Colonna is a leadership coach with Reboot. I’ll share my thoughts from his new book, Reboot, next time, but in the meantime, this is a wonderful podcast interview by Krista Tippett. They talk about how our emotional needs show up at work, and how the most powerful question is “How are you?”

Quarterly Culture Inspiration: July 2019

Quick update: The book I co-authored with Liz Fosslien is a Wall Street Journal bestseller: No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Emotions. The book was recently featured in The New York Times, and was selected for the Next Big Idea Club. You can read more about the book here and sign up for our monthly newsletter here. Follow us on instagram for weekly illustrations!


Every quarter, I share helpful summaries and excerpts of the best books, podcasts, and articles I’ve read about culture.

Book: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhou

Julie Zhou is a VP of Design at Facebook, and she just wrote a fantastic book about how she learned how to manage. It has so many wise lessons for new managers! The last chapter is all about culture. Julie writes:

“As you manage more and more people, you’ll play a bigger role in shaping culture. Don’t underestimate the influence that you can have. Even if you’re not the CEO, your actions reinforce what the company values.

Your team’s culture is like its personality. It exists whether or not you think about it. If you’re not satisfied with how your team works together— maybe the vibe feels hostile instead of helpful, maybe it takes a long time to get things done, or maybe there’s constant drama— it’s worth examining why this might be and what you can do about it.”

Julie provides a series of questions you should ask yourself to understand your current team and your aspirations for the team. She then gives suggestions on how to have hard conversations, how to walk the walk, create the right incentives, and invent traditions that celebrate your values (like an annual Oscars-style award ceremony so people can recognize all the ways in which their coworkers are awesome).

Article: “Culture is What You Do” by Shawn Blanc

Shawn Blanc is a thoughtful writer and blogger. In this post, he talks about being intentional about creating culture for his company. He writes:

“Now, when I make a decision about my company I have to think about how it impacts our team and our culture. When I make decisions about what projects we take on, what our company profit sharing looks like, the amount and type of time-off we allow, our team communication systems, and more, I have to think about this:

Is this a vote toward the type of work environment I want to have in 20 years?

Here’s the thing. It will never be easier to have an awesome work culture than it is right now.

Why should I be waiting for some sort of potential, future-state of my business before I can begin implementing the sorts of healthy work cultures that I want?

If I wait, then I run the risk of accidentally building a company culture that I don’t like. How awful would it be to look up 10 years from now and realize that I spent a decade building a business that is stressful and exhausting to work in?”

Video: Lecture 10: Culture (Brian Chesky, Alfred Lin)

As part of Sam Altman's 'How to Start a Startup' class at Stanford University, Brian Chesky, Founder of Airbnb, and Alfred Lin, Former COO of Zappos and Partner at Sequoia Capital discuss how to build a great company culture.