Culture Hacking

Torii gateCulture Hacking is the systematic design and implementation of team practices, commitments, and viewpoints that yield desired results. In other word, it’s about hacking your own culture. This is an idea I got from Jim McCarthy.

Culture Hacking is an art. It’s also an empirical process – you have to make a change, see what works, make more changes and so on. Culture hackers each have their own aesthetic and also share techniques, practices, and “culture software” like the Core Protocols, Scrum, Lean, and so on.

Some culture hackers work on methods that can be shared between teams; others work on the culture for specific companies. Some, like the Core Protocols, are applicable to both.

Culture Hacking as a field or discipline is at a level above individual systems. Culture hacking at its best is about creating cultures that enable people and teams to achieve greatness. Culture hackers combine and edit cultural systems, practices, values, and viewpoints, try them to to see if they work and share them with others. They do so systematically, rationally, and in the spirit of play.

Culture hackers see culture as software, and as such think that it has many characteristics of software:

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  • ease of use
  • reliability
  • interoperability
  • extensibility
  • compatibility
  • portability
  • adaptability
  • scalability
  • and so on…

Culture hackers see that culture has a viewpoint, an architecture, and an internal structure. Culture hackers see culture as something they can modify and improve on.

Culture hackers operate at different scales, sometimes simultaneously – on the level of internal experience of an individual; on the level of individual behavior; between two individuals; or between a team of three or more. Culture hackers operate on teams inside companies and outside them, on the level of one team or many teams, and even at the level of whole societies or even groups of societies.

It almost goes without saying that culture hackers like trying on new things. They are okay with being uncomfortable in a new culture that they have created or that they are trying out for the first time.

When I was talking with Jim, he wondered, “Where is the culture hacker’s version of the Homebrew Computer Club? Will there be culture hackers like Woz? Like Bill Gates? Like Steve Jobs? Like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard?”

I find that many people I admire were culture hackers: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. But I think the future is with the culture hackers who aren’t famous yet – and those who may never be famous.

The startup scene today is composed mainly of people who are doing proprietary culture hacks on their own teams and companies. But there are also people that I admire working in the open: Jim McCarthy, Steve Blank, Larry Lessig, Eric Ries, Kent Beck, Ken Schwaber, and others are working on Open Source culture – team, company, movement, or political culture that others can adopt, share, and build on. The Startup Genome is a team of culture hackers trying to systematically crack the code of what makes companies and teams successful. Creative Commons is a successful culture hack that operates on the level of a society. Lessig is working on another culture hack now, Root Strikers, an effort to re-engineer American society to eliminate political corruption.

Clock of the Long Now
These folks show that it does really help to share what you know, and you can make a difference by working in the open with others. If we are to survive into the Long Now, the next ten thousand years and beyond, we’ll have to to be able to engineer human cultures that help us embody the qualities we want – kindness, integrity, foresight, beauty, innovation, democracy – rather than those that encourage qualities we don’t want – greed, violence, lying, stagnation, concentration of power.

If you tweet about this, mark your posts with #CultureHacking so that people can see the movement build.

It starts with you. Let the culture hacking begin!

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