culture code

culture code.png

by Daniel Coyle





(on building highest tower – lawyers/business vs kinder)..

business students.. tossed ideas back and forth and asked thoughtful savvy questions. they generated several options, then honed the most promising ideas. it was professional, rational, and intelligent. the process resulted in a decision to pursue one particular strategy. then they divided up the tasks and started building..

the kindergartners took a diff approach. they did not strategize. they did not analyze or share experiences. they did not ask questions, propose options or hone ideas. in fact, they barely talked at all. they stood very close to one another. their interactions were not smooth or organized. they abruptly grabbed materials from one another and started building.. following no plan/strategy.. when they spoke they spoke in short bursts.. their entire technique might be described as trying a bunch of stuff together..


we see unsophisticated inexperience kindergartners and we find it difficult to imagine that they would combine to produce successful performance. but this illusion, like every illusion, happens because our instincts have led us to focus on the wrong details.. we focus on what we can see – individual skills. but individual skills are not what matters. what matters is the interaction.. t

why – 1 yr to be 5 matters.. no train 

not yet scrambled ness et al.. and science of people ness

the business students appear to be collab ing but in fact they are engaged in a process psychologists call status management.. figuring out where they fit into the large picture: who is in charge.. what are the rules here.. their interactions appear smooth, but their underlying behavior is riddled w inefficiency, hesitation  and subtle competition..  instead of focusing on the task, they are navigating their uncertainty about one another..  they spend so much time managing status that they fail to grasp the essence the problem..t

deep enough

the actions of the kinders appear disorganized on the surface. but when you view them as a single entity, their behavior is efficient and effective. they are not competing for status.. they stand shoulder to shoulder and work energetically together. they move quickly spotting problems and offering help they experiment take risks and notice outcomes, which guides them toward effective solutions..


the kinder succeed not because they are smarter but because they work together in a smarter way. they are tapping into a simple and powerful method in which a group of ordinary people can create a performance far beyond the sum of their parts..

this book is the story of how that method works

well. this is enough for the book to be worthwhile for me.. dang.. and grazie.

group culture is on of the most powerful forces on the planet..


spent last 4 yrs visiting/researching 8 of world’s most successful groups (military, kipp inner-city, pro basketball, movie studio, comedy troupe, gang of jewel thieves…).. found skills like kinders used..

skill 1 – build safety.. signals of connection generate bond of belonging and identity

maté basic needs

skill 2 – share vulnerability.. mutual risk drive trusting cooperation

assume good

skill 3 – establish purpose – shared goals/values

via 2 convos

along the way.. we’ll see that being smart is overrated, that showing fallibility is crucial and the being nice is not nearly as important as you might think..


culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal.. it’s not something you are. it’s something you do..

really?.. i’m thinking it’s both.. ie: eudaimoniative surplus

skill 1 – build safety

1 – the good apples


we tend to think group performance depends on measurable abilities like intelligence, skill and experience, not on a subtle pattern of small behaviors.. yet in this case those small behaviors made all the difference.

he doesn’t perform so much as create conditions for others to perform, constructing an environment whose key feature is crystal clear: we are solidly connected. jonathan’s’ group succeeds not because its members are smarter but because they are safer..

safety.. the foundation on which strong culture is built

people in successful group.. don’t describe it as friends.. team.. tribe..  the word they use is family..


the term we use to describe this kind of interaction is chemistry.. no way to predict it or control it.. or is there..?


human dynamics lab – sandy pentland: we have these communication channels and we do it w/o thinking about it.. and.. it only works if we’re close enough to physically touch..



(on group – 3 engineers and a lawyer – working on tower problem).. oren lederman: better than mbas but not as good as kinders.. they don’t talk as much .. which helps

this is not lederman’s opinion – it is fact. .. measured by (sandy’s) sociometer.. it captures the proto-language that humans use to form safe connection. this language is made up of belonging cures.. ie: proximity, eye contact, energy, mimicry, turn taking, attention, body langauge, vocal pitch, consistency of emphasis, and whether everyone talks to everyone else in the group..


their function is to answer: are we safe here…

sandy: we used signals long before we used language, and our unconscious brains are incredibly attuned to certain types of behaviors.. t

not yet scrambled

belonging cues possess three basic qualities: 1\ energy (invest in exchange occurring) 2\ individualization (treat each person as unique/valued)  3\ future orientation (signal relationship will continue)

add up to a single phrase: you are safe here..


amy edmondson: as humans we are very good at reading cues; we are incredibly attentive to interpersonal phenom. we have a place in our brain that’s always worried about what people think of us..

key to creating psych safety… (pentland and edmondson) is to recognize how deeply obsessed our unconscious brains are w it.. a mere hint of belonging is not enough.. we are built to require lots of signaling, over and over..

2 convos ..everyday.. as the day


pentland/team have use sociometers to capture interaction of hundreds of groups in post op wards, call centers, banks salary negotiations and business pitch session.. in each study, they discovered the same pattern: it’s possible to predict performance by ignoring all the info content in the exchange and focus on a handful of belonging cues..t..   ie: belonging cues sent in initial moments mattered more than anything they said..

this is all so good.. wish it wasn’t couched in ie’s based on consumerism.. pitching.. et al

eudaimontiative surplus via 2 convos ..


pentland: this is a diff way of thinking about human beings.. individuals aren’t really individuals.. they’re more like musicians in a jazz quartet, forming a web of unconscious actions and reactions to complement the others in the group.. you don’t look at the info content of the messages; you look at patterns that show how the message is being sent. those patterns contain many signals that tell us about the relationship and what’s really going on beneath the surface..

not yet scrambled

pentlands group show team performance driven by 5 measurable factors… 1\ talk/listen equally  2\ eye contact & gestures  3\ direct communicate.. not just to leader  4\ carry on back channel.. side convos  5\ periodically break and go exploring outside the team.. bring info back to share


these factors ignore every individual skill and attribute we associate w high performing groups and replace them w behavior we would normally consider so primitive as to be trivial.. t

no train1 yr to be 5

sandy: that’s the way group intelligence works (start doing stuff together) and this is what people don’t get. just hearing something said rarely results in a change in behavior. they’re just words..

graeber model law

they’re just words.. this is not how we normally think.. normally we think words matter..  we think that group performance correlates w its members’ verbal intelligence and their ability to construct and communicate complex ideas.. but that assumption is wrong. words are noise.. group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful overarching idea: we are connected...


beyond words

2 – the bn dollar day when nothing happened


on google working like the kinders


this idea – that belonging needs to be continually refreshed and reinforce

this idea – that belonging needs to be continually refreshed and reinforced


cohesion happens not when members of a group are smarter but when they are lit up by clear, steady signals of safe connection

3 – one hr experiment


(on christmas truce 1914) those interactions (because of proximity.. 7 meters) sound casual, but in fact each involves an emotional exchange of unmistakable clarity. one side stops shooting, leaving itself exposed. the other side senses that exposure but does nothing. each time it happens, both experience the relief and gratitude of safe connection – they saw me


the biggest risk in the missileer’s world is not the missiles but he constant barrage of proficiency, certification, and nuclear readiness test, each of which requires near perfection and each of which might scuttle their career.. memorizing  5 inch thick binder filled w two sided sheets of launch’re either perfect or you’re a bum.. the result.. when you get out of the spotlight of the authority.. all the standards et dropped.. and you start taking shortcut


it all adds up to a perfectly designed storm of antibelonging cues, where there is not connection, no future an d no safety

4 – how to build belonging


popovich would create similar convos on the war in syria, or a change of govt in argentina, gay marriage, institutional racism, terrorism – it doesn’t really matter ,as long as it delivers the message he wants it to deliver: there are bigger things than basketball to which we are all connected..

he makes sure everybody feels connected and engaged to something bigger..

5 – how to design for belonging


(on hseih’s macgyver ness..) he’s like an alien of superior intelligence who came to earth and figures out what makes human beings tick.. ‘i try to help things happen organically.. he says..



he seems to regard conversation as a hopelessly rudimentary tool for communication..

(on lots of silences.. lots of non answers) he wasn’t trying to be difficult; it was simply tha words could not do the job.. then he suggested we go for a walk, and in an instant everything change.. he seems to come alive as he moved around the streets, meeting people, talking to them, intro in g the to me and to others.. he had a connection w everyone and more impressively, he sought to build connections between others..

he was like a human version of a social app..


he’s very smart but the smartest thing about him is that he thinks sort of like an 8 yr old.. he keeps things really simple and positive when it comes to people – jeanne markel

beneath hsieh’s unconventional approach lies a mathematical structure based on what he calls collisions.. collisions – defined as serendipitous personal encounter – are, he believes, the lifeblood of any org..


he knows how people connect so well that it’s unconscious w him – maggie hsu


(when hsu visited downtown for first time) hsu showed up expecting the usual agenda of meetings, visits, and organized tours. what she got instead was a two line email followed by a list of eight names.

meet these people.. then ask them who else you should meet..

she asked him.. is tha tit? is there anything else i should do? he said.. you’ll figure it out..  and he was right.. it all sort of happened.. it was like i was getting this signal that got stronger w everyone i talked to and it was crazy strong.. and i couldn’t resist.. i ended up moving here.. it wasn’t logical at all. it was like i had to do it..

we don’t normally think about belonging to big groups in this way. naturally, when we think about belonging to big groups we think about great communicators who create a vivid and compelling vision for others to follow.. but that is not what’s happening here.. in fact, hsieh is anticharismatic. he does not communicate particularly well, and his tools are gradeschool simple..


(thomas allen research) our brains do not operate logically. certain proximities trigger huge changes in frequency of communication.. increase the distance to 50 mtrs and communication ceases, as if a tap has been shut off. decrease distance to 6 mtrs and communication frequency skyrockets.. (on desks being close to each other).. in other words proximity functions as a kind of connective drug..  get close and our tendency to connect lights up

*the allen curve echoes another famous social metric, the dunbar number..  they would seem to underline the same truth: our social brains are built to focus and respond at a relatively small number of people located w in a finite distance of us..  150 ft also happens to be the rough distance at which we can no longer recognize a face w the naked eye

dunbar ness


hsieh has built a machine that transforms strangers into a tribe..

imagine doing this for 7bn people.. everyday.. via  2 convos

ie: hlb via 2 convos that io dance.. as the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]..  a nother way

*shortly after my reported was complete.. downtown project leaders embarked on a controversial series of belt tightening moves, which result tin the layoff of thirty staffers and hsieh’s pulling back from his leadership role. it remains to be seen whether this experiment can succeed in the long run..

6 – ideas for action

listen.. show your fallibility.. embrace feedback messenger.. capitalize on threshold moments (ie: playing in ok city.. visit national memorial for 95 bombing.. 168 chairs.. realize this means something to fans in stands)

skill 2 – share vulnerability

7 – tell me what you want, and i’ll help you

8 – the vulnerability loop


normally, we think about trust and vulnerability the way we think about standing on solid ground and leaping into the unknown: first we build trust, then we leap. but science is showing us that we’ve got it backward. vulnerability doesn’t come after trust – it precedes it. leaping into the unknown when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet

actually.. trust begs to be there first and foremost.. no strings..  too fragile otherwise..

science is showing us we have trust backwards..?  i’m thinking trust has nothing to do with scientific research..

i’m thinking the only reason we don’t get this.. is because most of us are currently intoxicated..


cooperation as we’ll see.. does not simply descend out of the blue.. it is a group muscle that is built according to a specific pattern of repeated interaction, and that pattern is always the same: a circle of people engage in the risky, occasionally painful, ultimately rewarding process of being vulnerable together

on descending out of the blue..  thinking that is also because we’re currently intoxicated.. .. ie: kinders in your first ie

9 – the super cooperators


this narrative makes sense (that the jewelry thieves were secret global organization of ex commandos..) because we tend to presume that such faultless coordination requires special training, powerful leadership, and centralized organization.. it is a perfectly good theory, bit i  has one problem: it is wrong..

10 – how to create cooperation in small groups


cooper: the problem here is that, as humans, we have an authority bias that’s incredibly strong and unconscious – if a superior tells you to do something, by god we tend to follow it,even when  it’s wrong.. having one person tell other people what to do is not a reliable way to make good decisions.. so how do you create conditions where that doesn’t happen, where you develop a hivemind..? how do you develop ways to challenge each other, ask the right questions, and never defer to authority..? we’re trying to create leaders among leaders. and you can’t just tell people to do that. you have to create the conditions where they start to do it

2 convos .. as the day..

merely creating space for cooperation, he realized, wasn’t enough; he had to generate a series of unmistakable signals that tipped his men away from their natural tendencies and toward interdependence and cooperation.. human nature is constantly working against us.. he says.. you have to get around those barriers and they never go away..

well.. the intoxicated us.. yes.. not the natural us.. the natural us (aka: indigenous.. having maté basic needs met) interdependent/interconnected..


no agendas.. no minutes are kept.. the goal is to create a flat landscape w/o rank.. where people can figure out what really happened and talk about mistakes.. esp their own..

spaces of permission w nothing to prove..


the real courage is seeing the truth and speaking the truth to each other.. people never want to be the person who says, ‘wait a second, what’s really going on here”.. but inside the squadron that is the culture and that’s why we’re successful

truth.. god.. i hate his ie’s..  how to find/kill people.. how to teach inner city kids algebra..

what’s really going on here..? the author.. society.. not zooming out far enough.. ie: whole section is on not following orders.. then model is about being able/efficient/successful at killing someone.. section is about cooperation.. cooperating to kill someone..

11 – how to create cooperation w individuals


roshi givechi (ideo) and harry nyquist (bell labs) – warmth and curiosity


roshi has the ability to pause completely, to stop what must be going on in her head, to focus completely on the person and the question at hand, .. she isnt’ trying to drag you somewhere, ever.. she’s truly seeing you from our positions, and that’s her power – abrahamson


whereupon we must ask:what is inside that pause, that nyquitian moment of vulnerable, authentic connection? that is, can we peer inside this moment and see what’s really happening underneath?

that’s a question carl marci has spent much of his career exploring..


the most important moments in convo happen when one person is actively , intently listening..

it’s very hard to be empathic when you’re talking. talking is really complicated, because you’re thinking and planning what you’re going to say, and you tend to get stuck in our own head. but not when you’re listening. when you’re really listening, you lose time. there’s no sense of yourself, because it’s not about you. it’s all about this task – to connect completely to that person – carl marci

there’s an accelerated change to the relationship that happens when you’re able to really listen, to be incredibly present w the person.. it’s like a breakthru.. ‘we were like this, but now we’re going to interact in a new way and we both understand that it’s happened’ – carl

12 – ideas for action


roshi: i’ve found that whenever you ask a question, the first response you get is usually not the answer.. it’s just the first response.. you have to find a lot of ways to ask the same question… and questions from the response, to explore more..

most important part of creating vulnerability often resides not in what you say but in what you do not say..  means willpower to forgo easy opps to offer solutions and make suggestions..   rather.. use a repertoire fo gestures and phrases that keep the other person talking.. .. say more about that..

it’s not that suggestion are off limits; rather they should be made only after you establish what givechi calls ‘a scaffold of thoughtfulness’ the scaffold underlies the convo, supporting the risks and vulnerabilities.. people will be supported in taking risks that coop requires.. w/o it.. the convo collapses

skill 3 – establish purpose

13 – three hundred and eleven words

14 – the hooligans and the surgeons


every time an officer banters w a fan, ever time a fan notices the lack of protective armor, a signal is sent; we are here to get along.. every time the police allow fans to keep kicking the ball, they reinforce that signal. by themselves, none of the signals matter. together they build a new story.


(on medical success).. note what factors are no on this list: experience, surgeon status, and organizational support. these qualities mattered far less than the simple, steady pulse of real time signals that channeled attention toward the larger goal.. narrative links between what they are doing now and what it means..


this is the way high purpose environments work. they are about sending not so much one big signal as a handful of steady, ultra clear signals that a realigned w a shared goal.. not w/in big speeches so much as w/in everyday moments when people can sense the messages: this is why we work; this is what we are aiming for

let’s go deeper on that.. ie:  2 convos .. as the day

how do you creat a high purpose environ..?  high proficiency environments help group deliver a well-defined reliable performance.. while high creativity environs help a group create something new.. this distinction is important because it highlights the two basic challenges facing any group: consistency and innovation..  building purpose in these two areas requires diff approaches..

15 – how to lead for proficiency


a simple set of rules that stimulate complex and intricate behaviors (benefiting customers)

1940s john tyler bonner.. photo’d slime molds w time lapse camera and made  film.. albert einstein requested a private viewing..


the film became a sensation because it embodied a profound mystery: how does this kind of intelligent group behavior happen w creatures that possess no intelligence

for years researchers presumed that the behavior was a result of an ‘organizer cell’ that functioned as a kind of bio drill sergeant, .. turns out.. doesn’t exist.. what does exist is something more powerful: a simple set of rules called heuristics that drive behavior..

madeleine beekman: we assume that because we’re complex, that the way we make decision is also complex.. but in reality, we’re using very simples rules of thumb..

in case of slime molds, the rules of thumb are:

if there’s no food, connect w one another

if connected, stay connected and move toward the light

if you reach the light, stay connected and climb


beekman: honeybees work the same way.. so do ants and many other species.. they all use decision making heuristics.. there’s not reason we wouldn’t use it too.. if you look at these species you can feel the connection. like us, they all seek a collective goal

imagine our collective goal is equity.. and the two simple rules are 2 convos

16 – how to lead for creativity


building purpose in a creative group is not about generating a brilliant moment of break thru but rather about building systems that can churn thru lots of ideas in order to help unearth the right ones.. this is why ed catmull (pixar pres and co founder.. 72 yrs old).. has learned to focus less on the ideas than on the people.. specifically, on providing teams w tools and support to locate paths, make hard choices, and navigate the arduous process together..


ed: there’s tendency in our business, as in all businesses, to value the idea as opposed to the person or a team of people. but that’s not accurate.. give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they’ll find  way  to screw it up.. give a mediocre idea to a good team, and they’ll find a way to make it better.. the goal needs to be to get the team right.. get them moving in the right direction and get them to see where they are making mistakes and where they are succeeding


we put in some new systems and they learned new ways of interacting. it’s strange to think that a wave of creativity and innovation can be unleashed by something as mundane as changing system and learning new ways of interacting. bu tit’s true, because building creative purpose isn’t really about creativity. it’s about building ownership, providing support, and aligning group energy toward the arduous, error filled, ultimately fulfilling journey of making something new

let’s try a nother way/system/mech.. for all of us..

ie: hlb via 2 convos that io dance.. as the day..[aka: not part\ial.. for (blank)’s sake…]

17 – ideas for action


here’s a suprising fact about successful cultures: many were forged in moments of crisis..

like today.. let’s do it


successful cultures.. use the crisis to crystallize their purpose..


list priorities

equity via maté basic needs


figure out where your group aims for *proficiency and where it amis for **creativity

*2 convos.. (outsides of graphic.. 3 and 30).. *rest of day.. 23 plus hrs


embrace use of catch phrases

be you. be us. in the city. 2 convos.. as the day. equity: everyone getting a go everyday. a nother way.


measure what really matters..

only measurement.. 3 min self talk  30 min family time.. 2 convos