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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


Jumbled (but important) thoughts about culture.

There is not yet a Lonely Planet guide to The Fluent Self, Inc — Pirate Ship At Large!

And yet, everyone who interacts with my business or the blog gets a visceral sense of what things are like around here.

Over the past few months I’ve been obsessively considering the elusive thing that is culture, and what makes spaces feel a certain way.

And wanting to put thoughts here, but they’re jumbled and disorderly.

So. Still processing the process on this one. But I’m convinced it’s one of the most vital elements of mindful biggification. So we need to talk about it.

A caveat.

I’m wary about the word “culture” because of its use in business circles to mean “how to force your employees to behave a certain way”, which is not what I mean.

Something more organic and less top-down. I mean the qualities, aspects and experiences that come together to form structures that contain this elusive something.

In my own business.

Just some of the qualities that the culture of this place includes:

[+ playfulness]
[+ mindfulness]
[+ curiosity]
[+ safety]
[+ sanctuary]
[+ support]
[+ silliness]
[+ joy]
[+ hilarity]
[+ healthy skepticism]
[+ wonder]
[+ unconditional love]
[+ self-inquiry]
[+ acknowledgment]
[+ spaciousness]
[+ quirkiness]
[+ ritual]
[+ freedom]
[+ belonging]
[+ trust]
[+ fluidity]
[+ flexibility]
[+ sovereignty]
[+ groundedness]
[+ intelligence]
[+ movement]

Some of the ways you might experience the qualities of this culture:

The comment space is welcoming and accepting.

There isn’t meanness. There isn’t arguing.

We state what we need. We appreciate each other. We make room for each other. Safety is a given.

People constantly remark on this phenomenon. And this is one of the only places I’ve ever been on the internet where this is true.

It is extremely rare that a tourist wanders in and can’t figure out how we behave and how we interact.

This also holds true at the Kitchen Table and on the Chattery (that’s the chat room) when I hold my wild bohemian salons (uh, teleclasses).

We agree to be mensch-like instead of having rules that force us to.

So, for example, confidentiality and not-giving-advices are always essential parts of any program I do.

But never presented as a rule — it’s just a thing we all care about that we agree to commit to.

I don’t do rules or guidelines. Qualities, yes. Rituals. Ways of being. Stuff like that.

No boringness.

A business like this requires certain things that are standardized — dastardly autoresponder messages that tell you what you need to know when you buy or sign up for something, for example.

My lovely First Mate and I have spent many a Drunk Pirate Council rewriting templates and forms to make them personalized, kind, loving, sweet, funny, alive.

Instead of a school or a studio, I run a glam pirate zen magical preschool-for-adults.

Even the “I promise not to sue you” release form at my Playground is pretty entertaining.

My partner is a duck. She’s on my card.

Special names. For spaces and experiences. But really, for everything.

We spend a lot of time with Metaphor Mouse. There’s even a Glossary.

I have a Pirate Queen Anthology instead of a business manual. We go on Rallies. We use The Log instead of Basecamp.

Stone-skipping instead of journaling. I decorate HATS instead of writing sales pages.

Instead of an application page to try to get into my Week of Biggification* program, there is a pickle page. With a pickle on it.

This makes everything better.

Also it gets things done. Because I would rather poke myself with sharp sticks than write sales pages, but actually decorating a HAT is kind of fun.

* password = pickles

Living what I teach.

This is how I transmit what culture looks and feels like, by modeling without explaining what I’m doing (except, you know, right now) .

For example, in the comment zen thing I model the culture by a) asking for what I need, b) stating clearly and lovingly what I do not want, and c) being clear about how we talk to each other here.

As always, there is a marked lack of prescriptive language. Everything is framed in terms of “so this is how we tend to do things around here.”

And I try to teach less by explaining concepts and more by sharing my own process with stuff I’m working on, including the parts that are hard, challenging and not fun.


This is more subtle and hard to describe. But for example, I refuse to do emotional pressure/manipulation stuff in HAT pages. And it’s really important to me to always make clear that my people are my people whether or not they ever buy my stuff.

Or: when I play at the Twitter bar, it is play for the sake of play. Not once have I said anything remotely motivational or coach-ey.

Part of the culture of my business involves not having to act like an expert as well as the all-important if it’s not fun I’m not going to do it, dammit.

Yes, that’s actually on my dammit list.

Rituals for mindfulness, playfulness, curiosity, hilarity and acknowledgment.

Without saying “this is what you should do”, and just creating a space where it happens. Like the Friday Chicken. Or the Very Personal Ads.

These rituals are simple, pleasurable, meaningful, not-too-intimidating (I hope), and doing them together gives us a way to casually cheer each other on. Or up.

To give and receive comfort and reassurance but in an extremely informal setting.

Of course, there are other ways as well.

Like the look and feel of stuff we do (oh the fabulousness that is the Monster Coloring Book).

Like the clear explanations about how I connect with people, which is a way of demonstrating strong, loving, flexible healthy boundaries.

Or the things we do to maintain uh … I guess it’s called “brand integrity”. Gah. What a despicable word. I will invent a new one. But you know what I mean.

And then I haven’t even begun to cover how valuable and useful it is to have a culture that — even if hard to describe — is easy to sense.

I’ve never had to consider killing the comments here, the way so many biggified people have. We’ve had the same site design for five years. We don’t need policies.

Here’s the point:

The culture of this amazing place holds it all so that I don’t have to.

The culture of the pirate ship that isThe Fluent Self is so established, clear and filled with safety and permission for me and my people. At this point, it’s self-sustaining.

We can definitely talk more about how this works soon. For now — a useful theme.

And comment zen for today.

Talking about business and biggification stuff can be uncomfortable. I hope it’s clear my intention is to examine the culture here, not imply that yours is not good.

I am sure this theme will require some posts of explanations and reassurances. For now I will just say two things about culture:

  1. It’s not like yogurt. There is no way to contaminate the culture of your business.
  2. It’s is a reflection of qualities you already have. So even if you don’t have readers or customers yet, the culture is still a thing.

We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. We try to let people have their own experience and meet each other with love.

p.s. We’ll be covering the how of building a culture that draws and welcomes your right people (and keeps mean people away) at the Week of Biggification in Asheville, November 3-10. I have not announced this yet. Most of the seats are already taken. Password: pickles.

*blows kisses to everyone*

25 Responses to Jumbled (but important) thoughts about culture.

  1. Kylie
    Twitter: kyliewriteshere

    Havi, I can’t go to the Week of Biggification this year, but I just read through the whole entire HAT page, and I’m enchanted. The best word for how it sounds is magical, and I want to get there someday.

    I adore the culture here. I feel sentimental and squishy about it. I’m currently wondering how I can create a wonderful fuzzy culture around myself (or within myself) while I’m in my day job. I’m not sure it’s possible, but I have the suspicion that it is, because I’ve known people who completely changed a working environment through their buoyancy. Maybe this is a question for tomorrow’s Shiva Nata practice.
    .-= Kylie´s last post … i recognize you =-.

  2. Sarah Marie Lacy
    Twitter: smlacy

    I’m with Kylie. I want to go to the Week of Biggification SO BAD. But realllllly can’t do that right now. Not even if I stretch extra hard.

    But I love this concept of culture. I want my business to have a culture! Well I guess it does already. But I think what I want is a more mindful culture. Something that I develop and structure and bring awareness too. Not in an icky way, but in a “this is the kind of place I want to hang out in” kind of way. I feel like my business doesn’t have that right now. I love it, but I don’t often want to hang out there because I haven’t defined the ways in which I want to do that and make it into a fun thing. I think I need some Metaphor Mouse.

    I also need to remind myself – one thing at a time, my dear. One thing at a time.

  3. Elizabeth B says:

    Oh, Havi. Now you’ve triggered my curiosity. I want to see the pickle page! Because how cool is it that you have a pickle page? And knowing that this is just the teeniest tiniest tip of the iceberg of the fun of the Week of Biggification (never mind all the useful life-changing learnings) makes me soooo jealous of the folks who get to go this time.

  4. Shannon
    Twitter: clover

    Your pickles are lovely. I spent a few minutes the other day realizing that I did, in fact, have a highly developed opinion about pickles. pickle pickle pickle

    I think my business culture is still a bit… hmm. It’s still culturing? Maybe mine is like yogurt in that it needs some time to develop still.

    Strawberry-pickle yogurt. Not TOO scary, but still kinda weird. Plain old strawberry is boring anyway; everyone does that.
    .-= Shannon´s last post … Fire in the Skies audio =-.

  5. Tisha
    Twitter: renewallcoach

    Hi Havi.
    I too am clamoring for the Week of Biggification. Sounds so awesome. I’ll be eight months pregnant then so I’m not sure if its in the cards this go around.
    When I read your post this morning I wondered if you have Nikki McClure’s 2010 calendar…this month the word is Culture! (I love her calendar! It’s so beautiful and each month has a new word and its always a surprise!)

  6. Jack
    Twitter: JackOutLoud

    One day, maybe, for The Week. It’s not something that’s a possible for me right now, but I believe in one day.

    The best thing about this place for me personally is that it’s helpful without all the icky “shoulds” and prodding and “You Must Do This Our Way”. I think I fell in love when you told people not to recommend massages. I love massages, but I can’t handle yoga – various reasons – and, well, you know how people insist that if you just try it _right_ and if you try this or that or buy [expensive thing] it will totally work for you? That. So it was so nice to see a space where it’s “I love this, but if it doesn’t help you, that’s OK”.

    Right now all I have to say is this: Long live the pirate ship, and good health to all who sail on her!

  7. Hiro Boga
    Twitter: HiroBoga

    Havi, I love the culture in Havi-Land…it’s like being at home, only with a community of interesting, curious, generous, wonderful people. :-)

    And yes, the culture you’ve created is a powerful kingdom that carries the qualities of the world you want to live in. It changes the culture around it too, without border-invasions, propaganda or imperialist agendas of world domination.

    It provides inspiration, guidance and a world of playful delight that extends the boundaries of conscious business and conscious livelihood. I’m so grateful.

    Love, Hiro
    .-= Hiro Boga´s last post … This business of chakras… =-.

  8. pearl mattenson
    Twitter: pearlmattenson

    I love the way you have lifted the veil on the culture of the Fluent Self here. It is so helpful and has sparked something for me that seems so obvious but is useful. Lots of people tell me that long after they have worked with me they hear my voice in their head, and others have talked to me about the feeling my website gives them or the feeling that gets created in a room when I am with them. I have loved hearing this of couse but have been troubled by the elusive nature of this feedback. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could capture this in words somehow, maybe through metaphor, so that I could talk about it as a value of working with me. Clearly i am doing the modeling thing but perhaps could benefit from lifting my own veil.
    Sorry to go ramble but this has been so helpful to read.

  9. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    Hey you guys

    @pearl – mmmm yes. Love it. Also: I think even when we don’t have words or ways to describe it, the culture still works. It’s obvious that your people get it.

    And really, culture is so elusive. There are so many things I know in my soul about what it’s like to be a Portlander or a Tel Avivit, but the only way I can talk about it is in examples or stories. It’s hard to *encapsulate* culture.

    Yay for the metaphor of veil lifting. So romantic.

    @Hiro – what a completely beautiful way to put it. Thank you. And yes, a culture that doesn’t try to impose on other cultures. That is exactly what I’m going for.

    @Jack – I also believe in someday! And absolutely. Don’t do stuff that doesn’t work for you. Full permission slip. (Of course, when I talk yoga I invariably mean what I call capital-Y Yoga, the science of getting to know yourself, so in my warped mind everything we do here is yoga, but to skip the stuff you don’t like? Yes! Yes! Yes! Please!)

    And indeed. Long sail the pirate ship. Fair winds and following seas!

    @Tisha – Oh Tisha! I was *just* thinking about you yesterday. What joy to see your name.

    And a loving heartfelt mazal tov that you are going to Bolivia again. I already adore that beautiful child. Would love to have you with us in Asheville if it would work. Kisses to you.

    @Shannon – strawberry pickle yogurt! Awesome. And yes, I think culture is always maturing and changing. And, at the same time, that it is always also ready because we’re bringing so much of ourselves to it, and we are already full of the qualities that the culture needs. Pickles! Strong opinions on pickles! See, already the best culture ever.

    @Elizabeth the Bee(youtiful) – pickle pages for everyone! And a big hug to you, sweetie.

    @Sarah – mmm I love the way you put it. Mindful culture. Combining what’s already there with intention. Brilliant. And I actually do think of your business as being inviting, because it has so much of your voice in it. Maybe it’s about getting comfortable spending more time there, or creating stronger boundaries of safety (?) – not sure, just guessing off the top of my head. Ignore if not relevant/helpful.

    Short version: I love your work. But you know that already.

    @Kylie – oh! Of course! Creating culture around yourself and in your force field while at a day job. I have thoughts! Making a note to write a post about this. Thank you. And yes, I absolutely think it’s possible. Challenging, for sure. And possible. Thank you.

  10. michelle
    Twitter: michelleagner

    Havi, I tripped over you a year ago when I needed needed needed the exact culture that your world offers. And I’ve been lurking ever since! I no longer need need need you each day, but I sure as hell enjoy you and your Right People and your beloved helper mice and your entertaining monsters, and your thoughts on Bolivia. I knew I loved it all even before you so eloquently broke it down for us in this post so we can learn from the process. Thanks for all you & Selma do!

  11. Tori Deaux
    Twitter: ToriDeaux

    So, I’m barely awake after a rough night of no sleep, and now I’m busy pondering petri dishes.

    And pickles.

    And somehow my day is much better :)

  12. Josiane
    Twitter: kimianak

    You know you had my inner anthropologist at “culture”! :)

  13. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat

    I am holding fast to your two concluding remarks/reassurances about culture (that there is no way to contaminate the culture of my business, that it’s simply a reflection of qualities I already have). They are a life raft for me, today. I feel that too much of my day-to-day work has been on autopilot, lately. Time for me to process the process, and remember what my deeper work is really all about — and then let it inform the mundane daily stuff. Yes.
    .-= Kathleen Avins´s last post … Beginning to take stock… =-.

  14. Kaleena
    Twitter: Kaleena

    The culture here is wonderful. Everyone is so different, yet so like-minded at the same time. I suppose these posts are a bit like the “Cosmic Memo” that somehow manages to find its way to…well, the Right People as you say.

    I love the “yogurt” metaphor that’s running around. Like Shannon, I too feel that my business is still “culturing”, though it’s seriously in the baby stages right now. My personal struggle at the moment is being okay with being a baby. Staying with the yummy metaphor, my culture has yet to be activated.

    On a side note, I can see how you would think that “brand integrity” would be off putting. It’s kind of gross now that I think about it. Maybe you can try “Keeping Things Awesome” or something like that.
    .-= Kaleena´s last post … Tin Woman =-.

  15. claire
    Twitter: claireofRA

    Elusive, that is precisely the word I was thinking in relation to the culture here.

    I wish I could swing The Week. I know Asheville is beautiful, especially at that time of year, and the fancy mountain hotel sounds amazing, as does your program. Some day, somewhere.
    .-= claire´s last post … From the vault- Phoenix Rising =-.

  16. Elle B
    Twitter: Later_Bloomer

    Thank you for this — “It’s is a reflection of qualities you already have. So even if you don’t have readers or customers yet, the culture is still a thing.” I’d love to think I might still put my Anthropology degree to use!
    .-= Elle B´s last post … Why Are Some People Later Bloomers Part 2 =-.

  17. carrie
    Twitter: carriemoore

    ARG! ICK. ACK! Noooooooo

    uh… what?

    So apparently analyzing and talking about “culture” brings up major eye-rolling disgust with me even months later. I used to work at an advertising agency, that was really a branding agency that refused to claim either title and instead conjured up the title “brand culture agency” because they fancied themselves a place that “builds enduring brand cultures” for clients. They also thought they were one of the only places in the world ‘doing that kind of work’ and considered themselves experts on the matter. There was “The White Paper” to prove it of course. Then, when “brand culture” wasn’t quite capturing it and wasn’t brining in money, they decided they are an interdisciplinary agency. We had to sit through our lunch hour EVERY wednesday and talk about “brand culture” and what culture is, and how it is built, defined, created….. uggghhhh some of the most awful, bullshit, tangents were spewed and it was just disgusting to sit and listen to these cocky, self-absorbed, douche bags assume they knew how to build a culture, brand or otherwise.

    Havi, you have defined it in such an elegant way.. it makes me laugh out loud and revel in the genius found here time and time again. Culture is a tricky thing to pinpoint, and talk about. Its one of those brain bending topics really, which is your speciality, so I can’t wait to hear more. Cheers to doing it better!

    i linked to the agency in my website listing

  18. carrie
    Twitter: carriemoore

    uh, that would be if you click my name, it will take you to the agency site…

  19. Tara
    Twitter: taraswiger

    Mmmm, culture!
    I think of it like sourdough (you and the MGF did make grow your own sourdough culture, yes?)…it’s a bit of caputuring what’s already floating around in the air and distilling it (or baking it) into something with that distinctive flavor. It’s not like you PUT the culture in the air, you just help round it up and bring out it’s tastiness (in the feeding + baking process).
    I think what a lot of us struggle with is the catching-stage…noticing what’s already in the air of our businesses and working with that to develop it into a loaf of bread that recognizably US.

    *tummy growling for sourdough*
    .-= Tara´s last post … But do I HAVE to have a newsletter =-.

  20. […] Speaking of culture. Last week I read an awesome piece about nurturing culture in an online setting: “Jumbled (but important) thoughts about culture.” […]

  21. judy says:

    Yes, creating a culture around yourself at work… Kylie, those were almost my exact thoughts while reading Havi’s post. Creating a culture in my classroom that radiates outward. A challenge not to absorb some of the aspects of the culture where I work that no longer work for me- this is huge. Sometimes I feel like I’ve stepped into a swiftly moving river in which I get swept along instead of building a surf board so I can ride the waves. Not quite sure where I’m going with this, just grappling with some doubts that it can be different than it’s been for sooo many years.

  22. […] wrote about culture (not the yogurt kind, the people kind). More than anyone else I know online, Havi has this culture […]

  23. […] talks (brilliantly) about culture. And Diane has been talking about (financial) sustainability in our crafty […]

  24. Anna
    Twitter: tigerlilith


    It isn’t so much that you are issuing top-down decrees on how to or to not act around here.. It’s really like you are fertilizing the soil, raining down just enough pure water and leaning in on us saying, “go ahead, grow!” and we are more confidently pushing ourselves up to towards the sun.

    one of your newest Shivanauts

  25. […] on my stuff and without placing obligations on anyone. Because that is part of the Fluent Self culture, always: we may do it in the company of others but we are each our own sovereign kingdom, each in […]

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