Category Archives: culture

The Nature of Fear: Are We Paralyzed by Conformity?

AMG121606a-dilworth-leaves

Conformity in nature and human nature. Survival is at our core. Are we afraid to be different? Where has Darwin taken us?

Understanding the notion of conformity is important when we talk about culture, inside organizations and out. It’s become a key driver in our thinking. As we’ve discussed, our mindset is subtly but deeply influenced by our own vauge perceptions of things are supposed to be, consumed by a feeling that our survival may depend on our ability to fit in.

Can we actually be paralyzed by conformity?

To Margaret Wheatley, there’s no beating around the bush. She says we are. Consider these excerpts from A Simpler Way (1999):

“We have terrorized ourselves by the thought of evolution, driving ourselves into positions of paralyzing conformity, for fear of getting things wrong .. (where) extinction will follow swiftly on the heels of any mistake.”

“.. fear is the darkest of Darwinian shadows.”

Wheatley likes to cut to the chase.

Can we find examples to support her claim? I think they are plentiful, and they are all around us. Consider:

  • a consumer culture that thrives on conformist based purchasing (think: brands, trends, styles)
  • social circles that favor (or outright demand) fitting in
  • work environments that favor the status quo, resisting alternative viewpoints
  • education systems increasingly riveted to standards
  • organizations that cling to structure/hierarchy over more dynamic/collaborative modes of interaction
  • a Western busiess culture modeled upon repeatable, uniform, mechanistic models of efficiency

Much has been written (by me and others; see also a book by C.Christensen, and a great RSA animation by K.Robinson), on the downside of our mechanistic, structure-focused paradigms. It’s thinking that makes us slaves to someone else’s blueprint. Our culture and our thought processes seem literally consumed by the conformist view.

Can we break the cycle?

I say yes. If we can find ways to fundamentally change our mindset.

I’m intrigued that in the very same book, Wheatley goes on to describe patterns and rules in nature that seek to discover what works. Conformity, perhaps, is not all bad, like a tree seeking a greater share of critical sunlight, or vying to expand its rainfall catching potential. Have a need for more light and water? Grow a little taller. Sprout some more leaves.

AMG121607a-dilworth-leaves

A better, more useful frame might be: conform if it’s working, adapt if it’s not.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to a balancing act. So often, we don’t see a choice. Conformity of purpose is important where precision, quality and scale are required. But when we limit our exploration of new ideas or way of doing things, we cut off our chance to learn, to innovate, and to grow.

Conformity can be a trap. And it can also be our saving grace when we frame it as a repeatable pattern, a platform for new possibilities.

Both. And.

The #cdna community hosts a periodic exploration of social learning, a deep dive into the factors that help us learn together. We seek to identify enablers that help us discover, and the barriers that tend to keep us from learning.  At our next discussion, let’s tee up these questions on conformity in the context of culture:

  • Q1. What reactions or thoughts does mention of comformity tend to trigger?
  • Q2. Can we advance metaphors for conformity that focus on upside (tree leaves) and caution of the downside (factory model)?
  • Q3. If you agree with Wheatley on the dark side of Darwin, why does conformist thinking carry a special risk?
  • Q4. Can we influence the cultural implications that conformity introduces? How?

I can help on that last one with a hint: if you’re a Peter Block fan, you’ll know the answer to “How?” is almost always “Yes!”  Our next #cdna chat is slated for Monday March 10th at 8pm ET.

Bring your ideas and an open mind. We hope to see you there.

Chris Jones (aka @sourcepov)


Cultures of Fear. Is ‘Old School’ still in session?

Staring up the Corporate Ladder. With much at stake, do we dare take a step?

STARING UP THE CORPORATE LADDER. With much at stake, do we dare take a step? Original art by Robert Winkler 2012.

CHARLOTTE, NC. September 2013, by

Seems risk is everywhere in the world these days, and the work place is no exception.  Not long ago we could count on the corporate world to provide a secure income and career track. Today we so often find ourselves vulnerable, unsure of our next steps, with our professional future uncertain.

SEPTEMBER FRAME

I just picked up a copy of Smart Tribes by Christine Comaford, the NYT best seller that does a great job of focusing on this topic anew. She relates traditional views of leadership to ‘old school’ management styles that are based on fear: “Perform, or we’ll remove your ability to pay your mortgage ..” (p.16).

At some time or another, we’ve all witnessed situations where fear has been a factor at work.

To me, the question is how do we escape the destructive gravity of these situations, especially when there is so often critical mass pulling everyone down. Misery, they say, loves company.  Comaford offers solutions that track well with Goleman’s Primal Leadership as well as CollabDNA .. namely .. creating emotional connections, and working to influence the culture.

Let’s frame some questions that might help us on this path:

  • Q1. What are the org dynamics or management styles that make fear possible?
  • Q2. What is the difference between ‘commitment’ and ‘compliance’?
  • Q3. When is the notion of ‘accountability’ effective? Is it sometimes misused?
  • Q4. Can you describe actions, behaviors and challenges of leaders you’ve seen who were actively working to dimantle fear-infused culture?

Thanks as always for your time, insights and energy. See you at the chat, the week of 9/16. Watch for timing.

AUGUST FRAME

As I recently turned the pages of Susan Jeffers’ classic “Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway” I found both comfort and common sense in the logic of “pushing through.” But in the work context, it seems the risks can so quickly outweigh the benefits. Do we dare raise radical new ideas? Think outside the safety of conventional wisdom?

Can we dare to be different?

Thanks to Scott Smith for his comment in July in the post of leaders who resist change. It caught my attention, and inspired this post.

In our Monday 8/12 edition of #CDNA, let’s ask a few questions about fear in the organizational context, to see if we might bring some new light to a area so often shrouded in the dark inner reaches of corporate politics:

Q1. Argyris (1980) spoke of fear as the unspeakable; has this changed, or is still prevalent?
Q2. Jeffers (1987) spoke of the need to “unlearn negative programming” .. is it safe for us to proceed when others around/above us have not?
Q3. Which is the more difficult fear to unlearn: survival? not knowing? or not fitting in?
Q4. As a leader, what is the first step in elminating fear in the workplace?

The 2nd week of each month at 8pm or 9pm ET, the #CDNA crew seeks to bring open minds to our ongoing conversation on organization change.

Sure, we’ll try to tap industry knowledge and the wisdom of sages along the way. But we favor a common sense approach. Challenging “what we think we know” and suspending our favorite paradigms is, almost always, the first step to new thinking.

Looking forward to seeing you at #CDNA.

Chris aka @sourcepov


The Courage to Collaborate [FRI 4/26 CBODN 2013 Conference, Arlington VA]

The Courage to Collaborate

Join the conversation: Friday April 26th 1p at GMU Founder’s Hall, Arlington VA

Organizations in the 21st century have grown increasingly risk averse, causing many people inside them to take a defensive view of the world.

Small wonder that collaboration – the open exchange of ideas in an effort to solve problems – has a grown increasingly difficult.  More and more we hear about collaboration and it’s benefits, via sage advice from outsiders and edicts from above.  But there’s a simple question facing us.  It often goes unasked and stays unanswered.

Do we have the courage to collaborate?

On Friday April 26th, at the Chesapeake Bay OD Network (CBODN) 2013 Annual Conference, from 1-2:15 pm, James Alexandar and I are taking on this topic.  The conference theme is “Courageous Leadership” and it explores how OD practitioners must challenge what we think we know about achieving success in the 21st century organization.

I’m Chris Jones, @sourcepov from Twitter, and I’ll be heading up from Charlotte to join in the conversation.

James and I will explore a variety of the key elements in the equation, but ultimately we’ll focus in on Culture, lack of Trust and Fear.  These elements invariably shape and constrain behaviors in today’s organizations, in spite of efforts in the opposite direction.  Most of the time, the odds seem stacked against us.  The ability to take on the challenges requires an immense amount of courage.  Success requires leaders who are willing and able to release their death grip on control.  The discussion on Friday will explore some core precepts of OD, then tackle the implications of key barriers.  Then we’ll share some very specific insights on how collaboration accelerates in a high-trust, low-fear workplace, giving participants hands on experience with collaboration in an open exchange.  We’ll navigate from a “risk averse” mindset to a “risk-enabled” one, tapping ideas from my book The DNA of Collaboration: Unlocking the Potential of 21st Century Teams.

Continue reading


As the Spiral Turns: From Culture to Community

As we follow the turns of our spiral thinking model, no surprise that we have considerable flexibility as to “where we go next” in our exploration.

Since Astrid led us on a very productive disussion of Culture as it pertains to Learning in the last 2 sessions, let’s follow that cultural thread into the context of Community.

This now brings into focus a discussion of relationships, place, and some sense of a common good or goal or set of goals. I like the way Peter Block broadly frames the ideal common ground of a productive, engaged community, paraphrasing him:

“In terms of possibilities, what can we create in this place together?”

As we unpack the Community dimension, let’s start first in the Social Change context (column E, in the above framework), and address questions that would be associated with cell “E2″ ..

  • Q1. What cultural forces are constructive in a community vs. problematic?
  • Q2. How important are relationships in a community vs. focus on specific topics/issues?
  • Q3. When and why do community stakeholders (aka “citizens”) participate & engage?

As we wrap up discussions Monday night, be thinking where you’d like the conversation to take us next .. back into the organizational context of OD and KM (columns C & D), or staying with the Social Change and NFP context (column E), and exploring other dimenions/vectors (rows) .. spiral thinking gives us options .. !

Thanks in advance for your engagement and input. I’ll see you online!

Chris aka @sourcepov


Spiral Thinking: The Next Level

Possibilities of Spiral Thinking: CDNA 2013 (c) 2013 Amberwood Media Group, all rights reserved

(c) 2013 Amberwood Media Group

Since December, we have sought to understand how Linear Thinking and intention traditionally combine to create an organization’s culture.  Now, to get to the next level, let’s look at how Spiral Thinking and alternative approaches to Organizational Learning can help culture evolve in new ways.

You may be asking, what’s Spiral Thinking? Stay tuned for a consolidation post here in the near future, but here’s a 2009 post by Robert Twigger that does a good job of laying out the concept.

Keep in mind, our goal is to fill in the Collaborative Learning framework we started back in December, shown here. We’re continuing to explore ways to get there. We’d love your ideas.

In our MON 3/11 #CDNA chat, Astrid Kowlessar will guide a discussion that takes us to the next level of dialog, as we explore:

  • Q1. Does culture or intention change when we apply  Spiral Thinking?
  • Q2. How is creating a Culture of Learning different with Spiral Thinking?

A big #CDNA thanks to Astrid for offering to facilitate this session.  She’s our first guest moderator, and we’re hoping the first of many.

Will see you guys online.

Chris & Astrid


Building a Social Community [#USXSW FRI 3/8/13 5pET]

Building a Social Community #USXSW 3 FRI 3/8 4pET

Building a Social Community (c) 2009 Amberwood Media Group

People are social creatures, that much is clear.  We enjoy the company of others, and thrive when we feel connected and included.  But why is it that some communities must be designed and planned, while others seem to appear and grow more spontaneously?

What forces are at work?  What is happening behind the scenes?

Amber and I, like many of our colleagues and friends at SMCHAT, USGUYS, BLOGCHAT MEDIACHAT, KAIZENBIZ, SOBCON, ECOSYS and CDNA, have been witness and party to the evolution of many social communities.  Let’s take the next hour to try to understand the forces at work, to see how we might influence them.  What are the key building blocks?  What is in the DNA of a strong Social Community?

Q1. What is the dynamic that sparks & expands common ground, vision, or a sense of purpose?

Q2. How important are individual relationships, and in what conditions are they formed?

Q3. What key factors influence success of a social community?

Q4. What key factors lead to the demise of a social community?

Q5. Does a social community have an ideal size?

Q6. What advice would you give to someone who wants a social community to grow/thrive in their physical or virtual space?

Join us Friday, 3/8, for #USXSW topic 3, at 5pET.  It should be a great conversation.  We’d love your thoughts.

For a deeper dive?  Check out The DNA of Collaboration, Part 4 on FLOW which takes on many of the process and relationship dynamics introduced here ..

See you online!

Your co-moderators for this segment,

Chris Jones & Amber Cleveland


Collaboration DNA: Can there be a Trusting Organization? (Ch.12)

In our fast-paced world, it’s hard to focus on our deep inner purpose and values, and even harder to act consistently on them. It’s so easy to act (or better said, react) in the moment. Yet gauging whether a person’s actions align with intentions is a key factor in deciding whether to  trust them. Set all that in motion. Watch the world rushing past on an average day.

Who can you trust?

The ability to trust in the 21st-Century is constrained. There just isn’t enough time or information to make good trust decisions. So we learn to trust less, we grow more insular, sometimes cynical.

But it gets worse. In the organizational context, the situation compounds. Take the basic trust problem that exists among individuals, and do the math.

Is it possible to build a trusting organization?

This is an area that is chock full of lip service and aphorisms. We seek to belong. We desire connection. So who doesn’t seek a place where they can trust and be trusted? We’re quick to say we want it. Yet the contributing factors are lost on so many of us, especially in the day to day. Stephen M.R. Covey’s Speed of Trust offers an excellent frame, but how much of that thinking do we actually bring to our relationships? How can these principles be applied in the workplace?

Let’s unpack this topic with the following 4 questions:

  • Q1. In the fast paced 21st-C organization, how do you decide who to trust?
  • Q2. Are “cultures of trust” real or imagined?
  • Q3. Respect is key in the trust equation, but why? How do healthy boundaries factor in?
  • Q4. Communicating intent implies knowing intent. How do we build/retain clear intention amid complexities of organizational life?

Clearly, this discussion builds on all aspects of Intention (Ch.4) which we discussed here several weeks back. It also relates to a great #bealeader [transcript] conversation this week, where the focus was on integrity.  If we seek to be more effective collaborators … or leaders … this topic needs more focus than it gets.

Trust me. Or, better still, challenge me: am I acting on my intent to see if trust is possible?  

Real change always starts with awareness.  We need to see ourselves in the problem … then reflect on it, discuss it among our trusted colleagues … then the true learning begins, as we let the insights flow.

See you online.

Chris Jones, author The DNA of Collaboration (now on Amazon) .. aka @sourcepov


Collaboration DNA: The Dilemma of Culture (Ch.10)

CHARLOTTE, NC. By CDNA author

For organizations that seek change, few factors are more important than creating the right culture. Lou Gerstner said it was the main issue in the transformation of IBM from hardware to services.

The challenge is that few understand what it is, or how it works.

It can be hard to define, because it works in subtle ways. It shapes the behaviors of people in an organization, but it is also shaped by them, in a two-directional flow of influence. It reflects how people in the organization have come to view success, over time. Executives can try to shape it, but without significant investment in the effort, surface attempts to force change routinely fail.

I’ve covered these dynamics in Chapter 10 of The DNA of Collaboration, based on research I started in 2010 on this fascinating topic, recounted in my original 8-part blog series.

Today, let’s attack 5 of the main dynamics that the most important to understand:

  • Q1. How can we navigate the complex layers of Org Culture, eg. professional, hierarchy, generational, demographic?
  • Q2. Which Org Culture model do you see most: Control, Silo, or Network? Can they coexist?
  • Q3. What happens in Cultures where contrarians rule? 
  • Q4. Can Organizations have a Culture of trust? If so, how?
  • Q5. Can employees make a difference  and influence change?

We could go on for days on these topics, and perhaps we need to. These are the complex problems that motivated my research, that over time turned into the book. I kept seeing dysfunctional behaviors in organizations large and small, and set out to discover what what happening.

It’s not just about culture, of course. But culture is where so many of the issues surface, on a scale that’s maddeningly difficult to influence. Ask Lou Gerstner. Ask your CEO. Ask yourself. Is the culture of your organization empowering it’s employees for success?  Is there something employees can do about it?

Looking forward to our chat.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43 other followers