Culturevist and other (positive and respectable) C-words 

Plenty of inspiration at the Culturevist event last night, in (positive and respectable) C-words.

Matt Partovi set up Culturevist just over a year ago, as a forum for Culture Activists.

He said he was “looking to find people who felt as passionately as I do about culture in business, to share ideas and challenges”.

He was happy if five people turned up to the first event: he reached over 80.

And last night, the 9th meet-up, 120 people took part, from all kinds of professional background and stages of life.

The theme was: Open Source Culture: What happens when everyone has a say?

The format, five speakers with five-minute presentations, sparked stimulation.

Our hosts yesterday were ustwo, a global digital product studio with a particularly open and vibrant culture.

In ustwo‘s environment of structured-randomness – comfy sofas, drawings on the pillars, goldfish, and a tailor’s dummy in a pink wig – we loosened quickly into an open conversation ourselves. Beyond the surface this was far more than the trappings of yet another groovy Shoreditch agency.

Clarity and candour

Collin Lyons shared 11 key points of what makes the culture tick at ustwo, beginning with why you will never forget your first day as a member of the team “Because you will be given the best welcome you will ever get, from everybody, all day”. 

You are quickly, completely, invited in as part of the group. The principle of openness and transparency runs through everything. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Being this open means facing some tough issues”.

In his next two points, Hire for culture & Communicate transparently, Collin shared the benefits of candour: deep principles with practical application and the commitment of all employees.

Perry Timms has tweeted notes on Collin’s full list.  

Size is important for an open culture. There are around 200/220 people at ustwo globally, but a principle to have no more than 120 in any one studio. Clever, keeping just below Dunbar’s number of 150, will help to keep a sense of Belonging and community.

As always, when culture drives business success, it’s not just nice: it has a point. For ustwo openness is essential for the demands of digital development. The work they do is fast, requires agility and constant iteration. The goal is to get things out and working, improvement rather than perfect and absolute. So if team members are not direct, or if small groups are huddled separately from each other, that will block the flow.

Openness makes for  commercial health as well as personal reward at work, everybody thrives as a result.

Culture Hacking and Mapping

Esko Reinikainen @reinikainen of The SatoriLab introduced himself as a Culture Hacker who works for government helping to build culture for people who don’t know what it is and don’t want it.

A Finn based in Wales getting public bodies to change the way they think and interact: Esko surely has plenty of cross-cultural experience.

His specialism is how to narrow the gap between what we say and what we do. He gave an example of company whose claims of  “We have an open culture”were trashed in the daily reality of  “My manager says if I know what’s good for me I’ll keep my mouth shut”.

Generously Esko has shared an example of the Culture Map, developed with David Gray, via twitter @reinikainen

Coupling top-down with bottom-up

Laura-Jane Parker talked through experiences of nurturing culture at Direct Line after the split away from Royal Bank of Scotland: a tale of DeBelonging and ReBelonging.

She shared the importance – alongside bottom-up development – of top-down leadership of values and culture. Culture belongs to everyone but leaders must, well, lead. As soon as leaders use the language of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ the unity of culture is lost. The values are just nice words on a wall, not reality.


Nick Matthews of Yammer gave us three rules for openness

1) You really have to want to do it

2) Choose your medium

3) Leaders must lead

He described commitment with no compromise “If you want an open culture you have to really go for it”.

Control and community

William Higham, a futurist from The Next Big Thing Company, pointed out how connected we are in almost every aspect of life: except at work. Organisations have much to catch up on to make culture and internal communication as connected as contact with customers.

He pointed us to two Cs for the future of corporate culture- Contol and Community. Control not just by those at the top, but in an agile way across the business. Community in a more fluid exchange of like minds and support, all connected.


The quietly incisive Tom Nixon of Nixon McInnes suggested we all introduce ourselves with  “What I need is…” so that we could match up conversations to offer appropriate support.

It worked a treat. Plenty of evidence for David Gurteen‘s @Davidgurteen research on the power of conversations in business.


And finally, Matt’s specialism, a short unconference where people offered a subject and self-managed discussion in small groups.


Open source culture can make a powerful difference to organisations’ success: and it takes commitment to keep it up.

One year in to Culturevist, there is an open conversation in this group. And, with the lightest-touch of control and intuitive culture, a clear sense of Belonging.

We even have some symbols (badges!) and habits – we like loose structure, fluidity and informal environments. We Culturevists share a purpose, and an ethos, we have developed a community and camaraderie. And we’re keen to put our shared talents to mutual support and good use.

Well done Matt and Culturevists: we set out to chat and have built a community

Join the next Culturevist event


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