The craziest of pursuits, are often the most worthwhile.
It was the end of a long week at work, and I was about to embark on a journey that would see me spend as much time up in the air as on the ground. I boarded the flight to Los Angeles to join a select group of 100 of the world’s leading experts on culture for the international Culture Conference.
Here are my takeaways.
After nearly a day of travel, I arrived in San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley. With my body clock still on Australian time, I was up early and was one the first to arrive at the conference in what seemed to be a rather unusual venue. Set in the middle of an industrial estate, One Workplace is the home of a group of innovative workplace designers and architects. Their venue was reflective of the spaces they design for clients. It was impressive, with unique indoor and outdoor areas that created a feeling of connection and provided space to think.
The Culture Conference
The Culture Conference was designed over a 10-month period by Jenny Sauer-Klein and her team. Jenny is a terrific facilitator with energy to burn. The first thing I noticed was how culturally different American conferences are to Australian ones. They are incredibly positive and at times it felt like I was on the Ellen DeGeneres show complete the standing ovations – apparently the norm – for each new speaker. This in itself was a simple example of the power of culture. If you didn’t fit in by providing your best cheering, you looked out of place. I realised this is the ‘way things are done around here’ and did my best to give a loud Aussie welcome!
I had a few objectives for the conference:
- Discover leading edge thinking on culture in the workplace
- Identify relevant company stories for my upcoming book on culture
- Meet international people who are leaders in culture
- Reflect on how to keep growing our business Composure.
The main thinking around culture is that it is still a complex subject that is oversimplified by many. Multiple factors influence a culture. Culture is influenced at three distinct levels by us as individuals [me], the teams we work with [we], and how the organisation is set-up to influence the way we work [be].
The Power of Mindsets
The mind plays a crucial role in shaping and shifting cultures. Our mindsets are clearly a major factor in how we react and influence cultures in the workplace. Our mindsets are a window to our personal history and reflect the assumptions and beliefs that guide how we react to what is going on around us. As Lynne Twist, author of Soul of Money, explained:
“All cultures come from assumptions [mindsets]. You need to change mindsets to change culture.”
When you add in other factors which impact on the mind – mindfulness [keeping balance], mindlessness [lacking thought], and state of mind [how I am feeling today] – you can begin to see why organisations and leaders need to constantly consider new ways to tap into the minds of their people to shape a new and improved culture. What leaders need to discover are the ‘mind shifts’ they need collectively to make in order to be relevant and successful in the future.
Our Unconscious Mind
Our bodies process 11 million bits of information per second and yet our conscious mind processes only 40 bits per second. That leaves 10,999,960 bits for our unconscious minds to process. We all have different lenses that filter how we view daily interactions. A simple exercise we did was to identify the 7 main lenses we personally have that influence our mindsets. When we identify these lenses and share them, we begin the process of making our unconscious bias become conscious. The context for this exercise was around the topic of diversity. My lenses were: male, white, Gen X’er, husband, father, sport, and business leader. What made this interesting was listening to the lenses of others and how their personal history influences how they filter what they see and their experience.
The Times They Are A Changin…
The workplace is changing dramatically. It is predicted over 50% of people will be operating as ‘free agents’ by 2020. This raises the question of how do you create a sense of belonging and a strong culture with people who are largely transient? How will we deal with a large population of Millennials who have very different needs and expectations than us Gen Xers and Baby Boomers? Why are we so bad at predicting the future, when we know so much from the past? What are the uncomfortable truths that need to be said so change can happen?
The Pixar Culture
One example from the conference of an organisation that has built a great culture is Pixar. Their culture was described in two words, ‘Creative Rigor’. Pixar have built a brilliant business based on incredible innovation and creativity around animation. And yet, the rigor and discipline to get every sequence, every image, every movement just perfect, was core to the way they work. It appears the legacy of Steve Jobs lives on in another organisation he influenced.
I think I came away with more questions than answers, but that is a good thing. It’s okay to be in the room of confusion, as the more questions get discovered, the better the quality of answers which emerge, and that is where true transformation begins. Finally, I was pleased to leave the conference with a quiet confidence about the work we are doing at Composure. Our methodologies, insights and approach are at the leading edge of thinking around culture transformation. Whilst we continually learn and develop, I am proud of our team and the impact we are having on our clients in improving organisation and team performance through the power of culture and leadership.