Culture is Corrosive

I’ve been trying out the local coworking scene for the past month, and I’ve really enjoyed it. Thursday I had lunch with the woman who is responsible for putting all of the pieces together. I had a lot of fun talking about startups, entrepreneurialism, and financing.

We reached the point that I’ve seen many times when talking to local folks about startups. The “Silicon Valley” moment.

“People say that we couldn’t be another Silicon Valley, but I don’t believe that,” she said, “we could make it happen here”

This made me both very sad and happy at the same time. Sad: we have a better chance of teaching pigs to be ballerinas than creating another Silcon Valley in sleepy little Southwest Virginia. Happy: it’s a worthy cause, and even by “failing” we could end up helping a lot of people. Sign me up, coach!

I tried to explain these things, but probably did a very poor job of it. I told her about Y Combinator, how it now has thousands of folks who have gone through their training. Many of them are still in the area and they all help each other out. I talked about how SV success stories are usually willing to take their time to try to help the next generation out. They’re not in it just for the money. There is a spirit of cooperation. I talked about how “failure” is not a bad thing: people work hard and stick with an idea until it either works or they pivot. I talked about how people share and support each other because even the success stories know what it’s like to be plugging away at something that doesn’t appear to be working. I mentioned how tough it was for people who did well in one startup to recapture the magic — and how that was okay. I told her that both chance, preparation, and tenacity play a big part in startups, perhaps chance more than preparation and tenacity, but you had to have all three. About how important the team was compared to the idea.

There’s a lot of things to understand about startups. I kind of felt like a parrot. All I was doing was repeating what I’ve heard much better people say.

But then I hit it, a way of capturing this huge hunk of important information into something more like a slogan. Culture is corrosive.

You take somebody just out of school who doesn’t know any better. If they’re in a team of friends who are able to execute and stick it out, they have the greatest chance of success. Why? Because they don’t know any better. They’re not indoctrinated in what “winning” and “losing” looks like. They’re willing to try anything. They understand sharing and how being open and sharing with each other helps everybody out.

Take those same guys, put them in a corporate job for a few months? It’s like night and day. Suddenly “work” and “life” are two different things. You’re not supposed to like work, you’re supposed to want more free time. You have your team and other people have theirs. You don’t help the other guys. You measure success in dollars. There are rules and ways to do things. You stick to these in order to reduce or eliminate risk.

Culture is corrosive. When we talk about forming new Silicon Valleys, there’s a lot of things to get our head around, but this is the big one. This is the enemy we fight. Culture is corrosive.

If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy this password:

* Type or paste password here:

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>