The Importance of Level 1

September 4, 2015

Great cultures


I heard a story about Yo-Yo Ma, the world class cellist, thrilled talking with another musician when he realized they both still practice scales to this day.

There’s something about “Level 1” that’s so important and underrated.

I run into it all the time in culture work. A a company wants a big payoff, win, revenue (insert any goal) and they look to the latest tool or technique. But I almost always find the answer is in going back to a core value or principle that guides a team’s success.  That’s level 1.

We are always at Level 1.

The Best Companies Share…

August 21, 2015

Great cultures


When we experience abundance, we want to share. Bill Gates, the richest person in the world, started the largest foundation in the world.

But sharing isn’t just about money. For companies, it’s about sharing what we’ve learned, and the most successful and innovative companies know it.

Netflix shares its culture deck and its evolving policies.  Disney Institute offers classes in how it dazzles its customers, as does Ritz Carlton.  And of course Zappos Insights (the company I co-created), offers entire experiences in culture.

But the great thing is, you don’t have to be big and famous to do this. Anyone can create a culture book, like the culture book of

And it doesn’t have to be a production either. It can be a blog, a podcast, a tour, a whitepaper. Just share what you learn and what you care about. It will help you grow and scale your culture.

To be a leader, be a great host

August 5, 2015

Great cultures

host leadership

I had the honor of podcasting with Mark McKergow, author of Host. This is the most compelling leadership philosophy I’ve heard. It completely aligns withe culture of the network age.  You can listen to the whole podcast here.

Culture must be experienced.

August 3, 2015

Great cultures


There’s a certain irony to giving speeches and writing books as a “culture expert” because culture must be experienced to believe it.

Robert James Waller said it best when he was talking about romance…

I looked up the definition of romance in several dictionaries. As I guessed, reading the definitions of romance is about the most unromantic thing you can do…

Romance you see, is something that you take care of – romance needs food and water and care, of a kind all her own. You can destroy romance, or ate least drive her away without knowing that you are doing it.

Romance dances just beyond the firelight, in the corner of your eye. She does not like you to look at her directly, she flees from the cold light of logic and data collection when it is turned toward her. If you persist in trying to study her, however, she first disintegrates, then dissolves into nothing at all.

E.B. White once said a similar thing about humor which, ‘can be dissected, as a frog, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.’ You can’t get at romance, then, by good old Western reductionism.

That’s why for each of my topics (culture hacking, innovation and values-driven culture), I like to create an experience for people. It’s what really lasts, and it’s the most powerful way to shift beliefs without ever preaching.

The Counter Intuitive Way to Reward People

June 23, 2015

Great cultures

I was teaching a high-end mastermind of entrepreneurs and the subject of bonuses and raises came up.

After much discussion, we all came to one surprising solution…

Keep it random.

Certain things should be entitlements. People are entitled to a salary. People are entitled to benefits. But when I see companies give bonuses every year, or create a profit sharing model, then suddenly people feel very entitled to getting more and more.

The company’s financial success is not guaranteed every year. So why should bonuses be guaranteed? And not everyone is a partner in the company, so why should everyone be receiving profits?

What I have seen work is to vary the percentages, frequency and even format of rewards.

Why does it have to be money? What if it’s in the form of a group trip or vacation? What if you rewarded people with the growth and learning they’ve been wanting for themselves?

The best cultures learn what make people tick. They learn their dreams, and they learn about how each person wants to progress (in many ways beyond money). And they record and share the resulting stories.

As with all culture hacking, this takes experimentation. Let me know what you discover.

How to deal with conflict at your company

June 14, 2015

Great cultures

The damage from conflict can be avoided...if you have the right culture protocol. Share on X