Life in a kindergarten world

Years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Now a study of culture in some of the world’s most successful organizations has discovered the same thing. In his book The Culture Code, New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle goes inside organizations like Pixar, the San Antonio Spurs, and U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six and reveals what makes them tick. In the process, he discovered that kindergartners know plenty about collaboration that MBAs don’t.

To refresh your memory, here’s the crux of what Fulghum claims to have learned in kindergarten.

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Now Daniel Coyle explains that great organizational cultures borrow from kindergarteners. At some point in life, we exchange our willingness to experiment for the need to size each other up. But great organizational cultures, Coyle writes, borrow from the kindergartners: They focus on action rather than posturing. “While successful culture can look and feel like magic,” Coyle maintains, “the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

Where does great culture come from? It’s less about a mysterious, irresistible “something” into which we’re born and more about something we create and sustain by what we do, by how we choose, by how we intentionally organize our lives around a center of values. And key to that “how” is our willingness to experiment and innovate, to risk trying something new, and, as Coyle explains, to develop strategies that trigger learning, spark collaboration, build trust, and drive positive change.

The Culture Code is ostensibly a book about business and organizational cultures. It turns out, it’s really a book of theology, at least one that will stimulate our thinking about the ultimate reality at the heart of creation and the values by which we attempt to live in community.

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