On Spaces, Conversations and Culture

I spend a lot of time on the bus. And because no-one talks on the bus, I use it as my time to catch up on the conversations of the day – on Twitter.

This month, there has been a common theme from a number of sources.  That theme is organisation culture.

Now there is a fairly good chance that I observed this theme because of a recent experience in a not for profit, but still, it’s being talked about and it’s not just me.  The really interesting bit happened on friday night, when I connected the dots between Space, Culture and Conversation.

It started with Tim Kastelle (@timkastelle) sharing a tweet from Jack Martin Leith (@jackmartinleith).   This is the link: culture-is-conversation/

People_044_Talking_BubbleJack and I started a conversation on twitter and for the tech savvy amongst you, I am sure you will find the remnants of the conversation in twitter’s archives.  The conversation only captured a minuscule amount of the thought process but it was the start of a month of thinking about organisation culture.

What is Culture? 

Jack expressed it succinctly as culture = purpose+ethos+core capabilities

My translation of that is:

  • What we do (core capability)
  • Why we are doing it (purpose)
  • How we do it (ethos)

Why do we talk about organisational culture? 

I have recently been reading a lot about Innovation and specifically how to encourage it. open_innovation_on

How do you empower employees to innovate in order to increase the competitiveness of the business?  How do you set the tone in the office that employees can suggest ideas?  How do you curate those ideas so that they get carried out?

When asked to describe my job position recently, I put down encourager.  It wasn’t a thought out title, it was a spur of the moment – I don’t know what to call myself- thing, but I quite liked it and stuck with it.  The first follow up thought though was “how can I be an encourager when I work for myself?”

Bring on twitter conversation no. 2.  @katekendal and @fastcompany both had a number of tweets about open offices and the benefits and deficits of the idea.  Fast Company’ Open Plan Office Article is an interesting read.

logoWhat struck me on the bus though, was that the office layout (private offices, cubicles or open plan) has almost nothing to do with the real concept they were discussing.  The conversations that are happening in your office.  See, I am embedded in a Startup Clubhouse in Brisbane.  I moved to River City Labs in May because I found working at home was great for productivity, but wasn’t stimulating ideas.  At River City Labs, I get a desk and internet access as part of the rental agreement.  That doesn’t cover the real value of the place though.  The real value is in the forced encounters with other entrepreneurs because you share a work space and a coffee machine.

By sharing my ideas with other entrepreneurs, I have been able to refine what I am doing.  I have gained insight into my field from completely different perspectives.  I’ve solved technical problems that I could have solved in a tenth of the time working from home, but would have without creating connections along the way.

I have solved other problems that I would have stewed over for weeks, in a matter of minutes.  Why?  Simple.  I shared my frustration and someone else had already solved that problem.

I have seen crazy ideas, thrown around over drinks on a friday, turn into real businesses.

So “how can I be an encourager when I work for myself?” Simply put, I embedded myself in a community, I share an office, I listen to ideas, I contribute to other people’s ideas and in doing so I hope I encourage others, but I am also encouraging myself to continue.

I don’t think that the shape or form of your office is as important as the discussions that take place.  Having a space that encourages conversations between people working on different ideas is as important as having a culture in an organisations that encourages conversations.

That culture is a mix of the way you act as a leader, the encounters you create for your people, the pressures you put on them (time-sheets, productivity, etc…) and most importantly the encouragement you give them to succeed.


About Will

Engineer. Chief Encouragement Officer at Machine IQ. A technology company focused on technology that assists the business process. Builder of robots. Promoter of the importance of human communication.
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8 Responses to On Spaces, Conversations and Culture

  1. jackmartinleith01 says:

    Hello Will.

    Thank you for mentioning me in this very useful and timely post.

    Just to clarify a small misunderstanding: I’m not saying that purpose+ethos+core capabilities adds up to the culture of an organisation—rather that these items taken together represent the organisation’s enduring core. Some may use the term DNA in place of core, although I think that genetics is not an accurate metaphor here.

    The core (purpose, capability and ethos) form a unified whole that should inform every decision and every action taken by the enterprise, every day of its existence.

    This idea is developed in my article, Purpose, capability and ethos form the enduring core of the enterprise: http://www.jackmartinleith.com/organisational-core.

    I have included a link to your post in these two collections of resources:


    Thanks again Will, and very best wishes from Bristol, UK.


    • wgebers says:

      Thanks Jack. Apologies for the mis-quote, but it made sense to me in this context too!

      I will have to keep thinking about this. Culture is very closely related to the core of the organisation. And similarly I feel that conversations relate to the core of the organisation too.


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  5. The messy possibilities of just interacting with people (and being open to that interaction) is a great outcome of River City Labs.

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