Monthly Culture Inspiration: October 2018

Every month, I post three types of culture inspiration: a visual, a book, and an article to bookmark.

Visual: Erin Meyer’s Culture Map


Erin Meyer grew up in Minnesota, lived in Botswana and India, and is now a professor at INSEAD in France. She married a Frenchman and is raising two children in France. All to say she has a great background for her current role, which is teaching cross-cultural management. To help people negotiate the complexity of the global workplace, Meyer wrote a book called The Culture Map. In the book, she shares eight scales representing the management behaviors where cultural gaps are most common. By comparing the position of one nationality relative to another on each scale, you can decode how your culture and your colleagues’ cultures influences your day-to-day collaboration.

Here are the eight scales:

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Let’s look at the communication scale. In low-context cultures, “good communication is precise, simple, explicit, and clear. Messages are understood at face value. Repetition is appreciated for purposes of clarification, as is putting messages in writing.” In high-context cultures, “communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Messages are often implied but not plainly stated. Less is put in writing, more is left open to interpretation, and understanding may depend on reading between the lines.”

The US is one of the the most explicit or low-context cultures. American conversations require relatively little reading between the lines. As Business Insider says, “This is not surprising for a young country composed of immigrants that prides itself on straight-talking. Japan and other East Asian countries represent the other extreme… Thus Americans in Japan should pay attention to what's not being said; while Japanese in America should brace themselves for direct language.”

I highly recommend reading the book so you can learn about the other scales!

Book: Imagine It Forward by Beth Comstock

Beth Comstock, former Vice Chair and head of marketing and innovation at GE, just wrote Imagine It Forward, about how she navigated the challenges of transformational change and leadership at GE. It’s a wonderfully personal book with lots of good stories. In the book, she writes about how she developed something called The Culture Club:

The Culture Club was “a multi-level group in my business unit to give me feedback, and more specifically, be a way to drive culture change together. I needed our teams to hear directly from me that it was okay to test and learn, and they needed me to hear from them why it wasn’t so simple. We met quarterly. I challenged the team to bring me one thing I didn’t want to hear— something I or other leaders were doing that stood in the way of meaningful speed and change. I discovered a lot of time and energy was going into keeping reports, meetings, expectations alive that I had long forgotten about. We used these discussions as a way to reset expectations, drive candor, and hold one another accountable for change. Honestly, I wish I had done this much earlier.”

I love this idea. Leaders, steal this!

Article to Bookmark: The 10 best Quartz at Work stories about managing your career

I eagerly read anything by Quartz at Work. They consistently have great articles that are full of actionable ideas. This article is a compendium of their best stories about how to manage your career.

Monthly Culture Inspiration: September 2018

Happy September!

My writing, elsewhere:

An article I wrote about what my day-to-day work is like as an org designer is now up on IDEO's blog. Check it out here.


Every month, I post three types of culture inspiration: a visual, a book, and an article to bookmark.

Visual: How Real Leaders Melt the Iceberg of Ignorance with Humility


This clever illustration of the "Iceberg of Ignorance" is from Corporate Rebels, a consultancy (with a fantastic blog that my readers will love) based in The Netherlands. The iceberg "originated (so it is said) in 1989 when consultant Sidney Yoshida studied the work and leadership habits of Japanese car manufacturer, Calsonic. He uncovered a poor distribution of power and information within the hierarchy. Specifically, knowledge of front-line problems went up in smoke the higher he climbed the management chain. Indeed, he found that company leadership was hardly aware of any of the real problems the organization faced. They were, as he put it, only aware of the tip of the iceberg. Yoshida found that, even though 100% of front-line problems were known to the front-line employees, only 74% were known to team leaders, 9% to middle management and just 4% to top management!"


Book: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

Daniel Coyle has written one of my favorite books on culture this year. In The Culture Code, Coyle goes inside some of the world’s most successful organizations—including the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, IDEO, and the San Antonio Spurs—and reveals what makes them tick. He demystifies the culture-building process by identifying three key skills that generate cohesion and cooperation: 1) build safety (psychological safety), 2) share vulnerability, and 3) establish purpose.

In the chapter about how to share vulnerability, Coyle writes about how leaders can encourage open discussion. To share an example of how the best leaders do this, Coyle interviewed one of my favorite former colleagues, Roshi Givechi. Roshi was a former partner and managing director of IDEO NY. “I’ve found that whenever you ask a question, the first response you get is usually not the answer,” says Roshi. Roshi advises asking team members to “Say more about that” and advises suggestions should only be given after a “scaffolding of thoughtfulness” has been established. I was so happy to see this section of the book, because Roshi does indeed do this (I actually remember conversations with her when she said, "Say more about that" to me). It's a skilled leadership technique to create a culture of open conversation.


Article to Bookmark: The Leader's Calendar, Harvard Business Review

From 2011 to 2013, I was a research associate at Harvard Business School working for Dean Nitin Nohria and Prof. Michael Porter. I studied how CEOs of Fortune 500 companies spent their time. The resulting article is finally out! To set up the research, I traveled to the CEOs’ global headquarters, training the CEOs (and their assistant) on how to track their time and interviewing them about their most pressing business issues. We tracked when the CEOs ate, slept, who they met with, where they traveled, their family time—it all went in our data forms in 15 minute increments. The article has several great findings, but I'll share one here about the CEO's role in culture: 

"Culture—which encompasses an organization’s values, beliefs, and norms—is another key CEO lever for reinforcing strategy and influencing how the organization as a whole goes about doing its work. CEOs can shape a company’s culture in many ways, from the time they spend talking about it at various forums, to personally living the valued behaviors, to recognizing, rewarding, and celebrating those who exemplify the desired culture while taking corrective action with those who don’t. It is the CEO’s job to champion the organization’s culture and constantly look for opportunities to strengthen it."