Culture is key

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Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb recently wrote a post about why culture is the most key part of a company (and quite likely of any organization).

He quotes Peter Thiel, one of the investors in Airbnb, on the questions of what’s his most important piece of advice:

“Don’t fuck up the culture.”

Brian goes on to elaborate that “culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion”. No matter how a product, business or business model might change in the future what should remain is a shared culture that nurtures progress, innovation and success. A beneficial company culture serves as a the foundation upon which great products can be built. It allows ideas to arise, evolve and grow. An example of such a culture is one which

  • embraces change
  • favours people over processes
  • allows people to freely state their opinion
  • allows mistakes

A detrimental company culture on the other hand stifles new ideas and innovation. Such a culture that for example

  • favours processes for the sake of processes
  • creates an ambience of fear
  • is relentless towards mistakes

keeps ideas from flowing freely and innovation from happening.

Culture is a shared set of values that allows people to act without a lot of processes in place. When everbody agrees upon core values of what is right and what is wrong people can act independently because they can be trusted to do the right thing. This is also why many larger companies tend to draw upon complex systems of interdependent – and often inconsistent or outright contradictory – processes: The larger a company gets the more difficult it becomes to retain a healthy, consistent company culture. This lack of culture and implicit guidelines is then made up for by explicit, rigid processes, which disapprove of independent thinking but demand conformity. This kind of structure then at best serves in maintaining an achieved status quo but at worst leads to a downward spiral of ever more complex rules that smother any kind of innovation or what was left of a positive company culture.

Hence, when trying to build a lasting company it’s essential to plant the seeds of a healthy company culture and work tirelessly towards keeping and growing this culture.

Culture isn’t some bland, anaemic mission statement which nobody really understands or cares about. Culture is living up to core values in every action taken, be it hiring someone, working on a project with a client or something as small as writing an email.

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