Note to the reader: This essay was written in the spring of 2019. It produced an incendiary response in some readers and I had doubts about it in any case. So I stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it. A couple of weeks ago I was doing a podcast with Lee Sankey and we began to talk about it. This was enough to prompt me to put it into “print.” (Thank you, Lee.) Here goes:

Culture and Design Thinking: Welcome to the Orphanage
Grant McCracken (
June 24, 2019

I was surprised to see IDEO release a statement…

Grant McCracken

[This essay was originally published May 2015 in Wired. It was a collaboration that brought together this essay, an interview with Mitch Hurwitz, an embedded reader poll constructed by Wired, and some spectacular visuals also from Wired. All of these sponsored by Netflix. The collaboration was well received. AdAge called it the “Snow Fall” of native advertising. A Netflix board member let me know he (or she) loved it.

Then for reasons unclear to me Netflix took the essay down. This sent my essay into oblivion. …

Every Monday morning, I watch Get Up on ESPN. I may or may not have seen the NFL games the day before, but I never miss this show.

That’s because while I love football, I really love data management, by which I mean smart people working with fresh data in a search of the insights that tell the story and make the world more intelligible.

Get Up is very good at this.

We might even say there are only a few teams in the NFL who are as good at football as the Get Up crew is at data management.

“You can find awesome rhythm in everything. People will hear certain breaks that I make and be like, ‘Where’d that come from?’ I’ll be like, ‘That was the part where dude was running down the steps in “Annie Get Your Gun.”’”
[Quelle Chris, producer, quoted in jason hirschhorn’s @MusicREDEF, Aug. 26, 2020]

confirmed sighting

Quelle Chris was just minding his own business, watching a musical 40 years older than himself, washed over by all that motion and music.

One detail sticks with him: the sound of a dude running down the steps. Can’t have been more than a couple of seconds, a…

In the 1970s, New York City was in trouble. The economy was foundering. Residents and companies were fleeing the city. The tax base was diminishing and budgets were emptying out. Deinstitutionalization had released mentally ill people into the streets. Drug addiction was high. Murder rates were skyrocketing. During the blackout of 1977, there was heavy looting and civil unrest. New York City appeared to be in “irreversible decline.”

The Assistant Commissioner of Commerce for New York State, Bill Doyle, decided to do something. He hired Milton Glaser. The idea, Glaser recalls, was to create a new campaign to encourage tourism…

I am watching a Netflix documentary on the Goop Lab. Goop is a lifestyle brand created by Gwyneth Paltrow in 2008. It calls itself “the tip of the spear, we go first so you don’t have to.” I thought it might give me a glimpse of cultural innovation taking place in California. Thanks to people like Paltrow, California is the nation’s lifestyle laboratory.

The results were terrifying. …

One of the gestures that defines Michael Jordan is the shrug he gave in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals. It’s still the first half, but Jordan has hit an unprecedented six 3-point shots. Running back up the court, he looks at the bench and holds his hands palms up, as if to say, “I can’t miss. It’s not me. I can’t miss.”

Inevitably, the shrug became a t-shirt. We could wear this a great many places without further explanation. Millions of people would recognize the man, the moment, and the gesture.

This brings us to the ESPN documentary…

Recently the marketing team at Twitter put culture at the heart of what they do, in that most precious territory, the value proposition.

This is great, I thought. A company as connected and powerful as Twitter using culture to describe what it does, that has to be good for us all.

Because, let’s face it, we have all struggled to put the culture idea on the agenda. People give it lip service, but when it comes to hiring people to supply cultural intelligence, not so much.

Jeff Kleinzweig

In a recent story in the New York Times, Brian Chen cheerfully advises us on how to set our Google data to self-destruct. He says

It’s difficult to imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to take advantage of Google’s auto-delete tools. There’s no practical benefit to letting Google keep a history of our online activities from years back. So don’t delay in wiping a tiny bit of your digital traces away.

Argh. Destroying digital traces is sad. It’s dangerous. It’s quite literally self-destructive.

We are all of us moving at speed. As individuals and as communities, we are flying through time…

(Aka Mr. Fennessey makes a prediction)

Reading the future is hard. It takes sharp eyes. It takes lively imaginations. It takes smart models. (There is a “good head on your shoulders” joke to be made here, but I’m going to restrain myself.)

Most of all, reading the future takes the ability to see the things coming when they are a mere smear on the radar screen, a trace of green. Is that Southwest flight 1440 taking a film crew to Sante Fe? Or is it an artifact of an aging navigational system. Only the very gifted can say.

On Thursday…

Grant McCracken

I'm an anthropologist & author of Chief Culture Officer. You can reach me at

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