The #1 Culture Hack

January 7, 2016

Great cultures ,Hacks ,Popular Articles

NOTE: This blog is the #1 overall hack, for the #1 HIRING HACK, please click here.

“Don’t talk about how to hack culture! That will scare corporate clients!”

That’s what people told me.

They were so wrong! The bigger the company, the more they want the hacks. Why? Because hacking is all about empowering anyone to create a shift. Big companies know how hard it is to create massive change. Culture hacks allow change to happen FAST.

First, let’s briefly define what hacking is:

Hacking is finding a vulnerable point in a system, and exploiting that vulnerability to your advantage. The end result is very little investment with maximum gain.

If that made no sense, don’t worry. The hacks work without you needing to know how they work.

I knew about this #1 hack for a long time, but didn’t realize how important it was until I was working with a major company that wanted to implement its core values and they were running into a problem:

People put working hard and driving results over each of those core values. And because of that, they’re not core values. If they were core, they would never be sacrificed.

Changing to a Core values company is a big step. It can take over a year. So how can they change fast?

Well, to diagnose a culture all we have to do is look at their meetings. Meetings are a subset of culture. And the first data within meetings we look at is people’s relationship to time.

  • Are people on time?
  • Do meetings end on time?
  • Do leaders show up late?

Cultures that are on time inherently respect each other. Cultures that start late and go late tolerate behavior that advances the individual over the culture as a whole.

The #1 Culture Hack: Always be on time.

  1. Start meetings on time (even if not everyone is there)
  2. End meetings on time (or 10 minutes early so they have time to walk to their next meeting)
  3. Have the same standard for all people (no matter their rank)

When I was at Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh was always on time or early. Never ever did I see him late.

This is a very small hack, but it has a massive impact. If you feel resistance from yourself or anyone else, simply run a 2 week experiment where people have to be on time. Then let the results speak for themselves.

The 3 Lessons I Keep Learning

October 14, 2015

Hacks ,Productivity

1. Follow the energy

When I was 60K in debt from a failed business, depressed and low on hope I invested my time in something that made no financial sense…

I became a spinning instructor.

I had always wanted to be one since high school. I loved the combination of DJ, coach and speaker. So much time was spent on training and making mixes that I lost money. And yet, I had so much fun that I was able to use all of the energy to launch my next career.  Again, it did not make sense from a practical perspective, but I followed the energy.

For me, it’s often a distinction between what looks good versus what feels good…

It’s a date who looks amazing, but I don’t feel myself around her. It’s a house I’m looking at that has all the amenities, but doesn’t feel like home. It’s a speech that delivers on paper, but I don’t care about it.

It takes courage to follow the energy, but more importantly it takes curiosity and a sense of wonder.

All of this applies to culture as well, since culture is simply a bunch of people together. If the group is following what “should” matter (results, revenue, profit, new manager program du jour), and not what they’re passionate about (the customer, the values, the product, or even each other), then the culture eventually goes south.

2. Get back to the basics

Veteran pilots still use checklists. Yoyo Ma still plays scales. And the best athletes practice for hours.

I’m always amazed by how much it’s the basics that make the difference.

On the personal level it’s really about getting great food, sleep, exercise and meditation. I heard that neurosis is the result of denying our animal nature, and I can tell you if I don’t get exercise I anxious and neurotic. In fact, if I do boxing or martial arts I’m so peaceful I don’t even have thoughts in my head afterward.

On the corporate level it’s about meetings. Most companies are terrible at meetings. They’ll take on multi-million dollar change initiatives and yet everyday meetings are dysfunctional.

When I work with teams I start with the basics: Can you be on time? If you show up late and run over then you’re prioritizing your own personal agendas over the culture. But if you’re on time, you’re honoring commitments. There’s no point working on values if you can’t even be on time.

3. Focus is flow

Flow is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.” (1) It’s when athletes are “in the zone.”

I have a million things on my to do list, and trying to multi-task is a joke. It just adds stress. I continue to learn that lesson. But focus is heaven. It feels like a luxury.

Getting totally absorbed with a task (even if it’s one I don’t like) is a pure joy.  A friend of mine who survived drug addiction started his life again by cleaning chandeliers. He said it was one of the most joyful times of his life because it was so simple.

The three temptations

Looking back on this list I see the lessons could also be re-written as temptations:

1. Follow the Energy
(Temptation: Choosing what “should” be done, or what looks good instead of what feels good)

2. Get back to the Basics
(Temptation: Going for the new shiny object)

3. Focus is Flow
(Temptation: Multi-tasking, letting texts, emails and facebook interrupt me)



Recipe for a “Hell Yeah!”

July 6, 2015

Hacks ,Personal Exploration ,Vision


“It’s either a Hell Yeah, or it’s a No.” – Derek Sivers.

I’ve found this quote to be a great decision making tool. We have so many choices of how to spend our time, money and energy. So why do anything less than a “Hell Yeah!”?

Not only can it be hard to say No to things. It’s not always easy to evaluate an opportunity and understand if it’s really a Hell Yeah.

So here is a decision-making framework I developed.

It starts with, is this my unique ability? (a concept pioneered by Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach).  A unique ability is a talent that you have passion and skills for, there is a need for it, and most importantly, you feel it gives you energy.

Next, I’ve found that amorphous opportunities can lack a clear end goal and a first next step. This key to know what we’re committing to.

The last two are my favorites.  “If I know for certain this will fail, is it still worth it?” If the answer is yes, it means the journey and the learning make it worth it. If it’s no, then be careful of the ends justifying the means. Can you pick opportunities that are inherently worth it?

And then, “If I know this will be much more work than I thought, is it still worth it?” Projects look so easy when they start, and then all the details come in and we spend far more time than we expected. Do you look at that possibility and say, “Yes! I love working this on anyway, so bring on more of it!” Or do you say, “I’m doing this because it’s fast and quick”?

If your opportunity or idea passes all of these questions, then you’ve got a Hell Yeah!  If not, just remember that leaving space in your life or schedule will allow you to focus on what you already care about, or leave space for something new to come in.

Beyond the Keynote

February 21, 2015



Since my post on the end of guru culture, I’ve been thinking about emerging models for speakers. What would be engaging, interactive and dynamic that will go beyond the keynote speech?

I didn’t find it, but it found me…

Pearson asked me to have a conversation on stage with their Chief Communications Officer. The format worked so well, I was floored.

It was all organic, fun, funny and highly relevant to everything they cared about. Why? Because she and the company (in Q&A) were guiding the conversation.

This “Fireside Chat” format (when it’s done right) feels like seeing a live show where you’re also participating. There’s a sense of a story emerging (as opposed to scripted).

I’m playing with this live interaction format. Beyond my adventure in stand-up comedy, I was just asked to consider a role as an MC at a corporate party.

I’m still all for keynotes, especially when there’s a great story that needs a proper amount of time, and visuals. I’ll be a keynote at an all CIO event for Gartner and I’m excited to share the evolving story of how tech has driven culture and where it’s taking us next.

Reducing stress, increasing revenue

January 3, 2015

Hacks ,Vision

“What?! There is absolutely NO way.”

This was my answer to the question, “Do you have ADD?” I could not have Adult ADD. That’s a fake disease for people who can’t get things done. But the man asking the question was Dr. Norman Rosenthal, an icon in psychology. He was the man who wrote the book on S.A.D, St. John’s Wart, and Transcendental Meditation. So when he said, “Just humor me and take this test,” I did.

“You are off the charts, ADD,” he said after scoring my test.

I was in shock. I could not believe it.

“And it affirms my theory about you,” he continued. “I know you came here to treat depression, but I think there is a deeper root issue. You have a lot of ideas and projects and you don’t get them done because of ADD. That causes you to stress, so you get very anxious and you work even harder without focusing. Then when you run out of energy from being anxious, you get depressed.”

Then there was the medication test. Ironically, stimulants slow down the brain of someone with ADD. If you don’t have ADD, they feel like having too much coffee. But if you do have ADD, it’s very calming. When I took the medication, it felt like I was relaxed and breathing for the first time.

The long term effects of using stimulants were too risky for me to continue for long, but now I had a new lens – one that I need to remember from time to time as this cycle starts up again.

A simple idea to use ADD to one’s advantage

I have found a very surprising tool for how to deal with the stress of having a lot of ideas. I’m actually using it, right now as I type this. In fact, you’re reading the product of it. Let me explain.

I was listening to Kayne Mantyla of who has a great definition of stress:

Stimuli > Resources to handle it.

Very simple: Stimulus come in (in the form of anything – conversations, phone calls, problems, challenges, ideas, tasks, requests, entertainment, news). If we have the resources to process them, there is no stress. But if they build up and we can’t process it all, then we get overwhelmed. Then the system is overloaded and we get stressed, sick, annoyed, angry, etc.

The opposite of stress is Integration. That’s what happens when we have strong resources in the form of balanced emotions, healthy bodies, systems to process information, methods of getting things done, etc.

Now I’m sure you can think of many resources such as yoga, meditation, healthy foods, exercise, systems of getting things done, etc. I have another to add. First, more on the problem.

So many ideas!

I have so many thoughts, theories, ideas, and projects that I can’t integrate them. In fact, for this year-end review I went through my idea notebook (below) and can’t believe how much I’ve come up with but never really did anything with all these ideas. And I have so many blog post ideas I wrote, but I never actually wrote them. And now my energy is not in them and some of my notes don’t even make sense now.


It’s easy to see why…

We have so much input, especially with media consumption. Think about it this way: How many books, shows, articles, and movies did you consume this year? Now, how many did you create? This is the energetic equivalent of constipation –  eating a lot but not processing it all. No wonder so many people are so stressed out!

What we need is to balance the ratio. Less consumption, more creation.

And there is a fantastic manual on it:

Show Your Work


This little $7 book is pure gold.

It’s a basic idea, explained beautifully with many examples: Show what you’re working on, show what you’re thinking about. It makes it real. It takes it out of your head, you get feedback and most importantly, you get what’s probably the most rewarding value of all: Contributing to someone else’s life. His other book Steal Like an Artist, is also great. Here’s what he found after writing it:

“Almost all of the people I look up and try to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine. These people aren’t schmoozing at cocktail parties; they’re too busy for that. They’re cranking away in their studios, their laboratories, or their cubicles, but instead of maintaining absolute secrecy and hoarding their work, they’re open about what they’re working on.”

It’s just so easy to share. That’s what I’m doing with this blog. And it’s surprised me how my posts have lead to new business that I did not expect.

A friend of mine went to a conference and he said it changed his life. I said, you must share it now. Publicly, openly. It can be a blog post, a podcast, a video recording. Each of us literally hold a complete recording studio, editing facility and broadcast unit within our smart phones. There is no excuse not to share.

“Share what you want to keep.”

This is one of the principles in my new book, The Culture Blueprint.

When I was managing Zappos Insights people would ask, “How can you guys spend so much time giving tours of your company and still focus on your own success?” But that’s exactly it – sharing keeps you accountable and call it spiritual, but what you give comes back around and Zappos’ loyal customers are proof.

We would give away culture books (for free) and still make money. You can still get one here. And we monetized the interest by selling corporate training on culture and service.

That’s why I’m giving away the audio version of my book.

Integration is the opposite of stress.

Integration is having the resources to deal with stimuli. Integration is taking the parts of life that seem to run in different directions and connecting them so they fuel each other.  Integration is my theme for 2105.  More on that in future posts.

Leadership: The ultimate feedback hack

December 22, 2014