Last week was spent in Philadelphia and Boston, attending the Agile CULTUREcon organized by André Dhondt and Dan Mezick of the Agile community.

Dan materialized in my twitter feed earlier this year, having noticed my interest in exploring the edges of _<insert discipline here>__, and has been generously exposing me to people and events focused on shaping the future of work.

He gave me the opportunity to participate in a Core Protocols BOOTCAMP back in February, an event led by Jim & Michele McCarthy, authors of Software for your Head. This led to an invitation by the McCarthys to spend a week with them in an immersive personal/business development experience. These were both eye-opening opportunities to understand more about the power of coming into personal alignment, in being able to be explicit about intentions, and generally to become more effective in communicating with others and taking ideas to action. (if you want an overview of the McCarthys’ work, here’s a video interview I did with them last month).

Between then and now, he’s introduced me to Dave Logan of Tribal Leadership (blog post about his 5 Stages of Tribal Culture here), Traci Fenton of Worldblu, Eric Raymond of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Doug Kirkpatrick of the Self-Management Institute, and a handful of others that I got to spend time with in person last week.

So thank you Dan for bringing me up to speed on the who’s who of the future of work!

Now, on to CULTUREcon…..

<on memes>

The surface theme of the events was “Culture at Work,” and featured an assortment of keynote speakers who spoke about next-gen organizational culture and learning, leadership, storytelling, governance, and empowerment.

The deeper meme in development below the surface is what several of the folks in the community have been referring to as “culture hacking” — a kind of cultural counterpart to software hacking.

Just as the [software] hacker ethos is about the joy of solving problems, exercising intelligence, stretching one’s capacity to learn and grow, and promoting freedom, the [culture] hacking idea is that by approaching the design of cultures with this same attitude, the workplace can be transformed into an environment where people are more engaged, innovative, productive, and happy.

It’s been exciting to become more aware of how intentional culture design is playing out in corporate environments. Though there aren’t a ton of clear examples of how it works, there are a few. (Zappos is a company that gets brought up repeatedly.)

As we know, this is a shift that’s currently taking place in all domains everywhere, as humans are ‘waking up’ to the realities that an increasingly complex global environment can’t be handled with old school mindsets. If we’re really committed to becoming higher-functioning, creative and cooperative human beings, the change starts here. I certainly heard many of the same phrases at CULTUREcon as I’ve heard in other transformation communities — ‘sharing our gifts,’ ‘being vulnerable,’ ‘learning continuously,’ ‘ being empowered to act.’

Whether it’s called culture hacking or social architecture or evolutionary enlightenment, there’s certainly a deep-seated yearning in people to be able to embody and experiment with and cultivate their most true and vibrant selves, and have our social and economic structures be rebuilt in a way that supports and rewards that basic freedom.

<on manifestos>

We mused about emerging meme as we traveled on the chartered Culture Bus from Philly to Boston. How might this community help support the larger narrative taking shape? How can the the folks nibbling at the ‘culture at work’ aspect of this collective human story better share their discoveries and tools?

A great conversation took place among the speakers and organizers riding that bus, with lots of fun ideas thrown around, from culture hacking toolkits to reality shows.

The following morning at the Boston CULTUREcon, I was asked to consider convening an open space session that afternoon, based on discussions had the day before about drafting a manifesto. Some people had pointed out that just as the Manifesto for Agile Software Development framed some simple principles and values around different organizational models, a culture hacking manifesto might be useful in promoting specific behaviors and attitudes at the human level.

I did end up proposing the session, and was pleased we had a great turnout of 20+ people, all eager to share what it meant to be a culture hacker within the context of their careers and personal experience. I played the role of scribe, as others jumped into the mix with their ideas:

Eric S. Raymond, unofficial guru of the open source movement, suggested a format for manifesto writing as:

Statement of Principle/Intention + Rationale

ie. “As a culture hacker, I always work towards freedoms, because freedom promotes passion, engagement and production.”

Jim McCarthy, author of the Core Protocols, passed out a handful of copies of version 0.1 of a culture hacking lexicon he’s been working on.

Michael Margolis, founder of Get Storied, helped frame the session by suggesting we go around the circle and each answer the prompt, “As a culture hacker, I want ____,” which generated these responses:

* jobs that serve the person, not vice versa
* to have a voice that will be heard
* to belong
* human freedom / empowerment / harmony
* to make a difference
* to do the right thing
* people in control of their tools
* company success in a hyperconnected future
* people being their best selves
* fun
* growth
* community that celebrates innovation
* a culture where learning is lifelong & life-wide
* good supportive behavior that promotes growth
* workplace where people’s best work is rewarded
* inspiration and creativity
* recapture joy of great workplace culture
* safety to be vulnerable
* collecting → testing → promoting the best ideas by people with proven results

The energy was good and lively, and it was reinforcing to find that all the “wants” and sentiments that were expressed seemed to resonate with everyone else. A sense of alignment started to show up.

Then somehow things became a bit heavy and prescriptive as it turned from conversation and brainstorm to people being asked to be signatories of frameworks, vote on terminology, and make commitments (and getting drafted into roles) to hammer out founding documents. I felt kind of swept along in the flurry of it, and watched as some people opted out of the process and checked out of the open space session altogether.

At the end, my feelings were mixed…. the session certainly highlighted a positive expectation of something greater forming, but it felt accompanied by a sense of things being slightly pushed, perhaps ahead of their gestation period.

<on movements>

It’s a tricky thing to feel in the midst of a movement. Good intentions all around, everyone wanting to help the idea be born. Apprehension around control, authority, leadership, and alpha dog energy. Prophets stepping forward.

(prophet context):

Dave Logan, author of Tribal Leadership, gave the opening keynote in the morning, with three pointers for how to become a ‘prophet,’ a person capable of raising a company’s culture from one stage to the next.

His 3 tips were:

1. listen to the conversations around you
2. speak in terms of collective values
3. actively triad

Eric Raymond was inspired by the talk, and followed it up later in the day with a talk on How to Become a Practical Prophet, based on his experience in the hacker community.

Here are his 5 pointers:

1. Name things.

“Shaping the vocabulary and linguistic map of a culture (what postmodernists call its “discourse”) is a particularly effective way to re-engineer it.”

“One of the most effective ways to shape the discourse of a culture is to find a concept that is central to it but unarticulated, and give it a name.”

2. Find the Deepest Yearning

“Cultural engineering works best when you are nudging a culture in a direction it wants to go anyway, but hasn’t yet found the right terms to express. If you find what the people in your culture hunger for and articulate it, you will gain power to shape that culture.”

3. Use Cultural Capital

“Cultural engineering works best when it has a stratum of preexisting cultural capital to build on. Can you find or co-opt such a base?”

“Technologies acquire meaning and transformative power through stories people tell themselves about their use cases.”

4. Develop Mission Awareness

“Co-opting people is more effective than moralizing at them. Give people selfish reason to behave the way you want them to; their beliefs will follow. Outside the tiny minority of people neurally wired to be intellectuals this works much better than trying to change beliefs first. Self-interest works much better as a motivator <than making moralistic demands>.”

5. Give people permission to be idealists.

“Your ability to steer for specific results will be limited. When you don’t know where or how to aim, act in accordance with your highest values. As a matter of self-protection, you must develop and maintain clarity about what those values are.”

(/end prophet context)

Both men provided fascinating insights about what it means to first understand the zeitgeist of a community, and then help to name and guide and shape that spirit towards concrete action and results.


My overall sense of the CULTUREcon events and the ideas being developed within these workplace transformation communities is one of positive expectation. There seems to be so much potential for how the culture story will unfold, and I hope to see invitations made to cross-pollinate ideas and innovations among the many aligned tribes out there experimenting with new forms of human organization.

For instance, what about the practices and ethos of Burning Man? Is that not one of the most visible examples we have of an immersive experience in “culture hacking” via a week’s worth of creative and sexual expression, gift economies, and living life as art? What about the Maker Movement and DIY culture? What about the culture jamming streaming through Adbusters? The Occupy Movement? The Transition Network?  The Evolver community? Evolutionary Architects? Open space technology? Presencing? Organizational development? The facilitation community? Noetic science? Shamanic and indigenous wisdom practices? World Cafe, appreciative inquiry, and other generative dialogue techniques?

I could go on, but I only illustrate these few examples to point out that there are thousands of people and frameworks out there facilitating transformative growth and change, so why not expand the conversation? I’d love to see some quantum jumps in human capacity!

Who else is doing this Work?

Where do things go from here?

Do you sense this movement alive in your own work and life?

other reflections from participants at CULTUREcon:

Eric Raymond – Culture hacking, reloaded
André Dhondt – CULTUREcon Philly