Archive for February, 2020|Monthly archive page

Thank You Note Culture

I’d like to live in a world in which people are good at saying “thank you” and even seek out opportunities to do so. Whether the medium of the “thank you” is a tip on the table, a fancy paper note, or a chocolate chip cookie, sincere appreciation of what we like is one of the best ways of getting more of those good things later on.

But when it comes to the paper — or even email — written kind of thank you note, lots of people freeze up. There might be lots of problems between the writer and the written word, but one of them is that once you’ve said thank you, you’re kind of done. And the obvious place turns out to be just the wrong place to start.

Dear Grandpa,
Thank you for the birthday present.

Now what? I already said thank you! It’s a thank you note! Am I done yet and can I play with the Lego now?

I tried out a three sentence thank you note template when my own kids got stuck, and it worked pretty well.
1. How did you feel when that great thing happened?
2. What good thing is going to happen because of it?
3. Thank you!

Dear Grandpa,
I was so excited to get a Lego set from you. I am going to have the tallest towers of anyone I know! Thank you for thinking of my birthday.

It worked for me today at work; filing off all the unnecessary details, the email basically said:
Dear J,
I really appreciated the extra effort you made reaching out in today’s meeting. You improved my team’s understanding of the problems you deal with. Thanks for taking the extra time!
Best regards,

My three sentence thank you note template helped me today. It gave me a moment to be mindful of my own gratitude, a moment to share with the recipient their positive impact on the world, and a frame that demonstrated the sincerity of my words of thanks. And that’s the world I want to live in.

What the heck is “Culture”, anyway?

“Culture” is such a useful word, and so hard to pin down. Often, when discussions of organizational or community culture come up, people get lost in a big long discussion of “what is culture”. A couple of years ago, I was reading a fascinating book Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation by Michael Agar, and I came across the following paragraph:

Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior, acquired and transmitted by symbols constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiment in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (I.e, historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action. [Kluckhohn and Kroeber]

I had to put the book down, take deep breaths, and say “why didn’t I read this book 15 years ago?” because it moved “culture” from the vagueness of “I know it when I see it” to something I could clearly talk about.  In particular,  this definition makes it clear that “culture” is BOTH emergent from behavior  and the rules for the behavior, constantly in negotiation with each other.

So, culture is stories, culture is what we’re conveying when we say “That’s not what we do around here”, culture is the material objects we surround ourselves with,  culture is memory made public  …  all of those partial ways  of grasping at describing what culture is, and many more, are embedded and implied in that paragraph.

Since that day,  I have found myself going back to my notes and quoting this paragraph over and over again, and I’m putting it here because that will make it easy for me to find for the next 17 times I want to talk about “what the heck is culture anyway?”