Three Books That Influenced Corgibytes Culture

SEP 15, 2016 • Written by Andrea Goulet

One of the comments I get frequently is how the culture of Corgibytes feels distinctive. Clients enjoy working with us, employees are happy and not stressed out, and the company just kind of purrs. This didn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of lots of intention and implementing specific strategies.

When you build a company, you’re standing on the shoulders of other people. One of the aspects of my job that I love the most, as CEO, is reading lots of ideas and figuring out which ones would work best for us. Here are three books that I go to time and time and time again and whose contents are dog-eared, scribbled, and highlighted the most.

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

When I first read Daring Greatly, which is a synthesis of research around empathy, shame and vulnerability, it had a profound impact on me. I had long wondered why I felt out of place in the technology sector. This book helped me realize why.

If we want cultures that are filled with innovation, creativity, and trust, we must focus on cultivating an environment where we can be vulnerable. In tech, we celebrate the hero: the startup founder who works 130 hours per week, the lone developer who pulls the all-nighter, the CEO who ignores their family so their business can grow. But the hero culture has its drawbacks. A hero can only thrive in crisis. If we reward the people who have made the most personal sacrifices, a fire-fighting culture is inevitable. People become addicted to chaos and poor decision making, which leads to unhappy clients, which puts the business at risk.

After reading Daring Greatly, we were compelled to create a culture where empathy is at the center. The first consultant we worked with said we would get laughed out of tech if we discussed empathy. No one would take us seriously, she said. But our experience couldn’t be more different. Because we’ve focused on empathy, balance, and trust as our cultural pillars, we’ve found ourselves delivering more value than our competitors. We have a backlog of tech talent that wants to work with us, and those of us who are here are happy and relaxed at work.

There’s a reason Daring Greatly is at the top of the list. This book, above any other, has shaped the way I approach leadership. The tech sector may be an empathy desert, but Brené Brown’s work has helped us make Corgibytes a beautiful oasis in the middle of it all.

Drive by Daniel Pink

How do you motivate employees in the knowledge economy? You start by reading Drive, which delves into this question with exceptional clarity. I’ve long been a fan of Daniel Pink’s work. His ability to tell stories around social science research makes his books incredibly accessible. Scott and I listened to Drive on audiobook together in the car on the way to the office. I love books that are read by the author, and Pink is a good performer. I had downloaded this book on a lark, it was free from my local library and seemed interesting, but that’s all I knew about it. Looking back, the ideas in this book have made a big impact on how we run our business.

Pink breaks down what he calls “motivation 2.0” into three pillars: autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Reading this book just so happened to synchronize with our decision to recruit more people to join our team. We structured our benefits very clearly around these pillars. We encourage team members to work asynchronously, we have clearly defined our mission, vision and values, and we set aside 10% of everyone’s time for professional development.

It was this book that introduced me to concepts such as a growth mindset, working in flow, and the power of play. Like many of the books I find the most useful, this one is rooted in research. If you’re looking to attract and retain the best talent to work for you, add Drive to your reading list.

Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

Looking at the back cover, you’ll quickly see that Rework is filled with unconventional ideas:

  • ASAP is poison
  • Underdo the competition
  • Meetings are toxic
  • Fire the workaholics
  • Emulate drug dealers
  • Fight bloat
  • Planning is guessing
  • Inspiration is perishable

As developers who work with Ruby on Rails, we’ve been aware of 37Signals for a long time. David Heinemeier Hansson, or DHH as he’s referred to in the software circles, developed Rails and released it to the world. We had long heard of the unconventional culture that 37Signals fostered, and which they attributed to the growth of their flagship product, Basecamp.

This book is incredibly easy to read. But be warned. You’ll likely want to buy two copies, because if you’re like me, you’ll want to tear out pretty much every page and post it around the office for inspiration. The typography, wit, and illustrative style helped me visualize concepts and sear them into my brain for when I was making decisions. If you know for sure you’re ready to ditch the status quo, Rework will help show you the unconventional path towards success.

Of course, these are only a few titles of the many books that have helped me sculpt the Corgibytes culture. Some of the books I considered including, but ultimately didn’t: Purple Cow, Team of Teams, The Customer Rules, Small Is the New Big, POP!, Rising Strong, A Whole New Mind, The Diamond Cutter, Essentialism, Mindset, Creativity, Inc., People Over Profit, The Lean Startup, Scaling Up Excellence, Positive Intelligence, Bossypants, Peopleware, Trust Agents, and Show Your Work.

How about you? What books have inspired you? If you’ve read any of the ones I’ve listed, what were your reactions?