Yesterday i was in the Gherkin in London, the iconic Norman Foster building in central London. It’s a great building, irreverent and friendly, unlike it’s taller and newer neighbour, the Shard, which is simply aggressive. The client i was visiting has made efforts to decorate it in appropriate style and there is much modern art in place. The room we were sat in had a circular painting on the wall, concentric circles in different shades, highly abstract and seemingly slightly out of focus.
I’ve explored before a range of creative environments, from the highly regimented and formal world of a Cambridge Innovation Park to the graffiti strewn environs of a Bristol community workspace. The links between environment, culture and learning is complex, certainly not clear cut. Modern art does not make one automatically adaptive and agile, Turner landscapes do not give one gravitas or authority. Clearly though, there is a connection between environment and culture and it’s worth exploring further.
In ‘The Amsterdam Diary‘, i explored the links and asked how the learning culture is created and who owns it. Understanding the dynamics of how cultures grow is significant not only for start up businesses, but also for businesses in change and in the creation of social learning communities and communities of practice.
Culture is emergent, not imposed, and attempts to impose culture will almost certainly result in the encouragement of unofficial sub cultures that carry the real, meaningful, messaging.
Environment can certainly be an expression of pride, an expression of aspiration, and it’s certainly powerful for organisations expressing their position in a market or their desire to be seen in a certain light, but learning culture is more subtle, based more on trust, integrity and belief in the community than on architecture and decoration. It’s more than just a matter of taste: comfortable sofas may be good for reading a book, but may not be the best place to learn.
I believe that the place organisations can most directly affect the formation and development of learning culture is through implementation of appropriate coaching and mentoring structures, as well as appropriate and timely moderation in social learning spaces. They also need to work to identify facilitating roles (generally managers as well as coaches) and ensure that these people have the right tools to hand, as well as clarity of remit and support.
The people who facilitate learning are the ones with the skills to draw people together, to draw out the narrative of the learning and the ones to make connections: whilst learning culture is emergent, it can be nurtured!