Origins of Culture

Once you enter a particular workplace, you notice a few things. The way people talk. The way they act. The things they say. While every individual behaves in their own, very specific manner, you’re likely to notice a pattern. They do have something in common, something distinctive. It’s almost like visiting some other country, which you expect to be very similar to yours. Very quickly, you’ll discover that your first impression is wrong. Nations grown upon, say, Greek and Roman heritage, generally behave the same way for any outsider. The quirks and peculiarities emerge rapidly though, making each of them to stand out. And all the companies within such national environment display the same differences to each other. In essence, that’s what we call culture.

But where does it come from?

I will refrain from going into specifics of how national cultures are shaped. It’s just not my scale, both size- and time-wise. The general mechanics of the genesis are simple enough to be shared by all instances, though nations are, in some cases, centuries ahead in their turbulent evolutions.

Let’s start with taking some random company into the time machine – and rewind. As far back as possible. What you’ll see, is a single man. The Founder. Yes, quite often several people claim this role, but it’s always a single person to say “Hell, let’s do it”. Whether a singular brisk of genius or a natural born leader, the construct of Founder is brought to life.

Whoever they used to be before, at one point or another – hopefully, sooner than later – they realise that a single person simply cannot face the world alone. They need assistance, someone to make up for their shortcomings, someone to carry their shield as swords and axes get their rightful use. The First Hire.

Now, statistically speaking, I’m pretty certain that majority of you never went through the ordeal of finding the best of the best of the best – yet available, willing, and within budget. The last one is quite serious, as new businesses are regularly started on a shoestring, with just a slim hope to merely survive the first year, not to mention being back in the black. I went through it thrice and helped others make their choice dozens of times, so let me tell you how it looks like. In today’s reality, it’s actually remarkably easy to find someone affordable and with appropriate skills. Maybe the media-created generation of idiots lowered the bar, but, really – it’s not that hard. You’ll find plenty.

Having a plethora of choices for the First Hire is actually quite menacing. It’s the classic case of analysis paralysis paradox, when, given too many options available, we either make random choice (bad idea) or make no choice at all (very bad idea). You’re likely to end up with a stack of resumes, each of them fitting the bill.

And that will never happen, as long as we’re humans, not robots brought to life by greedy imbeciles.

It’s almost like dating. You meet quite a lot of people. There are some you’re willing to take home. Just for a night. Some are perfect to fill the gap of that single evening. Yet others personify the false advertising and you feel genuinely tempted to excuse yourself to bathroom, run away, and leave them with your bill. And then there’s the one you’re more than happy to risk more with – and you know it five minutes into the date.

Unbelievably, the mechanics of the First Hire are the same. Founder just knows, with all their instincts, that this specific person will do the job. Which is where I need to make a disclaimer about the dating analogy, just because there’s plenty of idiots out there. The mechanics of both processes are essentially the same. The contributing and controlling facts, however, are not. And if you’re playing the Founder character and falling into someone you’re interviewing, make you both a favour. Don’t do it.

Pseudo-legalese aside, how does the Founder make this crucial decision? It’s a matter of one simple answer to the most trivial of questions.

“Is this the person I would like to work with?”

That’s it. There’s nothing more involved. With the First Hire, the company culture is created. Even for a brief period before subsequent hires, the two people collaborate closely. They will learn their limitations, shape boundaries, and keep secrets. In ruthless reality of business these days, the mindset might not be far from sharing a foxhole during a devastating artillery barrage.

Now, given you were to find someone to sustain a prolonged bombardment with, who would you choose?

If you’re smart, someone with the skills completing yours.

Whether you’re smart or not, with no single failure – someone to share your mindset.

Now, with the next hire along the way, the Founder will make sure that person is able to work seamlessly with the existing two. And so on. And on. The approach will continue even when the Founder – now called the CEO, Director, or Chief Wizard (ah, the cool tech workplaces these days…) – is not personally involved. After all, the people to do the actual hiring were themselves hired by someone ‘with the proper mindset’.

The culture of a workplace, the way people do their business, the way they deliver actual value to their clients, their customers, and the society – is always reflection of how the Founder does these same things.

Which is why, when taking over the limping business, there’s simple and universal protocol to follow – fire the top brass. And do what’s possible to cut the cables to their golden parachutes – if it weren’t for their behaviour, things wouldn’t have gotten wrong in the first place. If you give them mercy, they’ll learn nothing, so show them none. That’s for their good.

So, fishing for a job? Make sure to know what the Founder is like.

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employers, customers, or clients.

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