03/21/2013 06:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Freefalling Ethnographer: Life Inside a Startup

On my first week of work at my new job as Head of Research for BeyondCurious, a digital innovation startup, my CEO/President asked me if I would go skydiving with her. I didn't hesitate.

"Absolutely not," I said.

Although I still refuse to actually go skydiving, the reality is that life at a startup often feels like skydiving: deliberate, terrifying, and exhilarating free-fall.

Ethnography of a Startup

Before I started at BeyondCurious, the word "startup" conjured up images of endless pools of M&Ms, brightly colored beanbags, and billionaire 20-year-olds. Actually working at a startup is both a lot more challenging and a lot more fun than I could have imagined.

For example, one of the amazing things about working at BeyondCurious is that we are literally forming our company culture every day at work. Everything matters, from our decision to have daily 15 minute standing morning meetings to report on what we're doing that day and how we're feeling, to the fact that dogs roam freely around the office. It matters because it all cumulatively contributes to who we are, and what it's like to work here. That's a big opportunity, but it's also a big responsibility.

I think a lot about culture because my research training is in applied anthropology. What that means is that I have an obsessive interest in all the stuff of everyday life. As an ethnographic researcher, I look at how we do things, what we use to get things done, and what we think/feel about all of that. So I'm naturally interested in taking a close look at all of those things here at BeyondCurious.

Sometimes being part of a startup feels like jumping out of a plane on purpose. Over the next several months, I intend to take you with me as I take the leap by conducting an ethnography of life inside a startup. I want to capture and reflect back on the specific contemporary cultural phenomenon of the startup environment, from dizzying heights to gut-wrenching lows. Most of all, I am interested in understanding and sharing the strategies and habits we employ to help us do great work, stay focused on our mission of creating impact in the world, and keep loving coming in to work along the way.

Some of the questions I've set for myself:

What kinds of tools, or habits encourage collaboration and communication?

How do we develop resilience and learn from failure?

How do things like friendship, happiness and values affect the work?

What motivates people to work at BeyondCurious, and what keeps them here?

I'm aware that I might not be the most impartial observer of our culture, so I plan on crowdsourcing part of this research project. That's where you come in. In each post, I'll ask a question, solicit your observations of what I've talked about, and even ask you to contribute observations from your own work places.

This week's question:

What kinds of things do you want to know about life at a Startup? About BeyondCurious?

Please respond in comments. You can also follow BeyondCurious at @Beyond_Curious.