Culturati Summit 2018: We’ll Open Our Playbooks & Think Aloud from the Edge

by Josh Jones-Dilworth, CEO and Founder, JDI; Culturati Co-Founder & Programming Chair

We’re delighted to share what we’ve got planned for Culturati Summit ’18.

Thank you for being part of the process. Your participation has influenced us greatly. Keep the ideas and feedback coming. Few conference organizers enjoy such committed engagement from their community. We are truly grateful for your help.

I’m a big fan of etymology; the words we use have a secret heritage that often helps me get clear about what’s really going on in almost any situation.

My favorite definition of culture comes from the Latin. Culture is a pattern of human knowledge that passes through generations. Culture is what we hand down and on; legacy is culture’s passenger.

Culturati Summit is about a carefully curated group of executives and thought leaders coming together and sharing our playbooks, passing knowledge around and down. Every speaker this year is committed to showing us a look we haven’t seen before.

As for you, our participants?

We want you to show up as a group this year prepared to make rich, fresh discoveries. We all take precious time out of our lives, and money out of our budgets and our pockets to be in this space once a year, so let’s make the most of it. This is work worth doing right.

Put another way, what each of us is doing in our day-to-day is incredibly hard, and it can be lonely too. We want Culturati to be a place where we can take a risk by being whole with one another, and thinking aloud from the edge of what we already know.

Not schtick or speaking points. Not pre-fab insights. We’re all on a frontier of one kind or another. Recognizing this fact makes Culturati possible in the first place.

Quick wins may be exhilarating, but at the Summit we are much more interested in the hypotheses we are all testing, and why.

For example at the Acton School of Business, where our Culturati colleague Steven Tomlinson and I both teach, our hypothesis is that if we do the work necessary to give students full responsibility for their own education, we will see the most optimal results.

At my firm JDI, we are testing a hypothesis that we can forge an elite new marketer significantly faster and more efficiently than the market can.

We talked a lot about hypotheses throughout our programming work.

At Hot Chicken Takeover, Culturati speaker Joe DeLoss isn’t just testing whether felons re-entering the workforce can successfully hold down a job. He’s testing whether a whole team of folks who have been given a second chance can outperform the competition.

One hypothesis Verb is testing is that mentorship programs have never had a proper curriculum to speak of; the resultant effects of creating and installing one are enormous.

MailChimp, Inc. Magazine’s Company of the Year, has a hypothesis that offering their product for free to small businesses yields disproportionately more paying customers and a better bottom line.

At Crossover, Andy Tryba has a hypothesis that paying “cloud wages” — salaries not determined by the country the employee lives in — results in deep loyalty from employees he’ll never meet face-to-face.

At KnowYourCompany, Claire Lew has a hypothesis that many employees don’t give honest feedback when asked by their employers, and that the cost of their reluctance is higher than we can know.

One new thing we’re doing this year is instituting Chatham House Rule for select keynotes and breakout sessions, as decided by presenters and panelists on a case-by-case basis. The rule was originally devised in 1927, and is named after the headquarters of the UK Royal Institute of International Affairs.

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

Our goal is to increase all our comfort level to the point at which our ideas and experiences can most freely flow.

Each of our speakers is in some way turning culture upside down, or inside out.

As Eugene writes about elsewhere on In Practice today, we’re enormously proud to announce our final keynote speakers today, the San Antonio Spurs’ General Manager, R.C. Buford.

In a rare appearance, Buford will join us at Culturati to open up his playbook, one that has made the Spurs perhaps the most successful team in all of professional sports. The Spurs have made the playoffs an astonishing 24 out of the last 25 seasons. They have won 50 games or more in each of the last 14 seasons, and have the highest win-loss record percentage in the NBA since the ABA merger in 1979, at an incredible 62.4%.

R.C. joins an awesome, diverse cast of folks including Rework and Basecamp’s Wailin Wong and Jason Fried. Jason and Wailin have similarly made a practice of studying how to sustain a business for the long haul.

The world’s oldest company is a hotel in Japan called Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan. It has been in continuous operation for 1,312 years. Is it harder to go the distance today than ever before? What are the potential fruits and pitfalls of trying nonetheless? What makes work truly sustainable?

I love this quote from Jason in particular: “When you’re profitable and debt free, you don’t owe anyone anything. All we owe is our best effort. Who do we owe that to? Ourselves and our customers. The peace of mind, clarity, and calm that comes with that is immeasurable.”

Our National Advisory Board member and NewCo CEO John Battelle will be interviewing the Obama Foundation’s CEO David Simas and Patagonia’s Dean Carter.

Note: John’s Shift Forum is a must-attend for us this year.

John wrote a brilliant post last Summer titled Business Must Lead that really hit home for our whole programming team, given what a tumultuous year it has been socially and politically. Brands like Patagonia have taken a stand. Simas and his team are focused on 21st century citizenship on both sides of the aisle, at glocal scales.

We’ll hear from both about corporation-led social and cultural change. Do these activities threaten shareholder value or further it? When Patagonia promises to bail employees out and pay their legal fees if they are arrested for peaceful protest, what happens? Do policies like these they heighten productivity? Commitment? Retention? What does the ordinary employee expect? Is the risk of alienating customers and colleagues really worth it? How do we inspire and empower people to change their world, using the companies we own and run as catalysts?

Chris Shipley of Google’s Newsgeist project and the founder of Work to Learn will lead a session that brings together key execs from Google, Paypal and Accenture, each of whom has an utterly unique take on how to build diverse and inclusive cultures.

If diversity is a vibrant party; inclusion is being asked to dance.

The companies we have chosen to highlight prioritize both, but not as a matter of check-the-box “procurement” like so many others. Each has made a decades-long commitment, based on deep conviction. Diversity and inclusion are our most pressing issue today, but also the most fraught. What timelines are most reasonable? What tactics work? Which actually scale? What hard truths have emerged along the way?

Patty McCord, who wrote Netflix’s famous culture deck, will tell us what she learned writing her new book Powerful, which arrives in stores next week. Never one to shy away from an opportunity for candor, Patty will explain how and why the old standbys of corporate HR ― namely, annual performance reviews, retention plans, employee empowerment and engagement programs ― often waste time and resources.

Wife-and-husband dynamo Julie and Spencer Rice, who founded and ran SOULCycle as CEO and CMO respectively, will be with us for the first time together onstage. There’s a fine line between cults and culture. But culture isn’t just a feature of SOULCycle. Arguably, culture is SOULCycle’s main product, and not a workout.

Moreover, what if your culture sat above the line instead of below it? What if your culture was stronger outside your four walls than within them? How do movements like these take shape? As Hugh McLeod has said, “the market for something to believe in is infinite.”

Following our keynotes are feature sessions, which we’ve reimagined to be more even open, honest, direct and pragmatic than last year.

Performance Playbook. Modern Workplace. Corporate Citizenship. Employee Engagement.

Our feature programming is divided into thematic tracks, each of which has multiple points of overlap with our keynote content. Attendees will be able to choose what lines of thought they want to follow, from amongst 4 different choices in each session.

You’ll hear from hear from 3 major brands who have put social impact front and center. You’ll hear about the emotional reality of executing layoffs, and how to regrow a culture afterwards.

You’ll learn about culture’s ascendance to a Board-level responsibility from some of the most seasoned Directors in the country. You’ll learn about maintaining culture during periods of high growth from two of the fastest-moving companies around. You’ll witness a fierce debate about remote workforces, versus the importance of co-locating a workforce in as few locations as possible. And you’ll learn how to give and get feedback as a leader — the right way.

Our full speaker list is here. The list will continue to be updated over the next few days as headshots and bios roll in.

Finally, as Kim Gorsuch-Bradbury, Founder and CEO of Weeva, also writes this week [link], we’re enormously proud to announce The Culture Book, a hardcover anthology of deep dives with legendary companies and their leaders, surrounded by expert commentary from authors, academics, and storied practitioners.

Big thanks to steering committee members Rachel and Michael Feferman who have been stewarding the book project, as we’ll as Kim’s extraordinary company and our partner, Weeva.

Thanks for reading and thanks for your ongoing commitment to Culturati. We’re really looking forward to seeing you in Austin in a few weeks.



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Culturati Team

Culturati Team

Culturati is a community of CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors and other c-suite leaders who practice & study culture building and share our play books.