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.

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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