I keep typing the word culture over and over, trying to write a first sentence to this piece. I made the mistake of first looking up the definition of the word “culture”, and I can’t stop thinking about the third entry:

Verb — biology: maintain (tissue, cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth.

I’m imagining Petri dishes and little globs of cells growing in otherwise sterile, white goo. One of the “Alien” movies is ricocheting around in my memory.

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Photo credit: Maximilian Paradiz

It makes sense, in a way, to think about work culture that same way. Building a culture is an experiment. You’re trying to create the perfect conditions to grow something meaningful. You keep the number of variables as low as possible. You try to stop outside influences from killing it — too much heat, too much cold, too much… exposure. You add nourishment and encouragement at the right times in the right quantities. You nudge your little creation along and hold your breath. …


Are you sent home from work/school/coffee shop and forced to sit around your house with your loved ones? Me too, it stinks. As someone who thrives on being in the office with my colleagues and also a father of two young children, I’ve had to get creative on not going nuts working from home unexpectedly. Here are some tips that I’ve come up with to keep your mind right during what is possibly total social and economic collapse.

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Peace!

Move your body around

Exercise is the first thing to go when you’re at home. You’re used to walking to and from the car/train/office. Now you walk from your bed to the toilet to the kitchen to the desk. 100 steps max unless you live in a lavish estate or castle. …


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Just before the artist introduction

Walking home from Music Hall after Wednesday night’s CSO Proof performance of Singulus Et Simul, I saw some of my colleagues sitting at the bar in Low Spark on 14th. I went in to chat and to explain what I had just seen two blocks away.

I used phrases like “Parisian vogue dancing” and “several deep, deep splits” and “tall, black, shirtless Thomas Jefferson.” I was dancing in a way that did not at all demonstrate the dancing I had just seen. I pantomimed catwalking and jazz hands and twirling. At the end of it, the guy on the end, White Claw gripped anxiously in his hand, shouts “I thought you said you saw the symphony?” …


Looking around me last night, as the stage lights dropped to velvety black, with one bright white pillar illuminating pianist Timo Andres, I wasn’t in Cincinnati. I wasn’t at Music Hall. I was in every major, worldly theater. I was in Europe, I was in NYC. In that moment, as the audience dropped to hushed, taut attention, I saw the proof of just how far we’ve come.

music hall at night
music hall at night
Cincinnati Music Hall, home of the CSO

I got tickets to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Friday night performance of Proof: American Perspective at the last minute from a friend. We showed up just before curtain, were ushered through the Will Call area, given a button to wear, and then hurried past the theater main entrances. This engagement was, apparently, going to be entirely backstage. We went through doors they normally tackle you for trying to open, and then down ramps and through corridors. …


A day doesn’t pass in these United States where climate change isn’t in the news. The doom and gloom perspective of the world’s scientists about our dwindling terran prospects comes in a drumbeat of warnings. As Christopher Ketcham demonstrates in his harrowing This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West, threats to the country and places we love are not limited to the coasts.

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Grand Staircase in Utah, by liquidcrash

My guilty pleasure, and greatest financial weakness, is the Sunday Book Review in the New York Times. If my cell phone is anywhere near me when I’m reading it, there will invariably be a book or two on my doorstep by Tuesday. A piece about This Land did the same thing to me. I’m a weak man and an aspiring bibliophile. …


A speedboat.
A speedboat.
Photo credit: Les Chatfield

Has standard storytelling gotten you down? Are you tired of have a linear plot, a “shocking” twist, a climax, and an easy resolution? Did you really want to enjoy Infinite Jest but struggled with the sheer size of it? Do you love experimental literature from 1976?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, I have got the book for you.

Speedboat by Renata Adler is as far away from formulaic as you can get without landing in someone’s stream of consciousness. It’s a book made up of a couple hundred blatant non sequiturs, strung together in a way that seems haphazard and lazy. But something in the back of your mind feels like there’s a pattern, it feels like there’s some method to this madness. And there is. …


You never know until you try. That phrase encompasses the need to do everything we always talk about. Take the plunge. Get sh*t done. Leap of faith. Git ‘er done. Every folksy gumption-giving aphorism about productivity.

The same goes for your idea. Your plan. Your brilliant solution. If every solution I’ve come up with made money, I’d be paying Warren Buffett to caddie for me. A solution isn’t a solution until you’ve put it into practice and solved the problem. If the problem still exists, you don’t “have a solution”, you have an idea. Ideas are cheap.

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See, someone thought this mall was a great idea. Now look at it.

There are two main problems with having lots of ideas and no real solutions. …


Great workplace culture is the third heat

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Source: S. Chandrasekaran on Flickr

There are a four reasons that people want to work somewhere. Well, there are probably infinite reasons, but for the sake of argument let’s say there are four main reasons:

  1. You are really impressed with the work the team does
  2. You’ve heard it’s a really great place to work
  3. You just really hate your current job and need a new one
  4. Your mom is throwing you out of the house at the end of the month and you’re going to be couchsurfing if you don’t have an apartment lined up and you need money for a security deposit

I can’t help with #3 or #4, other than to say good luck and ask lots of questions in the interview. …


To succeed in business you need all three. Success can mean a lot of things, but for me it means feeling like I’m driving forward every day. Like I’m not spinning my wheels (or reinventing them). I’ve found that there are three areas where if I invest the right attention, they coalesce into magic and sunshine and happiness. Or, at least, less bashing my head on the desk.

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I took this photo of a giant log, a tree really, stuck on a mooring on the Ohio River. Culture!

Process helps you get work done, strategy helps you become and remain competitive, and culture unifies any high performing team. In the modern workplace, it’s surprising how few teams really embrace the third heat, Culture, and it’s a shame. The ones who really get it right are in their own league. …


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Whack! Nails by Adam Rosenberg

I spent at least ten years being a hammer. Every day I’d wake up and I’d look for nails that I could sending speeding home with a solid whack! Any and every problem I came across always required (coincidentally) the same tool. How lucky I was to be me: The Hammer! Nails everywhere!

Looking back now at the results of my incessant and narcissistic hammering on everything, I see a bunch of things badly built. Where I should have sawed, I hammered. Where I should have used caulk or even duct tape — I hammered. Hell, I went into other people’s projects and hammered, just because I could. …

About

John David Back

Peanut butter first, code second.

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