We are living in a world that is rapidly changing. Technology develops faster than expected, and cultural norms are constantly evolving. As we look toward the future, CEOs, investors, and other business professionals need to stay informed about the top trends of culture innovation. Doing so will ensure that organizations are not only prepared to face upcoming challenges but also take advantage of potential opportunities.
Here are three culture transformation trends that every leader must understand in 2023.
1) SYNTHETIC CULTURE
Culture is not a separate group of activities — arts, for example, are only one expression of culture. Culture exists everywhere and determines what constitutes acceptable behavior. Culture determines the rules of the social game. Organic culture can be thought of as that of your family, for example. Then there is synthetic culture. A synthetic culture does not exist in reality. Synthetic culture does not operate by the same rules as organic culture. Researchers have noted that synthetic cultures exist primarily in the training context. This can happen at a large scale, for instance, in how social media has “trained” us to behave. Or at smaller scales like in companies.
Across every industry, upskilling and retraining for the future of work dominates resource allocation decisions. A widespread market application of AI this coming year is augmenting worker activity. As industries transition to the future of work, human jobs will disappear, and new ones emerge at a lightning pace.
Fueled by the deeply American ethos of business productivity, the introduction of AI augmentation will paradoxically make it increasingly difficult for employers to get a handle on detoxifying organizational culture. Toxic work culture is the biggest driver of an employee’s decision to leave their job. However, there is another AI area to watch. Its adoption may hold answers for attuned leaders on how to successfully navigate this paradox.
Executives who keep an eye on how AI influences human creativity will have a competitive advantage in navigating synthetic culture. If leaders see AI increasing self-determination through creative freedom, it may hold clues for successfully navigating other aspects of synthetic culture elements. Especially areas that can easily harm worker well-being and increase the toxicity of human behaviors. Both are collaboration killers making it nearly impossible to get anything done.
LEADER ACTION: DEVELOP A “CREATIVITY CONTRACT” WITH WORKERS
More and more organizations are realizing the value of creative collaboration between different departments. This means bringing together teams from various backgrounds and experience levels to produce innovative ideas for products or services. Creativity Contracts can help leaders define the “rules of engagement” for creating environments where people can bounce ideas off one another with mutual respect. Creativity Contracts should be guided by contemporary research rather than outmoded myths about creativity. Creativity Contracts can bring clarity to interdisciplinary collaborations and improve the chance that novel ideas are transformed into enterprise-wide value.
The good news is that quantitative data and cultural analytics have increased exponentially over the past few years. Now, more than ever, creativity and well-being metrics can be combined into powerful tools to foster collaboration through the visualization of where the hidden “early wins” are that build cultural and social capital among employees. Creativity Contracts help to focus data points into business intelligence that drives process improvement.
2) CULTURE FALLACY
With technology continuing to progress rapidly, many companies are beginning to think more expansively when utilizing emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, machine learning, Big Data, and others. These disruptive technologies can potentially revolutionize existing industries while creating new markets altogether. It’s up to today’s business leaders to identify how they can use these technologies ethically and responsibly within their organizations.
But, before leaders launch headlong into innovation strategies, they may want to check assumptions built into strategies developed during 2020-2021. During these early days of our large-scale “work from home” national experiment, many companies made a big push to use the “downtime” and gather employees on Zoom for strategic planning initiatives. However, were we doing “real” strategic planning? Or were we using a known process to help us feel connection and self-determination in a world that seemed out of our control? One where we all shared, if only for a brief moment, somewhat of a common goal direction? Namely, “let’s get past COVID!”
Strategic planning design charrettes during this period probably don’t reflect a “shared purpose” as much as we thought. Strategies created and implemented during COVID’s shared goal direction early days should be assessed again for relevance. Leaders who do so now and adjust will outperform those who double down on messaging. Or, just as bad, let themselves be tripped up by their cognitive biases and mistake random data points for actionable intelligence.
LEADER ACTION: DEVELOP CULTURE-FOCUSED INTRAPRENEURSHIP UNITS TO TEST ASSUMPTIONS
An intrapreneur unit gives organizations fresh perspectives on existing assumptions or challenges. Intrapreneurs don’t just look at what could be done differently; they also ask “why?” and “what if?” This conceptual thinking is key when it comes to solving complex problems and staying ahead of competitors who are relying on outdated methods or practices.
In the modern business world, company culture is of paramount importance. That’s why it’s so important to have an intrapreneurial unit within your organization—a team that focuses on developing a cohesive culture. A BIG piece of this work is developing a systematic process for continually checking assumptions. The world is moving too fast for this to be something that is only done every 5-10 years. If you want your business to thrive and stay competitive long-term, implementing a culture intrapreneur program should be a priority.
Culture intrapreneurship can bring many benefits to any organization. On an organizational level, having an intrapreneur unit can help to foster collaboration between departments by encouraging everyone to share ideas and work together. Perhaps even more importantly, in a plural workforce, culture intrapreneurs should devote as much time to understanding what can disrupt things (both internally and externally) as they do to solution-finding. Further, today’s culture innovation intrapreneur units probably should be housed more within the market development areas of a company than in human resources. Although both are needed for any culture transformation challenge. And, in 2023, almost everystrategic challenge is one of culture transformation.
3) DISAPPEARING “CREATIVE CLASS”
This is actually good news and an opportunity for inclusive innovation not seen in generations. Rather than creativity being a descriptor that separates a group of people doing an activity defined as creative, the beginning of the “Work-From-Anywhere War” in the private sector, combined with the 2025 emergence of GENZ as 20% of the global workforce, has shuffled the deck. Forget return-to-office mandates, the most sought-after talent want ultimate flexibility and self-determination. This is the fuel for creativity!!
Over the past decade or so, economists viewed creativity as an output measure to illuminate the economic impact of a specific group of jobs they define as creative. Urbanists like Richard Florida have promoted the creative class as a strategy for local governments to encourage real estate development with tourism opportunities while coupling it with some loose notions of how such development supports innovation. Positively, this approach has increased economic visibility and understanding by the general public of the immense, important contributions of areas like the arts. Negatively, this approach has also driven gentrification, displacement, and division in America.
Largely due to creativity’s inherent connection to parallel advancements made in technology and brain science, the science of creativity has made huge jumps forward in the past few years. Creativity, like culture, is not “owned” by any group. Both exist everywhere, and anywhere there is human activity. Aided by research advancements, we now stand at the beginning of a golden age of collaboration where creativity will increasingly become the architecture of connection between arts, science, and business. How wonderful to have new connectivity on which each can grow individually and collectively in support of human flourishing!
LEADER ACTION: JUST LIKE YOUR TECHNOLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE — DEVELOP A STRATEGY FOR CREATIVITY INFRASTRUCTURE
As the focus on environmental determinants of human health and economic systems grows, interest in creativity as a driver of workforce productivity and enterprise innovation is growing concurrently. Creativity is among the top skills for leaders and workers alike. Connecting creativity infrastructure development with the emerging brain economy offers companies exponential opportunities for collaboration and commerce through the lens of human flourishing. The built environment, natural environment, and social environment are all critical drivers of creativity in individuals and support the creative performance and resilience of both communities and companies. Further, to connect the hybridity of our virtual and physical lives in the future of work, a creativity infrastructure must be intentionally constructed based on solid research to enable novel insights to transform into societal or enterprise value.
Unlike a creative economy, creativity infrastructure offers a unique alignment opportunity for many cross-sector priorities, like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, social impact investing, corporate social responsibility, and more. Perhaps most importantly for the resilience of national and global markets, creativity infrastructure connects creativity and well-being as mutually reinforcing antecedent conditions for innovation across art, science, technology, and business. In this sense, creativity becomes the science of connection across all disciplines.
A FINAL NOTE TO LEADERS
TRANSFORMING CULTURE IN 2023 REQUIRES TRANSFORMING PARTS OF LEADERSHIP ITSELF
We rightly focus our workforce development and workplace well-being efforts on staff. No question that it is the place to focus. However, this statistic should also have every board of directors up at night.
“65% of entry-level executives and 70% of senior executives reported feeling that ‘no one really knows them well.”
It’s impossible to give what you don’t have. Are you pouring too much of your time, energy, and passion into the monotonous grind of your job? The career path that used to bring joy and excitement has become a wallowing swamp of obligation, the possibilities for personal growth shrinking beyond recognition. This happens to us all when we forget that work is just another opportunity for Courageous Imagination in pursuit of a life well lived.
It’s not too late to rekindle the spark inside you that drives creativity and joy. The key for all of us is clearly understanding the difference between our job (profession) and our vocation.
Here’s a brain glitch for you. There is no such thing as a “professional”. We are humans having professional experiences which are defined by specialized training, education, licensure, and any number of other things. But none of us are merely a collection of external validations conferred by others.
Instead of your worth coming from the “professional story” of who you are, what if your worth came from your exploration across life? An exploration that is unique to you? This is what we call a vocation — a personal calling that is bigger than (and requires more than) the names we give to professional experiences can ever hope to hold.
Vocations are defined by a deep loss of joy that we remember in our bones. Vocations are driven by our desire to bring things back into balance. A desire that we may not even have words capable of describing to others. Even without language, though, we make fierce daily decisions to move toward balance. Ways that seem to defy logic — at least to others looking from the outside. While we breathe, we have a new daily opportunity to make another fierce decision to bring equilibrium around us.
In these moments of fierce decision — the connecting of head, heart, and hands — we also feel alive. Then, we get scared.
In that brief flash of fear, the joy snatchers swoop back in hard. (I visualize them looking like “Dementors” in Harry Potter.) They ask us to believe that our desire to work toward something that does not yet exist is foolish. They ask us to believe that the “settled things” are the safe things. Desire has no place, they tell us because it is uncertain. “They” are wrong.
The etymology of “desire” is fascinating. “De” means “to miss” and “sidus” means “from the stars”. Desire is your memory of being stardust. Stardust is the origin story of us all. It is our source of joy. Desire is deep. Nothing is worth allowing others to snatch your joy, your light. It is also your responsibility as a leader to protect the same in those who have entrusted you with theirs.
You are so much more than a professional title can hold. As a leader, you uniquely inhabit a vocation only you can fill. But, until you let others see who you are, the people looking for you will never be able to find you.
In the coming year, my hope for all leaders, learners, workers, healers, and creators is to allow ourselves to be pulled a step beyond what we know. That we pioneer into the wilderness of unopened life.
--WILDERNESS SKILLS-- a poem by Theo Edmonds You don’t wait for revelation when you pass the frontier Desire is truth here. That fiery stardust inside you has pulled you a step beyond Into a beyond place where you use up everything in service to joy Beyond the old stories you wove around yourself for protection for fascination. A veneer of curiosity manufactured for others. Those you believed not trustworthy with their own estimations. Fiery stardust has pulled you an uncomfortable step beyond the old stories. You don’t wait for revelation here. When you pass the frontier, wilderness skills are needed. Wilderness skills like those you learned when you first fell in love. That raw meat moment where you first heard the calling of your original name. Away from the figuration of settled houses of etiquette protocols. Crossing a frontier is a high desert maneuver. A fierce decision made in the extreme honesty of each new breath. Wilderness skills are not learned as professions, They are acquired through intention and vocation. Radical, convergent release of all those heavy things you picked up and carried along your way to the frontier. Vocation and navigation go hand in glove… pavement to gravel gravel to earth earth to desire (that holding of a star) Pulled a step beyond the frontier Your old stories no longer seem big enough Pulled a step beyond the frontier you feel the aligning of crucible bones. Homecoming. The stories used to shape your presence, back in settled houses will not survive here. Frontiers find their shape among interior landscapes made real in honest mirrors. In this reflection is a realization: You don’t really know language at all. At least language capable of navigating the well-worn and mapped out reflection staring at you. A reflection that makes no sense once pulled a step beyond the frontier. The loss of language hits hard. If you don’t have language here, here in your reflected face, the reflection you thought you knew so well back in the settled houses, then does language even exist at all? What is the love language of wilderness? As you begin flicking off old shallow reflections, an intuition grows inside you that deepness is dependable. Moving past the frontier requires reaching further in. Inside to horizons we arrived at seasons ago but were too busy performing the shallow stories in settled houses to notice. In wilderness, deepness is dependable. Deepness is dependable. I learned I was going to die in my early skin, when I first learned to love. Learning to be loved in return would take longer. Learning to be loved in return is a wilderness skill. In that early skin warmth was a death quilt. Pieced together with science, business and art. Laid across a nation, the quilt stitched together memories of those who dared to cross frontiers. Those who learned in early skin that love is a wilderness skill. Sometimes, the blessing of things skips past human curtains hanging in settled houses. Blessings require making a fierce decision to walk lightly through deep woods. Receiving blessing requires you to be equal to it. Survivors of plagues know this. Survivors of plagues feel guilty for knowledge sometimes. Deepness, though, is dependable. In the deep woods, You must give things away to become large enough, to become light enough to make fierce decisions everyday. Fierce decisions are those where your feel the instinctual courage A courageous imagination that connects head, heart, and hands into the vocation of vision. (In the wilderness, far off places are not silent they just cannot be heard with eyes.) Frontier vision requires more from you. More than was required in old, settled houses. When more is required Deepness is dependable. To find the ground that you were meant to stand on, You don’t wait for revelation when you pass the frontier. You make the fierce decision to let go of those small names you once carried around, room to room, in old, settled houses Those small names will only weigh you down here. Fiery stardust has pulled you an uncomfortable step beyond Beyond your old stories Told in settled houses Written in etiquette protocols You don’t wait for revelation here. When you pass the frontier, the joy of unopened life is waiting for you. Wilderness skills will be needed.
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