Please be seated.
I had a dream while I was traveling through Montana this summer, and now is the right time to share it.
In the dream, I was in an office talking to Jeff Bezos.
Then, Jeff (in the dream, we were on a first-name basis) said to me one of those lines that shocked me.
Jeff Bezos, the man of my dreams (literally), said to me, “Culture is Kol Nidre.”
I woke up and wrote this down. I had to process this. What did he mean?
Did Jeff celebrate Yom Kippur, the annual Jewish Day of Atonement that starts with the Kol Nidre (pronounced ‘Nidray’) declaration that annuls all vows made before God?
What could others learn from this wisdom he wanted to share with me?
Here is what I think Dream Bezos meant:
Culture is often an afterthought. It’s what tends to come at the end of a long process of starting a business. It’s not in the business plan. It’s not in the pitch deck. It’s not something discussed with prospects or clients, and it is often hidden from them.
But culture is formed at the beginning. As soon as there’s a company, or even the seeds of it, there is culture.
Each year, when it’s time for Kol Nidre, each person (of that faith) must make a choice to chant or read or listen to it.
Culture is the result of many choices too. Even when it feels emergent, it emerges from countless choices made by those who come together to form an organization.
Kol Nidre is written in Aramaic, a language few today can understand.
Culture is also coded in a language that’s difficult to understand. It is easy to put slogans on a wall or bring people out to a happy hour. It is very hard to figure out how culture develops and how everyone who is part of an organization perceives it.
Kol Nidre looks forward, annulling vows made in the year ahead.
Culture looks forward, creating bonds and destroying others among a team with implications that can last for years.
Kol Nidre acknowledges that people are prone to making mistakes. We are fallible, so we need to exempt ourselves from our sins to come.
Culture itself rarely forms smoothly. It’s neglected. Promises are broken. But by merely remembering that it is a priority, then culture can survive some missteps.
Kol Nidre must be declared again every year. Do your actions align with your declarations?
Culture also must be refreshed and reevaluated. Do your actions align with your declarations?
“Culture is Kol Nidre.”
You nailed it yet again, Jeff.
And let us say,
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