I have been a fan of Grant McCracken’s work for many years since attending one of his Culture Camps about ten years ago now. Grant switched me onto something that, as someone working in strategy and innovation, I thought I was already including in my thinking at the time. But it turned out in fact, I was only nibbling at the edges. I remember as Grant “turned the lights on”, looking up to see that not only was I on the first rung of a very, very, very tall ladder, but I only had one foot on that rung as Grant’s patient voice faintly called out “this way” from somewhere much higher up, at a distance I could not determine.
The insight, the switch, was incredibly simple. That culture exerts a powerful force on business. Not culture in the organisational sense. Not corporate culture or culture in the sense that a HR professional would use the term. No. Culture in the anthropological sense. The meanings, rules and constructs, to quote Grant from this interview “…that provide the architecture of consciousness. It (culture) provides the lenses through which we see the world”.
User research, ethnographic studies, trend forecasting, behavioural science, quant and qual inputs were all things that were of course familiar to me, nonetheless, I had never explicitly bound them together as culture, and then linked them to business in the way Grant so powerfully does. Culture, when viewed in this way, suddenly becomes a critical input for business strategy, for thinking about what’s next, to help, as Grant explains, “find blue oceans and avoid the black swans”.
When we think of business disruption we often see the driving force as digital. But often what is happening is cultural disruption. Or to be more nuanced about it, one can lead or inform the other. Culture is the context, the atmosphere if you will, in which things happen. Culture decides whether an idea will be accepted or whether it will be “dad dancing” as a friend of mine so eloquently puts it. As such, culture has a direct link to business viability. Yet, despite the importance of culture as a strategic input, as a stakeholder in success, it is still not a mainstream component of strategy, of business leadership, nor explicitly name-checked by designers, innovators or disruptive entrepreneurs as a force.
Grant has also influenced me through his books. In particular Culturematic and Chief Culture Officer. If you are not familiar with his work, blog or books (he’s has 12 and another this summer. He’s busy…) then I encourage you to seek him out. I have had the opportunity to work with Grant when I was at Barclays and have seen first hand the different “ways-in” and insights his approach and thinking can bring to the world of strategy and innovation.
Naturally I could talk to Grant for hours and, true to form, we ran out of time in what thankfully turned out to be our first recording session. Grant generously agreed to return for a second. Here in part one Grant explains why culture matters to business, we discuss barriers to the broader adoption of culture as a strategic input since writing his book “Chief Culture Officer” in 2009 and some of the things we can start doing to incorporate culture in our thinking.
I hope you enjoy the episode,
Grant’s paper we reference in the episode “Welcome to the Orphanage”