Culture Map #2

I’ve redrafted the Culture Map that i shared earlier this week: it’s intended as a reflective tool to allow us to consider how individual action is held within a cultural frame. Broadly it helps us to consider how exposed, or supported, we are in different contexts (as a diagnostic tool), or how we may try to shape our actions to ensure we are supported (as a strategic tool).

To do this, the Map works across three levels: the North/South axis runs from those things you seek to achieve, down to those things that you seek to prevent.

The East/West axis runs from when you stand alone, to when you stand with others.

Both of these axes consider individual perspective: but around the edge sits Culture, and we consider four states. Those things that Culture supports, ignores, condones, or condemns. There is some fluidity in this (or it may be partly wrong), but i think that the principle stands: it is, after all, like most models an abstraction. It does not paint a truth, but a characterisation of one.

The way to read it is to follow the arrows: [1] ‘What i seek to achieve when i stand alone – Culture ignores’, [2] ‘What i seek to achieve when i stand with others – Culture supports’, [3] ‘What i seek to prevent when i stand with others – Culture condones’, and [4] ‘What i seek to prevent when i stand alone – Culture condemns’. Of these four states, the third is probably most weakly expressed at the moment, so i may evolve that language.

The text in the blue spaces characterises what is happening: the North East quadrant can be seen as a normal space of operation. When you seek to achieve things with the support of others you may be in a permitted space of operation, and Culture supports that.

The South East quadrant (the shakiest) explores what you seek to prevent, when you stand with others, with Culture condoning that. Here i am trying to say that Culture may not actively oppose, but nor does it necessarily support or solve. An example would be the gender pay gap: you may actively oppose this inequality, and you may find that others stand alongside you. The dominant culture may tacitly condone or support you, but still your efforts stand opposed to the everyday manifestation of culture. Many Organisations sit in this space: they all understand their gender parity issue, but few have conclusively solved it.

The North West quadrant is what you seek to achieve but you stand alone; this is almost an incubator space for social movements. Currently it’s just you, alone, but every social movement starts like that. So culture ignores you.

The riskiest space concerns what you seek to prevent, but you stand alone. A whistleblower in the NHS may stand in this space, and culture can attack them.

How would we use this tool? Partly to reactively consider where you stand on key issues of your leadership practice, and to understand how Culture reacts to you, and partly to plan how to be more effective within your Culture e.g. how would you socialise a story so you no longer stand alone.

One could level a whole range of criticisms at the model, primary of which would be to ask what exactly is meant by ‘Culture’ in this sense: after all, if culture is held in people, and people stand with you, then how can ‘culture’ oppose you. But of course culture is multi levelled, so you may stand with some people, but the Dominant Narrative of culture opposes us.

But it would be fair say that this is something of an abstract framework, and that is all it’s intended to be. I find that this type of thought experiment, sometimes called semiotic squares, which allow you to plot aligned, but separate scales, can be useful. It’s shared as part of #WorkingOutLoud as i build out a new iteration of the Social Leadership work.

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Culture Map

Sharing some early stage work today around a Culture Map: it’s a tool to explore the tension between the individual expression of values, with the cultural context that they are expressed within. Essentially a tool to explore the upper and lower limits of culture, as well as the optimised and sub optimised expressions of it.

Whilst there are many definitions of culture, my own is that culture is co-created in the moment through the actions of every individual. The frame against which that action is taken is the dominant narrative of cultural norms. So, for example, you may join a team where people swear a lot (so that ‘swearing’ is part of the dominant cultural norm): you may choose to swear too, to confirm this narrative, or you may hold back (so still constrained within it, but not actively reinforcing it), or of course you could challenge and try to refute it.

Swearing may be an extreme example: how do you respond to minute elements of quality? Are people consistently two minutes late, do they send emails with typos, or do they discuss people behind their backs? These are all cultural traits, compounded out of individual action or rejection.

The map centres around two rings: the inner one is individual action, and the outer one is the cultural or community context.

From ‘north’ you can see it starts with what Organisational culture will permit, countered by what i will prevent (even if i stand alone). That definition sets the minimum condition of culture: if we exceed it, you move out of the culture entirely. So imagine you are asked to keep quiet about a sexual harassment claim that you have witnessed: a toxic dominant culture may make that request, but could you go along with it? Possibly, if you had to protect your income at all costs (for the very best of reasons), but essentially that type of action speaks to cultural fragmentation.

At the other end (‘south‘) is what you seek to achieve (even without any support around you, but countered by what Org culture will not support: essentially this is the mirrored reflection of ‘north’: if you seek to always be transparent and fair, but the wider culture is not, then you have set the maximum limit of that culture (constrained as it is by the co-created dominant narrative).

East’ sees us explore things that you would never do, countered by what the dominant culture would permit: it leads to internal tension and sets a limit on your participation. This could be any number of things: employing someone you favour and hence cheating the checks and balances of the interview process: culture may permit it, but you may not do it, so a tension exists. Note that this is different from ‘north’, which is something you would actively prevent. So essentially culture is more likely to veer into tension that to actively fragment: largely because we tend to bend to shelter ourselves in our individual action, without challenging the frame of that action. So we shelter in our self constructed igloo of good.

West’ is the limit of what you seek to achieve, within the context of what the dominant culture, and your active community, will support. This is the hot place: it sets the limits of strategic aspiration of the system. This is your space for potential, but is rarely a place we inhabit the whole time.

This is early work: the approach is inspired by work that Henry Kissinger shared in his book on World Order, which i found inspirational, and which charts successive and parallel cultural approaches to world order. I’ve adapted it, but based my thinking around that idea of tension, although in my case i have adapted it to look at the individual vs Org culture, rather than international cultures.

I share this work as part of #WorkingOutLoud, so not necessarily a coherent final frame, but an evolving one.

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Choreography of Learning: Components – Quality – Coherence – Connectedness

Yesterday i shared a context around ‘Choreography of Learning’, and today i will unpack the framework that i shared at the end: to recap, we explored how there has been a general trend from ‘utility’ to ‘experience’, but that the experience is created through careful, and coherent, design. It’s that process that we will look at more closely here, although i should stress that this is not ‘the’ model, but rather ‘a’ model: it is a lens through which to look at Choreography, and to actively consider what we can do to connect up the pieces.

In this frame i look at four aspects: Components, Quality, Coherence, and Connectedness.

A foundation is Components, to consider the elements that we can use to choreograph experience: here we need to understand those elements that add utility, and those which contribute towards the beauty. I use ‘beauty’ deliberately, because there is something of the mystical about performance. It’s not an opposite of utility, but rather an add on, or a connection. For example, wrapping paper adds utility (in protecting a gift, and in keeping it secret), but the right wrapping paper adds beauty and experience. But it’s the detail that counts: wrap a present in newspaper, but done beautifully, and with stencilled layers added and you have exceeded the beauty of expensive paper. Cost does not always mean better.

Quality is about the care we give: typically people identify authenticity as central here. Which leaves us with the challenge of how you scale authenticity. If, indeed, you can. I suspect that the answer is to ensure our actions are imbued with authentic intent. So acting with kindness and humility can indeed scale.

Coherence is about the piece i mentioned yesterday: how does the central narrative underpin the experience. It’s no use having perfect pieces that are connected in a high quality way, if they are disconnected from the central narrative. The whole needs to be relevantly unified. It needs a clear narrative thread. Partly this may be found by understanding if the coherence of the experience sits through conformity within a known way of thinking, or through opposition to it. Either can grant a type of power, but it’s within our active decision to consider which we will use.

Finally: Connectedness is about the ways the learning leverages into the broader context, and the ongoing nature of performance. This is really central to understanding the evolution of modern learning: learning as performance, not learning as exception.

If you have been following this stream of work over the last two weeks, you will have seen me reworking some ideas in two areas; notions of Learning – Rehearsal – Performance, and notions of the Choreography of experience. These are not yet a unified approach, but i hope you can see that they weave through each other: choreography ensures we flit between the three spaces, and the spaces themselves need to be choreographed. Indeed, both individual behaviour, and leadership support, are all elements of choreography.

I should end by going back to my inspiration around this: a beautiful dance is an act of performance, and authentic action, but it comes about through careful choreography, dedication, commitment, and hard work. My favourite seat at the ballet is the one that is far enough back to provide an overview, but close enough to hear the feet hitting the ground.

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Choreography of Learning

This is a mid level #WorkingOutLoud post, as i rework some early ideas around ‘Choreography in Learning’ into a second iteration. The material here probably typifies my approach: chase interesting ideas through research and prototype, and don’t be afraid to edit heavily as you do so! I think in my first iteration i had the right idea, but the wrong execution: the work i share here i have just used in a live programme and it seemed to have great traction, so i am sharing it as this second stage of thinking.

Amidst broad talk about how the Social Age favours ‘experience’ over ‘utility’, i have been keen to consider what this looks like in practice: how will a Socially Dynamic Organisation choreograph learning, indeed as well as the broader experiences of joining and performing. NOTE that you may see parallels between this post on Choreography, and the last two posts around ‘Learning, Rehearsal, and Performance’: whilst i have not yet attempted to unify this work, there are clear parallels. The ways we learn to Choreograph the experience of Social Learning relates directly to the separation of Learning and Rehearsal spaces, and of course Performance itself is choreographed.

At heart, the work is about this: great performance is to a degree reliant on both formula and creativity. For example, music has a mathematical and circular structure which gives it coherence, but the ‘flavour’ comes through expression in performance. Similarly a rock concert has a structure of performance (the support acts, the bar, the explosive start, the encore, the lighting, the audience reaction etc) as well as the creative expression of performance. Similarly, many of the things we do day to day, from ordering a Starbucks, to buying new clothes, is expressed through careful choreography, from the set dressing to the ritualistic exchanges. And finally many aspects of Organisational life rely on extremely detailed and systemic choreography: your interview, your performance review, your reward etc.

A couple of years ago in Singapore i spent some time with a choreographer, exploring the visual language of choreography: the notation used to script dance performance, which is a language spoken in three dimensions. Musical notation does the same for songs. But what is the notation of Choreography for learning?

In my own work i use a number of tools, one of which is a timeline of emotional energy: learning is about disturbance, sense making, rehearsal, prototype, and performance, so we should pay active attention to the choreography of these, and respective levels of emotional energy at each stage. You cannot be constantly in a state of disturbance, or excitement, or reflection. So over the duration of a programme, we should map what we are trying to achieve.

Other tools can consider underlying narratives: again, to share a sense of this from my own work, my books are all wrapped in maps, carry luggage tags, and thank you letters. Through visual imagery and ritual, i try to unify the individual pieces into coherent experience.

In this work i have avoided discussion of Design Thinking (very much in vogue), but you may detect parallels through to that work too. Essentially it is about the mindset, skill, and art, of performance, which will include both diagnostic ability (what are the parts of a great performance), and creative expression (storytelling – to ensure that the complete piece is coherent).

Another term i need to address is ‘Coherence’ itself: i use it to describe the joined up nature of experience. It is perfectly possible to have a range of individually excellent things happen, but for the holistic experience to be incoherent. Coherence is a meta-effect, built upon excellence in the parts, and interconnection through the whole. For example, to choreograph a learning experience we would need to look at everything from the initial email of invitation, through the dynamics of signup and setup on technology, through the formal knowledge delivery, through exploration and assessment, and into the choreography of how the learner is welcomed back into their team and invited to share their learning at the end.

Individual parts of this are easy to get right, but the holistic whole is difficult, often because aspects of it exist beyond our control: you may be able to draft a welcome email, but you have no control over the password reset function on the LMS. Which indicates one of the core challenges of Choreography in search of excellence: it’s a cross functional and interconnected feature in an often vertically separated and Domain based world. To excel you will have to learn (individually and Organisationally) to connect in new ways, with a strongly outward facing focus, to focus on experience, not fragmented utility.

And the other truth of Choreography is that the smallest thing can let you down (or on a more positive note, the smallest thing can make you great!).

Tomorrow i will unpack this diagram, which represents a framework through which to consider Choreography in learning.

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Aspects of Learning, Rehearsal, and Performance

Yesterday i provided an overview of how a Socially Dynamic Organisation will retain three clearly differentiated spaces, each of which is adequately supported, led, and engaged in, both by formal leadership, and individual members. The ability to hold these spaces in both mindset, and behaviour, is central to the ability of the Socially Dynamic Organisation to move from aspiration into practice, and to build a learning culture (a culture that learns, not one that specifically ‘does’ learning to others). Today i will build out one part of that, with a reflection on aspects of each of the three spaces. Before i do that, i will share a couple of notes around this framework.

Firstly, the idea of spaces is both conceptual, and potentially physical: you may be able to achieve this result by holding these spaces in mindset alone, or it may be that certain spaces are physically defined. In some contexts this is obvious: branches or retail outlets are clearly spaces of performance. The point is that Learning, Rehearsal, and Performance is about more than simply structured opportunity as part of formal learning: it’s about an almost hourly ability to recognise the space that one inhabits, and to ensure that we consciously vary that space. So right now, are you learning, rehearsing, or performing? And if this is ‘learning’, then where will you have the space and opportunity to move it into rehearsal, and who will support you in that?

Secondly, and to repeat what i said yesterday, this is an abstraction: i am well aware that ‘learning’ blends through both the collection of knowledge, the synthesis of meaning, and even through performance itself. The illustration above (itself an abstraction, i know!) attempts to clarify that. But the point is that it is not enough to say ‘we are always learning’. Certainly we always have the opportunity to learn, but without clarity and support through rehearsal (and indeed clarity about exactly what ‘rehearsal’ is), we are unlikely to carry that learning through to Performance.

I’ve captured some thoughts around each area, which i will now expand upon.

Learning comes in many shapes and sizes: FORMAL learning, packaged and provided by an Organisation, or procured from outside, where the typical model is transfer of knowledge, and demonstration of behaviour, as well as a great deal of context setting. Formal knowledge provides the foundations for Rehearsal. INDIVIDUAL learning i have differentiated in that ‘formal’ is often signposted or sanctioned by the Organisation, whilst ‘individual’ is motivated and sanctioned by you yourself. For example, i am learning to juggle (again), with no formal remit whatsoever.

Both Individual and Formal learning may be SOCIAL: i use the term here to cover any learning in which the tacit, tribal knowledge is included, and where aspects of collaboration and co-creation (the creation of new knowledge, or discovery of socially imbued meaning, is central to the experience).

Under both Individual and Formal models, as well as Social delivery, learning may be INDIVIDUAL or COLLECTIVE: it’s possible to access and contribute to Social learning without engaging in actual conversation (asymmetric programmes for example).

Finally, any of the above may be SANCTIONED, or SUBVERSIVE: Sanctioned in that you are signposted or permitted, and Subversive in the best sense of the word. To subvert outdated knowledge, system, or process.

Again, in a rather abstract view, we can see those aspects of Learning as the way that knowledge enters the system, but what we do with it takes us into rehearsal.

At heart, Rehearsal should be MESSY: it’s not about the conformity that would power unified assessment, but rather about building out your own vocabulary and understanding. I typically use that language of ‘vocabulary’ to describe not simply spoken language, but the vocabulary of behaviour. Typically this involves prototyping, and the opportunity to gain feedback. Without this, we will hold ourselves safely: if the space is not permitted to be messy, it will be tidy and safe. But tidy and safe is a risky place to be, because it does not permit us to explore new ways of thinking and operation.

social Leadership 100 - Complex Collaboration

Within Rehearsal spaces we are looking at CREATIVITY, not an expectation to have the right answer first time, but to explore potential different ways of finding answers. DIVERGENCE is important here: if we wish for standardisation, we should stick to formal learning and rigid assessment, but if we wish for a broad based strength, we need active rehearsal space for Divergence and challenge. The ways that we COLLABORATE here are important: is it simply in known and safe ways, or through Complex Collaboration with those people we do not fully agree with.

Rehearsal may be best define by what it is not: it’s not abstract learning, but neither is it visible performance. It is where we learn to bridge the gap between those two. Without it, we will likely persist with what we did before.

Performance is an ENGAGING activity, MAGNETIC, if we do it right. Performance holds pride, both in our own actions, and in supporting others to be excellent. It is OBSERVED as a rule: we do not Perform in secret, and hence Performance is linked to Reputation (another reason why Rehearsal must be separated, to disaggregate it from Reputation, and hence individual risk). Performance is IMPACTFUL, and JUDGED upon that impact, so it is high consequence, and hence highly permanent.

Indeed, another way of looking at this is to say that Rehearsal is low permanence, and low consequence, whilst performance is both observed and judged, and hence higher impact upon your reputation.

To some extent, the words that i use are not important, in that they reflect my understanding, and do not have to define yours. Key though is that active process of thought, both in the design of learning, and in considering broader Organisational Culture: how will you separate spaces, what Leadership behaviours are required in each, and to look at that question through the lens of the creation of meaning, individual behaviour, and managing consequence.

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Learning, Rehearsal, and Performance

When building the Socially Dynamic Organisation, we must ensure we have clarity on three spaces, and the respective leadership and individual behaviours to make them effective. Learning spaces, Rehearsal spaces, and Performance ones. Learning as an act of curiosity and disturbance, Rehearsal as a space for ‘sense making’, to prototype, and build new vocabulary, and Performance as a space of higher consequence, to find excellence.

Naturally i recognise that this language is an abstraction (but i helpful one i hope): part of learning is rehearsal, in rehearsal we learn, and through performance we learn, and so on. But viewing our day to day activity through one frame, instead of three, can lead to individual spaces being stretched or swamped, ignored, or neglected. How much space does your Organisation offer to truly learn: not simply the learning we impose upon people, but the spaces where their curiosity takes them? And how much of that space is supported by Rehearsal and prototype opportunities and support?

That language (the language of Rehearsal) builds largely out of my recent work around Learning Science, and the importance of ‘sense making’ behaviours (taking what you are told, and uncovering the socially imbued ‘meaning’ that is hidden within it). Essentially this is about the Organisational structures, and collaborative behaviours, which can support the transition from abstract knowledge through to practical application, and then the subsequent loops from the ‘experience’ of Performance, back through to create disturbance for further learning. Much of this is native and natural, but equally much of it can be better choreographed and supported.

I’m embedding this work in the notion of the Socially Dynamic Organisation, as an Organisation that is able to provide and support each of these spaces effectively. And through an understanding of the importance and operation of each, is able to use a language around Learning, Rehearsal, and Performance in it’s everyday leadership behaviour.

With this language, we can start to consider the relationship between each space, and which components are structural (resources, spaces, opportunity), and which are behavioural (leadership, consequence, curiosity, feedback etc).

Tomorrow i will explore some specific traits of each space, but for now, perhaps consider the flow: in the abstract, Learning constructs a frame to explore and Rehearse within, whilst Rehearsal builds out a practitioners vocabulary, and allows us to prototype approaches and behaviours, whilst Performance identifies future learning, and provokes our curiosity.

Part of what we must do in the design and execution of the Socially Dynamic Organisation is to nurture this and part is to get out of the way of it. So partly a matter of Organisational Design and practice, and partly a matter of leadership mindset and behaviour.

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Virtual Reality: A Lens for Learning

The point of the Modern Learning body of work is to consider things which are ‘real’ today, but will be pervasive in the 3-5 year window: do we understand what they are, where their potential lies, what the early case studies are, how they fit into our broader learning methodology, potential risks, the layers of hyperbole and marketing, what is fad, and what is fact.

Virtual Reality is commercially mainstream, but expensive, often awkward (both socially and technologically), and niche. I thought it would be useful to explore the potential through four frames: Space, Interaction, Manipulation, and Connection. This is not an exclusive taxonomy, but may provide a starting point.

Virtual Reality allows us to explore spaces, and to do so in ways which avoid limitation, cost, or risk. Consider three aspects of this: the ‘Unreachable or Forbidden’, the ‘Dangerous or Outlawed’, and the ‘Expensive or Crowded’.

Through VR i can climb Everest, from either side, without a permit. I can visit the International Space Station, or revisit the Apollo 11 moon landing. I can travel without cost, and i can stand in the Louvre, examining the Mona Lisa, without having to crane my neck above three hundred other tourists. Essentially, VR allows us to make ‘space’, and hence distance, manageable, frictionless, and also empty and uncontrolled.

We can Interact with things and people, situations, and events, in imaginative, creative, and consequence free ways. Consider these three things: ‘Social Cohesion and Effect’, ‘Empathy and Inclusion’, ‘Behaviour and Change’. Through VR we can interact with other people, individually or in groups, and explore their responses and intent, their reaction and inner thoughts, although of course none of that is intrinsic to the technology of VR itself. It’s down to the scripting or scenarios, the efficacy and accuracy of chatbots, or the creativity of actor/avatars. In other words, nothing inherent in the technology of VR will deliver the social experience (although it may deliver the visual imagery of such). Certainly there is much interest around Diversity, Inclusion, and the potential of VR to impact work around Bullying, but again, use your lens as a Learning Scientist to deconstruct why: again, nothing inherent in the technology will make us more tolerant, more fair, or self reflective, although it may provide us the space and opportunity for such. Certainly it provides us with space to rehearse and prototype new behaviours, and to dynamically experience the effects.

VR scenarios enable us to manipulate the world around us (or even other worlds), in ways that transcend reality: consider ‘Physics and Space’, ‘Problem Solving and Creativity’, and ‘Rehearsal and Prototype’. In VR worlds things like friction, weight, and mass, become a matter of choice, not of fact. We can creatively interact without risk or impact. This allows us to rehearse and prototype approaches and techniques, at relatively low cost. Crucially, this manipulation may include rehearsing new frames of understanding, hence new spaces for cognition, and perhaps creative new approaches to problem solving. It may also allow us to manipulate encounters through dynamic rehearsal, where we switch avatars to explore different dimensions of a situation.

Finally, the question of Connection. Undoubtedly VR offers us new opportunity in this space: consider these three ways; the ‘Virtual Bridge’, ‘Collaboration and Co-Creation’, and ‘Trust and Belonging’. Under that notion of ‘globally local’, we can connect e.g. a London and New York office within one virtual space. That allows us to interact ‘locally’, in ways which may impact on e.g. Trust (which is typically experiential at formation). We could explore mazes and problems together. We could manipulate or interact in encounters together. Or we can just hang out together. Of course, just hanging out may be useful for social cohesion, but if we are able to be creative in novel or new ways, or co-creative, that is particularly relevant for a Socially Dynamic Organisation, which will need to constantly reinvent it’s truth. And we know from the Trust and Communities research that the choreography, ritual, and artefacts, associated with engagement into a community are central to a sense of belonging and trust, so perhaps we can again be ‘globally local’ in how we build out our tribes.

The context of the Modern Learning professional is not to know, today, how to buy a solution, but rather to understand, in the mid term, how the potential of a new technology may act in service of broad capability building. Essentially, can a technology enable us to build out new capability, to improve efficiency, to be fairer or more inclusive, or to innovate and scale. If not, it may simply be a wonderful fad or distraction. But if it can, it is almost certainly subject to our building a broad ability, within learning methodology and approach, to use it in the right ways. As ever, success, and excellence, will be features of design that are enabled and powered by technology. Technology itself will not be the answer, no matter how lovely it is.

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