Tag Archives: Chief Culture Officer

Creator brands: Brands that make culture

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At their most powerful, brands actually make culture. Creator brands, let’s call them.

Nike changed the way we thought about exercise, fitness, bodies and diet in the 1970s and 80s. Most of us look different and feel different for the work that came from this brand and those brilliant meaning-makers at Wieden + Kennedy.

A cluster of brands and industries after World War II helped create “mid century modernism” which in turn shaped how Americans lived and thought of themselves in a very fluid moment. Brands were minting fundamental ideas of who were we were, what we cared about, and how we lived.

In the present day, Uber and AirBnb are changing the way we think about travel and tourism. Netflix is changing the way we think about TV and storytelling.

More often, of course, brands are fellow travelers. They identify what’s happening in the culture and put themselves “in tune” with it.

Subaru and the agency Carmichael Lynch are now brilliantly in tune with culture. They continue to speak to (and speak for) a new feeling for community and family. Now that competitive individualism is in retreat, this is the way Subaru made itself a “brand of the moment.” (This is exceptional work and I hope the brand and agency are being showered with awards. And enjoy them. Principal Financial Group and agency TBWA now threatens to do still better work.)

Sometimes the brand resonates with culture in a painful, unconvincing way, as when a big processed food companies struggles unconvincingly to show us how “artisanal” they are. No one’s buying it, figuratively or literally. The brands of the consumer packaged goods world are really under challenge at the moment. It’s sad because they were so perfectly in tune in the first few decades after World War II.

Getting in touch with culture is hard. Creating culture is harder still. It’s not for the faint of heart or mind. It takes intelligence, imagination, a virtuoso control of the organization, the message, and the moment.

The rewards, on the other hand, are immense. The brand that creates culture becomes a kind of navigational satellite in our world. It becomes one of the places from which we draw our ideas of selfhood and in the Herman Miller case, the work place. Most brands are “meanings made.” Creator brands are meaning makers. They help make the meanings that in turn make us.

With this in mind, I read with interest a wonderful essay in FastCo Design by Diana Budds about Herman Miller and its plan to change our culture.  In the words of CEO Brian Walker, the firm has undertaken a

“shift from being just a contract company or just an industry brand to truly be a powerful lifestyle and consumer lifestyle brand.”

This is the language corporations use when it setting about to change culture. They talk about becoming a lifestyle brand. They are now embarked on styling life.

The trouble with this approach is that many people want to style life but they have no clue about what culture is or how to change it. And you can’t style life unless you are prepared to reckon with culture.

Too often, “lifestyle brand” means slapping a new coat of paint on the brand. Too often lifestyle branding is all “style “and no “life.” The brand remains an PET plastic soda bottle sitting on the surface of the Atlantic, incapable of any sort of real contact (thank goodness). It’s just another contribution to the detritus that flows from the land of bad marketing.

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The good news is that Herman Miller hired a guy called Ben Watson (pictured here with his muse, a beautiful Burmese). Ben is a designer and, at their best, designers are good at helping connect the brand to culture. The best of them have an extraordinary combination of intelligence, imagination, strategy, craft, cunning. They grasp cultural foundations and the cultural moment. They can see culture in all it’s manifestations, intellectual, aesthetic, emotional, material and emergent, and they have a way make these manifest in the brand in a way that points us in new directions, in this case away from old concepts of work and work place to new concepts of work and work place. This makes them a precious, possibly irreplaceably precious, resource. This makes them seerers where the rest of us are blind.

But it doesn’t always go well. Sometimes designers just don’t get culture. Pepsi and Tropicana hired Peter Arnell to “rejuvenate, reengineer, rethink, reparticipate in popular culture,” and Arnell promptly engaged in what BusinessWeek called a “five week world tour of trend design houses.” (More details in Chief Culture Officer, pp. 161 and following).

This is a little like asking an astronomer to look for uncharted planets only to discover that he’s spend his time touring observatories chatting up other astronomers. Yes, of course, you can learn a lot this way, but at some point you have actually have to leave the design world bubble and talk to people who aren’t wearing really cool glasses.  Anything else is threatens to deliver the provincial and parochial. Anything else is an echo chamber.

I don’t know Ben. Let me point out that there is no criticism implied or intended. For all I know, he is absolutely the most gifted “astronomer” in play and Herman Miller’s best chance to change culture. Fingers crossed! (I should say, in the interests of full disclosure, that I have done several projects for Herman Miller. For all I know Ben is drawing on my work. In which case, god speed!)

Ben has an extraordinary Nike-esque opportunity. We are in a moment of real cultural confusion. There are several big questions in play. What is “work?” What’s a “workplace?” These things used to be defined by several pretty clear distinctions: work and home, work and play, work and life, public and private, instrumental and expressive, pragmatic and recreational, men and women, hierarchical distinctions of rank, exquisitely clear divisions of labor. nice, neat boundaries of inside and outside, them and us. These cultural meridians once so helpful in defining social life are now well blurred. Blurred? They are thoroughly tangled.

Ben could bring clarity here. He could create a space that accommodates these confusions, that enables what we hope for, and helps to “edit out” what we wish to escape. Ben can made a contribution to Herman Miller and through Herman Miller to us. He can actually clarify our culture. He can humpty-dumpty us back together again. He can help make us ready for a postmodern existence.

What’s especially interesting about Budds’ essay is the attention it gives to the way Herman Miller intends to use retail and display spaces to define the brand and through the brand the rest of us. Designers control the manifestations of culture in the world. And when we give them Herman Miller spaces (and furniture) we give them something with which to work.

Will Ben transform us? Will Herman Miller become a creator brand? It depends to some extent on how well Ben and Herman Miller understand culture. And if manifestations are designers’ strength, culture is, by and large, their weakness.

Post script.

I think we are seeing public space and public events used more and more to stage the brand. Even as we avail ourselves of social media and digital content, we like to make the brand live in the “real world.” (Note to self…and anyone else who’s interested: we need a model that distinguishes all the media and messages at our disposal and shows how we can divide branding work across them.)

I was interested to see the work being done by a Canadian bank called Mojo. Here’s a photo of their interior. As a Canadian I can say with confidence that this is the first time any message even remotely like “IS U REALLY BOUT UR MONEY OR NAH” has even been by a Canadian bank.

Ember Library Mediator

Normally, Canadian banks prefer to look like this:

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Which to be fair is it’s own very particular symbolic statement, and in its moment superbly in tune with Canadian culture.

Thanks to Gerald Forster for the photo of Ben Watson. Gerald is the founder of Here We Go Now.

For more on culture, try this.

CCO cover 1 breathing

 

 

Make Ethnography Better

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Ethnography has grown in the last couple of decades from a moody, friendless method in the social sciences to the belle of the business ball.

But clearly it has suffered in this rise to stardom. In the wrong hands, ethnography is now a license for the methodologically slap dash. To use the immortal words of Errol Morris, ethnography is now sometimes “cheap, fast and out of control.”

Part of the problem, I think, is that ethnography has been shorn away from anthropology. It was created by anthropologists (and to a lesser extent sociologists) and used in conjunction with anthropology (or sociology).

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The advantage of adding “anthro” to “ethno” is that it allows us to put things captured in the life of consumer, user, or viewer in a larger, illuminating context. We can see, more surely, what it means. Without this larger context, ethnography devolves into simple observation, as in “this is what I saw when I was in a consumer’s home.”

Adding “anthro” to “ethno” also give us access to theoretical resources and intellectual traditions that contemporary ethnographers rarely seem to bring to bear on the problem at hand. (And I’m sure that I don’t need to say that the “problem at hand” for any ethnographer studying the ferocious dynamism of contemporary culture is usually formidable. We need any and all the powers of pattern recognition available to us. Airily dismissing the patterns made available by intellectual discipline and years of theoretical development is just dumb.)

How can we tell that someone is adding “anthro” to “ethno?” We are entitled to ask “where did you study anthropology?” (We could also use “sociology,” “film studies,” or “American culture.”) We are asking, “what do you bring to the table beside a claim to method?”

But this is only part of the problem. Too often, the researcher has no “depth of field.” He or she is incapable of seeing that this family, this home, the user, this community is a creature in motion changing in real change. Good observers have an acute sense of the historical factors at work here. They know what has happened in a very detailed way since World War II and they have a general sense of what has been happening in Western and especially American culture over the last 300 years.

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This gives us a glimpse of “slow culture” as well as “fast culture.” (For more on the distinction, see my Chief Culture Officer.) And now we are really testing the abilities of the self appointed ethnographer. Do they have depth of field? Now we are entitled to ask, “tell me about any big, enduring trend in American culture. How did it take shape over time?”) (Don’t be surprised if they are astonished by the question.)

Here’s the problem. Most of the work being done by ethnographers is being done here.

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But this ethnography is stripped of the things that gives it real explanatory power.

What we need is something that heads in this direction.

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If ethnography is to evolve, we want to migrate in the direction of “anthro” + “slow culture.” We could think of this as a “Northwest passage” strategy. Until we find a way to connect these worlds, the Southeast sector must remain poorer and less cosmopolitan.

It’s not clear to me what the practical solution is. I did a couple of posts about the C-school idea a few years ago and discovered some of the following programs, any one (or several) of which might take up this challenge. (Notice that I am not saying these places have a solution, merely that they are the kind of places that might come up with one.)

The D school at Stanford (David Kelley)
W+K 12 (Wieden + Kennedy school, Victor a German Shepherd pointer)
The Miami Ad School (Ron & Pippa Seichrist)
The VCU BrandCenter (Helayne Spivak)
The Berlin School of Creative Leadership (Michael Conrad)
EPIC (Ken Anderson and Tracey Lovejoy)
UC Berkeley School of Information (AnnaLee Saxenian)
California College of the Arts 
Royal College of Arts
MIT Media Lab
Rhode Island School of Design
IIT Institute of Design (Laura Forlano, thank you Sergio)
Ethnography Training (Norman Stolzoff and Donna Romeo)
Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology
Ohio State (Liz Sanders)
University of North Texas
Wayne State
Columbia Business School (Bob Morais)
Fordham Business School (Timothy Malefyt)
Savannah College of Art and Design (Sarah Johnson and Susan Falls)

As I was noting here, the Annenberg School at USC is coming up fast.

Finally, I recently had lunch with John Curran and he tells me that things are afoot in London. I will leave it to him to reveal the details. (John, please send me a link so that I can include it here.)

I am hoping readers will let me know the programs I have missed.

Ralph Lauren, the 80s called, they want their ad back

Here’s a recent ad for Ralph Lauren’s fragrance Polo.

It’s a cultural antique. This is what advertising used to look like when designed to flatter male egos and sell goods that were designed to flatter male egos in a cultural moment designed to flatter male egos. These days, its “Really? Get over yourself.”

Ralph Lauren has not been superbly in touch with the cultural moment. (Not since the 1980s when he helped define the cultural movement.) But this is really egregiously out of touch. I guess he doesn’t have a Chief Culture Officer.

What looks and feels more contemporary?  Have a look at this Fitbit ad.

The difference?

It’s not about one person.  It’s about lots and lots of people.

It’s not about young males. It’s about a variety of people.  Because some years ago, advertising and branding learned it had to let in everyone, not just the Young and Beautiful…and Male.  Who gets the credit here?  Sylvia Lagnado and Dove? Who else?

And it’s not about someone with that terrible look of self congratulation, that overweening red speedboat of an ego.

It’s not about speedboats but the diversity of ways people have found to entertain and exert themselves. This is plenitude in action.

Yes, this ad is an exercise in diversity because the Fitbit is designed to capture data generate by any activity. But notice the tone, the reckless, frenetic charm of this spot. It’s not about anyone’s ego. There are no beautiful people here. No celebrities. It’s a “Here Comes Everybody” exercise, to use Shirky’s phrase. There are a variety of deep cultural reasons why diversity is so important when crafting cultural meanings.

We are on the verge of a season that shows a relentless stream of James Bond movies, and with each season, Bond looks a little stranger, a man so besotted with himself that it’s hard to imagine rooting for him.  How do we identify with a monster of vanity? Those days have passed. This is where you are, Mr. Lauren, on the wrong side of history.

Meanings, Models and Men in Black

imagesDriving to JFK airport today, I looked at the remainders of the 1964 World Fair and thought, as I almost always do, how successfully they were used in Men in Black, the comic book and the movies.

In the World’s Fair, they are observation towers.  In the film and books, they become alien spacecraft.

To use my parochial language, this makes them “culturematics” and that’s because they repurpose culture and change the meanings of one thing (towers) into another (spacecraft).

Men in Black is filled with repurposing of this kind.  My other favorite: turning bad, incredible newspapers into a one of the few sources of information the MiB take seriously.

Ok, a third.  A creature arrives from outer space and demands a weapon from an earthling farmer.  This scene turns the warning “you may have my weapon when you pry it out of my cold, dead hand” into a negotiating position that the alien takes literally and accepts.  “That arrangement is satisfactory.”

You get the little jolt when something in your head changes meaning in this way.  Good metaphors always have that effect.  I get a little vertigo.  “Wait, those meanings that belong there don’t really belong there!?!  Oh, ok, they do. Very well.  Carry on.”   (I am not saying all metaphors are culturematics.  Because most metaphors are not experimental.)

The answer to the mystery of this meaning relocation may lie in the book I took to read on the plane: The Power of Impossible Thinking.  I am not crazy about the title (a little too Norman Vincent Peale for me) but I love the contents.  It’s by Jerry Wind and Colin Crook, both at the Wharton School.  I know Jerry a little and like him a lot which makes especially irksome the fact that I missed this book when it came out in 2006 and found it only literally a couple of weeks ago.

Power of Impossible Thinking argues that there is no real world, an assertion sure to warm an anthropologist’s heart.  What there are the models in our heads that help form what we see in the world.  So there is no economic action, no managerial initiative, no strategy, no insight, no decision, that is unshaped by the models, or as I would prefer, the meanings in our heads.

When an artist like Lowell Cunningham or a film maker like Barry Sonnenfeld reaches into your heads and reworks that World’s Fair observation towers, they have changed the meaning (or the model) in our heads.  And this is one of the reasons we write comix and go to movies, for the frisson of meaning (model) relocation, prefigurement, reconfigurement….whatever you call it.  We like that.

This makes especially puzzling the fact that when we are all “large and in charge” and working for an organization of some kind, we don’t like to hear about meanings or models.  We look at a book like Chief Culture Officer or The Power of Impossible Thinking and go, “no, really, is this quite necessary?  I don’t think so.”

So I admire that Jerry and Crook took this on.  It is a very tough sell.  Meanings and models are a little like the dark energy of enterprise world.  Yes, it’s out there but frankly managers  don’t know exactly what it is, how to think about it, or what to do about it.  And talking about it just makes  heads hurt.  This makes getting meaning or models into decision making and managerial discourse is ever so difficult!

Worse than that, I think people in their enterprise modality think of themselves having a “swift self.”  (This was an idea that came out of research I did for a book called Transformations.  More detail there.)  People in enterprise mode see themselves as being aerodynamic, the better, the quicker to assimilate data, make decisions, and act.  They love this swift self.  It’s a thrilling way to be.  But they often find that it eventually hollows them out, estranging them from family, friends, and other aspects of the self.   Still, it’s great fun while the party lasts.  In this swift self modality, the individual is  formidably capable, forging a smarter, clearer path to market share, say, or the creation of potable water in the Third World.

My favorite example of the swift self is Khalil Younes, a young man I got to know when consulting in Atlanta.  He was equal parts French, Lebanese and Harvard Business School and in his elegant, formidable way simply stared at problems til they dissolved into solution(s).

Here’s the problem.  In the swift self modality, people see themselves as a creature who cuts through the ideas and confusions that stand between themselves and satisfactory outcomes.  What Jerry and I call meanings and models, they think of things they are supposed to cut right through.  In their world, meanings and models are  the things that get in the way.  As a swift self, Khalil is reason.  He is Occam.

When Jerry and I ask Khalil to look at the meanings and models that mediate between the understandings and the world, it may well sound as if we are insisting on the impairment of this swiftness.

I think it’s likely for the swift self to reply with something like “Look, I have managed to be capable without entertaining the meanings or models you claim are active here, what are the chances this knowledge will make a difference?  On balance, I’m guessing it is more likely to interfere, taking more than it gives.”

This is not a bad argument until we get to the meat of the argument that Jerry and I are making and that is that the world is getting faster, more confusing and less scrutable.  And in circumstances like these, it makes sense to look hard at the meanings and models we use as instruments of apprehension…because when we don’t do this, we often can’t see the opportunities or the dangers now at hand.

Anyhow, I have just started the book and I will report back when I know more.   At a minimum, I think those who are Chief Culture Officers (or fellow travelers) might look to The Power of Impossible Thinking as another and perhaps a better way of communicating cultural understanding into the organization.  “Mental models” does sound a little less obscure than “meanings” and even this would be an improvement.  This might make a good Google Plus hang out at some point.  Anyhow, more to come.  I want to get this posted before I run out of internet service on board.

(Filed from 32,000 feet somewhere on the way to Austin.)

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.  

Is Barbara Lippert old enough?

My world rocked recently when it was revealed that Barbara Lippert was leaving Adweek for Goodby, Silverstein where she has been made “curator of pop culture.”

Yes, of course, I would have preferred that she be called a Chief Culture Officer.  But it’s enough that the appointment was made.

As readers of my blog will know, I was a fan of Lippert’s weekly Adweek column on advertising. It was superb.

Stuart Elliott’s announcement of the event was marred slightly by two of the reader comments that followed it.

[I have removed these comments at Barbara Lippert’s request]

Assumptions, assumptions!

Assumption 1: that Lippert was hired as a trend spotter.

Jeff Goodby doesn’t say anything about trend spotting.  In fact, Lippert has been hired as an expert on pop culture.  God spare us, Goodby and Silverstein, if she fulfills her duties by spotting trends. Culture is only about 20% trends. Agencies and corporations that spend their time spotting these trends lock themselves into an endless game of catch up.  Lippert is responsible for the whole of the water front of our culture, and here her age becomes an advantage.

Assumption 2: that you have to be one to know one.  (Specifically, only someone who is 18-34 can report on this demographic group.)

This notion was dispatched during the political correctness debates.  When members of excluded groups insisted that only they could report on these groups, the world had to remind them that the argument would cost them the right to report on any other group.  They stopped.

Assumption 3: that it’s ok to trade in stereotypes about [removed at Barbara Lippert’s request].

If you were generalizing about gender, race or ethnicity in this way, the world would have put you in a small room with John Galliano, the fashion world’s ranking anti-semite.

The real question:

Is Barbara Lippert old enough to be a curator of pop culture?  Has she lived, studied and observed enough to make good on the responsibility with which she’s been charged?Studying ads and the ad business for 20 years is actually an excellent perspective from which to study our culture.  And she is, to judge her by her column, a real talent.  My plan: wait and see.

References

Elliott, Stuart. 2011. “Longtime Ad Critic to Curate Pop Culture.” New York Times. http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/longtime-ad-critic-to-curate-pop-culture/