Culture Hacking

May 17, 2012  |   Posted by :   |   Agile,Building a World,Culture Hacking,The Culture Game   |   0 Comment»

Culture hacking is almost the same as software hacking. Culture hacking modifies culture, instead of modifying software. Software hackers in the 1970′s created code for personal use and for others to also use and enjoy. In the modern day, culture hackers actively modify culture for personal betterment and the betterment of others.


Hacking Culture- like it is software

What is significant here is the software view of culture. I have already written about how culture is a system, like software, and can be hacked like software. In my view culture is composed of stories, and stories are composed of language. If you modify language you are in fact culture hacking.

I credit Jim McCarthy and Michele McCarthy for emphasizing this link between culture and software,  in their book SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD. The book describes structured interactions for humans. Likewise I credit the McCarthy’s with moving decisively to popularize the phrase culture hacking. My book  THE CULTURE GAME is literally a culture hacking manual.

Here is what Jim McCarthy says about culture hacking:

A culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that both describes and shapes a group. Our era is increasingly characterized by an emergent “software culture.” Not only is software itself creating much of our global wealth, but the unique challenges of creating our software have demanded wholly new types of engineered corporate culture from us. In response to the demands of software, various high tech development disciplines have been articulated and “packaged up.” We have created several seminal management “movements” (such as Agile, Scrum, XP, etc.). These movements represent the birth of culture engineering and are primitive compared to what will soon follow.

Culture hacking is itself a distinct kind of culture engineering, and is faithful to the particular hacker ethos that originated in the world of software hacking. Good culture hacking will tend to protect personal freedom, extend openness, embody rationality and promote culture design elegance. Culture hacking takes into account the limits and uses of authority, is skeptical of incoherent institutional power, and is subversive of it. As our many cultures become increasingly (and fruitfully) hacked, we will likely grow in effectiveness, and ambition. This will bring more and more of the world’s problems into manageable scope. This will likely trigger an unprecedented Golden Era.


Agile in reality is a great big culture hack: a collection of processes and methods and specific actions that, when used together, influence culture at various levels: team, department, division, enterprise.

Agile is a culture hack. And over time, we may start to understand it as a relatively and historically primitive one at that.

THE CULTURE GAME book is a set of sixteen learning patterns that hack culture of teams and tribes in the direction of higher levels of what the book calls Tribal Learning. This learning in turn leads to a stronger ability to rapidly identify and respond to change. THE CULTURE GAME is a formal culture hacking manual, perhaps the first of many. I know of at least 3 other culture hacking books that are being written as you examine this post.

The term culture hacking predates my book. An individual named Seb Paquet described ‘culture hacking’ in an Ignite talk dated March 05 2010. See it here. About a year later (without knowing of Seb’s talk) Jim McCarthy and I started having conversations about this idea and the term ‘culture hacking’.

Credit must be given to Gary Hamel and the for developing ‘management hacks’. Seb Paquet talks about ‘the crack’ or opening for the introduction of culture hacks. Clearly, in businesses, the opening  for culture hacking is management. My book THE CULTURE GAME is built on this idea, and identifies a deeper ‘crack’ for culture hacking:  it is your meetings. Most meetings at work are soul-sucking deaths marches. A few simple culture hacks inserted into meetings make them lively and engaging. The specific techniques are described in my book. There is a whole chapter in the book, called: Game Your Meetings.

Dave Logan is a leading thinker in the domain of culture. Dsve’s book TRIBAL LEADERSHIP is literally a culture hacking manual. It provides a 5-stage culture model and introduces a tool for upgrading your culture step by step. (This tool is the triad.)

Dave Logan is also recently and actively writing on “leadership hacks“. These leadership tips are in fact culture hacks.

The AGILE CULTURE CONFERENCE from Agile Boston in Sept 2012  is a 1-day event that brings effective and useful culture techniques and tools into much sharper focus. This one-day event features some of the best thinkers who have created tools for  hacking culture in teams, tribes and organizations. Speakers like Traci Fenton, Dave Logan, and Harrison Owen are thought leaders in workplace democracy, culture change, and specific culture hacking tools like Open Space. These and other speakers are leading the wider culture hacking conversation and they are keynoting or speaking at the AGILE CULTURE CONFERENCE.

Culture Hacking Data Points (circa May 2012):

0. Jim McCarthy and Michele, authors of SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD, are openly encouraging us to think about how to actively hack culture. Company culture! View this culture-hacking video from Jim McCarthy to get an idea of the concept.

1. The SELF MANAGEMENT SYMPOSIUM is now in it’s 3rd year. The idea that Management is a Function and Not a Role is now becoming more widely accepted.  Self-management is a culture hack.

2. Culture hacking tutorials and reference guides like my book, THE CULTURE GAME are appearing. Others are being written now. I know of at least three other culture hacking titles that are being written.

3. Thought leaders like Dave Logan are actively discussing culture hacks described as leadership hacks in articles and bog posts. The Management Exchange is also doing this.

4. The Agile community is starting to pay attention to culture.  As stated previously, Agile is a big huge exercise in culture hacking.

What to do about Culture Hacking:

Start paying attention to culture hacking. This is a trending topic and in my view, it is the next big thing. Take a look at The Agile Culture Conference and consider attending !

Think of it like this:

culture hacking = agile++



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