Culture Clash

Culture Clash

By: Tony White The other day Janet came over to my desk and told me to check out a website she had discovered on LinkedIn. When I pulled up the website for Chicago Creative Space (CCS).  I was immediately sucked in for the next hour or so. You know how sometimes you link to a video on YouTube and hours later you’re watching a video when you suddenly question, “how in the world did I end up watching a clip from the The Facts of Life?” CCS has several videos on their site showing some pretty amazing spaces in and around Chicago. I thought maybe CCS was some sort of design coalition/collaboration of design firms around Chicago. As it turns out that isn’t the case. After quite a bit of research, (bless you interweb) I figured out that Chicago Creative Space is a company that produces promotional videos for other companies and has become a consultant to companies on their culture. Interestingly their videos focus on the culture of companies. The culture they focused on was in several cases actually the built environment. Although the zip line at Red Frog Events office and the razor ride around the LinkedIn Chicago Office are definitely fun items to have at work, it made me ask, “is the built environment really what defines the culture of a company?” I’m trying to decide what I think about that. A company’s culture, to me, is much more than cool/kitschy design and amenities. I feel like it goes more to the heart of the company. What the company is, who the company is, the company’s being. Back I go to the interweb. As it turns out, I’m not crazy… well, not about this anyway. Susan M. Heathfield explains it quite succinctly in her article: “Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. Culture is the behavior that results when a group arrives at a set of – generally unspoken and unwritten – rules for working together.” She also says, “Culture is like personality. In a person, the personality is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, interests, experiences, upbringing, and habits that create a person’s behavior.” Frances Frei and Anne Morriss from the Harvard Business Review put it another way: “Culture guides discretionary behavior and it picks up where the employee handbook leaves off. Culture tells us how to respond to an unprecedented service request. It tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems. Employees make hundreds of decisions on their own every day, and culture is our guide. Culture tells us what to do when the CEO isn’t in the room, which is of course most of the time.” Now don’t get me wrong, as an Interior Designer, I hope that my designs can help reflect a company’s culture or perhaps help affect a change in the culture if that’s the intended goal. But no design can or should be THE culture of a company. As I’m sure you can tell, this is an expansive topic. I think I’ll save assessing culture and changing culture as topics for future blogs. Stay tuned. In the meantime, take a look at Rand Fishkin’s (from MOZ) blog post on this topic.

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