Research, knowledge, and perspective are the currency of our profession. We are actively engaged in academic research on culture and culture change, as well as professional and scholarly writing and public speaking. A sample of current and recent work is below.
White papers, Journal articles, Thought pieces:
- Cognitivie Science Disrupts Culture, Part I: The 5 Myths of Culture Change, Think piece, 2018 Summary: Organizational “culture” seems to explain everything, from Uber’s rapaciousness to Amazon’s intensity to GM’s ethical lapses to Enron’s greed. Startups now have VPs of “Culture”. The term is so firmly in the mainstream that athletes and sports managers use it to explain why, say, basketball’s Golden State Warriors are so good, or why European football’s Arsenal are so perpetually mediocre. Wanting to improve your organization’s inclusion, creativity, performance, and overall humanity is laudable. Unfortunately this well-intended and promising invention has often gone alarmingly awry. This piece explains why, and what can be done.
- Cognitivie Science Disrupts Culture, Part II: You Are What You Do, Think piece, 2018 Summary: Former Yahoo CEO and Google executive Marisa Mayer was quoted recently in the New York Times as saying she joined Google “for the culture”,and that cultures once they reach 1000 people become “self reinforcing”. Certainly cultures exhibit patterns and regularities unique to particular groups, but what stands out for me is the taken-for-granted-ness of her statement. Like most executives, she views culture as a tangible force with clearly discernable and unambiguous properties that have direct influence over people. For those of us who study culture, this stance presents several fascinating paradoxes.
- When is Leadership Development ‘Transformational’?” (Part I), Think piece, 2017 Summary: When a leaders is looking for their organization to transform, they are really asking their PEOPLE to transform. This is true because there is no such thing as organizational transformation without PERSONAL transformation. Organizational transformation — dramatic growth, spin-off, business model change, restructuring, turnaround, culture change, etc. — require a different kind of learning from leaders. It is not simply a matter of acquiring more knowledge or even skills, but through shifts in basic assumptions, frames of reference, and ways of learning so that the problems and solutions look entirely different.
- When is Leadership Development ‘Transformational’?” (Part II), Think piece, 2017 Summary: The organizational environment also matters. Change leaders also need an environment where they can breathe, grow and thrive. Few would debate this point, but leaders who emerge from transformational learning experiences will often run into a wall of people who completely miss the importance of workplaces as places of learning, in addition to places of business.
- VIDEO: How Cognitive Science Disrupts Culture
- Disrupting Culture, An edited excerpt from Rethinking Culture: Embodied Cognition and the Origin of Culture in Organizations, by David G. White PhD, to be published by Routledge in 2017
Summary: A recent report by CEB reports that 76% of its surveyed firms plan some form of culture change in 2017. What is astounding about this is not that so many organizations want to change their cultures. What is astounding is that they believe they can.
As a cognitive anthropologist who researches organizational culture, this belief runs counter to most of what we know about culture based on the science of the last 35 years, namely, that culture can be easily manipulated. It’s as if much of the business world is stuck in the pioneering anthropology of the 1920s and 30s of so-called primitive societies that posited cultures as neat, monolithic wholes with clearly drawn boundaries and easily discernible values.
- Rethinking Culture , White Paper, 2015
Summary: Most leaders and many consultants believe organizational cultures can be “shaped” for competitive advantage. This immensely popular notion is so embedded in conventional thinking that to suggest otherwise is almost heretical. Yet this idea is, at best, unproven beyond espoused values and at worst, deeply wishful thinking. The problem is not the concept but the way it is defined and operationalized in practice. The good news is cognitive science over the last 30 years offers strong evidence on which to base a fresh approach to culture and change, one that promises to be far more impactful and sustainable in practice. This article explains why current approaches are problematic and outlines this compelling alternative.
- Improving Inclusivity and Communication In Executive Teams – Concrete Actions, Thought Piece
Summary: Get new ideas to help improve results in diverse teams.
- Driving Change Through Career Models — An Operating System for Talent. White Paper, 2012
Abstract: Using two client case studies, read how integrated talent infrastructure through career models can drive organizational transformation. Typical approaches to integrated talent management either lead with a technology solution and/or don’t go far enough in engaging employees. A career model based approach as the platform solves for this.
- On Project Management, Thought Piece, 2012
Abstract: Many engineering and R&D oriented companies have 3 technical career paths: individual technical professional, management, and project/program management. With respect to project management, however, many of our clients struggle with whether to treat project management as a competency or a career path, or both.
- Career Models and Culture Change at Microsoft. ODN Journal, 2007, David White (co-author)
Abstract: This paper asks and answers the question: What are the intervention options for driving culture change in a company that continues to benefit from success, and lacks a burning platform for change? The answer: Focusing on employee motivation in the context of career opportunities while directly linking strategic business changes to employee behavior. (view PDF)
Magazines and Newspaper articles:
Talks & Presentations:
Leadership Thought Pieces
- Ideas: What Makes you Tick (Motivates)?
If you want to better understand what motivates yourself and others, these questions can help. You may want to choose a few of these at a time with members of your team or your colleagues. Do not treat these as a checklist. Instead, allow plenty of time to really explore and get to know each other. Relax and learn.