The Culture Code

After receiving a tip from my former principal, John Hinds, about “The Next Big Idea Club,” two of my colleagues and I decided to share a subscription.  Every three months, we will receive two new, non-fiction books selected by Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Susan Pink, and Adam Grant.

We just received our first package, and it included a bonus book.  The books we received were: The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, Endure, by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell, and When by Daniel Pink.  I dove into The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, first.

The Culture Code may very well turn out to be my favorite book of the year, despite the fact that it is not written specifically for educators.  Coyle begins the book with an interesting case study that illustrates what he believes to be the three characteristics all successful groups do: Build Safety, Share Vulnerability, and Establish Purpose.  He continues to give evidence and examples for each criteria, referring to the practices of some of the world’s most famous organizations, like Pixar and the San Antonio Spurs.

So much of The Culture Code can be applied to classrooms, schools, and districts.  I alternated between shouting, “Yes!  That’s what I try to do with my students, too!” and, “Wow!  We should try that!” throughout the entire book.

Some big “yes” moments:

  • “Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful, overarching idea: We are safe and connected.”
  • “To create safety, leaders need to actively invite input.”
  • “Building purpose in a creative group is not about generating a brilliant moment of breakthrough, but rather about building systems that can churn through lots of ideas in order to help unearth the right choices.”
  • “It’s about building ownership, providing support, and aligning group energy toward the arduous, error-filled, ultimately fulfilling journey of making something new.”

One interesting idea that I think would be helpful to use more in education would be the concept of “Red Teaming.”  This is a strategy, according to Coyle, used by the military to test potential solutions to a problem.  The “Red Team,” which is comprised of people who were not involved in proposing the original solution, lists any way they can think of that would derail the plan.  This helps the leaders to uncover vulnerabilities and prepare for them ahead of time.  The purpose of the Red Team is to make the plan stronger, and the only way that it can work is in an environment where the participants feel safe and connected.

Coyle makes an interesting distinction between organizations that are designed for proficiency and ones that have a creative purpose.  His insights about the different leadership required for each type of organization reminded me of what I believe to be one of the fundamental problems in education – we are structured around proficiency, but we bemoan the lack of creativity.  Coyle talks about two leaders who have clear, but diverse messages based on the divergent purposes of their companies: “Meyers needs people to know and feel exactly what to do, while Catmull needs people to discover that for themselves.”  I honestly think that we regularly convey both of these messages to our students – to their detriment.

After reading The Culture Code, I found that it certainly reinforced the beliefs that many of us have about classrooms needing to be places where students feel safe and connected.  The biggest problem that I think that education faces today is that we seem to have difficulty agreeing on the purpose of education and communicating that consistent message to our students.

culturecode
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle

 

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