Debunking the Culture Myth: An iB Intern Sets the Record Straight

Debunking the Culture Myth: An iB Intern Sets the Record Straight

Community User Blog | Posted by Nancy Vollmer - February 16, 2014 at 5:42 pm

If my experience here at institute B has taught me anything that I can take with me on my future adventures, it’s that the most important thing about working for, or starting a business is: Company Culture.

So to debunk most of those myths, here are some of my mentors at iB, conjured and summoned to your computer screen via this collection and take on their words and actions.

Myth: Culture is optional.
Reality: All organizations have a culture.

“It’s not just about taking your dog to work”, a wise man named Aaron Vidas once told me. I used to think that culture was something that sits right next to the bottles of “Thirsty Thursday’s” beer in the office refrigerator of a trendy start-up or a document signed in golden ink by the HR department. But culture is not a luxury or a trend because as long as you have human beings on your team, you’re going to have culture.

Culture is generated by the way that people interact with each other based on their values and experiences. So it’s not a question of having or not having one. It’s a matter of having a good one. As Justin Chou’s article about his experiences with a neglected versus well thought-out culture taught me, it’s about how you choose to acknowledge culture.

Myth: Culture is hanging a framed mission statement on the wall.
Reality: Culture is a continuous and active practice/Culture is made up of conversations.

Culture is not just a branding strategy and slogan that you write onto your website and business cards. It’s a continuous social process and practice. Darrell Kopke always talks to his audiences about having that “background conversation”, the one that you have after office hours at the pub, at work. I’ve seen Darrell prompt one of these during a very difficult conversation with the entire team. Nobody held back. Everybody was honest and respectful. The team wasn’t able to do this because it was in their contracts or Darrell told them to. Getting to this desired culture did not happen overnight. Culture is conditioned, not declared. It’s a practice, not a statement.

Myth: Cultural assimilation means drinking the Kool Aid.
Reality: Seek to understand and know how far you’re willing to go.

iB is a collective of different people with different paths who have come together to promote social entrepreneurship. One thing connects us but we aren’t cloning or downing the fluorescent sugary liquid of culture over here. There is still a respect for and an open forum for the variance in values. We’re all here for our own reasons and sometimes we don’t 100% agree with what we’re supposed to do. This is something that you will have to navigate through when it comes to culture. “There’s always something you’re not going to like about where you work,” Bix Bickson told me, “you have to ask yourself how far you’re willing to go.”

You need to be able to understand yourself before you can understand others and be, as Manfred Vollmer advises, “a guest”. Vice principal and office DJ, Manfred Vollmer has worked in different environments and corporate cultures around the world. He took care to note that no matter what, remember that you are a guest and that means remaining open, and creatively adaptable. You don’t have to drink the Kool Aid, but you do have to take the time to read the recipe and maybe make your own mix.

Myth: One person makes no difference in a culture.
Reality: We’re all throwing something into the culture pot.

I got a mouthful from my mentor and coach, Rik Klingle-Watt when I wanted to initiate a meeting with somebody here at iB via e-mail. One little e-mail and he got on my case. Ridiculous? Nope.

While it would’ve been okay to confirm our meeting via technology to keep things organized and documented, this is better done after I took the time to initiate things in person. Positive culture is built through engagement, presence, and interaction. I wouldn’t be able to participate and do my part to grow the sort of culture that iB works towards if I was too scared to bother somebody by saying “Hi, I think you’re awesome and I think you can help me out with this.”

Whether or not you choose to participate, your action or inaction still causes a ripple. As Darrell Kopke’s favourite quote by Voltaire goes: “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”


Written by Alyssa Sy de Jesus