Tag Archives: Chief Culture Officer

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. 


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.


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.

Kill Screen, a new resource for the CCO

This is promising. 

Those of us who study culture watch for new windows.  Kill Screen may be one of these.

So when I read this paragraph, I reached for my wallet and signed up immediately.

The idea for Kill Screen was born while Jamin Brophy-Warren  was hanging out with pal and fellow Pitchfork writer Chris Dahlen in March 2009 at the Gamers Developing Conference in San Francisco.  The two began commiserating over the lack of a Tom Wolfe or Chuck Klosterman of video game writing. “Sure there were tons of bloggers dedicated to the subject,” Jamin says, “But there wasn’t anything high-end and intellectual publication on gaming. So we said, let’s do this.”

The gaming world is a kind of laboratory in which cultural definitions of self and world are being reworked, cultural rules and tolerances tested and refined.  Actually, laboratory might not the wrong metaphor.  What makes the gaming world so exciting is that it operates more like a skunk works, less academic deliberation and more creativity in real time.  In either case, if Kill Screen lives up to its objective, it will be necessary reading for the CCO.  


Boyd Myers, Courtney.  2010.  Kill Screen Magazine: what does it mean to play games.  PSFK. June 4. here.

Edery, David, and Ethan Mollick. 2008. Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business. FT Press.  

To subscribe to Kill Screen, go here.  


Thanks for PSFK for the head’s up on Kill Screen Magazine.  

Silvia Lagnado: reluctant CCO

This just in:

Silvia Lagnado has been appointed the CMO at Bacardi.  

This is good news for those of us who care about corporations that care about culture.

Lagnado is the woman responsible for the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, the woman who found a way to make an ancient brand responsive to new ideas of beauty and body (as above).

I wrote her up in Chief Culture Officer.  I was grateful to have such a great case in point. And a Canadian no less.  I tried to get in touch to interview her.  Well, really, I just wanted to bask in her reflected glory for a moment.  

But no go.  I heard nothing back.

I figured it was just me.  Lots of people don’t write back.  (You know who you are.)  And then I heard from a friend who is a big sneeze in an institution that’s a big sneeze and he said that he too had reached out without effect.

If two data points are enough (for an anthropologist, they are of course one more than necessary), we might argue a pattern here.  A woman who had done something remarkable, nay, revolutionary, was refusing the effects, the outcomes of her new celebrity.  

So, I thought to myself, perhaps there is something retiring about this woman, perhaps she is the reluctant CCO.  Clearly not.  If she has signed up to be CMO at Bacardi, she is anything but reluctant.  

Let’s stay tuned for great things.  


Malykhina, Elena.  2010.  Bacadi Taps Unilever Vet as CMO.  Brandweek.  May 26th. here.

Glee as the new American Idol

Is Glee the new American Idol? Could be.  Certainly, Glee has momentum at the moment, and American Idol after a long and spectacular run in the first moments of its decline.  This image, from Google trends, shows Glee over taking American Idol some time in the last quarter…at least as a search term on line.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Glee is the new American Idol.  We may not be correct but we do at least have the opportunity for speculation that would not otherwise occur to us, and with this, we have the opportunity for an early warning.  (The Chief Culture Officer is prepared to be wrong much of the time in order to be "sighted" some of the time.)

Some things don’t seem to change at all.  Both shows seem devoted to the endless recitation of popular culture that is actually not all that popular anymore.  American Idol seems determined to ignore most of what has happened to music since the 1990s.  Glee the same.  (Readers of this blog will know that I take these to be one of several indicators that the "alternative" sensibility of the 1990s is now on the wane.  More evidence?  The decline of Parks and Recreation and Community and of NBC and the now departed Ben Silverman who used to work there.)

But there are some interesting differences.  American Idol devotes itself to intensely personal stories, as kids claw their way to the top.  It’s all terribly authentic. Some of the point of the exercise is to get to know these kids, to root for them, to watch a star being born.   Glee on the other hand is an exercise in flat out artifice.  We don’t get to know the "real" actors beneath the characters and there isn’t very much to get to know about the characters themselves.  This is musical theater, with much more emphasis on the music than the theater.  Indeed, the Glee plot is finally just a device for song and dance delivery. There is some dramatic continuity, some dramatic tension, but its exists for the purposes of cheap sentiment more than character development.  

Indeed, Glee appears designed for modularity.  We can break kids out for song and dance purposes and we can drop celebrities in.  I noticed today that show co-creator Ryan Murphy is suggesting that Susan Boyle appear as a lunch lady.  And with this the possibilities are endless.  Wayne Newton as the janitor can’t be far away.  Just so long as you are recognizable and can burst into song.  And this really is artifice.  Now every actor and character is just a place keeper, a pretext for the infusion of more music.

At their best, the 1990s were a time of unstinting authenticity.  I remember an editor of an alternative music magazine telling me that he couldn’t get photos of the bands he was covering because the bands insisted that a photo would demand that they "pose" and that was precisely the sort of falsehood their music was designed to refuse.  

Pose?   In the era of Glee, it’s "where would you like me?  And what expression should I wear?"  It’s not about authenticity.  It’s about being as emotionally compliant as necessary. Stardom is so precious a capital, we will pay anything for it.  We will endure TMZ coverage and much, much worse.  

By this reckoning, and it’s only a reckoning, American culture is now governed by the rules of musical theater, where kids live for the "one big break," and make any compromise necessary to get there.  This takes us several light years away from the sensibility that came out of the Pacific Northwest in the late 1980s.  Chrystal Bowersox has something of this sensibility, and her victory, if that’s what happens on American Idol, may be last hurrah.  


Stack, Tim.  2010.  Susan Boyle to play McKinley High Lunch Lady.  Entertainment Weekly. May 19.  here.

Chief Culture Officer Boot Camp London confirmed

We’re on.  The Chief Culture Officer Boot Camp will be held May 28th in London.

Mark Earls has generously offered to act as London partner and copilot.  He will give us the benefit of his remarkable grasp of cultural matters, American, British and global.  I am a big admirer of Mark’s published work, and a couple of months ago I had a chance to work with him on an extended ethnographic project.  Our working relationship is well tested. 

A CCO boot camp runs the day from 10:00 to 4:00.  We are closing in on a venue, but we do not have a formal commitment.  I expect to have that soon. 

The fee will be £100.  This is an introductory rate.  (Act now!)   

The bad news: there are only 45 spaces.  (Book early, book often!)

Eventbrite is handling the tickets in its always capable way.  Click here for ticket details.  

The boot camp is based on the book Chief Culture Officer.  You do not need to have read the book to take this course. 

We will look to participants to bring their knowledge of contemporary culture.  In a couple of days, we will set up a Flickr site for images, articles and other data that people want to share.  

We did first CCO Boot Camp in New York City in February.  It went well.  (See comments from participants below)

Grant’s speaking style may be seen here at a recent PSFK event (thank you, Piers): http://www.psfk.com/2010/05/video-grant-mccracken-psfk-conference-new-york-2010.html

Here’s an outline of the day

The morning

This looks at American culture.  I open by reviewing the new structural properties of American culture: the rise of a dispersive culture, the occasional moments of convergence that still happen, fast culture, slow culture, the death of cool, the rise of the new, more active, consumer.

I then treat the following topics:

1. deindustrialization of food and the rise of the artisanal (what and why)

2. great room and the rebuilding of the Western home (what and why)

3. multiple selves (new rules for defining the self)

4. social networks (new rules for defining the group)

5. gift economy (new rules for capitalism)

6. global trends (cultural generalities we can make across cultures)

The afternoon

The afternoon I talk about the how of being a CCO.  (You may or may not want me to talk about the CCO concept.  If you prefer, I can just talk about American culture from an anthropological point of view.)

2. how to monitor  culture  (big boards, magazine, experts, early adopters, etc. how to build a grid)

3. how to think about culture (the basic building blocks from the social sciences)

4. how to act on and in culture (how to participate in culture, with advertising, social media, and cultural productions)

5. how to work with and in corporate culture (how to work with your C-suite colleagues)

Praise for the New York City CCO

Steve Nasi: The Bootcamp was a marvelous day. Amazing to be in a room full of so many folks yearning to bring a deeper kind of cultural thinking to their brands, agencies, corporations, endeavors.  And the content was a brilliant mix of deep thinking and accessible content, slow and fast culture and more.  It was inspirational to say the least. My poor wife had to deal with me going on about it at length. Despite this, she’s gunning to go next time.

Heather LeFevre: I really enjoyed the CCO bootcamp this weekend – was totally worth the trip from Amsterdam.  better than the typical planner conference where the speaker takes an hour to recap their book – I really appreciated that you gave us information that was NOT in the book that I felt I can use in my work.

Gail Brooks: Thank you so much for bringing us the CCO boot camp! An invaluable use of my time.

Rick Liebling: As an attendee at the NYC bootcamp, I’ll confirm the comments above. I got more actionable insights from that day than a week at work. Great material, presented in Grant’s uniquely engaging style. Well worth the price of admission.

Betty White versus Karen Black: your CCO assignment

As everyone saw, Betty White underwent her pop culture apotheosis Saturday Night when she served as host of Saturday Night Live.

No doubt Lorne Michaels thought this was a good idea, but the first mover in Ms. White’s ascent was a Facebook campaign. Well, that and a Snickers ad (eyes right).

It’s up to the Chief Culture Officer to decide what Betty White tells us about the state of contemporary culture.

One possibility is that she signals a willingness to rethink the way we portray people of age. Paul Thomas Anderson, the film director, seemed to me to signal the possibility of a change. The Dos Equis "most interesting man in the world" spot might (I repeat might) be more data on point.  Modernista did an ad for Cadillac a couple of years that could also qualify.  

Well, there are lots of possibilities.  I leave these to you.  The point of this post is to get a clearer idea of who Betty White is as a cultural artifact.  Before we figure out the significance of Betty’s SNL appearance, that is to say, we need to know the significance of Betty White. 

And that’s your CCO assignment.  I suggest we scrutinize Betty White by contrasting her to another star.  For your own purposes, you may choose any comparison that suits your fancy: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kim Kardashian, or Diane Sawyer.  But for this assignment, the comparison is Betty White and Karen Black.  

The assignment: Compare and contrast Betty White and Karen Black.  Use point form.  No more than 500 words.  Scale up from the descriptive differences to the cultural ones. Submit to grant27ATgmail.com in the next week or so.

The prize: $100, a copy of Chief Culture Officer, and a VOWEL award.  (The last stands for the Account Planner, Anthropologist, Ethnographer, Insight and Observation Award [AEIOU]) (This award is highly coveted and immediately take a job application to the top of the heap.) You will also get a place on the VOWEL Winner Hall of Fame on the CCO Ning network.  Previous winners: Juri Saar, Reiko Waisglass, and Brent Shelkey.

You may pick up your pencils…now!


Betty White Snickers’ Ad here.

Stevenson, Seth.  2009.  The Most Interesting Man in the World: The star of Dos Equis’ New Ad Campaign is Too Cool to Shill Beer.  Slate.  May 25.  here.


BBDO New York 
(I can’t find names for the creative and production team responsible for the Snickers ad. I would be grateful to hear from anyone who knows them.)

Carole Walker, head of integrated marketing communication at Mars.

Calling London (CCO Bootcamp)

I am thinking about doing a Culture Camp on Friday, May 28th, in London.

Time is short.

I don’t have a space yet.

The fee is likely to be 100 pounds.

It’s an entire day. We will look at American culture in the morning (with thoughts on UK and global variations) and how to do the Chief Culture Officer thing, in the afternoon.

Please, would you drop me a line if you might like to attend. Send me an email at grant27@gmail.com.

Praise for the Boot Camp we held in NYC in February:

Steve Nasi: The Bootcamp was a marvelous day. Amazing to be in a room full of so many folks yearning to bring a deeper kind of cultural thinking to their brands, agencies, corporations, endeavors. And the content was a brilliant mix of deep thinking and accessible content, slow and fast culture and more. It was inspirational to say the least. My poor wife had to deal with me going on about it at length. Despite this, she’s gunning to go next time.

Heather LeFevre: I really enjoyed the CCO bootcamp this weekend – was totally worth the trip from Amsterdam. better than the typical planner conference where the speaker takes an hour to recap their book – I really appreciated that you gave us information that was NOT in the book that I felt I can use in my work.

Gail Brooks: Thank you so much for bringing us the CCO boot camp! An invaluable use of my time.

Chief Culture Officer goes all Portuguese

Helena Oliveira (pictured) was kind enough to interview me for the Portuguese magazine VER.

If your Portuguese is a little rusty, here’s the interview in English.

Helena Oliveira: What is a CCO and why does the organizational world needs one?

Grant McCracken: A CCO is the senior manager in charge of reading culture outside the corporation in order to spot the revenue opportunities and the dangers it represents.

How can we convince the C-Suit that cultural insights are valuable to the modern business and especially for their own companies?

In the book I cover lots of examples of how corporation found opportunity by reading culture, and crafting products and services that speak to culture.  Nike, Starbucks, Unilever, Coca-Cola, HBO, Method, and Disney are compelling cases in point.  I also look at Quaker, Best Buy, Levi-Strauss, PepsiCo and General Motors.  In each of these cases, the corporation failed to see how culture was changing and how they were sliding out of touch. The collective penalty for the failure of the first three corporations: $ 3 billion.   (My apologies for how US centric these examples are.  I wrote the book in a great hurry and worked from the examples I had at hand.  For the follow up, I hope to work in European examples.  I hope your readers will let me know what European examples, good and bad, I could use.) 

Cultural characteristics are very difficult to change. What are your main advices to transform a “dead or a ill company” into a living breathing corporation?

They are hard to change.  But I think the more responsive they become to the culture outside the corporation they more lively and responsive they become, and they more fun they are as a place to work.  We all know a lot about culture.  It might be movies, music, sports, or television shows.  It’s time to put this knowledge to work for the corporation.   it’s time to share it with one another.  It’s time to use “the whole self” when we come to work.

Should a CCO start his job looking to the inside culture of a company and then adapt it to the outside one or are the cultural trends of the outer world the first to be analyzed?

There’s no reason we can’t do both.  But my preference is to find out what knowledge people inside the corporation have of the culture out there and then figure out how to fill the gaps. 

What are the main tools a CCO should have?

We want to cast the net wide.  We need to know what’s happening in the film world, mainstream, indie, local and global.   We need to know what is happening in culture at the margin and the mainstream.  I am hoping that companies will build a “big board” that identifies and tracks the trends and shifts that matter.  So that at any given moment the C-Suite can say “here are the three big opportunities and three dangers out there now.  This is when we think they will reach our markets.  Here are the innovations we have ready when they do.”  it’s a little like weather forecasting.  (As in, “This is when we think this high pressure zone will reach us.”)  Except in the culture case, we can do something about it.

Who are the most “qualified” persons to take charge as CCO? Do you really think that this is an opportunity to create a new career for Humanities and Social Sciences grads? (I wish J)

I think we will find unexpected people rise to the occasion.  There are Gen Xers and Gen Yers who are ready to go.  They have deep knowledge of culture and only need to fill in the gaps in their business training and cultural knowledge.  I think the agency and strategy world will produce some interesting players.  They need only get their analytics out of the “black box” in which agencies tend now to keep them.  I think the world of journalism and publishing will produce some great candidates.  Every great editor is already playing CCO for his or her readers.  I wonder if people in the entertainment business may step up: agents, producers, and actors are often great readers of culture.  They only need to cast the net wider.  With some supplementary training, CMOs are ready to go.

You mention that the business schools must be reinvented? How?

As it stands, business schools pretty much ignore culture.  At least the American ones do.  I would be very interested to hear what is happening in Europe on this question.  It is a huge opportunity for a business school to take the lead here.  Culture is the next new “white space” or “blue ocean” for the business world.  When I was teaching at the Harvard Business School, (then) Dean Clark used to say that what kept him up at night was the possibility that a school “out there” would challenge HBS’s position with some innovation he couldn’t anticipate.  I think he thought the challenge would probably be a disruption of a technological nature.  But it could just as easily be a shift to culture.  And with all due respect to my former employer, this is a change HBS may not see coming. 

What are the main problems you see in the modern business world?

I think we are too much dominated by the assumptions of economics.  We see customers and consumers as engaged in narrow pursuit of interest and ourselves as the suppliers of value narrowly defined.  I like the way AG Lafley, chairman of CEO, has asked us to broaden our perspective, to dolly back to a bigger picture, and see that consumers are shaped by forces larger than interest narrowly defined.  (See p. 36 of his book The Game Changers.)  They are creatures who live in culture, who consumer culture, who produce culture.  They are living and breathing in this respect as well.  Time for the corporation to cultivate a bigger picture of how we create value.

You’ve “elected” Steve Jobs as a great CCO, although he’s quite known as a “difficult” person. (I’m also a big fan of Jobs and he’s undoubtedly one of the great leaders of the last decade). My question is: what is the “responsibility” of a CEO in shaping the culture of an organization? And what other well-known CEOs would you point as great CCOs?

Steve Jobs is a great leader.  But he’s also a guru who doesn’t let us know the method of his genius.  Too often the corporation depends on a guru who insists that we trust their intuition, their creative genius.  Certainly we want them to share this intuitive and we are grateful for their genius, but a CCO would help us “reverse engineer” some of this inspiration so that we can subject it to scrutiny, so that the investment markets can have a look and make their bets accordingly.  “Just trust me” is not a perfect approach to building investor confidence. 

I remember that maybe a decade ago Jack Welch was celebrated as one of the great leaders ever and GE’s culture was also a sort of a business case study. What are the main differences – in cultural terms – you’ve identified in organizations during your career?

Corporations have been saying the “consumer is king” since 1912.  And most "b to c" operations are more or less attentive to who the consumer is and what the consumer wants.  The fact of the matter is that this consumer exists on a great ice flow called culture, a vast body of meanings and rules that make their worlds, their tastes and their preferences make sense.  It’s time we had a systematic understanding of what this is.

Organizations are also facing some cultural complexities between the Xrs, Yrs and the “net generation”, or the “grown up digitals” as Don Tapscott puts it. How should these different generations “behave” for the good of the company?

I think each of these generations has its strengths and its passions when it comes to reading and acting on culture.  As it stands, the corporation is very often run by boomers who sometimes suppose that their culture is everyone’s culture.  The example I use here is that until recently Mercedes use Richard Thomas as the voice over for TV spots.  This guy is famous, his voice is known, because he starred in a TV show called The Walton’s which ended in 1980.  Half the world has no idea who he is.  It’s time for the corporation to reach out and take advantage of the cultural intelligence it has on tap.  When the CEO of Best Buy discovered that he had lost an investment of $700 million dollars he said, something like, every kid working for me on the floor of Best Buy knew this was a bad bet.  How come the C-Suite didn’t get the memo?

Please define the difference between “fast” and “slow” culture and dispersive/convergent  ones.

Fast culture is all the fad, fashion and trend that pours through our culture at any given moment.  Slow culture are the deeper foundations, the cultural meanings and rules that change more slowly.  Trend hunters and cool hunters tend to focus exclusive on fast culture.  The corporation also needs to know about slow culture

Ours in increasingly a dispersive culture.  We have more definitions of what it is to be a husband, an employee, a manager, a man, a celebrity, a leader.  That’s just who we are.  We are fantastically inventive and more and more tolerant (and sometimes embracing) of the variety that results.  In Canada, we have a favorite image for chaotic situations.  We refer to a “mounted policeman riding off in all directions at once.”  That’s our culture now.  We are riding off in all directions at once.  Happily, there are also convergent moments, moments when we arrive upon a fleeting consensus about a share approach.  In the 60s, at least in the North American case, there was a shared counter culture.  In the 8os, the convergence was the preppie thing.  In the 90s it was the alternative thing.  At any given moment we are shaped by both our divergence and our present convergence.


See Helena’s translation in Ver here.

Lara Lee (What a Chief Culture Officer sounds like)

Lara Lee was until recently a principal associate of Jump Associates and less recently the VP of Enthusiast Services at Harley-Davidson.  

I first heard her speak at MIT in 2009, and was impressed with her intelligence and clarity.  I thought, “This may be what a Chief Culture Officer sounds like."  

I interviewed her in San Francisco on January 21, 2010.  All the quotes below are from this interview.

Here I am, this young, Caucasian woman from the East Coast, suddenly in Singapore trying to speak to you in Mandarin and help you fix your business problems. And you are the owner of a fish processing company who buys from Indonesia and sells your finished product to California.

This is Lara Lee.  Miles from home.  Twenty-three years old.  Trying to get the job done.

Lee may be out of her depth but she has an advantage.  She can see into the world of her Singapore client.

I seem to be able to relate to all sorts of different people, and I think that stems from a natural curiosity and a lot of natural empathy.

Still, she is up against it.  Especially back at the office in Singapore.

People were very friendly on the surface, but I found actually a lot of resistance to my presence just beneath the surface. I was 23 years old and highly educated and flown across the world to come and work in this nascent consulting group. It was like "What is she doing here?" "Why do we need her?"

Lee solved this problem as she did the fish processor’s problem, with curiosity and empathy.

I came to understand how all the social skills you use in the wider world … show up in the business world.  And that was sort of a mini epiphany.  I became fascinated with finding out how to make those emotional connections in the context of business.

For Lee, empathy makes everyone transparent, colleagues, customers, consumers alike.  Empathy, it turns out, is an all-access pass.

Lara Lee makes it looks easy, seamless, obvious, but her career is, I think, a small miracle.  In the early 1980s, when fellow students were pursing Japanese language training, Lee wondered whether Chinese might be the better bet.  (Now, of course, she looks prescient.  At the time, she was the only Chinese major at Brown.)

That Lee is doing business at all is remarkable.  A lot of kids coming out of Brown in 1985 regarded business and global culture as the enemy.  (This remains an article of faith in many Liberal Arts programs.)  Lee demurred.  She believed that business was where cultures meet.  Lee has what the Victorians used to call an “independent cast of mind.”

[More to come!  Came back soon to hear how Lara Lee served as a CCO at Harley Davidson.]

This post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle.  It was reposted December 26, 2010.  

Anthropologist goes all roller derby

This is me this morning at KZOK-AM (CBS) "The Bob Rivers Show" in Seattle.  (I’m promoting Chief Culture Officer.)

With me, four women who belong to the Dock Yard Derby Dames, a local roller derby team. They were also doing the Bob Rivers Show.  (This proved to be really interesting.  Bob is an incisive and gracious interviewer.)

The woman grimacing is Mytai Smashya.   Or maybe that’s "Mytai Smashya?"  (aka "Might I Smash you?") I am still trying to choose my derby name.  

Clearly, I also have to work on the attitude.  Less smiling.  The hat’s good though.  The D stands for Derby.  Watch for me at a rink near you. References More details on the Dock Yard Derby Dames here.

So you’re a Chief Culture Officer, what would you do? (Minerva Contest)

Every Harvard Business School case study seems to open with a manager sitting at his or her desk, contemplating a problem. The case study put us in the manager’s shoes.  Here’s the problem, the case says, what would you do?

Let’s say, you’re Patricia Lindbergh. You are the newly appointed CCO at the XYZ corporation.

And your CEO has a question.

Last night, in a rare moment of respite, he was sitting with his wife and kids watching their favorite TV shows.  And the family got to talking.  Is TV changing? They thought maybe it was.  But no one could figure out how or why.

The CEO says, "Hey, not to worry.  We just hired a Chief Culture Officer.  I’ll ask Pat tomorrow.  She’ll know."

So this morning, when you got to work, there was a little note on your desk from the CEO.  It reads, "Hey, my wife and I were wondering: is TV changing?  Clue us in!  Thanks.  Charlie."

Geez.  Big question.  As a CCO, you follow TV.  And there’s lots of stuff in play.  One of the ways to approach this question is to look at Charlie and his family were watching last night.  If you knew what they was looking at…that might help.

As a CCO, you subscribe to lots of data sources, and one of your favorites comes from Marc Berman. Marc writes The Programming Insider, and here’s the snippet that gets your attention.

It’s clear that CBS and ABC are in pretty good shape.  And it’s clear that NBC continues to struggle.  It’s not that the NBC programming is bad programming.  You like some of NBC shows that are tanking. They’re smart, interesting, funny television.

As you sit at your desk, and gaze down into the tidal flows on the Avenue of the Americans, you think, "hmmm."

There’s something here. But what?

Something tells us that this comes down to the cultural difference between what Berman calls "yesterday’s winners" and "yesterday’s losers."  What is the difference between these two groups of shows.  What do they tell us about TV and our culture?

Please answer this question ("What’s the cultural difference between Berman’s Winners and Losers?") as briefly and as pungently as you can.  Please keep your answer to fewer than 500 words.

Best three answers get a copy of Chief Culture Officer and my undying admiration.


Berman, Marc.  2010.  The Programming Insider.  Media Week.  January 15.  here.

Winners of the last contest

The winner’s of the last competition are:


Simon Steinhardt


Congratulations on great work.  Please send me your best mailing address, so I can send you your copies of Chief Culture Officer.

Note: this post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle of 2009.  It was reposted here December 25, 2010.

Chief Culture Officer watch: the troubling case of Jeffrey Zucker

The troubles at NBC have finally reached CEO Jeffrey Zucker, a guy so deft he had previously escaped criticism. Now the knives are out.

"Somebody needs to pay when a poorly thought-out experiment [i.e., the Leno move to 10:00] fails to the tune of millions of dollars, [and results in] the loss of a bankable star i.e., [the threatened departure of Conan O’Brien] and a public-relations nightmare that has the potential to threaten a proposed mega-merger [i.e., with Comcast].  And there is no doubt that the person who should pay for this instantly legendary [screw-up] is the man at the top who instigated the whole thing: Jeff Zucker." [Chez Pazienza, Huffington Post (as quoted in Macdonald, below)]

No doubt the factors that explain Zucker’s managerial difficulties are several and complex, but one in particular jumps out.

In the words of Richard Siklos, Jeffrey Zucker is someone,

who came up on the news side of the business, and he didn’t care for, or have an affinity for, the entertainment business and Hollywood per se.  [in Macdonald, below]

Apparently, Zucker is good at business…but bad at culture.  He knows how to run the company.  But he has no feeling for what the company does.

This is odd.  After all, NBC is mostly a cultural enterprise.  It works when it can read culture. It works when it can produce culture. Naturally, someone like Zucker needs to have the managerial skills to run a large and complex corporation.  But this is the necessary, not the sufficient condition of his (and its) success.  The sufficient condition is simple.  Zucker should know and love entertainment.  (See Maureen Dowd’s column for a nice treatment of the specific implications of Zucker’s incompetence here.)

It would be one thing if this cultural knowledge were arcane, possessed by a very few people tucked away in an obscure institutions (aka the university).  But what Zucker is missing is the cultural competence possessed by most of his viewers, especially the ones under 35.

Here’s what we know:

1) that popular culture became culture (see the work of Steven Johnson and Naussbaum).

2) that culture went from something very simple to something increasingly complex (for simplicity sake, let’s treat HBO as our case in point).

3) that cultural consumers have become increasingly well informed and sophistication (so says the book of Henry Jenkins).

A odd and uncomfortable possibility suggests itself: that NBC managed to hire one of the few people in contemporary America who doesn’t get TV.

How can this have happened? Checking someone’s cultural competence is pretty easy.  All someone at NBC needed to do was to take Zucker to lunch and quiz him on his favorite shows.  Even a brief conversation would have revealed the depth and sophistication of his knowledge.

And now a second possibility suggests itself: that the people doing the hiring at NBC don’t much know about the culture, either.  There is, perhaps, a systematic bias for business and against culture in the NBC c-suite.

Simply: NBC appears to be all about business and not about culture at a time that the corporation is increasingly about culture even when all about business.

Oh for a CCO…or just a CCO who grasps his culture at least as well as most of his viewers do.


Dowd, Maureen.  2010.  The Biggest Loser.  The New York Times.  January 12, 2010.  here.

Macdonald, Gayle. 2010. Boy Wonder’s Blunder. The Globe and Mail. January 14, 2010.  here.

Nassbaum, Emily. 2009. When TV became art. New York Magazine. December 4.

Note: this post was in the Network Solutions debacle of 2009.  It was reposted December 25, 2010.

Creativity’s brief moment in the sun?

At year’s end, I have an unhappy thought, that some of the creative professionals who rose of prominence in the first decade of the 21st century will be eclipsed by the end of the decade.  My unhappy thought: the first decade of the 21st century will be for some creative professionals, a brief moment in the sun.

This suspicion turns on three propositions.

1) There has been a change in supply.

As Henry Jenkins pointed out in Textual Poachers and as I labored to point out in Plenitude, the distinction between cultural producers and consumers began to blur in the last 20 years.  Indeed, there was a vast migration from one side of the distinction to the other.  Many people who once merely consumed culture (in the form of film, art, comedy, observation, journalism, criticism) were now surprisingly good at producing this culture.  Suddenly in the economy of culture, the number of suppliers exploded.

2)  There has been a change in demand.

The first decade of the 21st century  was the moment in which the corporation reached out and embraced creativity. We have many institutions and people to thank for this, including BusinessWeek (when it announced the innovation economy), Richard Florida and his study of the creative class, the Kelley brothers (David at Stanford design school, and Tom at Ideo), Roger Martin at the Rotman School, to name a few .

3) There has been a change in the market in which supply and demand find one another

Recently, I was chatted with Richard Shear. He’s owns a design firm.  Over the years he’s done very well, thank you very much. But he can see a cloud on the horizon.  He is seeing some corporations "crowdsourcing" their creativity.  They hold competitions in which all the design talent "out there" is encouraged to apply.  The best work is selected…and paid much less than my friend would have charged.  In sum, demand may be increasing, but supply is increasing more. So prices are falling.

A case in point: that image that appears in the upper right hand corner of this post?  I just bought it from istockphoto.  It cost me a dollar.

4) Creative professionals may lose their moment in the sun.

The economics of creativity may be changing, and this trend appears to be on a collision with the trend that made designers the charmed creatures of the corporation.  It’s possible that the great golden age of commercial creativity may end almost before it began.  By the end of the decade of the next century, we may be looking at a very different design world.

5) Recommendation

In the new "crowdsourced" economy, there will be one place where designers will continue to flourish.  It will be with clients who do not know what they need.  When they do know what they need, they will take advantage of the new economy.  But when they don’t, they will need a enduring connection with a designers who gets who they are, who the consumer is, and what the culture is.  They will need designers who deliver a larger package of knowledge, intelligence, and creativity.  (To be sure, this is the way great designers always seen what they do.)  The upshot?Designers should be cultivating the skills that enable them to deliver ideas and intelligence, not just design.  (To be fair, this is what all design schools say they do.)  This will take a new order of professional development.  (It will mean that designers will have to be Chief Culture Officers, whomever else they are.)

There’s good news: that as the world grows more dynamic, more and more clients are going to need more foundational work from their designers.  They won’t know what they need. They will come to the designer with a wish for a bigger picture, pattern recognition, a true knowledge and mastery of culture, a feeling for the competitive field and a deeper skill set that is perhaps now usual.


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

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge.

McCracken, Grant.  1997.  Plenitude.  Toronto: Periph Fluide.

McCracken, Grant.  2009.  Chief Culture Officer.  Basic Books.

Mandel, Michael.  2004.  "This Way to the Future." BusinessWeek, October 11.

Kelley, Thomas, and Jonathan Littman. 2005. The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. New York: Broadway Business.

Moldoveanu, Mihnea C., and Roger L. Martin. 2008. The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future. New York: Oxford University Press.

Winsor, John.  2009.  The power of And.  John Winsor’s Blog.  December 30. here.


I have the uneasy feeling that my recommendation comes from someone somewhere.  I have been reading widely over the holidays, and there has been a lot of water under the board (internet surfing, that is).  If someone knows the source of this argument, please let me know.

Note: this post was lost late last year due to Network Solutions’ incompetence.  I am reposting it today December 31, 2010.

The Fiesta movement by Ford, Undercurrent and Bud Caddell

I posted a piece on the Ford Fiesta Movement today on the Harvard Business Review blog. You will find it here.

Thanks again to Bud Caddell for the interview in December.

I am on the look out for more exemplars, people who now serve as Chief Culture Officers but are not (yet) identified as such. Please identify yourselves.

This post was lost thanks to the Network Solutions debacle last year.  I am reposting it today, December 24, 2010.