Grant McCracken’s latest book Chief Culture Officer is a really interesting one. The basic premise is that for businesses to succeed, they have to be in touch with culture. In defining culture, McCracken doesn’t make much of a distinction between high-brow and low-brow – he’s more interested in the things that real people are actually interested in – which means that he talks about a pretty broad range of culture.
Here is a talk that he gave outlining some of the main points in the book:
There are at least two useful innovation lessons in this.
The first concerns the value of taking an anthropological approach to learning how your customers think – the value is very high. This is one of the issues with design-driven innovation. A key idea in that approach is that you need to have a deep understanding of what your customers are trying to accomplish, and you can’t get this by asking them questions. You really need to undertake deep observation to get a handle on this. Chief Culture Officer includes quite a few case studies and hints about how to do this successfully. If you are interested in using design thinking to improve innovation, this is a useful book.
The second useful innovation idea is that culture can be an important screen in helping you select ideas. Here is a quote from the book:
The secret of success is not “bigger risks.” It is to harvest error, to take new risks more strategically. The motto of tech guru Esther Dyson captures the prevailing managerial wisdom nicely: “Always make new mistakes.” Taking risks because they are risks is an abdication of managerial responsibility.
Management can’t be Darwinian. It’s not a random evolutionary walk, searching for good options by exploring all bad ones. The point of management is choice. And the point of a Chief Culture Officer is to factor culture into choice.
I don’t fully agree that management can’t be Darwinian. I think that there is an unavoidable random element in discovering what works and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, the idea that management is about choice is correct. McCracken’s main point is that gaining a deep understanding of culture can improve the choices you make when you select which innovations to pursue.
I guess if I’m going to take all this seriously, I’m going to have to start watching a lot more television. Or hire an RA to do it and let them be my Chief Culture Officer…