Even in high tech, money saturated, hard-charging culture, values, just like symbols, still matter.

Think of values in terms of the following metaphor: If values were the cloud, the story that we tell ourselves and others through our behaviors, language choices, and other means, would be the apps in the cloud.

The Ellen Pao case, the issues in Indiana, the arguments and disagreements over healthcare, how the government should spend money (guns vs. butter), and even the arguments and disagreements in your organization, all come down to values.

Culture comes about when people come together to form a community and abide by each other. Those people typically agree—either tacitly or openly—on the shared values their culture will demonstrate to the wider world. And what values will be reinforced with each other? If culture eats strategy for breakfast, then what does the Ellen Pao verdict say about the culture of the American judicial system, the culture of litigation in this country, and the culture of Silicon Valley VCs?

Well, we here at HSCT believe that the verdict says three things:

  • The culture of Silicon Valley is functioning exactly as it was meant to. This means that it is going to have to fundamentally be broken and reshaped to mirror where the business culture of America is going: Silicon Valley VC culture is not alone here. All over America this is happening, in corporate boardrooms and splashed across websites. And no, public shaming of “guilty” VC’s, a la, Brendan Eich isn’t going to change anything significantly, either.
  • The culture of litigation is overdone, overblown, and over-relied upon to “resolve” some of the most value-driven issues in the country today: From healthcare legislation to gay rights, the courts and litigation are being relied upon to settle arguments that are about the human heart, emotions, and values. But the law—which reflects and supports a dominant value system—cannot change individual hearts or values. Not even a little. Don’t believe us? Think about this: How many racists are still doing business, building companies, and making money in America, post-1968?
  • The culture of the American judicial system has to change: Should issues be brought before the court? Yes, but don’t expect justice. People usually sue when their feelings are hurt (a heart-based issue), when they feel as though they aren’t going to be treated fairly (a heart-based issue) or they feel as though they won’t be heard (a heart-based issue). This is the place where restorative justice circles, public conversation projects, and other heart-based, values-based processes need to be implemented at a wider cultural scale. Don’t believe me? Ok. How many personal stories from women who have been (or are being) sexually harassed, can the VCs at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (or other male-dominated, hyper-competitive VC firms), possibly hear in a room, before they change their minds and hearts? 200? 300? 1,000?

Tech oriented people, engineers, software developers, finance geniuses, and management leaders, like to operate in numbers, because numbers seem value-neutral. After all, who can argue that 2+2 =4? But, when they have to deal with people, sometimes, they would rather not. Will VC’s in the Valley clam up, slow down in hiring women, and become more closed, following the Ellen Pao verdict?

Maybe. Maybe it would be better for the culture of VC firms to model the attitude they try to foster in the culture of the start-ups they fund. But the rational hearts of the people who believe in numbers rather than values, are the ones that have to shift before the culture will.

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