Sweatpants, Meat Dresses, and You

We’ve all seen them. You might even have worn (or be wearing) them yourself. Usually, when I think of them, I think of something I’ve seen fathers and grandfathers wearing. It’s those non-descript, gray sweatpants with the elastic waistband and elastic around the ankle opening. You know the ones. The benefit of such stylish trousers is simple: it’s pretty much a one-size-fits-all situation. Gain a few pounds lately? No worries. They’ll still fit. The elastic waistband all but ensures that.

Keep those lovely cotton pants in mind, but let’s shift gears. No matter how hard I try to ignore her existence, Lady Gaga is everywhere. Everywhere I tell you! Her music (and yes, she seems to be capable of producing infectious pop melodies) is often overshadowed, in my opinion, by her bizarre behavior and even more bizarre wardrobe. She’s worn what most of us would eat, having donned a meat dress and worn an egg to an awards show. Her fans love her for being unique, and then try to bottle up that uniqueness and produce their own version of it so they can be unique. Just like her. I hope the irony’s not lost on you.

Oddly enough, that’s what a lot of organizations seem to want to do with their culture. They want to do one of two things: Either they want to blend in and be just like everyone else with their one-size-fits-all approach to culture, or they want to manufacture this crazy, unique culture they saw somewhere else.

Neither of those options is good. In fact, they’re both terrible ideas.

How can we build a culture like Zappos? How can we recreate an environment like Google’s?

I’ve gotten some variation of those questions multiple times over the last several months, and those questions are understandable. No one’s denying that organizations like those have found a way to cultivate distinct and healthy cultures. And no one’s arguing an organization shouldn’t do that — certainly not me anyway.

But here’s the thing: your organization isn’t Zappos. Nor is it Google. Or Southwest. Or Apple. Or Forum. Or Vancity. Or Verity.

Nope. Your organization is different. Your organization has it’s own way of doing things. It has its own brand, its own style. Your credit union is a distinct entity, a separate faction, a unique tribe.

And that’s why you can’t approach your organizational culture like it’s a pair of sweatpants or a meat dress. Even if you could reproduce Zappos’ culture, you shouldn’t. You wouldn’t want to. We don’t need another Zappos. We need you. You need you.

Culture is as distinct as DNA — at least it should be. So when thinking about your culture, don’t start thinking about who you want to be like necessarily. Think about who you are. Think about what the best version of you looks like. What makes your organization tick? What kinds of values are important to your employees? How are you different than everyone else?  Why is the marketplace better because you’re in it?

So go ahead — admire Zappos. Admire Google. Admire other organizations that seem to have healthy cultures. But while you’re doing so keep in mind that they’ve built their own brands, their own cultures, their own identities. And then start working on yours.

9 comments

  1. i think another important point to make is what is discussed in rework by 37 signals. culture cant be copied or created… it just happens. yes… culture will be different for all however i think one can learn by looking outside to grow inside. oh… and if there are any typos pls forgive as this was posted from my mobile.

  2. one other quick.point as i just shaeed simular thoughts at the moutain regional credit union roind table about values. ask lwaders in ur org what ur values or miaaion statement is. hopefully they will know but dont be auprised if they see stumped. the same question can be asked to frontline as well. the point is that if ppl have trouble with or dont know ur mission or value statement it might be time to rework it to something that is short sweet and easy to remember. u may also work to have a value statement that is organic and may mean different things to different ppl so all can take ownership of it. once again… pls forgive typos as i wrote this on my mobile

  3. [...] or any other organization. That’s not what I think, and I’ve said as much in previous posts. You need to be YOU, warts and all. We don’t need another Zappos. We don’t need another [...]

  4. [...] Delivering Happiness. The essence of the book is that Zappos–and no, I’m not saying to be just like them–made a decision that that–delivering happiness–was their core purpose, their [...]

  5. [...] Apple is so terribly cliché at this point, and I’m not one who says that everyone needs to be exactly like Apple, but that’s where my mind went when I was thinking about this. Apple had plenty of [...]

  6. [...] I’m not saying every organization needs to be any particular thing–fun or otherwise. I’m just saying that organizations need to figure out who they are and then live it loudly. You’re not going to make everyone happy, so quit trying. If you want to be a fun organization, then be that. Some people will like it; others won’t. If you want to be consistently serious-minded, then be that. Some folks will like it; others won’t. [...]

  7. [...] see, this idea lies at the very core of an organization’s culture. It’s your identity. It’s who you are. And out of that identity flows everything else you do. Knowing thyself is like [...]

  8. [...] head was how badly this manager was botching this whole thing, especially in light of the fact that his company’s thing over the past couple years was not to make excuses, but to own up to the ugly truth that their [...]

  9. [...] perceived as fun or humorous, right? Southwest would be the cliché, though still great, example. I’m not saying every organization should or needs to be funny. In fact, I’d beg you not to if it’s not your thing. Just be [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *