For most of my adult life I have heard references made to the book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. It is in large part due to this book that I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Postman makes the argument in his book that we have more to fear from and are closer to Huxley’s dystopia than that of Orwell (1984). The difference is that in Orwell’s dystopia, the tyranny comes from a dictatorial state while in Huxley’s it comes from a complacent public only concerned with being entertained continually. Sound familiar?
Well, I finally got around to reading Neil Postman’s book. Despite the fact that it was published in 1985, it is as relevant today as ever. The book focuses on TV, but simply change that word to social media or the internet and the same arguments could be made today. Postman doesn’t trash TV, though. He says that we definitely need entertainment. TV is best when it is trash TV. After all, that’s what it is for. The problem comes when it tries to get involved with more serious matters like politics and education. Rather than simply bringing these important aspects of society to a broader audience, it instead turns them into simple, and often mindless, entertainment.
The core of his argument is that due to TV, we are moving from a culture of reason and typography to one of entertainment and show business. It is an argument that is hard to refute. It seems even more true today than nearly forty years ago. My biggest disappointment with the book is that it doesn’t offer more in the way of ideas to overcome it. The one main suggestion he gives is a high hurdle – reforming education. I think the trouble is that there aren’t a whole lot of answers to this dilemma and none of them are simple. But becoming aware of the problem is a crucial first step.
The Culture Code by Danile Coyle uses practical examples and research to show how culture can be consciously developed. This comes from the cultivation of three skills in particular: building safety, sharing vulnerability, and establishing purpose.
The buzzword often heard around this concept is psychological safety. This is the simple but profound idea that we are safe and connected. This builds a strong sense of belonging and needs continual, purposeful cultivation. This skill is the foundation of building successful culture.
This skill is perhaps best summarized by the phrase, “Tell me what you want, and I’ll help you.” It doesn’t presume to know what is best and puts itself out there in service to the team. And by doing this, it invites others to do the same. So while vulnerability can feel scary and perhaps weak, it is in reality a strength that invites others into the process of solving the problems of the team.
Every team has to have a shared list of priorities. And these need to be share over and over, *ad nauseam*. Many organizations have a credo or mission statement that is delivered from on high. Instead, the team needs to be involved in creating such statements or at least revisiting them and consciously buying into them. Then everyone has to be invested in sharing them regularly and living according to them. Interestingly, there is a difference in how to lead teams for proficiency (when the tasks are well-known and repetitive and how to lead teams for creativity (when the tasks are creative and determined by those doing them).
Ideas for Action
At the end of each section covering these skills are robust action lists derived from the activities of successful cultures. These can be used as take away crib notes to remind the reader of how to continually work at building results in your organization or team.