📚 Book Notes: The Culture Code - The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

Starlings (small song-singing birds) are a great example of cohesive units, and it’s one of the most beautiful and uncanny sights in nature: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eakKfY5aHmY

Here are my notes from The Culture Code - The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups:


  1. Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less? The answer lies in the culture (Build Safety, Share Vulnerability, Establish Purpose).
  2. “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”
  3. Vulnerability doesn’t come after trust — it precedes it. Leaping into the unknown, when done alongside others, causes the solid ground of trust to materialize beneath our feet.
  4. As Dave Cooper says, I screwed that up are the most important words any leader can say.
  5. The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.


  1. One misconception about highly successful cultures is that they are happy, lighthearted places. This is mostly not the case. They are energized and engaged, but at their core their members are oriented less around achieving happiness than around solving hard problems together. This task involves many moments of high-candor feedback, uncomfortable truth-telling, when they confront the gap between where the group is, and where it ought to be. Larry Page created one of these moments when he posted his “These ads suck” note in the Google kitchen. Popovich delivers such feedback to his players every day, usually at high volume. But how do Popovich and other leaders manage to give tough, truthful feedback without causing side effects of dissent and disappointment? What is the best feedback made of?
  2. In any interaction, we have a natural tendency to try to hide our weaknesses and appear competent. If you want to create safety, this is exactly the wrong move. Instead, you should open up, show you make mistakes, and invite input with simple phrases like “This is just my two cents.” “Of course, I could be wrong here.” “What am I missing?” “What do you think?”
  3. One of the most vital moments for creating safety is when a group shares bad news or gives tough feedback. In these moments, it’s important not simply to tolerate the difficult news but to embrace it. “You know the phrase ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’?” Edmondson says. “In fact, it’s not enough to not shoot them. You have to hug the messenger and let them know how much you need that feedback. That way you can be sure that they feel safe enough to tell you the truth next time.”
  4. Belonging cues are behaviors that create safe connection in groups. They include, among others, proximity, eye contact, energy, mimicry, turn taking, attention, body language, vocal pitch, consistency of emphasis, and whether everyone talks to everyone else in the group.
  5. In many organizations, leaders tend to deliver feedback using the traditional sandwich method: You talk about a positive, then address an area that needs improvement, then finish with a positive. This makes sense in theory, but in practice it often leads to confusion, as people tend to focus either entirely on the positive or entirely on the negative.
  6. In Conversation, Resist the Temptation to Reflexively Add Value: The most important part of creating vulnerability often resides not in what you say but in what you do not say. This means having the willpower to forgo easy opportunities to offer solutions and make suggestions. Skilled listeners do not interrupt with phrases like Hey, here’s an idea or Let me tell you what worked for me in a similar situation because they understand that it’s not about them. They use a repertoire of gestures and phrases that keep the other person talking. “One of the things I say most often is probably the simplest thing I say,” says Givechi, “Say more about that”.
  7. Building purpose in a creative group is not about generating a brilliant moment of breakthrough but rather about building systems that can churn through lots of ideas in order to help unearth the right choices. This is why Catmull has learned to focus less on the ideas than on people — specifically, on providing teams with tools and support to locate paths, make hard choices, and navigate the arduous process together.
  8. “There’s a tendency in our business, as in all businesses, to value the idea as opposed to the person or a team of people,” he says. “But that’s not accurate. Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they’ll find a way to screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a good team, and they’ll find a way to make it better. The goal needs to be to get the team right, get them moving in the right direction, and get them to see where they are making mistakes and where they are succeeding.”
  9. When we hear a fact, a few isolated areas of our brain light up, translating words and meanings. When we hear a story, however, our brain lights up like Las Vegas, tracing the chains of cause, effect, and meaning. Stories are not just stories; they are the best invention ever created for delivering mental models that drive behavior.
  10. Thinking about your ancestors makes you smarter. A research team led by Peter Fischer found that spending a few minutes contemplating your family tree (as opposed to contemplating a friend, or a shopping list, or nothing at all) significantly boosted performance on tests of cognitive intelligence. Their hypothesis is that thinking about our connections to the group increases our feelings of autonomy and control.

If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯



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