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.

About julianstodd

Author and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the Social Age. I’ve written ten books, and over 2,000 articles, and still learning...
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3 Responses to Culture Map

  1. Bob. says:

    Synchronicity. I’ve just finished reading an essay on “Darkness At Noon” Cultural norms and the individual “in extremis.” Still contemporary. Becoming more so perhaps. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/09/30/the-desperate-plight-behind-darkness-at-noon

  2. Pingback: Culture Map #2 | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  3. Pingback: Culture Map #2 | Julian Stodd’s Learning Blog – Journal Monks

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