A long time ago, a smart North Carolina native mentioned to me that the official NC state motto was the Latin phrase “esse quam videri,” which translates as “to be rather than to seem to be.” Yeah, I didn’t know states had mottoes either. Turns out a lot of them do.
I was struck by this phrase. As Red Hat has grown from North Carolina roots into an international company with offices around the world, we’ve adopted this one little piece of North Carolina-ness as an unofficial litmus test for the Red Hat brand voice as well.
Esse quam videri first appeared in the Cicero essay On Friendship, but a similar concept can actually be traced back to the Greek playwright Aeschylus. His line, which later appeared in Plato’s The Republic, was “His resolve is not to seem the best but in fact to be the best.” You can find more on the history of the phrase here.
Esse quam videri inspires authenticity. When Red Hat is communicating at our best, we use esse quam videri as the muse of simple, honest talk; conversation that doesn’t hide behind the foreign languages of marketing, law, or business.
Sometimes it inspires us to not communicate at all, to simply do instead. When we are not communicating well, we are not listening to our muse.
I just finished reading the new book Free by Chris Anderson, which I read on my sweet new Kindle for the low, low price of… you guessed it… free (the Kindle edition was free for the first month, but you missed it, $9.95 now).
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Chris Anderson has been with Wired Magazine since 2001, and is currently the Wired Editor in Chief (a fact that I copied directly from Wikipedia, something he has also been accused of doing).
I’d consider Chris a member of the pantheon of Folks Who Can Decently Explain What the Heck Is Happening On This Planet Right Now, alongside Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Michael Pollan, among others.
However, I have only recently forgiven Chris for his long tail concept that unleashed hordes of marketing droids blathering on for hours about the long tail of this and the long tail of that a few years back. I’m not saying he wasn’t right, it was a great book. But, dude, you have no idea what you put us through. Torture.
Here is my attempt to paraphrase the 300 pages of Free in two sentences:
The price of digital content is moving quickly toward free. So stop bitching about it and figure out a business model that allows you to make a decent living anyway.
It’s a brilliant book. And I’m not just saying that because I work for a company that figured out a way to build a profitable business model that plays well with free. As I was reading, I kept thinking how eloquently Chris was stating complex concepts that I’ve been living with at Red Hat for years, but had never been able to articulate (he even mentions us in the book three times, score!).
I also kept thinking what another great truthteller named Bob Dylan once said: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the way the wind blows.”
Or maybe you do. Turns out there are a lot of people out there who passionately disagree with Chris Anderson about the conclusions he draws in this book that I found rather obvious.
After 10 years at Red Hat, I’ll admit I am a little bit out of touch with what the corporate world looks like everywhere else. But after a recent conversation with someone out there in the non-Red Hat universe, I thought I’d pass on a quick tip they found helpful on how to create a more collaborative culture in your organization.
The tip is simple. Default to open. Everywhere.
What does this mean? It means rather than starting from a point where you choose what to share, you start from a point where you chose what not to share.
You begin sharing by default.
A quick example. Our group was lucky enough to (thanks to our talented global facilities director, Craig Youst) have the opportunity to help design our own office space. As part of the space design, we determined that we wanted no offices– everyone would be in a large, open collaborative space.
Everyone had the same sized cubes, and it didn’t matter how much of a muckety-muck you were or weren’t. If you wanted to have a private conversation, the space design included a series of private alcoves, where you could go talk with your doctor, or yell at your wife, or whatever you didn’t want to do in public. But the key is that you had to actively decide when placing a call, do I want to take this in private? Which is counter than the old-skool office design where you had an office with a door, and all conversations were private by default.
Books are important to me. Growing up, almost every free wall in my parents’ house was lined with bookshelves, some of them stacked two deep. I spent most of my pre- Red Hat career in book publishing, first working during college at The University of North Carolina Press. After college, I went to work for a literary agent named Rafe Sagalyn in Washington DC. Working for Rafe was a great experience because he built his reputation on big think/idea books and business books.
His first big book was the huge bestseller Megatrends by John Naisbitt back in the early 80s. When I was there, I personally got to work with, among others, Bill Strauss and Neil Howe on their great books about generational patterns in society (check out The Fourth Turning… very prophetic these days) and Don Peppers, author of some books back in the 90s like The 1:1 Future about relationship marketing that were the grandparents of today’s books on social media marketing.
I also got to play agent and author myself too. As an agent, I represented some of Tom Bodett’s work (yes, he is the Motel 6 guy, but was also a commentator on NPR) and sold a wonderful novel called The Frequency of Souls to FSG. As author, I helped Rafe write two “cutting edge” books about getting free and open access to government information (they have not aged well, I’m afraid).
Fast forwarding to today, Rafe actually was the agent for two recent big think books that I love, Authenticity and A Whole New Mind, so he is still making things happen.
After I left book publishing, reading became fun again. I read novels and travel literature for a while, nothing that made me think too much. But when I got to Red Hat, I relapsed and started reading the big think books like the ones I used to work on with Rafe. I thought it might be worth taking a few minutes to try to remember the books that have been the biggest influences on my thinking, and get them all down in one place, so here goes:
Without these ten books, Dark Matter might not even matter to me.
A good friend told me a few weeks ago that I should write more about music here, since music is such an important part of my life. So I thought I’d give it a go.
I play bass in a band called The Swingin’ Johnsons. Yes, that’s right.
Occasionally, we call ourselves a Lyndon Johnson tribute band, when we need to water down the story, and most of our show posters have pictures of Lyndon Johnson on them. I don’t know exactly how we are paying “tribute” to Lyndon Johnson by what we do, but there it is.
David Burney’s blog post about Obama being the first “design thinking” president just got picked up by Bruce Nussbaum of BusinessWeek. Nussbaum is another one of those guys who gets it– he’s been writing about design thinking and innovation in business for quite some time.
Read the full text of Nussbaum’s article, entitled President Obama Goes Optimistic: Obama Is The Design President.
My good friend, former boss, and Swingin’ Johnsons bandmate, David Burney, has revealed his new venture, a company called New Kind. He’s partnering with Matt Munoz, an extremely talented designer who created the original Fedora logo (an interesting open, collaborative process to be discussed in another blog) among other things.
Both David and Matt come from graphic design backgrounds, but their firm intends to explore the role of design in business from a “new kind” of perspective. According to their website:
New Kind helps organizations solve complex problems and build competitive brands. We do so by combining the problem-solving principles of design thinking with the collaborative power of open source. We help our clients create authentic customer communities, build and nurture innovative cultures and tell meaningful, memorable stories through the most relevant media choices.
David is actively blogging on some interesting stuff, including Barack Obama and MBAs, Gary Hamel, and orange juice. Do it. Click on the orange juice link. You know you want to.
I ordered 3 copies of Marty Neumeier’s new book, The Designful Company, yesterday for the team. Will let you know what I think once I’ve had a chance to read it. His two previous books, The Brand Gap and Zag, both had a profound influence on the Red Hat overall brand strategy. I especially love The Brand Gap, which David Burney first introduced to me in 2005.
I’ve probably bought 20-30 copies of The Brand Gap over the last few years, try to keep a few at my desk to hand out to any potential brand converts I meet (why do I never get the copies back?). What’s beautiful about this book is the design and content are one–the message of the book is communicated by its design and its content together. And it is short– any busy executive can read it on a plane up to NYC.
In addition to helping us articulate the overall organizational design of the Brand Communications + Design group within Red Hat, this book has given us many other good ideas to chew on over the years. Probably the most famous quote from the book is:
A brand is not what YOU say it is, it’s what THEY say it is.
which many other people have glommed onto over the last couple of years (including me).
Even if you don’t have time to check out Marty’s books, go check out his great (and beautiful) presentation that explains many of the key concepts of his thinking here.
My friends Jeff Mackanic and David Burney both recommended that I read Gary Hamel’s latest book, The Future of Management, which was named the best business book of the year by Amazon in 2007. I was absolutely blown away. The whole way through, I was like, “tell it, brother!”
The basic thesis of the book? The management model developed in the late 19th and early 20th century and integral to the success of the industrial revolution is starting to show signs of wear. It is being replaced by a new model, embodied by companies like Whole Foods, Google, and W.L. Gore (the makers of Gore-Tex); all three are highlighted in the book.
Red Hat, and the open source movement in general, are another perfect case study of this new management model. Concepts like the meritocracy of ideas, transparency & openness, collaboration, authenticity, and a whole host of other ideas that have made Red Hat successful appear over and over in the book.
One day in 2003, Matthew Szulik came to us and said he wanted to create a video to show before his keynote at Linuxworld. Now no one in our group had ever done a video before, but we figured we’d take a shot. My good friend David Burney had just hired a guy right out of college into his design firm (his name was Tim Kiernan, one of the most talented guys I have ever worked with) who specialized in video/film, so we got to work. If I remember correctly, we produced the entire thing from beginning to end in about a month. Originally, we only planned to show the video once, at the keynote.