The Business of Culture

Where I ask the question, “Can a person make a business out of helping other businesses change their culture?”

Ok, I just had a very interesting thought that I’d love to hear people’s feedback on (if you feel so inclined). It relates to my last post on Greg Costikyan’s Manifesto Games company as well as weblogs, the Web, business, society, and culture. In effect, my question is do you think it is feasible for a person to create a business (i.e. freelance work) around helping other businesses through a desired changed of culture within their company? Where the hell did that question come from? Let me explain.

What I just realized after posting my comments to Greg’s blog is that throughout my entire life, even since I was a teenager, I was focused on culture (although I wasn’t really aware of it at the time of course). That’s because when I turned twenty or so, I started looking at what our existing society placed an emphasis on as important and I disliked what I saw. Over the years, that thought has always stuck in the back of my mind. When working within companies, I found those same negative cultural values existing there as well and I disliked what I saw again. After a while, I started thinking to myself, am I an alien or something? Why is it that my way of thinking seems to be so different from other people. Well that changed when I discovered Fast Company magazine.

You see Fast Company magazine, while from outwards appearance seems focused on working really fast and hard to make money, is really internally about people and what drives us. Again, this relates to our society, communities, and our culture. In other words, how we interact with one another. And within the pages of this magazine, I realized that I wasn’t alone. There were other people out there that thought like I did. Even more so, one day while reading the magazine, I found an interview that introduced me to David Weinberger, his book entitled Small Pieces Loosely Joined, and his collaborative book entitled The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Now when I read David’s ideas and then proceeded to The Cluetrain Manifesto and Small Pieces Loosely Joined, I felt like some massive Monty Python Hand of God had come out of the sky and had pointed at what I was reading like a lightening bolt realization. Everything I read from those books and had been feeling over the years finally came together and solidified within me. Again, I realized that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. Others felt the same way I did and were struggling trying to change the world to make it a better place as well.

Now fast forward to today after working in business, working for the computer gaming industry, helping to develop online communities, realizing the importance of culture within those communities, and finally trying to figure out a way to help people to collaborate and interact as a large collective on common goals and projects. Now what I more recently realized is that to effectively collaborate with literally millions of people, the culture of this community has to have values that match it. If they don’t exist, then achieving that collaboration is less likely to succeed, even if you have the technology to make it feasible to do so. For example, being open and sharing are two cultural traits that would be pretty much be a necessity if you wanted to interact with that community. If no one was open with their thoughts or didn’t share anything, then no collaboration would occur now would it?

Ok, finally to my point here. I’ve been struggling for the longest time to figure out what I could do as a freelancer that would not only help other people but also help support myself. Of course, I though of the typical website development avenue because that’s my background. I also though about working within the gaming industry as well because I’ve got a lot of experience with regards to working with it as well. And more recently, I even thought about just focusing on helping individuals and small businesses get online creating their own small communities utilizing blogging software such as Squarespace, the web publishing platform that I’m using now. This last approach seemed much closer to what I wanted to do, not because of the work involved building sites for them, but because of the working environment. The interaction would be on a smaller scale that would be more personable, caring, and focused. In effect, on a more human relationship level like what is seen between two people.

So with my thoughts of Greg’s new Manifesto Games company, I started thinking about what they should be doing with their approach and I commented that culture should be the primary driving force of their change, as it would help them stand out from the typical old business culture that exists in the gaming industry today. As soon as I thought this, I wondered if other people and businesses would need help along these lines? You see everyone talks about how blogging is so great and can change your business but I disagree. It isn’t the blogging technology or the act of blogging itself, it is the change of culture that often accompanies blogging that is the most important thing to focus on. If that company doesn’t change their culture, then their blog will just be spewing out the same stale press releases as they did before but just in a blog format.

Therefore, my question is, if I pursue this avenue of helping companies in a desired change of culture, do you think it would be feasible? Do you think businesses would be interested in this? Do you think there are businesses out there right now saying “God I wish we could change to become a better business but I just don’t know how.” Or do you think that as soon as they hear what I have to say they would laugh and walk away. In effect, changing your culture is one of the most radical and difficult things a business can do. It is about simplifying things and getting back to your roots, almost back to the point of when you were a startup. Do you think businesses would be interested in learning how to be more open and honest? Or would they just laugh and say “We can’t do that!” because the old way of business is still so embedded within them. As I said though, I would be looking for businesses who have a strong “desire” for this change, yet they are just unsure how to get there.

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for the roleplaying game called Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.