Culture in organizations is an important thing to understand and study. ‘Culture hacking’ has emerged as the term used to describe what it is you are doing when you try to actually change a culture.
Culture hacking is emerging as a useful skill to possess when working inside organizations. Books now exist that describe tools and techniques for effectively changing an existing culture. The list below contains important, even essential titles we can all use to gain culture design and implementation skills. Take a look at each of these titles and consider each one, as you embark on the culture hacking journey.
These books are listed in no particular order. As new books appear (and as we become aware of existing books that may be candidates for this list) we plan to add new titles to the list and also provide rich information in the form of ratings, rankings and reviews.
You’ll also find a few web pages, white papers, downloadable PDFs and other related resources here. If it is here, then we felt that the resource was essential to the wider conversation around culture gaming and hacking and included it here.
Open Space Technology
Author: Harrison Owen
Open Source is powerful medicine for cultural change. This book describes the concepts and facilities of Open Source. The book is a manual for Sponsors and Facilitators of the Open Space meeting format.
The book is a classic. It is somewhat lacking in illustrations. Open Space is essential technology for using in the development and transformation of organizations.
From the back cover: What if you could identify a mission-critical issue for your organization, bring together the people with something to contribute and something at stake, focus on that issue and take decisive action all in the same meeting? A fantasy? Not with the application of Open Space Technology. Open Space Technology is a methodological tool that enables self-organizing groups of all sizes to deal with hugely complex issues in a very short period of time. Authored by the originator of Open Space Technology, Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide details what needs to be done before, during, and after an Open Space event. It is the most authoritative book available on how to plan and run a successful Open Space event. This 3rd edition adds a survey of the current status of Open Space Technology around the world, an updated section on the latest available technology for report writing (a key aspect of the Open Space process), and an updated list of resources.
Authors: Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright
This book describes a 5-Stage culture model and provides tools and techniques for understanding and upgrading the culture in your organization. It introduces triads: 3-person structures for executing work an cultural change. Briefly stated, the 5-Stage culture model asserts that listening carefully for language can help you quickly assess what stage of culture a given group of people or ‘tribe’ is currently experiencing. The Stages are progressive, starting with a culture of victimhood and ending with a culture that believes it can change the world.
The 5 Stages are:
Stage 1: “Life sucks!”
Stage 2: “MY Life Sucks!”
Stage 3: “I’m great! (You’re not.)”
Stage 4: “We’re great! (They are not.)”
Stage 5: “Life is great !”
The book is focused on tribes, groups of about 20 to 150 people, all aligned on values, and all collectively experiencing a shared culture with related and supporting language.
Without spoiling the fun of reading this book, let me say that the 5 Stage culture model found here can explain many situations and organizational phenomena. Here is a classic example: in one organization I was working in a coach, people there reported a general Stage 2 (“My life sucks”) orientation. I later found that the majority of these people were working for a Stage 3 (“I’m great”) kind of boss. The 5-Stage TRIBAL LEADERSHIP culture model is a useful tool for framing what is going on in your organization.
The book also develops the idea of triads, 3-person social structures that can be used to help nurture cultural change in your organization. In a triad, each person is responsible to maintaining the quality of the connection between the other 2 and all 3 people are aligned on values. With this setup, a triad embarks on executing a small, clearly defined “micro strategy” to reach a specific objective within a timebox of 90-100 days.
Triads provide a framework for action, and the 5-Stage culture model found in this book is a great culture assessment tool. All together, TRIBAL LEADERSHIP provides useful tools to those who might choose to experiment with hacking the culture of their organization.
From the back cover: Every organization is composed of tribes—naturally occurring groups of between 20 and 150 people. Until now, only a few leaders could identify and develop their tribes, and those rare individuals were rewarded with loyalty, productivity, and industry-changing innovation. Tribal Leadership shows leaders how to assess, identify, and upgrade their tribes’ cultures, one stage at a time. The result is an organization that can thrive in any economy.
The Culture Game
Author: Daniel Mezick
Hmm, this is my book. Disclosure: Might be hard to be objective. That said: I wrote THE CULTURE GAME for managers and others who hire people and convene meetings. My current belief is that this book is potentially very useful reading for managers who hire people, and others who convene meetings in organizations.
If TRIBAL LEADERSHIP is a kind of operating system, THE CULTURE GAME is a kind of application that runs on it. The book contains over 35 direct quotes from Dave Logan culled from various conversations, interviews and emails leading up to this book’s publication. The guidance found on Part3 of the book, which focuses on implementing Tribal Leadership triads to socialize the 16 Tribal Learning culture hacks, contains specific content that is not found in any other books… or anywhere else around the web.
THE CULTURE GAME book is the first to
- Discuss Culture Hacking in an English-language book, (see page 16), and:
- Provide a definition for Culture Hacking, (see page 20) … and:
- Build upon the mighty work of Tribal Leadership, (see Part 3) …and:
- State formally, in a book, that Agile actually builds a Senge-style learning organization, in effect “cracking the code” on how to build a Learning Organization at small, team-sized, local scale.
- State that Agile is a culture hack optimized on generating Senge-style org-learning inside software teams.
From the back cover:
THE CULTURE GAME is your tutorial and reference guide for creating lasting business agility in your organization. This is the handbook for managers who want to rapidly develop a culture of learning inside their teams. THE CULTURE GAME book provides you with specific tools and techniques to help your teams (and the entire enterprise) rapidly respond to change. THE CULTURE GAME describes 16 patterns of team-learning behavior, distilled from Agile software development. This book provides the tools to socialize these ideas throughout your organization.
THE CULTURE GAME book is your tutorial and reference guide for scaling the Agile mindset from software teams to the wider enterprise.
SPIRIT: Transformation and Development in Organizations
This book is quite amazing….VERY amazing…a free download…over 300 pages…a virtual treasure chest of culture-hacking tools and techniques. The book has been around since 1986, when Harrison Owen first published it….this book is the basis of most of his other books.
The Agile community completely missed this book. This book and the books by Victor Turner form the basis of Open Agile Adoption, a technique for obtaining a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. This book is required reading for any serious culture hacker or culture designer. What a book. Google the term SPIRIT: Transformation and Development in Organizations or click here to download it now!
Moving Beyond Icebreakers
This book is developed by Stanley Pollack, a person who has spent over 25 years hacking the violence-culture of inner city gangs. Working to bring peace to the organization we have come to call ‘the city’, Stanley Pollack has written an amazing book with over 300 tools he calls ‘interactives’. Sometimes called ‘games’, these group-level exercises can create powerful changes in what people want, think and feel from their group, their team or their neighborhood. The book contains an extensive useful index of over 300 interactives, depicting them in several useful categories. This is must-have book for every person who is serious about hacking culture.
NOTE: This work comes out of Boston, Most Innovative City on The Planet! Just saying…
From the back cover: Stanley Pollack began his career in the early 1970’s working with juvenile offenders in Trenton, NJ. From 1973 to 1082, as a youth worker and later as director of the Mayor’s Office of Youth Services in Somerville, MA, he developed innovative methods for engaging youth in a process of creating positive change in their communities, the basis for the current Teen Empowerment Model. From 1982 to 1991, Mr. Pollock provided consultation in the model to more than 40 organizations, including City Year, the Food Project, Serve Houston, and the city of Boston’s Community Centers. In 1992, he founded the Center for Teen Empowerment in Boston’s South End/Lower Roxbury, an area that was plagued by serious problems with youth violence, gangs, and drugs.
Guided by the model’s community change strategy, neighborhood youth were hired to address these problems, forming a powerful group of young people that was able to forge a long-lasting peace agreement among warring factions. Teen Empowerment opened its first site in a Boston public school in 1994. The program now has six sites — four in Boston, one in Somerville, and one in Rochester, NY – and also provides consultation and training to a wide range of social, educational, and youth service agencies. Under Mr. Pollack’s leadership, Teen Empowerment has engaged over 25,000 people in social change initiatives, and has involved hundreds of school faculty, police officers, and youth workers in training designed to improve their agencies’ ability to meet their goals.
Co-author Mary Fusoni has taught English and reading skills at the high school level in Boston and Arlington, MA, and was a founding e=teacher of the Full Circle School, an alternative high school program in Somerville, MA. She has been working as a writer, editor, and administrator since 1980, initially as a technical writer for computer manuals. In 1989 she began providing administrative support for programs working with the Teen Empowerment Model. She wrote the grant proposal that earned ini6ial funding for the Center for Teen Empowerment, and has been the Center’s documentation coordinator since 1992.
Author: Jamshid Gharajedaghi
This book describes a complete model of culture, describing the various elements and aspects of it. The author is a student and a contemporary of Russell Ackoff. As such, the book is an amazing read and required readiing for every culture hacker. The book can be a little inaccessible; do not let that discourage you. This is a mighty work. The development of the concepts of what the author calls ‘power duplication’ and also the discussion of the role of how beauty is defined in a culture are amazing to examine and apply. This book has had a major influence on my thinking on culture design.
From the back cover: In a global market economy, a viable business cannot be locked into a single form or function anymore. Rather, success is contingent upon a self-renewing capacity to spontaneously create structures, functions, and processes responsive to a fluctuating business landscape. Now in its third edition, Systems Thinking synthesizes systems theory and interactive design, providing an operational methodology for defining problems and designing solutions in an environment increasingly characterized by chaos and complexity.
The current edition has been updated to include all new chapters on self-organizing systems, Holistic, Operational, and Design thinking. Gharajedaghi covers recent crises in financial systems and job markets, the housing bubble, and environment, assessing their impact on systems thinking.
Author: Michael Margolis
This book is the storytelling manifesto. You care about story and narrative because the stories people are telling in a culture help define, shape, modify and redefine how people think, what people say, and how they act. Story and narrative are tremendous points of leverage for anyone serious about hacking culture. The author is the ultimate meta-storyteller, explaining to us the essential anatomy of story and narrative, and how to make it move. Required reading.
From the back cover: If you’re an innovator or change-maker, this book sheds new light on how to shift perceptions and get others to believe in what you’re doing. BELIEVE ME introduces you to 15 storytelling axioms that will change how you think about your work. Axioms like: People don’t really buy your product, solution, or idea, they buy the stories that are attached to it. Each axiom is supported by examples and inspired quotes from recognized luminaries, including Barack Obama, Gloria Steinem, Seth Godin, Tom Peters, and Joseph Campbell.
WORLDBLU’S 10 PRINCIPLES OF ORGANIZATIONAL DEMOCRACY
Authors: WorldBlu Leaders
The 10 Principles of Organizational Democracy are guidelines used to assess and measure the level of openness in an organization. Organizations that manifest these principles by operationalizing them throughout the organization can build a culture of openness, trust and collaboration that leads more engagement, learning and overall capacity to adapt to change.
SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD
Authors: Jim and Michele McCarthy
Software for your head is an important book because it describes a set of interactions that 2 or more people can use to increase the signal-to-noise ratio in communication. The book describes 11 behaviors or human-to-human protocols which are designed. We often think of the protocol of human interaction as we meet new people, say thank-you, engage in polite conversation, and work with others. When we travel to a new culture, say, to Japan or another nation, we pay attention to the conventions for interacting. Being polite and courteous is actually accomplished via scripted interactions. We call them ‘manners’.
SOFTWARE FOR YOUR HEAD takes this idea one step further. The book describes 11 standard ways of doing things with others. Perfection Game is a way to send and receive feedback and improve an idea. Decider is a way to get decisions that stick with a team. Check Out is a way to exit a situation where you cannot engage effectively in the present moment. These and 8 other protocols are designed to maximize the results a team gets.
The 11 Core Protocols are based on 11 ‘Core Comitments’ described in the book. Commitment #1: “I commit to engage when present”. This and 10 other hard-core commitments can make work fun and extremely effective. The book is recommended for your #culturehacking bookshelf.
We The People
Authors: John Buck, Sharon Villines
This book describes sociocracy, a structure for collaborative governance using circles of people, something called ‘double linking’ and something called ‘consent’. Consent is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and I find that interesting. Consent differs from concensus, and this book explains the difference. Sociocracy can be used to provide structure for working with up to 2000 people or even more. As such, this is essential culture technology, right up there with the others.
From the back cover: We the People describes a new method of governing ourselves that creates more inclusive and efficient organizations. The United States Declaration of Independence asserted that all human beings are created equally and endowed by society with the unquestionable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In practice, however, these rights are often limited to the majority, the rich, or the property owners. Sociocracy ensures these rights to everyone, and in the process, makes profit-making businesses more profitable and non-profit organizations more effective. The intent of sociocracy is to implement a designed culture. Using consent and collaboration as a foundation for decision-making and communications, it builds a strong governance structure that extends from the mailroom to the boardroom and from the client to the funders. Using the new sciences of cybernetics, systems thinkng, and complexity theory, it creates organizations that are as powerful, self-organizing, and self-correcting as the natural world.
Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Mancufo
This book describes how to make your meeting more productive and fun. It describes how to use games in meetings to generate ideas, create dialogue, and get people moving as they brainstorm together. This is a great book for facilitators and is referenced by The Culture Game by Daniel Mezick.You can be a culture hacker if you convene meetings, this book provides tools to do exactly that.
From the back cover: Great things don’t happen in a vacuum. But creating an environment for creative thinking and innovation can be a daunting challenge. How can you make it happen at your company? The answer may surprise you: gamestorming.
This book includes more than 80 games to help you break down barriers, communicate better, and generate new ideas, insights, and strategies. The authors have identified tools and techniques from some of the world’s most innovative professionals, whose teams collaborate and make great things happen. This book is the result: a unique collection of games that encourage engagement and creativity while bringing more structure and clarity to the workplace.
Author: David Sibbet
This book describes how to use diagrams, drawings, sticky notes, charts, graphs and more to visually depict and in fact radiate complex concepts and ideas in meetings. Business is the place where culture hacking ideas were first focused. This book is required reading for those who convene meetings in organizations.. From the back cover: Use eye-popping visual tools to energize your people!
Just as social networking has reclaimed the Internet for human interactivity and co-creation, the visual meetings movement is reclaiming creativity, productivity, and playful exchange for serious work in groups.
Visual Meetings explains how anyone can implement powerful visual tools, and how these tools are being used in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to facilitate both face-to-face and virtual group work. This dynamic and richly illustrated resource gives meeting leaders, presenters, and consultants a slew of exciting tricks and tools, including graphic recording, visual planning, story boarding, graphic templates, idea mapping, etc. The book also includes creative ways to energize team building, sales presentations, staff meetings, strategy sessions, brainstorming, and more. Is shows how to get beyond paper and whiteboards to engage new media platforms, how to understand emerging visual language for leading groups.
Reality is Broken
Author: Jane McGonigal
The 4-part game definition described in this book actually unlocked the thesis of my book, The Culture Game. By emphasizing the 4 properties: a clear goal, clear rules, a clear way to receive feedback and most importantly, opt-in participation, McGonigal makes a valuable contribution to the world of culture hacking and culture design. REALITY IS BROKEN asserts that we can fix the world by putting a “game layer” with great game mechanics OVER the current mess, to engage people in the difficult work of fixing it. This is a long book and somewhat “out there”. Do yourself a favor and do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. ‘Jane the Baptist’ (as I call her) has created a significant book and made a critically important contribution to the toolset of #culturehacking.
From the back cover: With 174 million gamers in the United States alone, we now live in a world where every generation will be a gamer generation. But why, Jane McGonigal asks, should games be used for escapist entertainment alone? In this groundbreaking book, she shows how we can leverage the power of games to fix what is wrong with the real world-from social problems like depression and obesity to global issues like poverty and climate change-and introduces us to cutting-edge games that are already changing the business, education, and nonprofit worlds. Written for gamers and non-gamers alike, Reality Is Broken shows that the future will belong to those who can understand, design, and play games.
Author: Tony Hsieh
This book, written by the CEO of Zappos explains the Zappos story of culture …and culture design. The appendix describes the 4 requirements of basic human happiness: a sense of control, a sense of progress, a sense of belonging, and sense of purpose. The book described the practices in Zappos that support the intended culture. Various aspects of the Zappos culture including the single-door policy, the face-game, and other techniques of culture design and implementation are explored. The book contains many rich narratives that form the Zappos mythos and ethos. A culture hacking narrative and tour guide. Highly recommended.
From the back cover: The visionary CEO of Zappos explains how an emphasis on corporate culture can lead to unprecedented success.
Pay new employees $2000 to quit. Make customer service the entire company, not just a department. Focus on company culture as the #1 priority. Apply research from the science of happiness to running a business. Help employees grow both personally and professionally. Seek to change the world. Oh, and make money too.
Sound crazy? It’s all standard operating procedure at Zappos.com, the online retailer that’s doing over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales every year.
In 1999, Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay) sold LinkExchange, the company he co-founded, to Microsoft for $265 million. He then joined Zappos as an adviser and investor, and eventually became CEO.
The Fifth Discipline
Author: Peter Senge
This is the classic book that popularized the term “the learning organization” and kicked off the pursuit of tools and techniques that might help make that vision a reality. The book described 5 disciplines that must be in place in order for a group of people to reach the learning-org ideal. The falls short of providing ABC guidance on how to achieve this, instead describing what a learning-org looks like, so we can know it when we see it. Locating more than a few genuine and authentic learning organizations is tough. That said, THE FIFTH DISCIPLINE remains a classic that has defined the cultural norms of the highest-functioning organizations. In the current day, Agile software development has “cracked the code” on how to manifest a small-scale learning-org, called a “team”. This is a important book for you to examine. See also: Agile Implements a Learning Organization.
From the back cover: An MIT Professor’s pathbreaking book on building “learning organizations” — corporations that overcome inherent obstacles to learning and develop dynamic ways to pinpoint the threats that face them and to recognize new opportunities. Not only is the learning organization a new source of competitive advantage, it also offers a marvelously empowering approach to work, one which promises that, as Archimedes put it, “with a lever long enough… single-handed I can move the world.”
Author: George Leonard
MASTERY is a book that can help you with one of the five disciplines described by Senge: “personal mastey”. Written by an Aikido master from the Esalen Institute, MASTERY is a short and powerful read. It celebrates the pursuit of knowledge, competency and mastery as ends in themselves, worthy of our time, effort and attention. Cultures can shift when just a few people decide to work at it. This book helps you gain mastery of your chosen pursuits, and also help you identify others who are on the path, in your own organization.
From the back cover: Drawing on Zen philosophy and his expertise in the martial art of aikido, bestselling author Gorge Leonard shows how the process of mastery can help us attain a higher level of excellence and a deeper sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our daily lives. Whether you’re seeking to improve your career or your intimate relationships, increase self-esteem or create harmony within yourself, this inspiring prescriptive guide will help you master anything you choose and achieve success in all areas of your life.
Important essays on the Web:
How to Be a Hacker
Author: Eric Raymond
This essay is an important culture hacking document. It describes the cultural norms and ethics of the hacker culture that emerged at the advent of the Open Source movement. As such, it is an important piece of the history of hacking both software and cultural norms.
Essay: HOW TO BECOME A HACKER
Author: Doug Kirkpatrick
Author Doug Kirkpatrick worked with Chris Rufer in the early days of MORNINGSTAR which is now the #1 processor of tomatoes and manufacturer of tomato products in the USA, and perhaps the world. The MORNINGSTAR products go into ketchup and other products you buy at the supermarket.
MORNINGSTAR is a designed organization. It has NO managers and the employees (referred to as colleagues) execute by making and keeping agreements and commitments. The company is a reflection of the philosophy of the founder, Chris Rufer.
This book is a business parable loosely based on the MORNINGSTAR experience. Author Doug Kirkpatrick tells a compelling narrative of passion and responsibility at work that is at once fascinating and educational. This book is recommended reading.
From the back cover: Empowerment programs swept through corporate America in the last two decades. Unfortunately, bolting empowerment programs onto existing power structures often led to the appearance of empowerment–without the actual power. Going beyond empowerment means that people have all the power they need from the very moment they join a company–regardless of the level of responsibility or complexity. They are immune from threats or coercion. They are free to seek any needed resources and relationships on their own initiative. And they are held fully accountable for results by themselves, their colleagues and the organization’s mission.
The Reengineering Alternative
Author: William Schneider
This is a useful book that pulls together a set of ideas in one model of organizational culture. The book asserts that eventually, all organizational cultures end up more or less fitting into 4 specific categories: Control culture, Competency culture, Collaboration culture, and Cultivation culture. The book provides ABC guidance on how to assess the culture of your company and once complete, use that assessment to play to your strengths while avoiding weaknesses.
This is an interesting book and the framework is useful as an assessment tool. The book’s thesis is grounded in actual consulting with real organizations, making the assertions the book makes believable.
That said, the book does tend to promote the idea that no one cultural idea for your organization is better than any other idea. This is probably misguided. The pace of change is demanding that organizations be more and more adaptive. This is true even for the insurance industry, where Schneider did most of his consulting prior to writing this book. The pace of change has accelerated since the early 1990’s. It is clear that cultures which value continuous learning are more far more useful and valid than cultures that do not. The word ‘learning’ does not appear in the index. A quick examination of the pages in this short book reveals that the essential topic of organizational learning is not addressed.
In my view, organizational cultures that are designed to learn fast are clearly superior to those who do not. This book stops short of stating this and instead tends to support the idea that all organizational types are of equal value. “Learning cultures” are superior to others precisely because they can more readily identify and immediately adapt to change. I cover this subject extensively in my own book, THE CULTURE GAME which published in May of 2012.
All in all, this is an important book and one that deserves a careful examination if you are embarking on culture change initiatives in your organization. Recommended.
From the back cover: Organizations can hire consultants and purchase expensive training programmes – but improvement must still be generated from within. “The Reengineering Alternative” explains how organizations can develop effective improvement plans based upon their unique strengths and corporate objectives. This book should prove valuable to managers who recognize the need for organizational change, but either haven’t found an appropriate improvement programme, or can’t fit an outside programme into the budget. The book provides a questionnaire readers can use to determine causes of conflict and sources of competitive strength. It demonstrates effective management and helps readers make the most cost-effective decisions concerning change and improvement within their organization.
Examine this title on Amazon
Recharge Your Team: The Grounded Visioning Approach
Author: Jay Vogt
Did I mention that author Jay Vogt hails from Boston, the city that is acknowledged hands-down as the Most Innovative City on The Planet? Just saying. (This makes total sense from the point of view of the www.AgileBoston.org mission and vision.). Jay’s book describes an approach to a specific facilitation topic, namely: identifying a Shared Vision. This is capitalized for a reason: without a Shared Vision, your team has NO SHOT at greatness. Got that? Ok, let’s proceed. This book describes a way to get a set of people to a state of Shared Vision in as little as 4-6 hours. That alone is worth the price of this book. Enough said. You might want to consider buying this book if you are serious about culture hacking. Recommended!
From the back cover: As most managers know, you need a vision to motivate employees to achieve goals. But people, and companies, lose focus, and the future appears hazy. Recharge Your Team not only shows managers how to create an effective vision—it shows how to do it in as little as four hours, using a time-tested, proven approach. Grounded Visioning is based on a concept called appreciative inquiry, the process allows groups to come up with a revitalizing vision that everyone buys into in half a day or less. How? As this book shows, the key is to be sure everyone takes part, to base the vision on how the team acts when at its best, and to imagine a vision bold enough to inspire but practical enough to feel achievable.
Closing the Me-You Gap
Author: Vickie Gray
This is an accessible book about the Core Protocols and Core Commitments from Jim and Michele McCarthy. Vickie is a certified McCarthy BOOTCAMP instructor and an exert in the use of these social technologies. The book is designed to explain “why you care” about using these structured interactions and in this the book succeeds. A solid introduction to the business case, theory of operation, and concepts and facilities of the Core Protocols.
From the back cover: Every moment, each of us makes a decision about how much to trust the person in front of us. Every decision, every action, every conflict involves me (and everyone is a “me”) choosing how vulnerable I will be with you (and everyone is also a “you”). I choose whether or not I will share my ideas, how much support I will give you, whether or not I will try to reach resolution if we disagree, and how much help I will show you I need. Two people at a time, team members have to trust one another and build intimacy. When pairs of team members close the trust gaps between them the team becomes a resilient web of interpersonal connections that is greater than the sum of its parts.