Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation
by Grant McCracken, Basic Books, 262 pages, $26.95, Hardcover, December 2009, ISBN 9780465018321
I recently stumbled upon one of those rare books that made me snap to attention. It came to us as a nondescript advance copy from a publisher not known as a heavy-hitter in the business book world, and was authored by an anthropologist. Not the typical recipe for success, but in Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation,
Grant McCracken offers a fresh take on the impact of culture on the corporation.
McCracken makes the point quickly and persuasively that corporations must let go of the belief that only the genius of big corporate gurus—such as Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, and Richard Branson—can zero in on culture, even though they almost seem to dictate it. Gurus only appear
to be indispensible, he argues, using Steve Jobs and Apple as an example: "As long as culture is ignored by business schools, C-suites, big brands, and consulting houses, Jobs looks great. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king (even in sneakers, jeans, and black turtlenecks)." Today's "Corporations live or die by their connection to culture," McCracken asserts, and in a perfect world, businesses would not need to rely on finding gurus. Instead, they would have an expert and highly professionalized Corporate Culture Officer (CCO) to supply cultural intelligence.
McCracken is an astute observer of human behavior and an entertaining storyteller, and his book offers ample examples of people who take on the role of CCO and what can be learned from their experiences. He tells the story of Lance Jensen of Volkswagon who saw that culture wasn't caught in a downward cycle, and believed that cultural intelligence encouraged smarter viewers and vice versa. With that, the famous "Pink Moon" and "Synchronicity" commercials were born. McCracken also shares the success stories of A.G. Lafley at Procter & Gamble, Chris Albrecht at HBO and Dan Wieden for Nike, and makes a convincing point that by investing their time into understanding the culture, these creative folks did not waste time creating gimmicks, stunts or tricks to capture audiences attention. McCracken then moves into a dissection of "Philistines"—the enemies of culture, those who watch the bottom line instead of the world around them—and how to deal with resistance to culture-based ideas. He wraps up the book nicely with a concrete toolkit for the budding CCO.
Grant McCracken gives readers a perfect blend of popular and more obscure cultural trends, great storytelling, and practical application, and in the process makes a strong case that he is this generation's Chief Culture Officer.