So many of the articles and books I’ve read about developing corporate culture read like prescriptions or shopping lists. Authors (and commenters) debate what is precisely the right amount of vacation time, and whether or not to have an open vacation policy. They discuss parental leave, flexible work schedules and locations, office space, catered lunches, and ergonomic furniture and might suggest corporate charity, team building and out-of-the-office socializing. They might even a suggest a work environment with no rules or a flat management structure.

But if you try to create a world-class culture, by implementing a bunch of new policies, you’ll likely fail. Rather, having a straightforward understanding of how the mind works, by learning a few core principles is what leads to a great culture.

and the like, while well-meaning, are pointing in the wrong direction.  We can no more give companies a simple prescription to follow for how to create an amazing culture than we can give someone advice as to a magic line to say to make someone fall in love with you. Just as everyone falls in love in their own special way, each company’s culture needs to be a byproduct of the collective understanding of its employees and owners. Culture comes from the heart, not from the hands.

Now that we’ve loosely described what a good culture is, let’s be clear:  you cannot create a strong culture by creating a bunch of new policies and throwing benefits at people, nor can you measure a culture by its “coolness factor”.

A culture is not created from the outside in.  That is, you, as an owner don’t “do” some stuff, and then you have a culture.  A culture grows and develops as a child does.  In many ways, it’s impossible to create a certain “kind” of culture.  That is, we can’t create a culture of hard workers or extreme innovators any more than we can create pro football players of our children.

But what we can do is point people toward an understanding.  And almost always, what comes from this understanding is more kindness, creativity, and ultimately all of those byproducts we think we want — like innovation and productivity.

This audio clip (1:53) is excerpted from my friend Justus Eapen’s Podcast, “Hacker Practice”.  It’s an alternate version of the above.