“I wouldn’t give a nickel for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” ~ Einstein
In an effort to reach simplicity on this side of complexity, most organizations seek to influence culture by focusing their attention on the norms, behaviors, and outcomes. This usually takes the form of working with the mission, vision and values statement followed by well-meaning initiatives to align people with the words on the paper. When the change hoped for doesn’t happen and disappointment sets in, we usually go back to wrestling with the words. Trouble is, for all the ways in which mission, vision and values contribute to a company’s culture, and they no doubt do, the mission, vision, and values don’t go deep enough to touch the company’s aspirations – its vibrant core, its Essence.
Frank Lloyd Wright, 20th Century American Architect, said it best when he stated, “The reality of a room is found in the vacant space enclosed by the roof and walls, not in the roof and walls themselves.” The same is true of organizational culture; the reality of our company’s culture is found in the space between the policies and procedures, the buildings and the bottom line, the mission and the management. This space in between is your organization’s Essence and it is the Essence which gives life to your vibrant culture.
Through Starizon’s years of designing (and staging) Experiences around the world, we’ve seen the power and practicality of connecting to Essence by not just asking “what” or “how” but also asking the deeper “Why.” Why is not about the words on a page. It’s emotional. It connects individuals within the organization to intention, purpose and passion. Start with Why and you will begin to uncover your company’s Essence.
Uncovering and intentionally connecting to the Why is necessary if we want to stop only incrementally adding to the existing pattern of disengagement and start transformationally creating a new-to-the-world cultural vibrance.
While uncovering the Essence of an intentional and story-laden place like Starizon may seem within reach (see our Starizon Story page to find out more), what about uncovering the Essence of the more, shall we say, conventional places of business? Let’s take a look at one such company who managed to flourish in an industry characterized by negligible growth rates and declining profits – Whole Foods.
Not your typical grocery store chain, Whole Foods’ difference is clear the moment you walk through the door. They have managed to transform a necessary and often unpleasant chore into an enjoyable and even revitalizing experience. But this customer experience is only possible because of what’s between their fresh food and flowers, their layout and locally-sourced products, their deli and decor. Whole Foods’ Essence is much more than just about selling organic produce in a nice building. Their Essence is their commitment to fundamentally change how we design and interact with our food, our communities, and our environment. And they arrived at this aspirational and vibrant core by first asking … but, Why?
Giving voice to your company’s Essence is where the design of your vibrant culture begins. What is the Why of your organization? How can you give voice to this in your daily work? Yes, focus on the “how,”yes, focus on the “what,” but remember to breathe life into the Why. This is how we can start to reach for the simplicity on the other side of culture complexity.