The Zen of Corporate Culture

“To accept some idea of truth without experiencing it is like a painting of a cake on paper which you cannot eat.” — Suzuki Roshi, one of the great 20th century teachers of Zen


Creating an effective business model is one of the greatest challenges in the world, and yet it constantly appears as a single point on lists of “Things To Do When Starting a New Business” as if it were as easy as buying office supplies. The reality is much more complicated and many small businesses end up changing the focus of their business model several times in their first years. With business failure rates hovering around 70% the pressure is on for small businesses to start making money fast and when the models changes, culture can change too. The best intentions of start-up culture can be swept away by the day to day realities of running a business. That’s not a bad thing, but leaders often feel like failures for not having the corporate culture they dreamed of when signing those first business incorporation documents.


Small businesses often turn to the books written by industry leaders to glean insights into the secrets of business success. Is this worth it? A good idea can only help you if it can be applied, and it can be time consuming to apply an entire philosophy to a company and measure the results. After a single failure, it can be difficult to reassess the needs of the firm and try again. Although this is difficult failures will occur in your culture, just as they will in your product. Sometimes a product has to go back to the drawing board, and sometime a culture does too.


Will Tribal Leadership work for your team? What about F.I.R.E.? The only way to find out is to experience them. Try them with your team, and see what you can learn. The 13th century Zen Master Dogen said, “If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”


Every company is different. No matter what course your business takes, don’t be afraid to shake-up your culture. There is always a chance to do something new; you’ve never ruined your chance for a thriving corporate culture.

Adam Motiwala

Certified in Agile Scrum and Design Thinking, Adam Motiwala is a Product Owner at Fifth Tribe. He has launched digital products with clients across multiple industries such as healthcare (Kaiser Permanente, INOVA, Aetna Innovation Health), finance (KPMG, Guidance Residential, Wahed Invest), NGOs (Oxfam America, AARP Foundation, the Vatican Accelerator, the Hult Prize, Silatech), government (Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force, Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Peace Corps), and education (Mississippi Public University). Adam is currently leading a project to help AARP launch a web application in over 30 states across the country that will assist over 10 million low income seniors with learning and applying for property tax credits. He serves as startup mentor at Seed Spot and the Hult Prize accelerator and has been featured in Thrillist, technical.ly, and Arlington Now.