Shakespeare and Company: Culture ABCs (A - M)

Language is a beautiful thing, friends. Whether it's changed due to technology, migration, or the slow march of time, we've been bequeathed some wonderful tools. Company cultures need to be engineered and maintained, like any other facet of society - and what better words to use than some from our dear friend William?

Let's see what he might have to say about the ways we work.

Augurers (priests who interpreted omens, from Julius Caesar): This year, Millennials will comprise the majority of the United States' workforce. While I'm happy to be in that number, we lovely Gen Y-ers will need to remember the importance of identifying people that can see around the corner - and that said persons might be over 35. Just as there is value in innovation and people that manipulate new technologies with the ease that only early adoption can provide...

...there is equal value in being acquainted with the ages from which yours sprung. Archaic language is the seed that blossoms into the spoken tongue of the day - and we Millennials could stand to learn a lot from helping to develop a lingua franca.

Behoveful (necessary, from Romeo and Juliet): I like to go into battle with a plan - a plan B in case the first falls through, and another in the event that it rains and my first two plans are illegible because the ink ran. It's not the most efficient use of time, even if it does help assuage fears. Readers, we don't need everything including the kitchen sink to do well - but a healthy heap of discernment will always point us in the right direction.

Success will sometimes hinge on choosing the lesser of two inconveniences; don't make a home in the space between your rock and hard place - your kitchen sink won't fit.

Coystrill (knave or base fellow, from Twelfth Night): Much as is the case with augurers, being able to identify the dead weight is key. The trappings of leadership we watch unfold on Mad Men are the vestiges of another generation, and (hopefully) will go gently into whichever good night is farthest away. My leadership is meticulous, conceptual and culturally inclusive. I speak when I have something valuable to say during meetings and am more likely to spend more time getting at the root of a problem than nipping at the branches.

Being the loudest person at the table is not indicative of great insight, and is more in line with a clanging cymbal than a rallying cry. Going forward, Millennial leaders will need to do a better job of this.

Drops of Sorrow (tears, from Macbeth): Anything worth doing is worth doing well. In my experience, that means having a sincere heart for what I do. Just like the healthy heap of discernment, being invested in your product / company culture will engender a tenor of authenticity...and resonate with your members and followers. So, take to the oars, reader - and shed those tears. Like Isak Dinesen said, "The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea."

There are a few companies that convey their authenticity, but Buffer impresses me the most.

Elysium (paradise [Illyria], from Twelfth Night): I grew up in the Black church. Common Gospel themes (borne out of liberation theology) always drew on the notion of the hereafter - going from "glory to glory", and were peppered with one-liners about "how we got over" and "making a way out of no way". Even if this is not your theological tradition, these are amazing nuggets to have on your mind. where are you going? How does your lifestyle line up with your ultimate destination? What does paradise look like in your company?

Is it the result of a communal effort, a place where everyone draws on the best parts of their identities and skill sets...or is it a place that only few people (the right people, you might argue) are allowed? Remember, it's never too late to adjust....and make your view of paradise more inclusive and welcoming.

Feather-bed (marriage, from The Merchant of Venice): We Millennials love our freedom to work remotely, we chomp at the bit for perks, and love partnerships (be they professional, familial, or romantic) that feel good and require minimal vulnerability and maintenance.

That's not how healthy relationships work.

A solid marriage (from what I've gleaned from happy Midwestern friends that got hitched fresh out of undergrad) is the fruit of hard work, intention, and a willingness to be vulnerable. The people we make our partners must be vetted - they must also be invested in. One-sided, selfish unions with parties that refuse to invest in the common pot or ones that don't value what you bring to the table are not viable partners at all.

Groundings (the less critical part of the audience who stood in the pit, from Hamlet): In her book, Daring GreatlyBrene Brown warns us about people that criticize from the cheap seats...and encourages us to not pay them any mind. Whether I was 14 and choosing a high school two hours from home, 20 and flying to LA for a job with $24 in my pocket, or 28 and leaving a job that crushed my soul without a paying gig lined up, I was always met with chatter from the cheap seats.

Shut them up by shutting them out. They don't contribute to your vision and are not invested in your glory.

Hurlyburly (the noise and confusion of battle, Macbeth): Much like the groundings you'll encounter, be mindful of the sound of clashing swords and cries of the wounded and defeated on the battlefield...but do not stop pressing forward. Some of my most meaningful workplace victories happened when I allowed one blow to inform how I respond to another. Oh, my program in Indianapolis is struggling? What commonalities does it share with my schools in St. Louis, Denver and Wichita and how I can implement relevant parts of those strategies to gain ground here?

The cacophony that is your industry shouldn't be discounted, but it also shouldn't discount you. You are a fearsome, worthy opponent...and (when coupled with solid partners and a healthy heap of discernment) a force to be reckoned with.

Ides (the 15th of March, from Julius Caesar): Julius Caesar is my favorite Shakespearean play. I was Mark Antony in high school and routinely watch clips of Marlon Brando's 1951 performance. While I adore the tete-a-tete about cobblers being menders of soles in the opening and the adroit Marlon uses to manipulate the crowd, I always pay attention to how the Knowers are treated in any text. How is Calpurnia treated when she tells about her nightmare? How is the soothsayer's warning rebuffed (and himself rebuked) when he implores Caesar to beware the ides of March?

It's a common literary device for a reason, folks.

The Knowers might not look the way we expect them to; they might be blind soothsayers or women (*gasp*)! But know this: there are some that have sight beyond sight and it would do us a great good to lend them our ears. Let your vision live after you; don't let your good be interred in your bones.

Jaunce (trudging about, from Romeo and Juliet): Weary people can be exorcised of their hope; they can also thrive in a creative, encouraging environment. You can have an amazing idea that will solve a critical problem, provide your employees with all the snacks they can eat and all the K-cups they can use, but if you can't help engender a lil' levity, many will be disheartened and look elsewhere.

While the idea that hard work is an inherent good in our culture, let's be honest with ourselves and one another. I've found that working for a meaningful reason is better than just going through the day to day - and even after a 60 hour week, I'll remain invested if I'm in the trenches with solid people that don't just care about what they do...but why.

Key-cold (cold as a metal key, from Richard III): If you're lucky, the solutions you need will be wrapped up with a bow and hand-delivered. If we're talking about what's likely to happen, you'll be presented with a set of solutions, some of which will initially rub you the wrong way.

Because I'm a planner, I've refused to implement solutions because they were not delivered or wrapped in ways that struck me as sufficient and worthy to use. My thought process in the past didn't allow me to consider the usefulness of a thing without being critical of its source and appearance. The fact remains:

A cold key, however unpleasant to the touch, still opens doors.

Long-ingraffed (longstanding, from King Lear): Firmly planted in the bedrock of my worldview is that idea that we inherit, rework, and pass down cultures. It's a beautiful thing, being beneficiary, societal engineer, and ancestor - and an empowering thing, too.

You'll encounter many people that will swear up and down that institutions (and the people that comprise them) flourish when they continue tradition, but I want you to challenge yourself by considering the following:

1. Is the unexamined life (or professional plan) worth living / executing?

2. Is there a chance that I'd feel differently about this project / plan if I looked like someone that isn't at my table?

3. Am I committed to a good job...or simply committed to the status quo?

Music-from-the-spheres (according to Pythagoras' Musica Universalis, the universe consisted of eight hollow spheres, each producing a note that, when combined, created a perfect harmony inaudible to the human ear, from Twelfth Night): Even though he got the astronomy wrong (bless his heart), Pythagoras had a beautiful idea.

I have spent the last decade and a half battling Impostor Syndrome. For those of you who've never wrestled with that terrible angel, allow me to share some of the internal dialogue:

"Who am I to do this? No one there looks like me. I can't code. Why did they call me? I can't speak for anybody but myself (and who wants to hear that). They don't know I had a disastrous high school career. No, they must mean someone else. Maybe I should shorten my name on my resume and cut out all the racial and gender stuff. They don't want someone that majored in two humanities. Who's gonna give me funding? They have no idea how insecure I feel."

That internal dialogue has made me run out the clock on internships, higher salaries, job offers, and an academic role I would kick butt for today. The truth is this:

The world is not fair. There are people out there that will see me and think I could never speak from a place of authority on anything because I'm Black, and a woman, and under 30. They don't need me to bolster their ignorance with negative self-talk.

Just like those spheres, I too have a tone, and I fully intend to take my place in the heavens and emit it.

Part Two (N-Z)

**Many thanks to Colin Welch and David & Ben Crystal for their sites.