Tag Archives: adaptation

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.

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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)


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


Can Leaders Adapt? Improving Team Dynamics (Ch.15)

In a world where many if not most leaders cut their teeth as managers, it’s small wonder the bias at the top of organizations and teams is for controlling outcomes.  As we’ve discussed, there is a strong bias for structure baked into our industrial paradigm.  Most teams are run with the precision of factories.

Can leaders adapt to different models? Better still, can they learn adaptive behaviors, in general?

I explore precisely that challenge in Chapter 15 of The DNA of Collaboration. In our virtual book tour, we’ll explore some of the key concepts:

  • Q1. Viewing leadership as an art, how can we change our bias from structure to flow?
  • Q2. Music and fine arts offer leaders alternative views to how things work; can we borrow a stage, brush or canvas?
  • Q3. One goal of any team is affinity, aka common ground: how fast can we get there?
  • Q4. Diversity is key as well. Does our affinity goal represent a paradox?
  • Q5. In a high stakes world, how can leaders, like artists, learn to let go, experiment, take risks?

Hope you’ll join us SAT 11/3 11am ET. We use hash tag #cdna. You can click here at the appointed hour to join the conversation using TweetChat.

Hope to see you there.

- Chris Jones, aka @sourcepov, author


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