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brand as culture


The smell of the place. 

Creating a workplace where people will thrive.

Every time I first walk into a new client’s offices I get an instant feeling for the place. The energy. The vibe. The smell of the place.

Same as when I visit new places and cities. I recently visited a small regional city [population 5 million] in India. Went for an afternoon stroll in the main local shopping and business district. And I gotta say that life for the 1.24 billion who live in India is pretty tough. Noisy. Hectic. Busy. All crammed in. Very stressful. And it showed on the faces of the people I passed. No smiles. Negative body language. A slightly tense look in their eyes. And that pretty much summed up the smell of the place for me in downtown regional India.

Then there are places I love. The smell of Byron Bay. Soak up the sun. Cool off in the ocean. Chill and chat. Be yourself. People who smile, have relaxed and open body language, and look you in the eyes.

It’s exactly the same in companies. Some companies have a constrained culture of compliance, control, and contract. These are the employees who don’t smile, have negative body language and a slightly tense look in their eyes.

And some companies have an exciting culture of promotion, positivity, and possibility. These are the people who do smile, have positive body language and a look of excitement in their eyes.

It all comes down to the smell of the place. The smell you get by taking a 5 minute walk through their offices. It has nothing to do with the actual people who work there. It has everything to do with the context in which they are working. Because it’s the context that shapes the way people feel and behave.

And so the task for companies who want to create a workplace filled with thriving employees is to change the context, not the people who work there. Create Byron Bay in your company. Or New York. Or Shanghai. Whatever your preference, and whatever works for your company’s needs. Just don’t create a context that is contaminated with bad memories, negativity and constraints.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re working at the wrong place, and you want to be working at “New York”, move to “New York”.

epa03814192 People dance in their underwear during an event billed as National Underwear Day which was hoping to gather a record number of people together in underwear, in Times Square in New York, New York, USA, 05 August 2013. EPA/JUSTIN LANE

brand as culture


Employees work at Digital Risk LLC headquarters in Maitland last spring (April 2011). Digital Risk is a fast-growing player in the mortgage risk technology industry, Thursday, April 21, 2011. Sales have jumped more than tenfold in recent years and the company has hired hundreds locally and opened offices in New York, Dallas, Denver and Jacksonville. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel) Newsgate ID: B581217060Z.1 to go with richard burnett CFB story

The things that money can’t buy

You can buy a person’s time.

You can buy a person’s physical presence at a given place.

You can even buy a measured number of skilled muscular motions per hour per day.

But you cannot buy enthusiasm.

You can’t buy initiative.

You cannot buy loyalty.

You cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds and souls.

You have to earn these things. And that’s just what great branding does.

brand as culture


dress-code-male-femaleOld habits die hard

I’ve met many people and companies who are fuelled by habit. And, like a goldfish trapped inside its own little bowl, they are incapable of seeing this for themselves. That is because their habits have disguised themselves so cunningly they are totally oblivious to its presence.

This is a natural human phenomenon (as David Attenborough would say). Our brains are programmed for survival, which means taking less risks and sticking to what we know. And so it’s the reassuring nature of habit that makes it so attractive, and sticky.

It’s power is in its stealth. It flies out of sight, under the radar, and slowly but surely nibbles away at anything and everything that swims against the tide. In this was habit becomes the enemy of difference, originality, creativity and curiosity. And nobody even knows its happening.

Not only do people not recognise habit, they congregate around and hide in it. Habit attracts followers, and the more followers the stronger the habit. There is, after all, great comfort in tracking the footsteps of those in front of you. That way you don’t have to worry where you’re going, or if you’re on the right track or not.

Also, the more followers the better, because habit give people what they crave most: safety in numbers. Like when you have a disagreement with a work colleague, and she (or he) says, “Well I’ve spoken to a few other members of the team, and they all agree with me”. Ah, you must therefore be right, and I must be wrong. Which also makes me the outsider, since I’m out of step with the majority view. Oh what a terrible feeling. Heck, I better get back in line.

I like to call such companies Country Club places. No one disagrees with anyone else in a substantive way. When asked for an opinion, they’ll check with the boss, swiftly agree, or hide through clichés. Questions are discouraged and giving answers is avoided. No-one contradicts a position already taken. People avoid conflict and accountability by not talking to each other. All because old habits rule supreme.

And then, just in case anyone as much as even thinks of stepping out of line, the Corporate Thought Police are always on hand to maintain law and order. They are the high priests of conventional wisdom and habit. They live to articulate what is and what shall be. Even though their knowledge is meant to fuel the activities of today and tomorrow, they got their knowledge in the past—yesterday. And yet, somehow, this ancient wisdom is way more deeply rooted and valid in the world of habit.

Nothing is more futile and depressing than being in a room with people who are fuelled by habit. People who have had their originality, creativity, and instinct beaten out of them. They look at you with the doleful eyes of an obedient dog.

If you ever find yourself in such a situation, I dare you to speak up, to speak out, and to throw caution to the wind. Sure, you may be mentally labelled by everyone else in the room as “the outsider”—rather be an outsider than a trapped goldfish I say.

brand YOU


Money or the Box? How money alienates you from the things that matter, and what to do about it.

A few years ago a client of mine gave me a copy of a book called The High Price of Materialism. It’s written by a psychologist called Tim Kasser, and he spent many years studying the effects of “materialism” [money + stuff] on people and their wellbeing. His conclusion:

A strong focus on materialistic pursuits not only distracts people from experiences conducive to psychological growth and health, but signals a fundamental alienation from what is truly meaningful.

In plain language, this means that the more attached and/or obsessed we are with money and buying and owning stuff, the more we stray from the things that matter.

Drawing on a decade’s worth of empirical data, Kasser shows that people whose values center on the accumulation of wealth or material possessions face a greater risk of unhappiness, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and problems with intimacy – regardless of age, income, or culture.

As our materialistic values go up, our pro-social values go down. As our materialistic values go up, our pro-nature and the environment values go down. As our materialistic values go up, our self-esteem becomes more and more contingent on the money we earn, and the stuff we own.

And [get this], Tim Kasser also found that the more people are exposed to the media, the more they espouse materialistic values. That’s because every day we are bombarded with messages from politicians and economists about the importance of consumer spending and growth. Consumerism drives you and me to earn more and own more stuff, and [for the most part] it dominates our lives. Brad Pitt said it all in The Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you”.

There is a way out of this paper bag, and it’s quite simple really. Look inside yourself. Look inside and do a little digging around until your discover your intrinsic values. Your intrinsic values are the things that motivate and inspire and feed you because that’s who you are, as a human being. Not because of the promise of an extrinsic reward.

And as you look inside yourself, here’s the million dollar question to hold close to your heart: “What really motivates me?” Am I really motivated by rewards and praise? By money? By rank? By constant affirmation? Or am I really motivated by a deeper, more personal sense of accomplishment? By doing stuff that is an expression of who I am? By knowing that what I do matters?

Motivation is personal and intrinsic, and workplace studies bear this out all the time. Salary is NEVER the top driver of employee engagement or satisfaction. Sure, we all need money to pay the bills. That’s an important part of the contract. But money is not what makes us tick. The KPIs for the new people economy are respect, autonomy and independence, a sense of purpose, to doing work that challenges and grows me, and to feel that I am making a difference.

So, what are you going to choose, “Money or the box?”. And it might be a bit of both, which is fine. As long as you don’t let your whole life be ruled by the money.