Culture Hack

When I checked Vanessa Miemis, emergent by design, blog roll on culture hacking I read that a culture hacking conference will be held in the US this year. Dubbed as the Agile Culture Conference 2012 the convention explores the promise of culture analysis, culture design and culture implementation in society and the workplace. The conference aims to discuss how culture is fast becoming a “gating” factor to satisfaction, productivity and learning. Culture hacking was defined by Agile as the art or science of “modifying a culture for personal betterment and the betterment of others.” Inspired by hacker ethos and software re-engineering paradigms, culture hack is the process of taking things apart (deconstruction) to create new things, ideas, systems and worldviews.

When I received the invitation from networks to submit an abstract for the conference I emailed some friends in the World Futures Studies Federation to catch up with the idea and pick some of their “out of the radar” ideas on culture hacking. A colleague told me that culture hacking was “darn effective” and I thought that this may be a good framework to create alternative social concepts and governance design. I assume that culture hacking can improve our understanding of community engagement, policy making and futures thinking in the Philippines.

And so I followed the sites they recommended and found out that some were really interesting. A couple were visually attractive and practical. Dave Logan’s book called Tribal Leadership is a must read. Michelle McCarthy’s “Software for Your Head” and Tobias Mayer, a consummate “culture hacker”, anarchist and social reformer appears to be the leading voices of culture hacking in the US.

Big Ideas for a Better Future

The success of the Banksy, Anonymous, Kony 2012, the Barefoot College, the Invisible Community, the Multiworld India Project, Social Media, Sociocracy, the Occupy Wall Street, Futures Studies, Neohumanism and PROUT may have inspired cultural creatives, social workers and development managers to invent the concept of culture hacking. I learned that there were notable projects that used culture hacking to create alternative realities. The Wish for the Future project worked with kids to create a prototype of new ideas. The kids built physical representations of their ideas with play-dohs. Their ideas resulted in the creation of a network model for remote medical care technologies. The project called Reboot stories would have a series of Rage online comics sharing humorous stories to internet users for inspiration. They would post dozen of common face templates to convey a number of emotions from joy to embarrassment to rage. An English teacher would find this and saw an opportunity to use these comics to teach English to his Japanese speaking students. In Taiwan, a Taiwanese futurist learned that “Gaming English” was the best way to teach English to young Taiwanese students.

The Journal of Futures Studies featured the concept and I see that Gaming English is a plausible alternative. The blog called believes that many have consciously aligned their actions, arts, projects, business and policy agenda with a cultural perspective. A presenter would define culture (especially when seen from an urban perspective) as something like similar to a social operating system that can be modified. Culture is improvable they say.

Yes, culture is modifiable or improvable but the process and impact of culture hacking must be varied when applied or shared to different contexts (cultural; spiritual; political; economic; corporate; cooperatives) and environments (digital; virtual; urban; rural; villages; government; non-government; business). The meaning and result of culture hacking will vary. I assume that people, communities and organizations have their own aesthetics, tastes and preferences and this will certainly affect how culture hacking will be applied or accepted. The “artisinal quality” of “big and bright ideas” depending on how you interpret “culture” will change. The color, the hue, the experience and impact of its “creator” will vary.

Words are my Reality

To Vanessa Miemis culture is a product of the language people use and the behaviors that accompany those words. She writes “the words we use to describe ourselves, our work and others, creates the world we live in.” So when we upgrade the words that we use to describe our reality words can “unstuck” people from unhelpful languages and behaviors she added. Culture hacking in this context is transformed into a social tech. Upgraded words or cultures can make stressful environments less stressful. Culture enables workplaces and people to achieve more fun states of Being (Miemis, 2012).

When applied to policy analysis, the “real”, the “cultural”, the “emotive dimensions”, the “myth” of a particular policy like computer software are “hackable.” Hacking (decrypting) the words and images used by governments exposes the hidden messages, subliminal values, ideological interests, personal realities and social perspectives.

So when you apply culture hacking for example to decipher the words “puregold”, “hyper market”, “savemore”, “kinni-kinni”, “johnny moon”, “sirib mile”, “heroes hall”, “red cross”, “museo ilocos”, “cultural center”, “Ferdinand Marcos sports stadium”, “Laoag Central Elementary School”, “large scale mining”, “ecological tourism”, “cultural center”, “Capitol”, “capital”, “It’s more fun in the Philippines”, “rule of law” the process will reveal specific and/or sporadic mental images (visuals) and meanings (factual and imagined) not usually talked about. The hacking process can unlock “undisclosed realities”, the “underworlds” that are not talked about in ordinary press conferences, executive sessions, interviews and other journalistic reports. The values and interests that hides behind the panorama become evident in culture hacking.

The Root Strikers, a culture hack movement in the US applies culture hacking to root out corruption in US politics. They are, the movement I mean, according to a culture hacker, is the next big social movement. The group believe that we or us, you and I can make a difference by working in the open with others.

The question is, is culture hacking the new social cool? A new toolbar for good governance? I see a full-blown graphic image of change emerging in the horizon.


Adam Feuer, 2011. Culture Hacking. Available at: Accessed July 2012.

Vanessa Miemis. 2012. Agile Culture Conference 2012. Available at: Accessed July 2012

Tzu Wing Yu. 2012. Learning English in Taiwan’s Elementary School. Available at: Accessed July 2012

David Logan. 2012. Tribal Leadership. Available at: Accessed July 2012

New Technology Solutions. 2012. Culture Hacking. Available at: Accessed July 2012.

Agile Boston. 2012. The Agile Culture Conference: Managing in the 21st Century. Available at: Accessed July 2012.

Haley Moore. 2012. Wish for the Future Project. Available at: Accessed July 2012.

Rebootstories, 2011. Rage Stories Teach English. Available at: Accessed July 2012.

Rootstrikers. 2012. About. Available at:

Accessed July 2012
Article appeared in Ilocos Times circulation dated August 6-12, 2012. Volume 55 No. 42

The Cultural Infrastructure Epidemic


“Video games are one step before a whole other virtual universe.” Vin Diesel, actor

“Welcome to the future era” is the future era-entering quote of Civilization V, a popular turn-based 4X computer strategy and simulation game developed by Firaxis and Sid Meier, its creator.

The latest game in a wide selection of Civilization series, culture was highlighted as the primary game engine to achieve upgrade and victory conditions in research, economic development, government, technology, expansion and diplomacy.

The game situates culture as foundational to social progress. It is culture, the game suggest, that make social policies work (whatever that is – authoritarianism, democracy, socialism, commercialism, tradition, patronage, etc.).

Cultures and its diverse expressions like arts, food, music, theatre, language and writing systems, mathematics and mythology, etc. could, in multicultural ways, transform a country’s governance and economic agenda.

Culture as the Next Wave of the Future

Today, culture is an emerging ethic and approach to governance and economic growth. It is, to paraphrase Jim Dator and Yongseok So, the next wave of the future. Incidentally, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Malaysia and of course South Korea are leading Asia, if not the world, in the culture-governance-infrastructure category.

At the systems and worldview levels, we have seen how Singaporeans transformed systems thinking and democracy outlook by introducing governance concepts embedded with Confucian and Malay ways of knowing. Singapore is a good model to the system that I call “hybrid (high tech and global) and high breed (culture-local-values oriented) socio-political and economic systems.”

Taiwan, with its transmodern-transcultural approach to development, also devised a five branch co-equal government structure to counter the exigencies of a society founded on family driven values. It established the audit and civil service departments as separate and co-equal branches of government to counter the culture of nepotism, gift giving and other traditions and practices ingrained in Chinese cultural societies.

In addition to the classical three branches of government developed by Montesquieu, Sun Yat Sen, the brains behind the Taiwanese version of Republican democracy , would add two more and envisioned the emergence of an eastern version of republican democracy in Asia. Sun Yat Sen and its successors were able to develop a democracy system based on Chinese culture to address the flaws of Western democracy when applied in an Asian setting. He was quoted by a political scientist saying “democracy may find its full evolution (blossoming) in the East.”

And of course, China with Mao Tse Tung and Deng Xiaoping at the helm reinterpreted communism and capitalism in the 21st century. They would change the context and values of these ideologies (from individualism to collectivism) to create a system they called “socialism” or perhaps “capitalism” with Chinese characteristics.

The system of governance they built with cultural narratives in mind have evolved and so far (culture) remains integral to these countries socio, political and economic narrative.

The emerging thread of cultural governance was evident in PR Sarkar’s concept of culture when it said that culture is the backbone of any society. The renowned Indian scholar argued that culture is imperative to long-term social, political and economic progress.


Cultural Infrastructure and the K-Pop Experience

But let me feature one of the latest miracle strokes that are happening in Asia recently.

The growing reliance of Asian countries notably South Korea, China and India (or if you combine the power of the three emerging global super-cultural economies Ko-Chi-ndia) on cultural infrastructure to create wealth to sustain their booming economies must be one on the radar. This article, however, would like to explore the connection of culture, good governance and economic growth in South Korea.

According to Jim Dator, the reliance of cultural images and the power of cultural aesthetics are changing the context of global governance and economic growth. Recently, there are number of reports and literature especially in Asia, (the literature, the narrative is slowly populating the web), indicating how culture and economic growth strongly interact. South Korea has been expanding faster economically when they begun investing more on cultural infrastructure.

Just this month, the South Korean government reported that the economy is set to rebound in the last quarter of the year. The positive projection was attributed to the government and business sectors cultural infrastructure investments. The government noted a significant link between the construction industry market and cultural infrastructure investment. The government remains optimistic that cultural infrastructure will spur growth in the commercial infrastructure market. Their cultural infrastructure investments has also been spurring growths in information technology, food, robotics, entertainment, and other export-oriented industries.

World Awash with K-Pop

The world is awash with K-pop culture. Yes. The Gangnam style dance craze that gained 1 billion Youtube views and more than a billion hits on Google is just the tip of the iceberg. At the myth level, the K pop epidemic is transforming Korea as the twenty first century epicenter of global pop culture.

This successes, however, were gains when in 2004 then South Korean President Roh urged the Federation of Korean Industries and Commerce to engage more in culture-related enterprises.They forecasted in that year the of information technology industry and the emergence of cultural infrastructure as a factor to revitalize the industry. The forecast was right and President Roh and his administration would drive Korea as the world’s economically strong nation powered (or empowered) by culture. Roh’s administration saw the enormous future potential of cultural infrastructure to social progress and economic growth in 2004, yes 2004.

At present, Korea continues to invest more to ensure the much-needed cultural infrastructure to sustain South Korea’s continued economic and hyper creativity growth. The Korean Ministry of Tourism and Culture plans to put up more Korean Cultural Centers and King Sejong Institutes around the world. China is also heavily investing to promote the Mandarin language and Chinese culture. It established more than 300 Confucius Institutes in over 90 locations worldwide.

In 1947 a great Korean leader named Baekbeom Kim Gu dreamed of a strong Korea empowered by culture. He wished, in his book “My Desire”, for culture and cultural narratives to become drivers of future economies and societies. He writes “I do not wish my country to be a military or a political power, but rather wish it were a cultural power … I wish our country not to be one that imitates others, but rather the source, goal and model of new and advanced culture” Today, the wish of Beakbeom Kim Gu has been fulfilled by a generation empowered and transformed by culture.

Going back to the the latest game expansion pack Civ 5, the game had me wanting to study the future more. It expanded my knowledge base and made me appreciate the complexity, the dynamics, the application and impact of culture on governance, creativity, alternative futures.


Jim Dator and Yongseok So (2004). Korea as the Wave of the Future. The Emerging Dream Society of Icons and Aesthetic Experience. Journal of Futures Studies. August 2004, 9 (1): 31 – 44

Sohail Inayatullah (1988). The Futures of Culture: Present Images, Past Vision and Future Hopes. Presented at the World Futures Studies Federation Conference, Beijing, China. September.

Government Investment in Cultural Infrastructure expected to spur growth in the South Korean Commercial Construction Market. Retrieved October 31, 2012 at

Riding the Korean Wave. Retrieved October 31, 2012 at

Civilization 5 simulation game retrieved October 31 from www.