On Creative and UnCreative Writing and how this works on corporate storytelling.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there was Uncreative Writing.

So, this weekend has been a long weekend here, in Argentina. I took advantage of it in several ways: did a lot of exercise and I took a lot of long rides in my bike. Before the pandemic, I used to travel the crowded, difficult to navigate by car or public transport downtown Buenos Aires by riding my bike. I used to do 20-30 miles a day, on weekdays. But it seems almost in another life; for the last year and a half, my daily commute is from my bedroom to my living.

I also read a book that was recommended to me: the novelization of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood https://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Time-Hollywood-Novel-ebook/dp/B08NL69YYT/ref=sr_1_4?crid=3SSYJO3FOQX10&dchild=1&keywords=once+upon+a+time+in+hollywood&qid=1626034904&sprefix=once+upon+a+time+in+holy%2Caps%2C314&sr=8-4 , the 2019 film by its own creator, Quentin Tarantino. This novel was…very surprising for me. Not only because of what Tarantino wrote, but because of how he wrote it. I’m going to very briefly go into it, so SPOILERS ahead.

Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood book: 8 things to know -  Polygon

What Tarantino does is not so much a novelization of his movie, but rather a re-edit and remix which only works juxtaposed the actual film itself. In the book:

  • We learned that Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, killed his wife. Not only that, but he got away with murder three times and was planning on either killing or crippling Bruce Lee. He fantasizes on starting a cult like Manson and constantly treats women like disposable objects. We forget it when we look at Brad Pitt’s genial smiling face, but the book does not shy away from the fact that the character himself is a psychopath who just hasn’t been caught.
  • He expands the story of the cowboy show where Leonardo Di Caprio’s Rick Dalton is working, and he uses to self-insert into their universe.
  • But the most impactful change is the ending. Remember the flamethrower scene? How the Mason family attacked the protagonists?  Well, here it’s broached, out of time and sequence, in two paragraphs towards the first quarter of the novella, as something that will happen later on, in relationship to one of the protagonists’ wife. With that scene and that build up no longer there, the novel is an entirely different beast that the film.

This has been received with criticism across the internets. Blogs accuse Tarantino from being non-creative, derivate, just writing a script in novel form. But to my eyes, what Tarantino’s doing here is another kind of art, something that we do almost all the time, as consultants.

He is being UNcreative.

The poet and literary critic Kenneth Goldsmith defined Uncreative Writing as that writing that doesn’t produce new content by writing new material, but by remixing, re-matching existing materials and shining a light on some previous parts that weren’t in focus before. Now, this might require you to write some more detail, but it should be done in a way that does not contradict the previous material. So, Tarantino’s greater detail on Cliff Booth’s murdering ways, while (in my personal opinion) wasn’t very present in the movie in the book it doesn’t derail or contradict the character. But most of the new effect of the novel is done by remixing and rearranging focuses on characters, expanding and shrinking time on the spotlight, or introducing details that illuminate but do not contradict.

This, is effect, requires the existence of the film itself. While you might theoretically read the book by itself, with no prior knowledge, Tarantino has very astutely played for his audience, who probably by now (two years after it is debut) have seen it. In a scene, he shows the power that Roman Polanski has as a director to influence the way the audience thinks. I think he is aiming for the same here with his book.

(That he feels no compunction in making Polansky one of the more admired characters is in my opinion, either the most Tarantinesque virtue or his tacit admission that movies, for him, are the only thing that matters)

Whatever his aims, what Tarantino does is, in my opinion, a form of art. But a form of art which is much maligned, yet vital. The capacity to not be creative when you can be, when you are expected to be is a virtue that is very much absent in most of us, but, at the same time: how many consultants are creative? By “creative” I mean creating frameworks all the time, new concepts, new ways of working, etc.

I would think that most of us do that creative part of work not that much. Most of our work is Uncreative Writing. And that is ok. That is more than ok: the worst epoch in the Agile World, at least according to me, was the long stretch from 2008 to circa 2014, where everyone and their mothers had their own Scrum, their own way of doing Agile.

Wanted to do a Sprint Review? Sorry mate, these are called “group expositions” now and they are done via PowerPoint. Doing a daily? We do not do that, we do “chat-attack” via slack, but you need to upload topics via mail. And so on, ad infinitum.

It was such a relief when the Scrum Guide took over. Now we could agree at least on the basics of it and focus on what we wanted to emphasize. We looked at it Un-creatively and we made it work.

This is the kind of approach that, I think benefits our clients the most. We should focus on how to highlight and be artful in the way to combine previous, standard material. Bear in mind that every time we create something ad hoc for the client, this is something that must be factored in the training time of every single person who starts there. Time that, blown up to the level of even small corporations, adds up. Time that is not spent creating value for their clients, but rather in simply basic training to function. We should not only stop insisting that there’s more value in originality, but we should actually focus on the Uncreative skills that we use all the time. I think we are doing this already, without any reason or rhyme. How many of us are reusing templates, remixing presentations, jury-rigging Murals or Miro’s?

I would love a course on Uncreative Writing for consultants. I’ll look for it, and if I can’t find it, I’ll write it myself.

But only if I cannot find it first someplace.

Yesterday, I finished my first Podcast. Let me tell you what I’ve learned.

Hi! My name is Fede Andino, and I’m, at work, a Culture Crafter. But outside work, I am also a University Professor and Researcher, as well as a Buddhist Teacher. One particular thing that I love to teach is the story of the 84 Mahasiddhas: a group of bizarre, funny, disruptive hindu and buddhist practitioners who broke down assumptions and inagurated a new style of practice: tantric buddhism and hinduism (which, to be honest, has nothing to do with the sex-obsessed new tantra taught in the west).

Usualy, since it’s a big story, composed of 84 mini-chapters or stories, it tends to be taught (by other and myself) in one of two ways: as a multi-day teaching, usually in a retreat setting or in an abbreviated, written form. I wanted to bring this story, which is funny, warm and profundly humane, in a more relaxed setting; the kind of thing that I would love to hear in this never-ending quarantine. Thus, I started a podcast this year.

Yesterday, Sep.17 I finished the Podcast. It was, surprisingly, kinda a hit in the spanish-speaking countries (let’s be honest: it’s also quite niche, so that helped) averganging 453 views per chapter (the most listened chapter has the record of plays at 4.112 at the time of writing).  The audience started low (near 10 people per chapter) and climbed to stability (1.391, with people listening from Argentina to Mali). This, of course, is small potatoes to really big Podcasts (not even compared to Joe Rogan; the most listened Podcasts in Argentina averange between ten times that volume) but, for someone who was doing his first attempt…it was surprisingly solid, at least to me. This was enough to Anchor (my publishing tool) to offer me a paid sponsorship program; Alas, living in Argentina I cannot access it, but it was a nice touch.

Having completed my goals, the feedback that I’ve got tells me that I will probably create another in a couple of months; meanwhile, I’ll also upload one-shots for requested Mahasiddhas which are not in the general list.

What I’ve learned? Well, a bunch of things:

  • First, I read some books and courses for Podcasting. Bar none, the most useful in my opinion is Amanda Mayo’s Podcasting (https://www.amazon.com/Podcasting-Podcast-Create-Profitable-Business-ebook/dp/B082KZYNBB) – a very useful how-to guide, from idea to podcast
  • The main investing should be geared towards a good microphone: the quality, from a simple headset mike to a Yeti condenser was incredible (https://www.bluemic.com/en-us/products/yeti/)
  • Audio mixing: I used Audacity quite successfully; you don’t need expensive software for a podcast.
  • Niche is king: as much as you can laser-focus your podcast, you’ll reap benefits in the same amount
  • On a not-so known path: there’s a lot of discussion here in Argentina, in academic circles, about the use of gender-inclusive language. The main consensus is that it helps visibilize inequalities, but it is a hot-topic for conservatives. I received a lot (I mean a lot) of well-meant “advice” on the topic, that I should not include it in order to broaden my reach. While I respect the “advice” (and the insults/threats from more overtly concerned people) I think that a very important differentiatior is the authenticity of your voice: since I use it in daily talk I included, which helped solidify loyalty and build the audience
  • When I started, I tended to do one story per episode. But since stories vary a lot in content (some are long and detailed, some you can tell in two minutes) I wrestled with adapting the format a quarter of a way in. I finally adapted (thinking the Agile way) and was rewarded by a climb in audience

So, to recap my Lessons Learned: Be niche, invest in a good mike, be authentic and agile.

Is there any other thing that you might think it helps? I would love to learn, if that’s the case


PS: If you’re curious about it, I’ve made a Spotify list with the episodes. Warning: it is Spanish only.

Review: The Open Organization, by Jim Whitehurst

Whitehurst, J., & Hamel, G. (2015). The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance. Harvard Business Review Press.

The second and last book that Guillermo García recommended to me, The Open Organization, is a most interesting book: a description, somewhat impressionistic, by Jim Whitehurst, CEO of RedHat. It is interesting because the author presents RedHat as a new business model, an adaptable and flexible company, with certain structures, but that these structures are conversational.

The interesting thing about the book is that it is not another recipe for how to transform the company nor is it the autobiography of an Agile evangelist. The author came, in fact, from a series of experiences that had disappointed him:

“Nearly fifty years ago, Warren Bennis, the much- missed leadership guru, predicted that we’d soon be working in “organic- adaptive structures,” organizations that feel like communities, not hierarchies. In a community, the basis for loyalty is a common purpose, not economic dependency. Control comes from shared norms and aspirations, not from policies and bosses. Rewards are mostly intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Contributions aren’t predetermined and individuals are free to contribute as they may. Examples are as diverse as a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous or a team erecting a house for Habitat for Humanity.”


So are we stuck? On one hand, we have all those optimistic boosters for social collaboration who tell us we merely have to let the crowd have its say. That’s naive. What’s typically underestimated is the complexity and indivisibility of many large- scale coordination tasks. “Wisdom of the crowd” works when work can be easily disaggregated and individuals can work in relative isolation.”


“So no, we’re not stuck; we’re definitely not stuck. But getting unstuck— building and benefiting from communities at scale— requires us to start with “openness” as a principle, rather than with some particular set of collaborative tools or practices. Many companies have layered social technologies on top of their tradition- encrusted management practices— and most have been disappointed with the results.”

(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)

However, RedHat was already the opposite: a much more open company, less hierarchical, more oriented to a product than to a process or a title. The author realizes this when in an “interview” that he has, totally relaxed, the host invites him to eat, to realize that he did not actually bring money and makes him pay.

The author was left thinking “is that a test? Did I pass it? ”… Until the person tells him: no, he was simply hungry and had forgotten the money. Essentially, there is an informality that someone like the author, considering a CEO position, finds appealing.

The book is an attempt to understand and especially articulate the RedHat culture that at the time was as foreign to the author as it was to most Fortune 500 companies. Defining an Open Company, the author argues that:

“An “open organization”— which I define as an organization that engages participative communities both inside and out— responds to opportunities more quickly, has access to resources and talent outside the organization, and inspires, motivates, and empowers people at all levels to act with accountability. The beauty of an open organization is that it is not about pedaling harder, but about tapping into new sources of power both inside and outside to keep pace with all the fast- moving changes in your environment.”

(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)

For this, the author takes as inspiration volunteer organizations that follow a passion, such as Open Source communities:

“These communities involve many people working toward a similar outcome. They usually involve a diverse community of people who opt in as a way to work for a common cause about which they are passionate. And they produce results: they are more responsive to fast- changing environments and better at accomplishing “big, hairy, audacious goals” than any one single firm or organization.


To do this, you must transition into thinking of people as members of a community, moving from a transactional mind- set to one built on commitment.


Perhaps more importantly, you need to apply the same principles to your employees— the folks you pay— as to people who might volunteer their efforts for free.


Red Hat’s open organization operates using unusual management principles that leverage the power of participation— both internally and externally— to generate consistent financial results.


The more people you connect, the more value they create, which in turn attracts more people, and so on. Red Hat’s management system encompasses principles such as: People join us because they want to. Contribution is critical, but it’s not a quid pro quo. The best ideas win regardless of who they come from.


We encourage and expect open, frank, and passionate debate. We welcome feedback and make changes in the spirit of “release early— release often.” In short, we’ve found that the best practices in creating open source software also translate well into managing the entire company.


Red Hat is the only company that can say it emerged out of a pure bottom- up culture— namely, the open source ethos— and learned how to execute it at scale.”

(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)

(on the last statement, we believe that Ubuntu is also an example of the same, fulfilling in Amazon the same function as RedHat in IBM).

We find it extremely interesting that, like Lou Gerstner, Whitehurst also identifies culture as the key:

“You can’t lead an open organization in the traditional top- down fashion— what I was used to and, frankly, quite good at. I learned this the hard way.


My job at Red Hat couldn’t be more different. Sure, I still care about numbers— we are a public company after all— but I have an impact on them indirectly by working through our people and culture. I spend the majority of my time thinking about our strategic direction and culture and talking to customers rather than worrying if things are being done precisely as I would choose.


A huge part of that means trusting other people to do the right thing— to be hands- off enough to allow the people in the organization to direct themselves and make their own decisions. That might sound a bit crazy to many, especially those who came up through conventionally run organizations as I did.


I’ve also learned that the skills required to lead a company that relies heavily on the principles of open innovation are vastly different from those needed to run a business based on the hierarchical structure of a conventional organization.


Early on, I issued what I thought was an order to create a research report. A few days later, I asked the people assigned to the task how things were going. “Oh, we decided it was a bad idea, so we scrapped it,” they told me in good cheer. That’s a difficult concept for many of my peers in other companies to embrace. Other CEOs to whom I’ve told this story have gasped, “What do you mean they didn’t do what you asked them to? That’s insubordination! You should have fired them.” At first, I felt that way, too. But, the truth is that my team was right to turn down the job— it either wasn’t a great idea or, just as importantly, I hadn’t done a good enough job selling them on why they should jump into it. A leader’s effectiveness is no longer measured by his or her ability to simply issue orders.”

(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)

Essentially, the role of CEO for the author is the role of who in some way inspires and on the other hand, allows the culture to grow in a way that the company and the employees benefit at the same time. It is to clarify purpose, it is to serve in keeping the main objectives, trusting and empowering everyone to allow a functioning with a non-traditional hierarchy.

Note that we have used “non-traditional hierarchy” instead of Agile organization. This is because the author considers that the way of organizing should not be democratic, but meritocratic.

“In other words, the Athenians lived in what they called “a community of citizens,” which was built upon a meritocracy.  That system, when applied within a company of citizens, would be based on this recognition: Merit means that decisions are based on the best case put forward; excellence, not position, prejudice, or privilege, is the criterion for choice. In a company of citizens, the best case for action is that which carries the day after the open, sufficient, and informed debate. Merit means that every thoughtful and knowledgeable individual, with good ideas based on real understanding, will get a hearing. The incompetent blowhard will not. The practice of merit gives lie to the idea that participatory democracy must devolve to the lowest common denominator.”

(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)

Por supuesto, la definición de “meritocracia” es compleja. El autor, para darle crédito, sabe perfectamente lo complejo que puede ser utilizarla y la define de la siguiente forma:

“But that raises two questions: Who is empowered to make a decision? Who decides who is empowered to make a decision?


At Red Hat, some of the seven thousand voices inside the company have far more sway than others. In most cases, decisions aren’t made by executive fiat, nor are they arrived at through consensus. Rather, those people who have earned their peers’ respect over time drive decisions. Associates who make a positive impact on the business and on the culture find that they gain more influence than those who do not. That’s why we call our culture a “meritocracy,” which, if you use Wikipedia’s definition, means: A system of government or other administration (such as business administration) wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their “merits,” namely intelligence, credentials, and education.


Within the meritocracy we have built at Red Hat, everyone has the right to speak and access the kinds of tools that will help ensure that his or her voice is heard. But to appreciate how a meritocracy works, you need to first recognize that not everyone is listened to equally.


To become a leader in a meritocracy, you need to attract followers first, not the other way around, as is typical in most conventional organization structures. Your peers actually have to select you as their leader based on how effective they think you are, not just because you have a more impressive title or résumé.”

(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)

That is why he considers it vital that the creation of a certain consensus is the mark of the leaders. The task of leaders, in Whitehurst’s vision, is to make persuasive and transparent decisions that can be validated and at the same time generate support.

For this, the main task of the leadership group is to catalyze decisions in a way that generates value in the direction that is most beneficial for the company. For this, the leader must have several characteristics that are not generally considered within leadership groups:

• Patience

• Understanding of the personal motivations of those who work with him

• A mindset that does not think about quid pro quo, but about building and supporting a valuable culture

• Essentially a high emotional intelligence quotient

• A degree of faith in those who work in the company

“Patience. The media rarely tell stories about how “patient” a leader is. But they should. When you are working to get the best effort and results from your team, to engage in dialogue for hours on end, and to do things again and again until they’re done right, you need to have patience. High “EQ.” Too often we tout the intellectual capabilities of leaders by focusing on their IQ, when we should really be valuing their emotional intelligence quotient or EQ score. Being the smartest person in the room is not enough if you don’t have the capacity to work with the people who are in that room with you. When you work with and through communities of contributors as Red Hat does, where you can’t order anyone to do anything for you, your ability to listen, process, and not take everything personally becomes incredibly valuable. A different mind- set. Leaders who have come up through conventional organizations have been indoctrinated in a quid pro quo mind- set— one that’s been influenced by math and hard science that says every action should receive an appropriate response. But when you take a longer- term outlook to investing in something like building a community, you need to think differently. It’s like trying to build a delicately balanced ecosystem in which any misstep you make can create imbalance and lead to long- term damage that you may not see right away. Leaders must divest themselves of the mind- set that requires them to achieve results today at all costs to one in which the big payoffs come from delaying their sense of gratification and making those investments in the future. Of course, making these kinds of changes won’t appeal to everyone. There are times when issuing a top- down edict, for instance, would be far easier than allowing the meritocracy to reach a solution on its own time. Why would you want to open yourself up to criticism from your own troops? Wouldn’t your workplace seem less chaotic and in control if you stuck with doing the things the way you always have? To make this kind of culture work requires that leaders make an enormous investment in terms of time and energy, which can seem both daunting and wasteful. It’s almost like taking a leap of faith into the unknown.”

(Whitehurst & Hamel, 2015)


Open Organization is an extremely interesting book: instead of a story of how a company was forged or how one person made a change, it is an attempt to articulate the culture of a successful company by someone who came from outside of it. Although it does not have specific actions or a transformation program, the insights it provides are extremely valuable, in our opinion, to understand the shock of cultural change.

Perhaps the only debatable point in our opinion is the idea of ​​meritocracy: it is complex to think that always the person who is heard is necessarily the one who is right; on the other hand, the fact of who decides the value of the argument is separate from that process makes it more complex. I also wonder how to go about globalizing this process: although RedHat is a large company, it is mainly concentrated in a global point. I wonder, do those people who live on the other side of the world have the same capacity for arrival? And if they don’t, how can we know that the best arguments are actually heard? If eloquence is a factor, how can people for whom English is not their first language do? The sophists were popular in Athens for a reason.

But beyond these points (which, we must clarify, are minor in relation to the content of the book), we have found it to be a very interesting text, which presents a different model of company and culture.

Review: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? by Louis V. Gerstner Jr.

Jr, L. V. G. (2002). Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround (First Edition edition). Harper Business.

Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success—along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. I might have chronicled the positive and negative cultural attributes of my companies (“positive” and “negative” from the point of view of driving marketplace success). And I could have told you how I went about tapping into—or changing—those attributes. The descriptions would have been accurate, but in one important respect I would have been wrong. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game. (emphasis mine)

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

This has been an unexpectedly difficult text to review, due to several factors. Full disclosure: I work @IBM and I’ve been an IBMer for the last 10 years of my life. And I work directly with culture at IBM, being it Agile methodology, Mindfulness or Storytelling. Therefore, while I have a lot of hard-won insights of the struggle of cultural change at IBM, I also have probably a very strong bias. Also, some things seem discouragingly similar after so long. But when Guillermo García (the CIC visionary leader and probably one of the most committed people that I know for cultural change) asked me to include this book and the next on the review list, I told him that I would try.

Things has been…challenging.

 Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround Is a book by Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the CEO who essentially changed IBM’s profile and saved the company from fragmenting into small shards of a once imposing empire on IT. One of the major challenges on reviewing this book is its disorganized structure: it’s nor a journal of the experience, an argument for the politics or strategy of the change or an analysis post-fact, but rather a combination of all of it. It starts on the biography of the author, walks you through his first days at IBM in an hour to hour fashion, then jumps into the following years and ends explaining both the trends that the author predicted and does some financial analysis. That so schizophrenic a structure is understandable is due to the strong voice of the author, who is witty and self-effacing enough to admit the problems firsthand

I wrote this book without the aid of a coauthor or a ghostwriter (which is why it’s a good bet this is going to be my last book; I had no idea it would be so hard to do).

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

Since it is difficult to implement a succinct analysis of the book given its structure and lacking the wit of the author, I’ll try to summarize the main points at each part of the book and then do a final analysis at the end.

The beginning: bio and the choice to become CEO

The author begins with a quick story of himself; coming from an upper-middle class upbringing, he, interestingly is a graduate from both Darthmouth College and Harvard. His first job is an executive consultant at McKinsey; then he moves to become quickly CEO of Nabisco, of Amex and other major companies, until he’s approached in December 1992 to become CEO of IBM. At first, he’s reluctant but eventually agrees when it’s clear that he’s the main candidate. Then he presents a story of the company starting with Thomas Watson; there’s no mention of the issues and the existence of IBM before him nor the troubling time at the 40’s. The author’s main question at this point is: how a company that in 1990 had the most profitable year ever can be almost bankrupt in 1992?


There was no computer in the CEO’s office.

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

Essentially, the author then takes us on a detailed journey of his first year as a CEO (to the level when, at the start of the part, the first week is recounted almost in an hour to hour basis). One of the first people he meets with is his brother, who was an executive at IBM before having to retire due to Lyme’s disease (he later says that he feels the brother provided the best advice overall). He meets with luminaries of the IT field (the meeting with Bill Gates goes specially badly) and clashes with the established IBMers. What he finds, however, is dauting:

For me at IBM this meant, in some respects, seizing the microphone from the business unit heads, who often felt strongly about controlling communications with “their people”—to establish their priorities, their voice, their personal brand. In some companies, at some times, such action may be appropriate—but not at the Balkanized IBM of the early 1990s. This was a crisis we all faced. We needed to start understanding ourselves as one enterprise, driven by one coherent idea. The only person who could communicate that was the CEO—me.

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

(as an aside, I’ve heard “balkanized” as a term for IBM more times that I can count)

He then goes to meet with most high-level managers in the company, including next CEO Sam Palmisano, from sales. But his most impactful encounter is with Thomas Edison Jr, whom with he shares a ride and a talk about “our” company.

The main issue that he finds, in Agile terms, is that there’s no space for value. The client does not have a voice at all. All IBM wants at the time is to lock down customers and then, essentially use them to pay an ever-growing, bureaucratic structure. There are no PO, no stakeholders looking out for value.

The author’s greatest genius, in our opinion, is his outsider perspective and his unshakeable conviction that he was the only man fit for the job. He recognizes that splintering IBM will give away its greatest leverage, the size at the same time that he recognizes how difficult the size itself makes the transformation possible.   Therefore, he starts a series of shocking, short-term actions to ensure the life of the company.

The first year ends with him, reflecting on the fact that both he and the company survived what was almost certainly a death trap. Now, he has to figure what to do next.

From ’94 to 2002

From then on, the narrative becomes jumpier: it can both change years from chapter to chapter, but it also can change from a journal of the year to a defense of a strategic choice.

It would be difficult to summarize it at, but essentially, the author’s choices as CEO was to put business value over almost every other priority (he keeps funded the research wing, despite not being directly business dependent, because he sees it as a strategic differentiator). He fires thousands of employees, reorganize all the systems of governance and promotes business administrators and sales over tech specialists.

They included a general disinterest in customer needs, accompanied by a preoccupation with internal politics. There was general permission to stop projects dead in their tracks, a bureaucratic infrastructure that defended turf instead of promoting collaboration, and a management class that presided rather than acted. IBM even had a language all its own. This isn’t to ridicule IBM culture. Quite the contrary, as I’ve indicated, it remains one of the company’s unique strengths. But like any living thing, it was susceptible to disease—and the first step to a cure was to identify the symptoms. The Customer Comes Second

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

Recognizing the value of the Mainframe, he streams and lowers the price of it to increase market share. He changes the philosophy of most of the company towards that of a Service company, understanding that the client may not want to be locked by having every single app or server be from a single company, but that someone still has to do that connection.

By 1996 I was ready to break the services unit out as a separate business. We formed IBM Global Services. The change was still traumatic for some of our managers, but it was eventually accepted as inevitable by most of our colleagues.

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

He invests in a consolidated marketing strategy (there wasn’t a marketing department with systematic training, the author notes), he does away with inefficient products (like Os/2 Warp) because he values Customer Experience over technical details.

With os/2-the fallacy that the best technology always wins. (…) So we came to the OS/2 v. Windows conformation with a product that was technically superior and a cultural inability to understand why we were getting flogged in the marketplace. First, the buyers were individual consumers, not senior technology officers. Consumers didn’t care much about advanced, but arcane, technical capability. (…) Second, Microsoft had all the software developers locked up, so all the best applications ran on Windows.

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

Essentially, he understands the client’s point of view well enough to empathize and direct the strategy towards the greatest value.  

In the case of application software-the myth of “account control.” This was a term used by IBM and others to talk about how a company maintained its hold on customers and their wallets. As a former customer, I was always offended and indignant that information technology companies talked about controlling customers.

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

The book ends with his farewell address and a financial analysis that shows how much more profitable IBM was under his leadership.


As we mentioned in the intro, this was a difficult book to analyze, due to its changing structure (it is written like a blog post storm, before blogs) and both its greatest strength and weakness: the unique authorial voice.

On one hand, the author is witty, funny and very engaging. His points (disorganized as they are) tend to be clear and succinct. He has complete conviction: he must have been a terrific business speaker. His ideas of making the company more Lean, Agile and oriented towards Value…make perfect sense in an Agile world, 25+ years later. His experience as a CEO and a client makes his extremely valuable to deal with other CEOs and clients. He’s like the Ultra-PO.

On the other hand, it is clear that the author, although he considers himself a humble businessman, is anything but. Not all businessmen come from Harvard. He never had any job lower in the totem pole than executive and most of his life he’s been the CEO. While he works on an IT company and he deals with IT People, it’s made very clear in his writing that there are Leaders (with a capital L) and then there’s everyone else. When he makes himself available to be criticized via message, he’s almost in rage when someone does:

 One employee, even as his employer was burning and sinking to the delight of our competitors, had the time and inclination to critique my entire visit to an IBM facility  (…)

Sometimes I had to bite my tongue—almost in half. All I can say is, it was a good thing for some people that I was too busy to reply to all my e-mail!

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

This is somewhat compounded by the fact that he clearly believes in both dynasties and that he was the only person fit for the job; only his elder brother, sadly incapacitated by Lyme’s disease would have been an alternative. This total conviction on himself, making himself essentially the next big CEO after T.Watson Jr. does tend to run counter the Agile and Lean mindset of empowering others and being transparent and accountable.

But perhaps because of the year he took office on, perhaps because of the challenges and perhaps even because of this almost psychotic belief in his own value and incredible self-confidence, the author accomplished something no one believed it was possible.

Their book concluded that “the question for the present is whether IBM can survive. From our analysis thus far, it is clear that we think its prospects are very bleak.” (…) Even The Economist—understated and reliable—over the span of six weeks, published three major stories and one lengthy editorial on IBM’s problems. “Two questions still hang over the company,” its editors wrote. “In an industry driven by rapid technological change and swarming with smaller, nimbler firms, can a company of IBM’s size, however organized, react quickly enough to compete? And can IBM earn enough from expanding market segments such as computer services, software, and consulting to offset the horrifying decline in mainframe sales, from which it has always made most of its money? “The answer to both questions may be no.”

(Gerstner Jr, 2002)

So, my final review is: it is a very strange book. Almost a blog before the blog, it tells a valuable story on how one man changed a culture. We might take away his relentless focus and learn a lot about the almost LEAN way that the author approached his objective; and while his voice might be troubling, specially with some contradictions that glare specially in today’s Agile workplace, we would remiss to not say that despite all, the author’s immense confidence in himself was, actually, merited and he was the Right Man for the Job. His story is convoluted, changing and genial, but never dull.

Book Review: The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace by S.C.Edmons

Edmonds, S. C. (2014). The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace (1 edition). Wiley.

The Culture Engine is a book that deals in digital transformations based on culture; a focus that, as you will know from my interest in Culture Crafting, runs central to my career. So, with great interest, I read this text by S.C. Edmonds, which I found interesting, although I have some (constructive) criticisms.

The text is essentially a manual for consultants undergoing a digital transformation, with a focus on those who work with servant leadership as ideal.

What they don’t understand is that there are two aspects of effective leadership. The first is the strategic leadership aspect of servant leadership. Leadership is about going somewhere. If your people don’t know where you want them to go, there is little chance they will get there. That’s why Chris spends a great deal of time helping you develop an organizational constitution that outlines your team’s or company’s purpose, values, strategies, and goals. While there should be widespread involvement in the development of your organizational constitution, the responsibility for making sure you have one lies with top management. Once everybody is clear on your business purpose and values, the next aspect of effective leadership kicks in—living according to your organizational constitution. That involves turning the traditional hierarchical pyramid upside down to emphasize that everyone is responsible—able to respond— for living the constitution and getting the desired results while modeling the organization’s valued behaviors. Now top management becomes responsive cheerleaders for actualizing the organizational constitution. This brings in the second, servant aspect of servant leadership—the operational/implementation aspect. (Edmonds, 2014)

I think that the focus on the operational part of Servant Leadership is correct, although I have my own criticism of the concept (which I will develop later). But the text begins by emphasizing the importance of cultural transformation:

Of course, understanding the need for a safe, inspiring culture is one thing. Creating and managing a productive, engaging culture is another thing entirely. How does a leader go about creating something that, on one hand, is so important, but, on the other hand, seems so amorphous? It can be done through the creation of an organizational constitution. An organizational constitution is a formal document that states the company’s guiding principles and behaviors. These liberating rules present the best thinking on how the organization wants to operate. The constitution is a North Star that outlines the company’s or team’s defined playing field for employee performance and values. (Edmonds, 2014)

(strangely, like so many other texts, the author does not stop to define culture, not even in the context of corporate culture)

The text develops a thesis of the author, that the success of the transformation and the adoption of a new culture depends on three axes:

  1. Servant Leadership
  2. A workplace constitution
  3. A top-down implementation

We will explore each of these axes, but I want to mention that throughout the text the author presents multiple ways (through questionnaires, of simple application) to measure adoption. Although the measurement methodology is simple (without control groups or triangulation of data, for example), knowing from experience how little time is available in the transformations, I think it is more than adequate.

1-Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership is the concept that the leader essentially serves as inspiration and facilitator for the people who produce the products or services. For the author, the key question is:

If, for example, you believe that “ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things when goals are clear and leaders serve followers’ needs,” that might be a foundational element of your leadership philosophy. The vital question to have in mind as you craft your leadership philosophy is, “Are you a servant leader or a self-serving leader?” (Edmonds, 2014)

Servant Leadership Is the Foundation If I have inspired you to take steps (literally and figuratively) to boost your physical health, let’s look at the foundation of leading others effectively: servant leadership. (Edmonds, 2014)

Helping your organization’s leaders and employees align to these new rules of engagement requires that you be a model of servant leadership, a coach of servant leadership, and a champion of servant leadership. How do you know if you are a servant leader? You don’t have a vote! The only folks who do have a vote are those that interact with you daily: work colleagues, customers, friends, and family members. You must ask regularly, “How can I be of greater service to you?” then refine your behaviors to serve more effectively. (Edmonds, 2014)

Essentially, it is to shift the focus of a company’s governance from a leader in the despotic style of management-top-down to the Foucaultian definition of governance as the governance of a ship: helping the rest to accomplish their tasks and providing clarity both in general direction as in particular situations. How to carry out this “provide clarity” is detailed in …


Essentially the knot in the book. The car offers a step-by-step (too long to include here) of how to make a working constitution, from which sub-constitutions hang. Interestingly, while I found no explicit reference, it essentially models the corporate enterprise into a federal state model: united by a general constitution, which governs interaction and core values ​​(the “federal” level) with departmental and constitutional sub-constitutions. working groups (the “provincial” and “municipal” levels so to speak). The leader is responsible for this clarity, to the point that the author advises evaluating employees (he provides a quadrant for this) and letting go (that is, kicking out) those who are not aligned in order to maintain the unpolluted culture.

A clear, succinct values definition helps people that interact with you daily by knowing what you mean by each of your values. (Edmonds, 2014)

One of the most interesting ways is that it not only seeks an abstract model, but also tries to generate a concrete image of what a good worker is, according to culture:

This piece outlines what great personal citizenship looks, acts, and sounds like from you, every day. (Edmonds, 2014)

Al mismo tiempo, se preocupa mucho en que aquello que está bajado sea totalmente medible, para eliminar ambigüedades o discusiones:

Your team or company’s valued behaviors must outline observable, tangible, measurable actions. Just as organizational leaders manage to performance standards, these behaviors become values standards that are lived and proactively managed by leaders and employees throughout the company or team. (Edmonds, 2014)

Are these behaviors measurable? Can peers and customers provide feedback about the degree to which any leader or employee of this company is demonstrating these desired behaviors? I hope you agree with me that they are—and they can. (Edmonds, 2014)


In the implementation, the author points out that one of the biggest problems is the one he calls “Management By Announcement”. Essentially, what happens in many of the transformations:

  • A consultancy is announced
  • It is carried out
  • The leader announces the results of the consultancy and provides some actions or changes
  • There is no follow-up and finally, everything is in nothing

This smells a lot like the logical consequences of “managing by announcements,” a viruslike plague I call “MbA.” When infected by MbA, leaders do a good job of defining purpose or policies or procedures; they publish and announce the details, and then expect all employees to immediately align to them. Leaders believe, “We’ve told them, so now they know, and now they’ll do what we’ve told them.” How does a leader check that assumption? Ask and observe—often. It is likely you’ll find that too few leaders or employees are able to repeat the purpose or policies or procedures to you. (Edmonds, 2014)

Model the Way Once the organizational constitution has been published, leaders must model the valued behaviors, every day, in every interaction. (Edmonds, 2014)

Align the Way Once leaders embrace their responsibility to demonstrate the department’s values and behaviors, leaders must then coach other leaders, managers, supervisors, and so on (anyone with formal direct reports) to demonstrate the valued behaviors as well. (Edmonds, 2014)

At this stage, each leader is essentially an agent of change and it is the leaders’ responsibility to model (i.e., lead by example) and carry out the transformation. The author acknowledges that resistance can be generated, but provides a series of examples of how to work it and advises not to negotiate on anything, once the transformation was decided.


This text, on the one hand, I found extremely useful. In a field where theoretical texts abound, a step-by-step model, with each of the documented steps, is something exceptional. I like the clarity of the model, which also offers how to generate concrete examples of the transformation and multiple approaches it takes, too detailed for this analysis. The experience of its author and its passage through various transformations is obvious.

On the other hand, the idea of ​​a system of constitutions seems extremely valuable to me, as does the hermeneutics it uses to develop them. I think I will start to apply this in my working groups as a way to gain clarity.

My main criticism is about Servant Leadership and its focus on leaders. In my personal opinion, the book is only considering leaders as agents of transformation. This worker / leader divide, while softened by the term “Servant,” sounds like a misstep. Yes, it says that the Servant Leader is only there to serve those who carry out productive tasks, but can this be so? In my experience, Servant Leadership is a way, at best, to influence listening to leaders and at worst, an excuse behind which despotic leaders hide, who do not take responsibility for the tasks (” I only listened to the experts ”).

This is seen most when leaders are the sole guardians of values. An interesting exercise may be to compare it with a modern state: in it, although the inhabitants do not have direct decision-making power, by voting they can discuss or dispute values. In the model presented by the author, employees can only adapt to the constitutions lowered by the leaders, lacking any mechanism to change them. In fact, this situation is reinforced with the recommendation that leaders kick out those who are not aligned with them. If we had to imagine a state generated by this model, it would probably be an oligarchy, with a patrician or noble class that keeps its values ​​and a class of employees that can only decide to emigrate or accept what comes their way.

This could be, in my opinion, modified with the displacement of leaders as guardians and arbiters of values ​​to a more distributed system of responsibilities, where everyone is responsible for something and in any case the general constitution is a sum of the values ​​of the constitutions that depend on them, a synthesis rather than a model. A bazaar instead of a cathedral.

But this criticism does not detract from the value of the book’s clarity and methodical strength. An interesting book to read and reflect, especially for those of us who work in corporate culture.

Book review & Analysis: Corporate Culture, by M.Radoff

Radoff, M. (2013). Corporate Culture: A Framework for Analysis (P. Radoff, Ed.; 1.ª ed.). Amazon Publishing.

The book itself recounts the formation of a corporate profiling tool, called by its author the Corporate Culture Framework (CCF) from now on. He came to form the CCF because in the process of looking for work, it seemed to him that the hiring process would be improved if there were a company psychometric tool.

What I came to spend the most time on was the issue of assessing corporate culture– the rather nebulous concept that nevertheless can have a substantial impact on one’s experience in the workplace. Job applicants and hiring managers want to know whether the applicant will “fit in.” In a workplace where one’s personality is important, so then is corporate culture, by any definition. And there we have our first quandary: how do we define and even measure corporate culture? (Radoff, 2013)

Given the apparent absence of any precise measures of corporate culture, I set out to design a framework, which I call the Corporate Culture Framework (“ CCF”), by which corporate culture could be measured– a collection of metrics and values. Such metrics might include, for example, how directly versus indirectly people communicate within a company (Radoff, 2013)

Essentially, by using a questionnaire, the author’s goal is to create a company profile, to ensure a better match. Finally, try to get a Curriculum Vitae.

By applying this test, that is, by having people respond to the questionnaire, we can develop a Corporate Culture Profile (“ CCP”). With the CCP, I sought to provide a reference for job seekers to answer some basic questions: “What’s it like to work at that company?” “Would I fit in there? Does it match my psychometric profile?” “What are the positives and negatives of working within that company”


This expanded profile, which I call a Corporate Curriculum Vitae (“ CCV”), could be used to answer not only “what is it like to work at the company?” but also “who is working there?” and “is there an opportunity for me to work there?” (Radoff, 2013)

Although the CCP and the CCV are mentioned, they do not appear significantly in the rest of the book. The book itself is neither a guide to the CCF nor a manual to apply it, but rather a strange and mutant genre: a mix of how it came to be put together and a mix of propaganda to be hired to apply it.

On one level, this book attempts to outline a method by which a company’s corporate culture can be more clearly described, with something approaching scientific rigor, in a manner that can be digested by many audiences. There are many psychometric tests for people; this book suggests we can have the same for a company. That is, our supposition is that we can develop a framework for measuring corporate culture (the CCF). (Radoff, 2013)

In theory, he bases his method on various psychometrics, but in reality, we believe, his method is an adaptation of the Myers-Brigg (MBI)

Among the commonly used personality tests is the well-known “Big-5” personality-based test (i.e. the personality qualities of “extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and emotional stability”), the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, the DISC assessment, and others. There are also many lesser-known tests that have cropped up under the radar, the output of smaller companies in the HR arena (Radoff, 2013)

His method is essentially simple. It establishes a dyad of possible choices: in the cases analyzed, it uses categories A – Structured vs B – Flexible for processes and A – Individualist vs B – Group-oriented way of working. Structure based on a series of categories that defines questions that give A or B and then each one assigns a guideline value for how that category is considered for the client: from 1 to 5, with 1 being terribly bad and 5 being excellent.

That is, a company’s cultural characterization and whether that characterization is viewed positively or negatively by its employees are independent variables. Any correlation between a characterization and a judgment should emerge only over time, as the corporate culture of various companies (and any positive / negative judgment) is developed by practitioners. (Radoff, 2013)

1. Identify the components of a company that correspond to components of a person. 2. Decide which of those components are most suitable for analysis (“Key Components”). 3. For each Key Component, decide what are the broad Subcomponents or Groupings of activities that best describe how a company functions (“Groupings”) 4. Within each Grouping, decide what the specific activities are that enable the company to function (“Activities”). 5. Develop a bi-valued method for assessing the company’s performance of each Activity as reflecting a relatively Structured vs. Flexible, or Bold vs. Reflective, approach. 6. Develop a questionnaire that can be used to characterize each Activity in this manner and then, if deemed desirable, to characterize the Groupings, Components, and the company as a whole. The methodology described above creates what we call the CCF. In the sections below, we expand on these steps. Applying the CCF to a particular company creates its CCP. (Radoff, 2013)

An original question he asks is that he considers (in our opinion, not very happily) a division of the corporation into Body, Spirit, Mind and Heart. In its division, this is:

• Body: Assets, assets, logistics, etc. Everything concrete of a corporation

• Spirit: Values. Interestingly, this should be in our opinion a vital part of the culture, but the author considers it the domain of Executives and Strategy Consultants.

• Mind: Defined processes, methodology

• Heart: HR (this shows, if it were necessary to clarify, that the author is a HR professional) and interpersonal relationships

Example of Grouping (of) Mind

Example of grouping of (and I swear it is even difficult to write it) Heart

(Radoff, 2013)

Essentially, their method is to generate questions for each of the categories:

Applying categories to Employee Chemistry We now consider the case of our activities within the Key Component of Employee Chemistry and apply the concepts of (A) Bold and (B) Reflective. (A) Individualistic vs. (B) Group Oriented. Is it more important for people to be strong individual performers or work within a team? (A) Fact vs. (B) Concept. Which is more compelling within the company – hard facts or ideas? (A) Positive vs. (B) Negative. Do people in the company think about what could go right, or what could go wrong? (A) Serious vs. (B) Relaxed. What is the prevailing attitude in the workplace – stern and serious or relaxed? (Radoff, 2013)

This ends up generating a questionnaire in which each question has a dyad + a subjective appreciation rating. With this, create a Company Profile.

Unfortunately, the book ends at this point, without explaining the analysis or structure of a PCC, which was what in theory is sought. While the text has sample questions, it does not show an in-depth CCF or how it would be analyzed to produce a CCP. Instead, you have a request that the author be contacted to hire and apply.


The text is frustrating, because on the one hand it is interesting how someone has applied a method from another discipline (as we said, for us the MBI is the only “father” of this method) and has applied it to corporate culture (a term that, incidentally, not defined).

But the fact that it does not really explain its model, but ends up being a kind of publicity for its author, does not help much in its assessment. Nor does it help that the author does not consider, for whatever reason, basic issues to apply surveys such as distribution, control groups, metrics, etc.

The text is a good starting point, an idea to generate a better framework for analysis. It can be useful to generate an application of the named frameworks or try to build what the author says it can do, a profile of the culture of a corporation. But as it is presented in the analyzed edition, it is simply a pamphlet about an idea.

News! New Storytelling Podcast, Book Reviews and Analysis of Culture Crafting!

Yeap, full bore storytelling

So…it’s been a while, right?

I’ve been very, very busy. Working on my PhD and Postdoc, writing a new book, organizing my meditation groups…this COVID pandemic has been a busy, busy time.

But I have great news! There are some things coming, that I think you will all enjoy!

  • There’s a New Storytelling Podcast (in Spanish) called “Sangha Sin Nombre” (The Nameless Sangha) where we tell short stories of meditation and we read books, with mindfulness sessions intersped. You can listen to it on spotify, or any other good podcast service, but the main link is here: https://open.spotify.com/show/6n7S0pkuQjUJbNoUXp1ufm?si=ayDHhC3fRjKPigZjIsAGHg
  • I’m also writing the first book (in english!) about Culture Crafting. More news soon!
  • Also, I’m going to be posting book and articles reviews of my research into Agile and Corporate Culture.

I hope that this is of interest, and, as always, please feel free to reach to me!