Chief Culture Officer Bootcamp in New York

2010 February 23
by Merdock

Last week I travelled to New York to attend Chief Culture Officer Bootcamp at NYU with Grant McCracken. There were 80 people from organizations like Google, Undercurrent, Huemanitas, Publicis, Red Scout, Get Storied, Tesla Government, and Sterling Brands, among many others. Most worked in the profession of branding and lived in the world of watching for new inexplicable things that might become part of our culture. Everyone that I met was so much fun to talk to that my only other wish is to have met everyone in the room.

First of all, Grant is an anthropologist, moves fast, talks fast and he is Canadian. (Is that possible?) He spent most of his career in the US teaching at Harvard Business School and more recently at MIT (ok, that explains it). He is author of the book, Chief Culture Officer. He made many Canadian references including how the Canadian Maritimes was famous for storytelling and how important that is in our current culture.

He arrived at the front of the room in a great suit and baseball hat. It was a long horizontal room, and he swept with a large gait to the far left and right to the point that I was getting a little motion sickness. There were three slide projections on the front wall, and ideas were coming at us in full pages. I had to listen and quickly read the slides, as they would be gone and he was on to the next. I asked him during the break if we would be getting a copy of the slides, and he said that many of the new ideas would be in his upcoming book. That explained it…he is keeping us hooked, but that’s ok with me. I had read his book, Chief Culture Officer, before attending, so most of his ideas were very familiar, so I focused on catching the new ideas or the ones I found most compelling. Here are some statements that stood out for me:

  • 60% of mergers and acquisitions don’t work.
  • We need more metaphors to describe things.
  • There is fast culture and slow culture.
  • Status is gone.
  • Local culture is growing.
  • We have moved from industrial food (less you know about it, the better) to artisan food (the more you know about it, the better).
  • Farmers now rival chefs.
  • There are now more stories connected to food.
  • Celebrity culture has moved into homes – designs of kitchens open to dining and entertaining area has turned a home into a food show. The cook can entertain his/her friends while preparing a meal and likely telling stories about the ingredients and the recipe.
  • Young people no longer care about long careers at big name companies; they use their social network to provide career opportunities.
  • Content is in motion.
  • People need content to sustain their networks. Have you ever gotten to the point where you considered dropping a Facebook friend because they didn’t have interesting content?
  • Content is currency.
  • Consumers look to us for content.
  • Give something to people to talk about.
  • We are now content suppliers.
  • Look for patterns, what’s new? What kind of things violate our expectations?
  • Don’t confuse culture with cool.
  • Study assumptions you make and make adjusts.
  • Fad – Fashion – Trend – Culture – First something is a fad, then a fashion. If it survives, it is a trend; not all trends become entrenched in culture.
  • When things go mass, it’s over.
  • Pattern recognition – Is it something or nothing? Is it significant, will it get traction in culture or will it fall away?
  • Get lots of ideas in circulation.
  • Errors are better than confusion.
  • What does a culture find interesting? More importantly, what does a culture find interesting that it cannot tell you?
  • When you buy the product, you should get the story.
  • Where are the critical assumptions buried?
  • Never be the hippest person in the room.

After the day-long session, the Google attendee suggested we go out for drinks off Union Square at Heartland. We met there for another three hours to debrief the day. I walked over with a Canadian who is working in New York and was flying to Istanbul the next day. I don’t know about you, but when you meet a fellow Canadian in another country, it seems so relaxing to chat with them and there is so much you don’t have to explain which makes one question what inherent patterns are changing in our own culture. If you are outside North America, then this is also true of meeting either an American or Canadian. We share a similar humour and experience of being neighbours.

The debriefing went well. We found the ideas discussed to be very stimulating. We all love Grant, his energy and ideas. But always the best part is to connect with people who think about the same things you do, in this case, explorers of culture.

Grant is going to set up a Wiki for us to stay connected and to exchange ideas. Met great new friends and hope to connect with more on the Wiki. If I come across more interesting ideas and discussions, I will post them here. I will be expanding on statements on the session in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. Easily each could be an article of its own. Also, buy Grant’s book, Chief Culture Officer and join the discussion.


Here are more thoughts on the day from a fellow explorer of culture, Michael Margolis:

5 Responses leave one →
  1. February 23, 2010

    Hi Vivian,

    Thank you for the synopsis of your travels to New York; it sounds like it was a worthwhile trip.

    All the best in all that you do.



  2. Garth Jenkins permalink
    February 23, 2010

    Very Interesting.

  3. February 23, 2010

    Vivian -

    We heard and experienced a lot of the same things that day. I just love your write-up!

    Here is my review/reflections on the Chief Culture Officer Bootcamp

    Even between us, it feels like we just scratched the surface. ;-)

  4. Merdock permalink*
    February 23, 2010

    Thanks Michael; I loved reading your review and thanks so much for the mention. Yes, it does seem that there is so much more. He challenged us to broaden our capacity to see more patterns. I think the rate of information that was presented to us on that day and head turning with the threat of motion sickness is a metaphor for how many people feel who are trying to make sense of what is going on right now and, specifically, what they should be paying attention to. That is why the wiki will be useful. Each one of statements he made is another story. It is a good time in history for storytellers.

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