A few weeks ago, when Airbnb cofounder Brian Chesky posted his "Don't Fuck Up the Culture," article on Medium, I rolled my eyes when I read this sentence: "Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion." I thought to myself: "Maybe that's Airbnb's culture. But it's not what workplace culture is."
A few hours later, I found myself on creativity expert Scott Berkun's blog reading a fantastic--and fair--critique of Chesky's post. Berkun's ability to wisely challenge and critique the accepted wisdom is a reason he's a must-read for anyone in a leadership position--or anyone with an intellectual interest in management topics.
He's one of seven standout business thinkers on this list whose insights will consistently stimulate and surprise you.
1. Scott Berkun. A former project manager at Microsoft, he's an expert on creativity, management, team dynamics and, yes, workplace culture. He's the author of five popular books on creativity, leadership, philosophy and speaking. His most recent is The Year Without Pants, in which he distills enriching, actionable lessons from managing a virtual team at Automattic, the 120-person company behind Wordpress.com.
As for his critique of Chesky's definition of culture, he writes:
That's certainly a nice sentiment but it's not a definition of culture. A proper definition is something like: culture is the willing behaviors and beliefs of a group of people. Many cultures are not passionate, or certainly not passionate primarily about work. It's implied that these behaviors and beliefs are things people practice by choice, but that's a mild denial of the role of hierarchy in culture. Most human cultures depend on leaders to define, modify and reinforce the behaviors and beliefs of the group.
Think about that, the next time you encounter an oversimplification of "culture" as a business term.
2. Linda Hill. She is the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Hill's insights on the stealth leaders within organizations--those unheralded members of the rank-in-file who take charge of key initiatives--are well worth your while. If you're pressed for time, give her 8-minute interview in the Harvard Business Review, called "Where Will We Find Tomorrow's Leaders," a chance.
Specifically, Hill suggests that executives refine how they scour their own backyards to find the leaders they need. Why? Because certain tenets of corporate culture prevent high-potential employees "from growing into leadership roles," she argues. As a result, many execs "shut off a rich source of talent."
3. Rebekah Campbell. The founder of Posse, an Australia based-social search engine, Campbell regularly writes about her personal and business challenges as a first-time tech entrepreneur in the New York Times. If you prefer your business wisdom coming from an actual founder in the trenches, Campbell is a reliable read. Recent subjects of her columns include "Leaning In Can Be Uncomfortable" and "How a Startup Can Compete With the Big Boys for Talent."
4. Jon Katzenbach. He is a Senior Executive Advisor in the New York office of Strategy&, the consultancy formerly known as Booz & Company. Katzenbach's essay, "The Myth of the Top Management Team" (originally published in 1997 in the Harvard Business Review), will forever change the way you think about the role and structure of your leadership team (including whether it really is a team, or if it's just you and a group of followers).
5. Kathleen Vohs. The Land O'Lakes Professor of Excellence in Marketing at the University of Minnesota, Vohs has an extensive background in psychology. One emphasis of her recent work--which she and her colleagues have demonstrated in experiment after experiment--is that you get a creativity boost when you work in a messy space. Likewise, she believes that settings with visual disorder can facilitate brainstorming (think what you will of brainstorming), while orderly settings are usually better for fast meetings where immediate decisions are required.
6. Scott D. Anthony. For both startups and established organizations, the continued viability of your company depends on your ability to vet ideas and turn them into action. Anthony's book, The First Mile, is a fast yet thorough guide on how to do it. Anthony is a managing partner at Clayton Christensen's vaunted Innosight consultancy.
7. Carey Smith. Smith is the founder and CEO of Big Ass Solutions, the $122-million, 500-employee manufacturer of exceptionally large fans and lights based in Lexington, Kentucky. In his 15 years as Chief Big Ass (yes, that's his actual title), Smith has shown the knack for blending fast-growth pragmatism and innovative, big-picture planning.
The more you read about his company, the more you're surprised it's not on national TV all the time, hosting visits from the president or an anchor from 60 Minutes. (Check it out, citizens! Manufacturing is alive and well in America!) Don't let the company's cheeky name fool you. There's some serious thinking going on Lexington, and Smith is at the helm of it.