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."