Tag Archives: CCO

Culture Quiz

My nephew is up for an interview at the college of his choice.  Everyone is thrilled.  His speciality is the classics so I am no use at all.

But what, I wondered, would be a good way of quizzing someone about how much they knew about contemporary culture.

As it happened, I was working on a Keynote deck for which I produced the image above.  It has several bits and pieces.  We could just to hand an applicant the image and invite them to comment.  This would be one of several “quizzes” and is not meant to be the only useful test.  

There are no right answers.  But I think we would be able to judge very swiftly whether someone had depth, range, intelligence, and what do they call it in tennis, “touch.”   I want you to identify each of these images and tell us how and why what they represent matters to contemporary culture.  You should be able to speak for 5 minutes on each image…and that’s just for starters.  

Please have a go and if you feel like banding off a thousand words I would be happy to put together a set of judges with the winner getting a Minerva award.  

Or just work out your answers “in your head” and let’s discuss our various answers in a later post.  

Click on the image to see the whole test!

I can’t supply attribution for these photos.  If you recognize where they came from originally, please let me know!

Culture inside and outside the corporation (The two faces of of the Chief Culture Officer)

This week I took part in a #TChat on employee engagement and specifically onboarding. (Thanks to Marla Gottschalk for including me.) I found myself arguing that onboarding should introduce new hires to the deep culture of the organization, the one that is buried in assumptions and largely hidden from view. Meghan M. Biro, a founder of TChat, invited me to “break it down.” Here goes.

The corporate culture is a complicated culture. It gets reshaped every time a new leader storms the C-suite. (Marissa Mayer is transforming Yahoo now.) It is changed by a succession the managerial models (“reengineering!”) and buzzwords (“tipping point!”). McKinsey and various other consultants introduce new ideas. Mergers and acquisitions bring in new ways of seeing and doing. The average corporate culture is a crowded house, an accumulation of ideas and practices.

And it would be one thing if these ideas and practices were explicit and obvious and sat like a simple “subroutine” in the corporate code, there to be plucked cleanly out when we wanted to change things. But of course, these ideas live cheek by jowl in an unexamined mass. I can’t remember ever hearing someone say, “Oh, ok, now that we’re moving to this idea, let’s root out the old one.”

No, we muddle through, assuming, apparently, that old ideas will expire on their own, or leave in disgrace. But of course they persevere. Every so often someone will break one out during a committee meeting and we all silently think, “Welcome, old friend.” More often, they serve as an assumption we resort to “when things get complicated.” The trouble is, they have a way of making things still more complicated. After all, the ideas that works for one person or group often contradicts and wrong-foots the rest of us. You’re thinking one thing. I’m thinking another. Key projects end up as “ships passing.”

Good luck onboarding a new hire. A handbook may capture the most recent, the most explicit, and the most formal of the ideas and values that govern the culture, but that teeming mass of additional ideas it tends to leave out. It will take weeks, sometimes months for the new hire to glimpse all the ideas at work in the corporate culture and the rules that govern when and by whom they’re used. Time wasted. Value squandered. And sometimes a lost hire. 

Who is responsible for this complicated culture? We have a COO for operations, a CMO for marketing, a CFO for finance. Why not a CCO, a Chief Culture Officer, for culture? As the party who grasps the welter of ideas that inform and animate the corporation, the CCO becomes a critical agent, an intervening angel. She can step in and say to two warring departments and say, “actually, you’re both right. You, department X, are using ideas that came to use from a talk Tom Peters gave here in 2005. And you, department Y, appear to be holding to the managerial mandate we got two years later when McKinsey came in. Here’s the Rosetta stone, the translation table, that sorts this out. Ok, begin again.”

Crisis management aside, the CCO can be there at the moment of creation, inventing the culture of the corporation, auditioning new ideas, integrating them with older ideas, helping clarify the mission, values and purpose of the organization. The CCO now fashions these not only as a grand statement for the annual report but as a work-a-day understanding that helps the organization day all the time.

In effect, this CCO would act as an organizing intelligence, a problem solver, a diplomatic officer, someone who can intervene when a team struggles to define its problem and its solutions. Corporations have always been complicated, but now as they learn to speak to complexity with complexity, things can get very murky very fast. A CCO, acting as an angelic intervention, would be extremely useful. “Ah, yes,” people say after a visit from the CCO, “that’s what we’re for, that’s who we are. Let’s start again.”

This is a grand calling, but I don’t think it exhausts the responsibility of the CCO. I think the corporation should ask the Chief Culture Officer to monitor and master the culture outside the corporation. And by “culture” here I mean, the cultural meanings and social rules that make up American life. When we know these meanings and rules, we negotiate daily life without a hitch. If we don’t know, life turns into a series of mysteries and frustrations. (Try ordering a cup of coffee in the Middle East and see what it’s like not to know the meanings and the rules.)

I recently gave a speech for a large, very serious federal bureaucracy. They wanted me to talk about culture in particular and Culturematics in particular, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Waiting back stage, preparing to go on, I turned to my handler and said, “What am I doing here? Why do they care about culture?” The reply was illuminating. “They keep losing their new employees. They work hard to find the right hires. But the kids come in and after a couple of weeks, they ask your question, ‘What I am doing here’ and leave.”

There will be several ways the CCO can address the issue of employee engagement but one is to use culture to craft a new connection with the hire. We can ask employees to serve as part of the intelligence net with which the corporation (or bureaucracy) keeps track of changes in the world “out there.” And now we have engaged them in something they care about. We have tapped their magnificent knowledge of popular culture. We can listen to them as they listen to one another and the world. They are now our eyes and ears. With this gesture, we honor the whole of the employee, and not the narrow part they bring to work each morning.

It is one of the peculiarities of capitalism that it has asked people to leave their other selves at the door. Someone may have a haircut that shouts “I have a life outside this place,” but we don’t want to know. Traditionally, the response has been, “We don’t know what you do on your own time and we don’t want to know. Just do your job. Everything extraneous to “job performance” is precisely that, extraneous. At best a distraction. A worst, a sign of disloyalty!” When that guy from fulfillment wanders into the cafeteria, someone asks with a small note of horror, “What do you suppose Karl does in his spare time?”

As it turns out, on the weekend Karl becomes a formidable competitor in the gaming world, when he is not working on his Anime collection. Now, there was a time when it truly didn’t matter what Karl did with his free time, but these days, the corporation wants to keep an eye on the entire waterfront of contemporary culture, especially the world of gaming. If the corporation has anything to do with entertainment, marketing or innovation, a working knowledge is essential.

Karl has a working knowledge. And he would be thrilled to be asked. He would be honored to do a brown bag lunch with other members of the organization, swapping stories, comparing notes, mapping out what they know about our culture. The organization is filled with Karls. And between them, they can map a lot of American culture. For some reason, we now ignore our Karls. I was talking to Tom Guarriello about this the other day, and he just shook his head. “When was the last time the corporation left this much value sitting on the table?”

What the corporation needs is someone who fully grasps the corporate culture inside the corporation, someone who can make this knowledge more supple, more available, more strategic and more tactical than it is now. And it needs someone who knows about culture “out there in the world.” What the corporation needs is a Chief Culture Officer.

Or so it seems to me. I welcome thoughts and comments from the HR community. I can only really to speak to “culture outside” and I welcome the chance to work with people who know about “culture inside” the corporation.

Please leave a comment below, or feel free to send me a note at grant27@gmail.com.

References

Baribeau, Paul. 2012. 5 ways to become the Chief Culture Officer.  Workplace Tribes. August 23.  Click here.  

Biro, Meghan M. 2012. Time for a new leader in the C-Suite. Forbes. Aug. 13. Click here.

Biro, Meghan M. 2012. Workplace culture leaders humanize the onboarding process. Forbes. August 22. Click here.

Collins, David. 2000. Management Fads and Buzzwords: Critical-Practical Perspectives. Routledge.

Lambert, Avi. 2012. Chief Culture Officer. Squidoo. Click here.

McCracken, Grant. 2011. Chief Culture Officer. Basic Books. Click here.

McCracken, Grant. 2012. Culturematic. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.
Click here.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Meghan M. Biro and Avi Lambert who encouraged me to participate in the #TChat and for the conversation that followed.  Thanks to Tim Sullivan and Tom Guarriello for several discussions on the theme.

Explanations

The image is an “umbraculo” in Barcelona.  I like a wall that lets the inside out and outside in.  

Culture Contest: Showtime vs. USA Networks

Preamble

The Big C, the new show starring the deeply talented Laura Linney gives us a glimpse of what is now possible on cable. It resembles a second show on Showtime, Weeds.

Together these shows give us a glimpse into the Showtime thinktank.  (One of the principles, apparently: let’s see what happens to suburban living when we mix things up.)

There is a another experiment at work at USA Networks, from which a string of hits has recently issued (Burn Notice, Psych, Royal Pains, White Collar).  (One of the principles, apparently, stay as far away from the suburbs as possible.)

Your essay question:

1. Compare and contrast Showtime and USA Networks.  Identify the grammar or algorithm that produces the shows in question.  (Consider my "suburb" reference a hint, but merely one very rough indicator of the possibilities.  Please do feel free to contradict me.)

2. What larger cultural significance do you attach to the fact that these two approaches to making TV now exist?  Did they exist in the 20th century.  Why do they exist now?

Conditions:

Fewer than 1000 words.

point form preferred.

points for being crisp and clear.

Contest winners

Contest winners will receive a Minerva (as pictured) and a place on the winner’s list.  (And immortality as a contest winner, of course. See the list of previous winners, by clicking here.) (Note: the Minerva used to be called the "VOWEL.")

Contest judges

Normally I do the judging for Minervas.  But this is a recipe for provincialism.  So I am invited several people to act as judges.  They are:

Rick Boyko, Director and Professor, VCU Brandcenter

Schuyler Brown, Skylab

Bryan Castañeda

Ana Domb

Mark Earls, author, Herd

Brad Grossman, Grossman and Partners

Christine W. Huang, PSFK, Huffington Post and Global Hue

Steve Postrel

Chief Culture Officer

This is precisely the kind of question I would expect a CCO to hit out of the park.  If you are having trouble with this question and fancy yourself CCO material, you are not watching enough TV.  (When spouses or colleagues complain, look them straight in the eye and say: "It’s doctor’s orders."  (Trust me, I’m an anthropologist.)

Previous Winners

Juri Saar (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Reiko Waisglass (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Brent Shelkey (for the "Who’s a good doggie woggie?" contest)

Daniel Saunders (for the "JJ Abrams vs. Joss Whedon" contest)

Tim Sullivan (for the "Karen Black vs. Betty White" contest?)

“It” extraction (killing a brand softly)

Last week, quietly and without fanfare, ThinkPad decided not to renew its flagship model, the X301. 

The X301 is a beautiful machine.  It has that wonderful ThinkPad keyboard, a huge screen, and it weighs only a little bit more than a ballet slipper.  It is a miraculous demonstration of what design and engineer can do.

And now it’s done for.  Lenovo is proposing the ThinkPad T410s as the x301s replacement.   When called upon to explain himself, Lenovo Marketing Director, Wang Lipin said that T400 series was more powerful than the x301, and cheaper by a thousand dollars.

The trouble: the T400 doesn’t have “it” quality.  It is a business machine in the most pedestrian sense of the term.  No trace of elegance.  No claim to being the pick of the technological litter.  No “wow” factor.  The T410 is just another business machine. 

This takes us into one of the thorniest issue in the branding world.  What is “it?”  And what’s “it” worth? 

It’s a difficult discussion because “it” is inscrutable.  We can point to “it.”  We know “it” when we see it.  But when it comes to anatomizing, measuring, and pricing “it,” well, this proves difficult and all the marketing and pricing models break down. 

This would be a mere irritation if “it” weren’t such a gusher in the tech world.  But it is.  All of us can buy a phone that is smarter, faster and cheaper than the iPhone.  But none of these has “it” status.  We may not be able to measure “it,” but we don’t hesitate to pay the premium it demands of us.  

Apple turns out to be pretty good at “it.”  In fact, Apple now pretty much owns “it” in the computer world at the moment. 

Except when it come to the lightest, full function lap top.  The Apple entry in this category, the MacBook Air, is a pretty good machine.  But that’s all it is.  A pretty good machine.  It doesn’t have “it.”  Until last week, that belonged to ThinkPad.

So why did Lenovo perform an “it” extraction?  That’s clear enough.  It was making a rational business decision.  It was applying a pricing model.  It may well have been working from Robert Dolan’s exemplary text book on the topic.  This was a perfectly sensible marketing decision.

But it was of course an absolutely disastrous business decision, one that may cost Lenovo dearly.  When Lenovo took the “it” out of ThinkPad, it gave up the only branding advantage it had over Apple.   Sadder still, it destroyed much of the brand value that prompted Lenovo to buy ThinkPad from IBM in the first place.  Having taken on a brand that would help it fight its way out of the commodity basement, it has now descended into that commodity basement, slamming the door behind it as it goes. 

Lenovo’s “it extraction” was a good, rational, pricing decision.  But if we are not protecting “it” when our designers and engineers gift us with it, if we are not building the brand that protects us from the commodity basement, our decision, rational by some narrow standard, is wildly irrational by any broader one. 

Commerce isn’t good at imponderables.  And “it” is nothing if not imponderable.  The fault lies largely on the side of the design house and the ad agency.  When asked to measure and account for “it,” and every cultural moments has it’s its (it girls, it brands, it activities, it restaurants, it industries), designers and agency people demurred.  “Oh, listen, don’t bother your pretty little heads about it,” they said to the client.  “This is what you pay us for.  We’ll keep track of it.  You just get product on the shelf.”  (If only they had a Chief Culture Officer.)

So it’s not entirely surprising that pricing models don’t have anything to say about “it."  And it’s not surprising that senior managers boot this sort of decision with some frequency.  But when you think about how much value “it” creates for us, how essential it is to the life of the corporation, and how much there is at stake in terms of careers and brands, isn’t it time we did better?   

Put these on the business conference agenda.  What is it?  What’s it worth?  How do we price it?  How do we manage it?  In the meantime, hire a CCO.  

References

Dolan, Robert J., and Hermann Simon. 1997. Power Pricing. Free Press.  

Lai, Richard. 2010. “Lenovo ThinkPad X300 series to be phased out, replaced by T400 this year.” Engadget. here. (Accessed July 21, 2010).

McCracken, Grant. 2009. Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. Basic Books.  

Hobbes, John. 2010. “BREAKING: Lenovo ThinkPad X301 to be discontinued, supplanted by T410s.” Logic ThinkPad. July 13. here. (Accessed July 21, 2010).

Gareth Kay as CCO for Carl Icahn

I woke up to this revelation in the Wall Street Journal:

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, in the final two weeks of his tender for Lions Gate Entertainment Inc., was able to scrape together just enough of a stake to give him veto power over major transactions such as acquisitions or asset sales.

My heart soared.  Surely, Mr. Icahn would not assert himself in the entertainment industry unless he had a Chief Culture Officer.  Who knew?  How thrilling. 

And then it fell again.  Nothing in the business press suggests that Mr. Icahn has, or has provided himself with, the kind of cultural knowledge required to run a film and TV studio.  (I may have missed something here and would be very glad to hear it.  I would be happy to run a correction and an apology.)

This is to say that Icahn may not be qualified to exercise the veto power now in his possession.  And I don’t want to hear the traditional defense:

"business is business, Mr. Icahn doesn’t need to know about culture in general or entertainment in particular to exercise his new veto power at Lions Gate.”

This is like saying any engineer can work for NASA.  Because stress is stress.  It’s like saying, the Prime Minister of Greece could step into the British House of Parliament.  Because politics is politics. Er, no.  Business is not business, especially when it is B to C business, especially when it has to do with the entertainment world which turns entirely on the production and consumption of culture, and especially when the entertainment world is roiled constantly by shifting consumer expectations.  This business is not business any manager can manage.  It demands an extraordinary mastery of American and not just American culture. 

So it’s a little strange that Mr. Icahn doesn’t have a Chief Culture Officer.  What’s stranger still is the fact the Lions Gate has not defended itself with a cultural accusation.  It has called Icahn offer “coercive” and it has “criticized Mr. Icahn’s track record as an activist investor,” but it hasn’t pointed out the obvious.  I mean, when does Jon Feltheimer, co-chairman and CEO of Lions Gate or vice chairman, Michael Burns say to shareholders, “Look, Mr. Icahn doesn’t know anything about the entertainment industry.”

If Mr. Icahn wants my advice (and who doesn’t), I would recommend he hire Gareth Kay.   Gareth is top of mind because I had dinner with him last night, so I have very recent evidence of his readiness for office.  He is now very happily employed at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners as a planner, helping them grow at a furious pace.  He is fantastically smart, informed, strategic, adroit, alert and clear.  He is just the guy to give Icahn and Lions Gate the big picture.

Mr. Icahn, please consider his appointment part of your new cultural due diligence. 

References

Worden, Nat.  2010.  Getting Foot in Lions Gate, Icahn Now Has Veto Power.  Wall Street Journal.  July 2, pp.  B1-B2, p. B1.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek some more

Well, it turns out they have wireless on the plane.  Woo Hoo.

This allows me to return to thoughts on the new BusinessWeek from Bloomberg.

Ian Schrager: Prophet now in search of profit

This issue end with a strange essay from Ian Schrager, founder of Morgans Hotel, the Royalton, and the Delano.

Schrager now regrets not having used a single brand for his several hotels.  At the time, he felt that a single brand name would have been seen as vain or uncool.  Also, he says, 

I worried about losing what was special about each one, so I gave each its own name.  

This feels like self repudiation from a Stalinist show trail.  It’s hard to believe one’s ears. Schrager is one of the people who led the charge against mass marketing and big fat brands.  He is one of the people who created the era of marketing now upon us. Apparently, it was all an accident.  Nevery mind.  Carry on.  

At the end of his career, I guess Schrager now likes the idea of a having something to sell, over and above the properties.  And who wouldn’t.  But he doesn’t for a minute stop to contemplate the possibility that his success came precisely from the fact that he was working brandless, that he took leave of conventional practice, that he was prepared to make each of his hotels "special."

This is odd and sad.  Can Schrager really be a pioneer who does not grasp his revolutionary accomplishment?   Say it ain’t so.

Suzy Hansen and Greece in turmoil

I am sure her editors gave her lots of navigational advice, but the piece by Suzy Hansen feels like she was simply dropped into contemporary Athens and asked to think her way home.  And sweet Jesus, does she think her way home. This is one of the best pieces of journalism I have read in a long time.  It takes on a fantastically complex and shifting world, and renders it clear without ever making it tame.  Hansen gives us everything from strategic pictures from 31 k feet and ethnographic notes from her own eyes-on experience. The commotion never does away, but ever so gently a pattern begins to form, like a black and white photo coming up out of the developing tray.  Wow, can this woman write. Wow, can she think.  Hat’s off to Hansen, and, yes, ok, her editors.  

PepsiCo and the SoBe success

In a treatment of PepsiCo’s SoBe line, we are treated to a glimpse one of the secrets of PepsiCo’s success.

Tucked into a corner of PepsiCo’s sprawling campus in Purchase, N.Y., is a space known to insiders as Adam’s room. Decked out with couches upholstered is silver leatherette, a flat-screen TV, and an Xbox 360 video games console, the one time conference room is designed to resemble the natural habitat of a prototypical 22-year-old male, right down to the pair of sneakers carefully tossed on the floor.

I know some people will dismiss this as cosmetic, too little contact with contemporary culture actually to make a difference.  But hang on a minute.  Imagine trying to make a corporation-centric decision in such a room.  Living in the very lair of the beast (and 22 year olds are beasts, let’s be clear) it must be vastly more difficult to fall into the gravitation field of the corporation and forget for whom we work.  I think this might even be better than the typical "war room" which is usually festooned with data torn out of context (and magazines). Adam’s room may be all context but it is might as well be content, so nicely does it focus the marketing mind.

References

Hansen, Suzy.  2010.  Life Amid the Ruins.  Bloomberg BusinessWeek, June 28th – July 4.  

McCracken, Grant.  2009.  Chief Culture Officer.  New York: Basic Books.

Schrager, Ian.  2010.  Hard Choices.  Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  June 28th – July 4.  

Stanford, Duane.  2010.  How PepsiCo Refreshed Its SoBe Water Brand.  Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  June 28th – July 4.

Subscribe to Bloomberg BusinessWeek here.

Virginia Postrel was kind enough to interview me for Enterpreneur Magazine.  

You can find an edited version of the interview at Enterpreneur.com here.

For the full version of the interview in which you will find me chatty and discursive.  

 

Virginia Postrel: What do you mean by “culture”?

Grant McCracken: I was just watching the movie I Love You, Man.  It’s a funny movie, and it’s a wonderfully observed piece of anthropology.  The Paul Rudd character doesn’t understand how to act like a “guy.”  Somehow this knowledge has escaped him.  That’s what culture is: the meanings and rules with which we understand and act in the world. 

This makes culture sound amorphous and absurdly abstract, I know.  But let’s put this another way.  Culture is the very knowledge and scripts we will someday build into robots to make them socially sentient creatures.  At the moment, we’re still teaching them to climb stairs. The more difficult task is to read social situations.  Unless we’re autistic, most of us do this effortlessly and in real time.  That’s because we have this knowledge “built in.”  Notice what it will take to build it into robots.  This is programming, exact, finite, and incredibly specific programming.  Nothing amorphous or abstract about it. 

VP: What’s the biggest mistake business people make when they think about the intersection of culture and commerce?

GM: Business people think that because they can’t see it, culture doesn’t exist.  They suppose that the moment of sale consists of a rational decision, a calculation of interest, a pursuit of benefit.  But every purchase is shaped by meanings and rules.  Whether a new product finds a place in the market depends on whether and how it squares with the meanings in our heads.  Think of all the innovations that were technically brilliant but failed because the consumer “couldn’t really get a handle on them.”  This is another way of saying that the innovation was not designed or positioned in a way that made it consistent with the culture in our heads.

VP: What can a small startup without the resources to have a dedicated “chief culture officer” do to make sure it pays attention to the relevant cultural trends?

GM: Start ups have access to lots of culture knowledge.  No need to hire a guru or a cool hunter.  They can boot strap this knowledge.  (They probably do need to read Chief Culture Officer.  I can’t urge this strongly enough.  But, hey, it’s my start up.)  The thing is to formalize all that cultural knowledge we have in our heads.  Right now it’s tacit knowledge.  Like how to be a guy.  Or things we know about culture, about television, cocktail culture, the local food movement, Burning Man.  We have to get it out of our heads onto the table.  And then we have to tag the changes we see happening.  Then we need to build a big board in order to track the changes that matter to us and we have to start making estimates about when they will reach our markets.  For the culture knowledge we don’t know, the trick is to start combing media more systematically.  In Chief Culture Officer, I talk about an investment firm in NYC that keeps track of culture by having 5 people read 300 magazines.  We don’t need to hire a cool hunter or a guru to learn about culture.  We just have to pay attention. 

GM: I think Alan Moore put his finger on the problem here in Crossing the Chasm.  In the early days, tech start ups are selling to people who are savvy enough to figure out the value proposition and make the product work.  Eventually, however, we are speaking to much larger audiences and this means talking to people who don’t get tech.  Now we have to build not from what’s technically possible.  Now we have to build to what fits in the world of the consumer.  Consumers are no longer coming to us.  We must go to them.  We have to cease being an engineer for a moment and become an anthropologist.  We must find out who the consumer is, how he lives, and what will make the product make sense to him.  In a perfect world, we build a product that understands the consumer so perfectly, he or she doesn’t even need to read the manual.  We all remember our first experience with the iPhone.  It was as if the iPhone understood us so completely, it was teaching us how to use it.  This is cultural knowledge in action.

VP: Could you give us an example of a startup that beat the big guys by understanding culture?

GM: The world of carbonated soft drinks is filled with examples of start ups that managed to spot the next trend and steal a march on the big guys: Snapple, Red Bull, Vitamin Water, Odwalla, and so on.  These startups spotted the trend and rode it to glory.  They get in early and ended up owning the market.  In the book, I try to show how Snapple accomplished this miracle.  The rewards here at breathtaking.  Snapple sold to Quaker for $1.7 billion.

VP: People often say, “You can’t teach taste.” At least when it comes to business, you disagree. Why?

GM: Culture is a body of knowledge like any other body of knowledge.  Saying we “can’t teach taste” is like saying we can’t teach finance, operations, or human relations.  Of course, we can.  But of course we have lots of people in business who have a vested interest in making it voodoo.   This is the way gurus, cool hunters, and various agencies keep themselves in business.  It’s time to get culture out of the black box.  I don’t say we don’t need gurus or agencies.  For certain purposes, they can create exceptional value.  I do say that they should not be allowed to make themselves sole source for what we know about culture.  In the run up of 1990s, serial startups found that the guy who was CFO for the last startup was now CMO for the next one.  The C-Suite is filled with fast learners, with mobile learners.  We need to get culture into this mix. 

VP: A.G. Lafley is one of the heroes of Chief Culture Officer. What can entrepreneurs learn from him?

GM: He’s the guy who helped teach P&G, that great temple of marketing, that it had much more to learn about being consumer focused.  In Game-Changers, Lafley insists that the marketer must dolly back from narrow utilities to see the larger social and cultural context, to see the consumer in all of his or her complexity.  This is the corporation making sure that the product services is “not about us,” not about what the engineers can build, not about what the marketer’s can sell, not about what the corporation has traditionally done.  It’s about who the consumer is and how he or she lives.   It’s about that software in his or her heads. 

VP: What’s wrong with “cool hunting”?

GM: Cool hunting is heat sensitive.  Cool hunters only care about the latest stuff, the fads and fashion.  But culture is vastly more than this.  It is deep cultural traditions.  These traditions change, but they do so slowly.  And when they change, they do not show on the cool hunter’s radar.  Hard to know how to quantify this, but my guess is that fads and fashions make up only 20% of culture.  Slow culture is all the rest.  What kind of professional ignores 80% of his or her domain?

VP: You’re a creative, divergent thinker, yet you seek to avoid what Claude Levi-Strauss called “wild thought.” How do you balance creativity and structure, and what would you advise entrepreneurs about striking that balance?

GM: I’m Canadian, a notoriously tidy people, the Swiss of North America.  But I am prepared to go where ideas take me.  I have this from my parents and from my education at the University of Chicago.  (The latter looks a little like Lafley’s P&G.  It accepts that the exercise is “not about us,” but about the ideas.  You adapt as you must to honor them.)  I think this makes me like most entrepreneurs who know that good things happen only when wild creativity is routinized and systematized.  Entrepreneurs have range!  They are there when the big ideas happen, driving people “outside the box.”  They then find a way to rebuild the box.  They then find a way to make something actually come out of the box.  Then they find a way to put that something out in to the market where it turns into ROI.  Phenomenal!  They are very smart and very determined.  But they are also masters of many cultures. 

VP: You introduce the idea of the “lunch list” as a way to stay in touch with culture. What is it, and how would it apply to the owner of a small startup?

GM: No one can keep track of contemporary culture but there are people who really understand individual pieces of it.  The CCO solution?  Take these people to lunch.  (Or otherwise engage them.)  My editor at Basic Books, Tim Sullivan, is a great guy to take to lunch.  He will give you the world of emerging ideas. He will let you his astounding powers of pattern recognition.  Chefs, journalists, politicians, CMOs, diplomats, all can give us a glimpse of the forces shaping the world.

VP: You talk about “fast culture” and “slow culture.” What do you mean, and how do their implications for business differ?

GM: Fast culture is great churn of our culture at any given time.  Some of the fads will cool into fashion, some of the fashions will cool into trends, and some of the trends will actually stay on to become culture.  But most fad, fashion and trend just keeps going, out of our world, eventually out of memory.  As I was saying above, it is fast culture that preoccupies us most. 

But there is also “slow culture,” and these are the long standing traditions that are part of our bed rock.  These get some attention from the academics.  The historians have warmed to the idea of culture over the last 30 years especially and this has results in some very useful work.  I am just reading a book called Hotel: An American History by Andrew K. Sandoval-Strausz, a wonderfully interesting look at the hospitality industry as it has shaped and been shaped by the American culture.  We need to know about fast culture, but this is like taking a major leaguers’ stats for the season and not the career.  We need to know about slow culture too.

VP: Why would Chris Rock make a good chief culture officer?

GM: Mr. Rock knows about African American culture and he knows about non African American culture, and knows how to pass back and forth between them.  This makes him a cultural entrepreneur.  We might say he’s in the shipping business. Anyone who knows two pieces of our culture is well on his or her way to mastering the larger whole.  It’s a lot like language learning.  The second language is always the toughest.  The third and fourth come more easily. 

VP: How can social media tools help small businesses keep in touch with culture?

GM: Twitter and Facebook are great ways to listen in on the conversation and to engage in it.  I recently did an interview with Bud Caddell at Undercurrent and I liked his idea that you have to keep provoking the world with comments, suggestions, and experiments.  The reactions will give us a sense, a kind of GPS signal, of where we are, of what’s happening “out there.”

VP: Does being Canadian give you an advantage as an anthropologist?

GM: An American journalist asked Martin Short why it was so many American comedians were Canadians by birth.  Shore said, “Oh, that’s because you grew up watching TV.  I grew up watching American TV.”  My sister and I used to watch Saturday morning cartoons.  We enjoyed them immensely, but there was always a small sense that we were watching something from another world.  Now that we are a diverse society everyone has access to a difference of this kind.  As a culture we are so decentered that everyone has an exceptional point of view. 

VP: How much TV do you watch every week?

GM: I watch the national average, plus I have friends who are not as diligent as they should be, so I watch their hours too.  As a civic gesture.  TV is a wonderful listening device for our culture.  The networks and cable run out a constant series of experiments (aka, new shows) and these shows are so expensive that choice are made with great care.  Which is another way of saying the experiments are very carefully crafted.  Then the TV view audience votes with their viewership and we see, hey presto, America likes Modern Marriage and it doesn’t like the show that comes after it on ABC, Cougar Town.  It’s not impossible to draw cultural conclusions from this event. 

VP: What do you make of Lady Gaga?

GM: Lady Gaga burns brightly at the moment.  She has crafted herself in the tradition of David Bowie and Madonna, changing dramatically, vividly, and often.Indeed, Lady Gaga ups the transformational cycle.  Bowie changed several times.  Madonna changed many times. Lady Gaga appears to change with every performance.  So we can take her as a measure of the speed at which we change.  But she is also a fad struggling to stay on as a fashion and then a trend and then a fixture in our culture.  Bowie and Madonna made the cut.  Chances are she will not.  But I hope I’m wrong.  She is a vivid, interesting presence.  (The real mystery here is why the music is so utterly ordinary.  Bowie and Madona were transformational here too.)

VP: You ran a “CCO boot camp.” Who came and what did they do? Do you have plans for more?

GM: We had a great mix, people from the strategy world, the C-suite, entertainment industry, the military, designers, senior managers, grad students, a real range.   In the morning, we reviewed 6 parts of American culture.  In the afternoon, we looked at how to monitor and manage culture for the corporation.  It was amazing fun.  I am now planning to do one for a gigantic corporation.  I now have a poll on my website to see where people want the next one held.  At the moment, Boston is winning. 

Books

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Fitzgerald, Frances. 1986. Cities on a Hill, A Journey Through Contemporary American Cultures. Simon and Schuster.  

Florida, Richard. 2003. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. Basic Books.  

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