Thoughts on ‘Culture Shock’ by Will McInnes

What are we working for?

As someone who just left an agency to craft my own role, it’s a question I’ve been considering myself a lot recently. Is the purpose of a company to create more and more profit? Is it to change the world? Is it to create something to fill your days with meaning and enough cash to enjoy life outside work hours?

The answer is going to be different for everyone but it’s one of my many questions that comes out of Culture Shock, a recent book by digital maestro Will McInnes, founder of Nixon McInnes. And I’m firmly of the belief that questions are a good good thing.

The book is based around an examination of the ways we work, including the current militaristic structures of organisations and the question of what kinds of democracy drive modern business and why.

But it’s much more than an abstract exercise – as someone who hasn’t done much real research into the area, it gave me a good feeling that Will has done the reading and is summarising the most interesting examples and exercises to help you hit the ground running.

While it’s not for me, I’ve always been fascinated by the pattern of people clamouring to work with the biggest brands in the world – and as I understand it, the motivation is twofold. Firstly, you can make more money, which is good for business and secondly, it’s good for the feeling that you’re doing something potent and worthwhile.

But those same brands are often notorious for wringing employees dry with excessive work hours, unruly demands and a punishing culture of ruthless hierarchy and authority.

So, when Will McInnes says in Culture Shock that we should be creating businesses that measure success by the output of happiness as much as anything, what you need to know is whether that suits you. Or are you just in it for the blind pursuit of profit?

What do you want to work for? Do you believe there’s another way?

What’s interesting about the book to me is that even if you don’t want to run your business that way, it feels like the right primer to read to at least open your eyes fully to the path you aren’t taking. And that’s important.

I also feel that a lot of the ways of doing things that it describes should make it a hell of alot harder to create a poor and flagging business. If you run an operation with that much transparency and lacking in the right talent, these techniques should gut your company and leave you high and dry.

The modern ‘industrialised’ way of working often prepares an environment where the responsibility of the most junior citizens is entirely limited, at the risk of creating cookie cutter roles that meter influence with serving time until promotion. Any industry where a structure like this exists should really be re-examining its configuration to prepare for the ways business is changing in the coming years.

Another interesting question is whether I would actually want the leaders of a business I worked for to think like this. The answer is yes and no. To some extent, I’m inclined toward believing in a benevolent dictator at the top of the pile – too much honesty can be dispiriting if you’re used to believing in a higher force and maybe there’s some argument that this should be maintained for the good of all.

But whatever you take from it, Culture Shock should act to cleanse the palate of anyone interested in the bigger picture of running a business. If you’re inclined to question everything, this will be a read you enjoy – and one that will pass quickly with its enthusiastic tone and clear structure.

If not, then burying your head in the sand may only get you so far while the rest of the world overtakes you…

- Max Tatton-Brown

November 27th, 2012

  • http://twitter.com/willmcinnes Will McInnes

    Max, thank you for taking the time. I think you’ve nailed both what Culture Shock is about and trying to achieve. And you’ve pointed out an interesting tension I regularly wrangle with in my brain about the value of a ‘benevolent dictator’. My inspiration was Ricardo Semler who wrote Maverick about how he ran his family business democratically – as I understand it Semler is still the only or at least majority shareholder. There are plenty of times where I as a founder or MD think ‘I wish I could just make this happen my way’. Appreciate the review. Will

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexanderperryman Alexander Perryman

    Good article. Any chance I could borrow your copy? 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexanderperryman Alexander Perryman

    Erm, I mean, buy my own, thus giving Will the hard-earned revenues he deserves…. 🙂 Yea, that’s it.

  • http://MaxTB.com Max Tatton-Brown

    Get work to buy a copy for the office or “Secret Santa” one to the powers that be. Really good read!

  • http://MaxTB.com Max Tatton-Brown

    Pleasure – I’m pretty brutal on business books and dropping them as soon as it feels like you’ve got the gist but Culture Shock kept me there until the end.

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