Spark #

Support a Challenge Culture

Cohesion happens not when members of a group are smarter but when they are lit up by clear, steady signals of safe connection.

Spark #
Support a Challenge Culture
What We're Talking About

The principle we're discussing

Belonging signals can empower people to face challenges, take initiative, and go above and beyond.  

Here’s a real-world example: Google was the underdog in the race to open up the personalized advertisements market, but their AdWords project was failing to match expectations. 

One day, the founder Larry Page taped printouts of underperforming ads alongside a pinned note reading "These Ads Suck."

In another company, that might have been seen as an act of passive aggression, but at Google it was a challenge

In the early 2000s, Google's culture already stood out. Employees and executives alike participated in raucous street hockey games in the company parking lot, and every Friday the founders invited anyone in the company to challenge them with questions and ideas. 

The company culture balanced competition with belonging.

Jeff Dean, an engineer who wasn't on the AdWords team, rose to the occasion. He realized he had a solution that could solve the team's problems, worked through the weekend to prove it out, and by Monday had a solution that led to Google conquering the market.

Why it Matters

Why this principle is important and matters to you

Google was a “hot house of belonging clues,” where no one managed status or worried about who was in charge. Instead of asking for permission or tending to the mountain of work on his desk, Dean took the initiative to solve a problem that completely transformed the company. 

Feelings of safety aren’t earned overnight. Humans are hardwired to be on the lookout for danger. Much like romantic relationships, reminding others that they are safe and belong further strengthens connections. 

This happens when belonging signals are shared consistently, no matter how high up the corporate ladder the person reinforcing these signals is.

How You Can Use It

This provides practical ways to apply learnings from this Spark

When a founder such as Larry Page and an engineer like Jeff Dean are in constant contact and communication, be it through shared projects or company-wide activities, there’s a kind of cohesion that occurs. This cohesion will embolden someone to go above and beyond their title—and potentially make a billion dollar contribution like Dean’s.

Look for cues of belonging on your team or within your organization, and behaviors that might signal a lack of safety. Have a discussion with your team or manager about which of these can be improved or changed.


An opportunity to reflect on yourself and/or your team and how you can apply these insights

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