“But the brain does much more than just recollect it inter-compares, it synthesizes, it analyzes, it generates abstractions. The simplest thought like the concept of the number one has an elaborate logical underpinning. “

Carl Sagan

“We need to free ourselves from the habit of seeing culture as encyclopedia knowledge, and men as mere receptacles to be stuffed full of empirical data and a mass of unconnected raw facts, which have to be filed in the brain as in the columns of a dictionary, enabling their owner to respond to the various stimuli from the outside world. This form of culture really is harmful, particularly for the proletariat. It serves only to create maladjusted people, people who believe they are superior to the rest of humanity because they have memorized a certain number of facts and dates and who rattle them off at every opportunity, so turning them almost into a barrier between themselves and others.”

Antonio Gramsci

Velvet curtain of culture.

Iron curtain of ideology.

Samuel Huntington


This is a slightly different discussion about speed and speedy stuff. Farnam Street did a topnotch job outlining speed versus velocity, and I wrote an entire series on velocity, but today I am focused on speedy looking less-than-important stuff and more important slower-speed human nature, in other words, meaningful cultural movement versus superficial culture movements.

Which leads me to most culture is inertia disguised in speedy clothing.

Most culture is misidentified by 24/7 culture scam artists posing as futurists, trend spotters, and social influencers, i.e., people who monetarily benefit from hype and, most specifically, ‘speed hype’

  • ·       ** speed hype is typically captured in the ubiquitous phrase “the world is moving faster than ever.” It’s not.

Most businesses, with good intentions, get caught up in the speedy inertia wheel of doom. So, let’s talk culture in two ways:

1.       culture of human whims.

2.       culture of human nature.

The former is about cultural shifts, or shifting, (some big, some small) and the latter is about foundational movement (the inevitable cadence that always exists). Ultimately, this becomes a battle between whims and nature. Sure. Sometimes a whim is a reflection of some deeper human truth and has some enduring nature, but for the most part whims are whims, fads are fads, and things that look good in the ‘shift phase’ look pretty stupid in a rearview mirror. But within the battle of whims and nature the word ‘culture’ is wielded like a dull axe. To be clear, as Dick Hebdige, author of The Meaning of Style, said “culture is a notoriously ambiguous concept.” Personally, I believe we shouldn’t be landing on one definition but rather, well, “the best thing about definitions, like $100 bills, is to have plenty of them” (Robert Ardrey). That said. Simplistically, culture is the elements of human nature that make up the experiences of a group. Yeah. Culture is the work of whole peoples and their interactions. It moves at the pace of language, experiences, and stories. To be clear. Events, religion, ideologies feed into language, experiences and stories, but those things are not culture, but rather stimulus of culture.  Regardless, all this means cultural truths are tied to the rhythms of human nature/biology and connectivity between peoples – the cadence of humanity. I know businesses prefer talking about profitability, objectives, and KPIs, or even what culture they may ‘have,’ but the more a business can tap into the cadence of nature and humanity, its cultural truths, the more enduring the business idea will be. I would suggest that it is through culture that we make sense of our lives so when a business taps into the movement of culture, people’s lives tend to move with it.

Which leads me to inertia or, in other words, irrelevance.

Forever is a long, long time.

And has a way of changing things.

The Fox and the Hound

We accept inertia, irrelevance, far too easily/comfortably. Why do I think irrelevance is accepted? To be fair it’s easy to confuse the irrelevant as being relevant in today’s speedy FOMO world. First. Let me point out that speed can look an awful lot like inertia. So, if you think running in the hamster wheel of hype is doing a lot of ‘important things’, you are wrong, but ‘feels’ like good shit is happening. You are more likely just doing a lot of things and the business is never really moving or gaining value. Second. A misguided understanding of value. This misunderstanding is most often discovered in opportunities missed. If you emphasize the speedy stuff, or just speed alone, as offering the highest value, you will inevitably miss out the slower moving opportunities which offer foundational, and sustainable, value. Mistaking all that speedy stuff for culture is transactional value versus enduring value and, in most cases, I would argue a business is leaving dollars on the table.

Which leads me to how to navigate offering relevant value.

First. Slow down (the world is not moving so fast you will miss anything significant). Second. I would suggest find the relevant cultural movement. To be fair, it is tricky to find the natural, biological, cadence tucked in human nature. The problem is we have a collective shortsightedness grounded in “living in the now,” but in order to maintain a thriving business you need short term results without being shortsighted and you need a long-term view while ‘being’ in the short term. I have found Stewart Brand’s pace layering an invaluable tool for thinking about how brands can ‘navigate the long now.’ In other words, ground a business in culture in terms of human insights, not popular relevant(?) culture.

Let me explain. Remember. Cultural insights are grounded in human nature. These things have a bit of timelessness to them. In pace layering terms they are the slow moving truths that people gather around, or, as James Carse said: “a culture is not anything persons do, but anything they do with each other.”

These things are easy to overlook because they are the things that hold us all together when it seems like the world is moving too fast for us (while technology is shouting at us to go faster). If a business leans into these cultural truths, human psychological truths, they construct a strong but flexible structure built to absorb shocks and, in most cases, incorporate them. Instead of breaking under stress, like something brittle, the business accommodates what the world throws at us and yet its cultural truths move so slowly, they seem like they are unchanging.

Fast learns, slow remembers.

Fast proposes, slow disposes.

Fast is discontinuous, slow is continuous.

Slow and big controls small and fast by constraint and constancy.

Fast gets all our attention, slow has all the power.

Stewart Brand

Business walks a variety of paths every day. But today rather than looking at as terrain and paths let’s think of these paths in concentric layers. I, personally, believe everyone should think about Stewart Brand’s pace layering and from a larger perspective, societally, I believe we could all use a good lesson in navigating the long now rather than focus solely on the now (and the short term). Societally we certainly have a collective shortsightedness grounded in “living in the now,” which I would argue isn’t particularly good for any of us. But for a business that is the kiss of death. An enduring, thriving, business demands a long view and I believe that long view is found within a cultural insight. Here is the harsh truth. Most businesses skate on the superficial surface of irrelevance because they ignore cultural truths. For the most part brands are ignoring these truths for temporary happiness. Far too many brands view fads, fashion, much of social media as cultural truths and, for the most part, they are not. Cultural truths are grounded in human insights – psychological, behavioral – which power our hopes and dreams and anger and happiness and, most importantly, connection with other humans. Today’s brands see ‘culture’ in the fleeting outside world of fads and fashion and style and useless gadgets-of-the-moment which are just the momentary mindless, the irrelevant, clothed in a veneer of connectivity.

Remember. Culture is not static, its transitory. Culture is a process (that which is acquired) as well as a product (that which has been acquired). Culture is both backward looking as well as future looking (nostalgic or memory grounded as well as utopian or dream looking). Culture is a refraction, not a reflection. Culture is a macro narrative made up of micro-narratives (sub cultures).

Which leads me to infinite movement.

Business is addicted to finite stuff. Projects, initiatives, weekly goals, all rolled up n KPIs. Business loves to isolate things and ‘make them perfect’ while espousing infinite value. Look. Forever, infinite, is about time and it isn’t. What I mean is we associate forever with time and, yet, it is timeless so time is almost irrelevant to ‘infinite.’ What is relevant to forever (or let’s call it ‘the long now’’) is constancy and adaptation. Please note I never said “control.”

“We control nothing, but we influence everything.”

Brian Klass

Ah. Control. Now, being the type of outcome-oriented people we are; we actually try and apply some measurement to infinite progress (yes, measuring that sounds like an oxymoron) and all it does is increase the perception of speed and encourage inertia. We look like we’re filling up time with important things, we feel like we are filling up time with important things, we even sit around conference room tables pointing at numbers that look important, but for the most part none of those things are contributing, in any significant way, to the constancy and adaptation which is the key to navigating the layers of pace every culture and business exists upon. In fact, all of those things are just attempts to take snapshots of all the blurry unimportant things speeding by. Yeah. The numbers are an attempt to convince you that the unimportant is important.

So we measure meaningless stuff and hold on to old things, including thinking, for too long. Businesses get caught in the wretched hollow in between shiny fast moving meaningless shit and the old thinking which only increases burden on a daily basis and the people gravitating to either side of FOMO or stability. Therein lies inertia. Therein lies path dependence.

Here is the crazy thing. The whole idea of infinite far too often tethers us to our past or inertia which is not very productive. Maybe worse is as we grow away from infiniteness, we grow closer to the understanding of finiteness, measurement by measurement, fad by fad, widget by widget. Paradoxically as we focus on all the shit speeding around, all the whims and fads, we reduce nature to silly things we convince ourselves are important.


“Let me tell you a truth … no matter what choice you make, it doesn’t define you.

Not forever. People can make bad choices and change their minds and hearts and do good things later; just as people can make good choices and then turn around and walk a bad path. No choice we make lasts our whole life. If there’s ever a choice you’ve made that you no longer agree with, you can make another choice.”

Jonathan Maberry


Which leads me to paced learning.

Rather than discussing fast or slow, let’s discuss pacing – and learning. The reality is that organizations learn. That may sound a little odd because organizations are made up of people and we typically talk about learning in individualistic ways. However, organizations and the systems are implemented by people and in turn influence people’s mindsets, attitudes, and actual behaviors. So, when I say that organizations learn what I mean by that is that they encase their learning in programs and standard operating procedures that the people within the organization routinely execute. That is the system. The problem with this is that all of these programs and procedures typically generate inertia. And this inertia inevitably increases as the organization brings in new people and reward conformity to the system and its ‘learned implementation.’  This is done over and over and over again embedding past learning in the present (and future). As the successes accumulate the organization doubles down on the existing system emphasizing efficiency. The consequences of this are inevitable – the system itself becomes complacent, people learning slows, and inertia sets in. To be clear. Inertia and complacency is a double whammy to a business. It slows culture down and human nature (natural adaptation) down. So how should organizations learn? Well. As William Starbuck said “organizations must unlearn.” Unlearn is an awkward way of saying that systems must be systemically dismantled piece by piece and iteratively rebuilt. And what that means is that the people within the organization need to be self-aware enough in order to be able to influence not only organizational systems, but organizational learning. This is where hierarchy comes in. In most businesses organizations are constructed in a hierarchy. What this means is that the higher up the manager is the more likely they are to dominate organizational learning as well as organizational implementation. This means that most managers invest the majority of their energy in terms of learning the existing system and not unlearning aspects of the system, i.e., trying different things and innovation. It may sound odd, but past learning inhibits new learning. The only way to create space for new learning is to be able to discard some old learning, i.e., unlearn.

Which leads me to human nature (human movement).

Nature is never still. Nothing, in nature, is ever infinite other than possibly adaptability. This truth includes humans and human nature. Adaptability is a complex coherence of faster and slower moving aspects (static and dynamic). Typically, the aspects seek an optimal equilibrium situation through reactions and interactions (connectivity) where all become stable in a coherent sense enabling movement. In fact, maybe that defines infinite and progress. What I mean by that is optimal is only attainable in a temporary state (finite) therefore the pursuit is always infinite. This means true ‘achievement’ is not possible therefore progress is the only reality-based construct. Anyway. I would suggest the most interesting systems are dynamic in that they are non equilibrium systems that form order from actively dissipating entropy. Ah. Entropy (and its relationship to paces and pace layering). I would argue that entropy increases as the total surface of what is exposed to external stimuli is decreased. This decrease surface connectivity creates an overall increase of entropy. To be clear. “Surface” is a complex weave of whims and human nature at speed. Discerning between the two is important because if the ‘external stimuli’ you elect to expose yourself to are ‘whims’ that will only increase entropy (that is the paradox of speed). This doesn’t mean that there can’t be constant re-formation of order; just that there is an increased likelihood of entropy. I believe it was physical chemist Ilya Prigogine who viewed the paradox of evolution as one of an engine running down and the other of a living world unfolding toward increasing order and complexity. In his theory, the second law of thermodynamics – which is the law of ever-increasing entropy or disorder – is still valid, but the relationship between entropy and disorder is different. At bifurcation points states of greater order may emerge spontaneously without contradicting the second law of thermodynamics. The total entropy of the system keeps increasing, but this increase in entropy is not uniform or symmetrical. In the living world order and disorder are always created simultaneously. What this means is that there are always islands of order in all seas of disorder and their role is to maintain and increase their order. And therein lies another thought, one in which that speed, inertia, and cultural movement will always have aspects of order and disorder. Well. That thought will make every business uncomfortable.

“Strategy’s endgame is to spark movement. But as an intermediary measure, feeling moved by the process is an indicator you’re doing it right. Because if you’re doing it right, you do embody new people. New messages. New audiences. A new tone of voice. Strong vicarious vibes. And by doing so, things get raw. Raw precedes real. And real is something that provokes a response.”

Rob Estreinho

Stewart Brand, Pace Layering

Which leads me to cultural movement.

Let’s say this is about experience versus experiencing. I tend to believe most people are misguided when they focus on experiences, and selling experiences, rather than focusing on experiencing (which is more about human nature). Here’s what I mean. Experiences are an outcome of experiencing, and experiencing is a complex culmination of connections:

1.       Connection to human nature.

In other words, the biology which creates the comfortable or the purposefully uncomfortable cadence that seems natural to us (note: this is actually embodied in a number of cultural cues)

2.       Connection to context and environment.

This Is the environment which expands or reduces potential.

3.       Connection to other humans.

In fact, human nature experiencing is autopoiesis. Autopoiesis means self-making. It is the main characteristic of life in that it is self-maintenance due to the natural internal networking of the system itself. It constantly maintains itself within the boundary of its own making. But it also implies that a living system is the totality of all of its mutual interactions, i.e., connections (as listed above). Through connections multiple mini transformations continuously take place and, yet, at its core the system/human/human nature maintains its individuality. Is this apparent contradiction between adaptation and constancy which actually explains a healthy system. I say all of that to suggest all living systems need some constancy and yet still need some change through adaptation. I say that to suggest human nature, culture, is constancy constantly, slowly, adapting.

Which leads me to end with the fact most people discuss culture incorrectly.

Human nature is at the core of culture. Whims and fads are simply temporary features of human nature’s more systemic rhythms. The reality of culture is that it is not a particular speedy thing. With that in mind, rather than giving so much attention to speedy stuff, maybe we should invest just a bit more energy focusing on the less speedy stuff. I seriously doubt we will miss out on anything truly meaningful in the process. Ponder.


“It is misleading to argue that cultural circulation has been democratized. The means of circulation are algorithmic, and they are not subject to democratic accountability or control. Hyperconnectivity has in fact further concentrated power over the means of circulation in the hands of the giant platforms that design and control the architectures of visibility.”

Written by Bruce