Our journey

CultureWork emerged from a journey. A constant questioning. A willingness to keep asking deeper questions. Never settling. No matter the cost.

Though the journey only makes sense in retrospect, no life is an accident.

Every one of us is the product of our context, our choices and our decisions.

Here are some of ours.


Began working together.

Part of a small film production company. Discovered we were a great team and shared similar standards and values.


Set up our own company.

As Diverse Image we wrote, produced and directed high-end film and video programmes designed to address specific workplace issues – identity and reputation, recruitment and retention, equality and diversity, and the challenge of change.

Established our working philosophy.

A belief that in organisational life, relationships and communication are the heart of the matter. That our work was not about media or technology, but communication. And our job was to use communication to address workplace issues creatively and effectively.

Worked with some really great clients.

People who shared our ambition for quality and gave us creative freedom. Companies like Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta, Digital, Baileys, Coillte, Yamanouchi, Bewleys, ESB … (for many years, we produced all of ESB’s internal communication media).


Won our first award.

In the following years we’d win thirteen in all – taking home Gold and Silver here at home at the ITVA Awards and overseas at the The New York Festivals, the Chicago Film Festival, the UK’s IVCA Festival, the IIFC Festivals in Washington, Rome, Helsinki and Rotterdam, and at the European Union. They were good times, doing really good work with really good people.


Began to work with internal communication strategy and organisational development.

Our next evolution. The world of work was changing. Our clients were asking us to help with internal relational issues too complex to address with media alone. We started to pioneer a participative approach to what was a brand new discipline –  internal communication – working on large organisational development projects with companies like Hewlett Packard and Ericsson. Along the way we changed our company name to downey youell associates.

Began to learn about emerging issues.

Issues that are common knowledge these days. Global warming. Climate change. Species depletion. Biodiversity loss. Radical inequality. Back then, most organisations were silent on these issues while we were becoming keenly aware of the disconnect between organisational priorities and the work we were doing and the consequences for the real world.


Took our first sabbatical.

Something we’ve continued to do from time to time, ever since: go to work every day to think, talk, read, write. Wrote and published The Communication Dynamic. Began to make the connection between organisational purpose and culture and wider social and ecological impacts. It was an important year.


Took our second sabbatical.

David began to explore the relationship between work and values. Became an accredited practitioner of a new cultural assessment process developed by Richard Barrett in the USA. Paula went to the UK to undertake a Masters in Responsibility and Business Practice at the University of Bath. Slowly we began to piece together the crucial connections between the world of work and the world we humans are creating.

Discovered a whole new field.

Discovering complexity theory, systems thinking and the intelligence of life and living systems was a turning point. A new way of seeing the world. Now we understood more clearly the source of the problems… and the key to their solution.


Began to spread the word.

Set about popularising the principles of living systems, the importance of shifting our cultural value system and working in new ways. Spoke at conferences and in the media. Wrote and published Communecology ¦ A Collection of Small Essays for our Time – and many, many articles exploring organisational life through a living systems lens.

Began to share what we’d learned.

With our development programme Q5 – New Leadership at Work and early iterations of what became our Seeing Systems workshop.

Began to work in new ways.

Our next evolution. Driven by the inquiry: What would it mean to treat people and organisations as intelligent living systems (not dead machines) we set out on the path we continue to walk today. It led to the people and work you can see throughout this website.


Took our third sabbatical.

To pause and reflect on what we’d learned about working with the principles of life and living systems. Articulated CultureWork ¦ Working the way Life Works – a conceptual model and our working hypothesis about the nature of organising, culture and change in human systems.

Of course that’s not the whole story. The map is not the territory.

On the map we can mark the high points, choice points and turning points. Key decisions that shaped our journey.

What we cannot show is the qualitative stuff.

The study and learning. The successes and failures. The personal change. The deepening convictions.

Treating people and organisations as intelligent living systems transformed our purpose and our role:

from communicating for people and a change of some kind, to designing processes and hosting conversations in which people can communicate with each other, learn, grow… and change themselves.


What People Say

Very fruitful

“The experience of working with you was very, very fruitful for us. It gave us a new energy to continue with what we were doing, to promote our message in a new way, and a new kind of strength in spite of the fact that maybe it was still a struggle… You confirmed and affirmed our way working. And we had never come across any other organisation – and we had been around a lot of places – that had echoes of the way that we were working. Because it’s quite radical…”

You were one of us

“You were one of us. You never presented yourself as being above us or superior to us. You were just one of us. You had all sorts of skills that you brought to the table but you never presented yourself as being in any way superior to us. And that was wonderful. Thank you…”

Everyone is equal

“In leading the group, focusing the group or bringing the group back to the task in hand, you brought energy, enthusiasm and a friendliness. I found you very easy to talk to, very easy to communicate with. Neither yourself nor David ever put yourself ‘up there’: we have the skill and you don’t. You lived out what you were saying, that everybody is equal and we’re all in this together and we’re just here to help you. Everybody felt at ease with you…”


“You see, you were living in that not-knowing place. You were really modelling what we’re talking about and that was, for me, one of the superb strengths of what we were doing. You were so inspirational in the way you held all of that and your commitment and your tireless energy in searching for what was the deeper truth. The truth that was in there…”

Convinced there must be a better way? Let’s talk.


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