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How do you manage culture?

Marco Moreira

I took a trip across a few different countries recently and it dawned on me that I was acting differently at each region we stopped along the journey. Every few days I would change the way I spoke, how fast I was walking, how open or closed to dialogue with the locals I felt, etc. "What's wrong with me?", I thought, but I eventually realized that, in general, I was quickly adapting to the local culture. Sometimes I would do the opposite of the local culture to compensate for it, sometimes I would emulate it directly, without any apparent logic behind my behavior changes.

The questions flooded my mind once I realized what was going on. If the culture of a country has such a quick and immediate impact on my behavior, what behaviors is my workplace culture impressing upon me? In fact, how much of what I believe to be my own successes or failures can be attributed to the culture in which I operate? How does one manage culture?

This experience vividly reminded me of how important culture is for innovation to happen and how woefully unprepared most leaders are on this topic. In certain places, I felt hesitant to chit chat with anybody, much as a team member may hesitate to share her ideas in the office. In other places, I felt a certain connection with people and immediately trusted them, just like the feeling I get when I'm around people with whom I produce my best work.

What would a "culture management" curriculum look like? I suspect it would be heavily focused on areas traditionally ignored by conventional business management education, such as:

Whatever the latest business management fad is (lean, blue ocean, results-only, etc), the point remains that the long-term success of any organization comes down to one major factor: people. If my little vacation story is any guide, people are highly influenced by the culture surrounding them. Therefore, the demand for “culture managers” will continue to be sky high for as long as people have to work together in order to achieve results.

Good business, bad business

Marco Moreira

As the world gets more complex, we are starting to run out of easy answers for questions that were previously straightforward. Take the difference between businesses and charities, for example. Roughly speaking, it used to be that business made money and charities gave it away. Business focused on maximizing "shareholder value" and the mishaps along the way could be called "externalities", while charities fixed the externalities. But the world got more complex and now we have some odd situations complicating what was once a simple question to answer.

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The "Joel Test" for Product Managers

Marco Moreira

The product management profession has been around for a long time, but it’s still amazing to me how different the day-to-day job actually is from company to company. It wasn’t long ago that software engineering was on the same boat, so Joel Spolsky, of Microsoft/Fog Creek/StackOverflow fame, wrote the “Joel Test” outlining the best practices at the time. This idea gave engineers a common benchmark beyond their company walls.

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Fixing income inequality won't save us

Marco Moreira

Everyone is talking about income inequality again and the argument is the same as it’s ever been: the rich are taking all the money from everyone else and we need to take it back in order to make things fair. More recently, Paul Graham tried to help by arguing that we should differentiate WHICH rich people we should take money away from (Wall Street, not Silicon Valley). Ezra Klein replied by saying “duh, that’s what we’ve saying all along, what else is new?”. We have candidates on both sides of the presidential campaign making this a central issue in their platforms, and it goes on and on...

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