The toaster won’t turn on. You fiddle with it for a minute or two. You start locally. But, when that doesn’t work, you think bigger. You move from content to context. First, you check if it’s plugged in. Then you go further out, “Hmmm, maybe the circuit is blown.” You do this all the time. You move—so fast usually that you don’t think about it—from content to context. Whatever the toaster of the moment is, you ask yourself “Is there a larger problem that this is only a symptom of?” The problem is that we rarely do this when it matters most. Because the more emotion is involved, the more fixated we get on what’s right in front of us. This is exactly how your problems remain: you let yourself be distracted by mere symptoms. Keep reading and this can change for you. So you check the circuit, and it’s not flipped. You keep going. You realize there’s no power in your house at all! You’re another ring out into context. Wait, is it just your house? There’s another ring outward. You walk outside and find neighbors who don’t have power either. And on and on (and hopefully the power company is on their way). These days, many are talking about how to improve company culture. If you want to improve company culture, you must think contextually. The culture isn’t the real problem, it’s a symptom. Where is the culture, anyway? Can you touch it, see it? No? Then how can you improve company culture? You can’t do anything about it directly because technically speaking it doesn’t exist. A culture is the aggregated blend of everyone’s values in the company, weighted toward those at the top of the org chart. While employee-of-the-month programs, company picnics, and bonus incentives may appear to temporarily alter the expression of those values, they do not produce long-lasting change because they have nothing to do with culture at the core. These things help somewhat, just like polishing the chrome on your broken toaster, giving it new rubber feet, emptying its crumb tray, etc. This is going smaller at the surface rather than going deeper to the root problem. When most managers try to improve company culture, they polish a broken toaster when the power is out. Imagine spending all day fiddling with the toaster. Then, as the sun sets, you reach for the light switch to discover there’s no power at all. It’s laughable, right? But we all do this. We get stuck in the content of a problem and make things far more difficult (and time-consuming) than they need to be. We get fixated.