Creating Culture

By Jim Tune

Pixar founder Ed Catmull had always dreamed of using computers to create a great animated movie. He achieved this with the release of Toy Story.

“We’d been the first to make a movie with computers,” he wrote in his book Creativity, Inc., “and—even better—audiences were touched, and touched deeply by the story we told.”

The problem?

“Now that this goal had been reached, I had what I can only describe as a hollow, lost feeling.” Running a company didn’t seem to be enough. Catmull began to scratch beneath the surface, and realized things weren’t as healthy at Pixar as he’d thought. He found his new goal.

“Figuring out how to build a sustainable creative culture—one that didn’t just pay lip service to the importance of things like honesty, excellence, communication, originality, and self-assessment but really committed to them, no matter how uncomfortable that became—wasn’t a singular assignment. It was a day-in, day-out full-time job. And one that I wanted to do.”

It’s not easy to create a great product. It turns out that there’s something even harder, though: creating a great culture. This is a goal that will demand your full attention, but it’s worth it.

JT_May11_JNI had the privilege of planting a great church in Toronto, and I lead Impact Canada, a great church planting organization. I like to think we do great work. But doing great work isn’t enough. We need sustainable, healthy cultures. I want to pastor and lead teams characterized by spiritual health, honesty, creativity, and fun.

Why is this so important? Because I’ve visited organizations with similar goals, and I’ve seen the importance of culture. I remember walking into one church with a great vision statement, good leaders, and a clear strategy. Something was off. As I reflected on that experience, I realized the culture wasn’t healthy. The unhealthy culture affected everything.

And I remember walking into a different church. To be honest, the building was nothing special. The pastor was good, but not extraordinary. The church, though, was irresistible. The leaders of that church had worked hard over the years to cultivate a great culture. The difference was remarkable.

So how do we create healthy cultures? It begins with the leader. Unless the leader is healthy, the culture of the organization will never be healthy.

But a healthy leader isn’t enough. Courage and hard work are also necessary. The leader must listen. Honest conversations must take place. Dysfunctions must be confronted, and people must sometimes leave. Depending on the age of the organization, the culture may take years to change. Because this is so difficult, it’s important to recruit other leaders who will work with you.

Building a healthy culture is hard work, but it’s worth it. If you, like Catmull, are tired of just producing good products or running an organization, try building a great culture. It’s a day-in, day-out, full-time job, and my guess is it’s just what your family, school, company, or church needs.

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