Tag Archives: relationships

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)


Crossover: The Power and Resilience of Diverse Perspectives

Do we appreciate the strength of our crossover connections?

Do we appreciate the strength of our crossover connections?

Pick up an ordinary basket and look closely at the weave.  You’ll find an ancient yet simple way of making something that’s durable, flexible, and resilient.

In fact, a basket’s weave is a great model for how we might interact and learn with others more deeply. We need durability and resilience in our relationships too .. to me, a weave is a powerful way to think about “crossover” in all our interactions, especially when we seek to collaborate.

The power of the basket weave metaphor lies in its very basic structure. The over/under aspect of a basket weave reinforces the notion of complementary, diverse elements.  One thread or strand of cane provides support from one angle, which is further supported in the other direction by another.  These are connected and supported by yet another thread or strand on the perpendicular axis, creating structure, and ultimately, strength.  The tighter the weave, the more durable the resulting creation.

Aristotle was a big fan of metaphor, and I am too. Like so much in our world, we take useful concepts (like metaphor and basket weaving) for granted. But what could we gain if we dig a bit deeper? Is there untapped power in our mental models?

To me, there are 3 areas where I think the notion of a basket weave can help our collaborative efforts:

Unlocking Creativity. Artists are well versed in the flow of possibility that occurs when raw materials begin to show their potential. How might the threads or strands come together? What patterns are possible? How might we weave something new?

Inception of Ideas (or “ideation”). Each thread of insight brings new energy and strength from a different direction, supporting the other threads but in a different way.

Design Thinking. Coming up with new ways to solve a problem (solution patterns?) is at the core of design thinking, where structure, form , function and relevance demand diverse thinking from muliple perspectives.

AMG152709b Basket Weave

Examining the basket weave. It may help to ask: what is possible?

As we bring together design elements or ideas, we are bringing together strands of raw material.  As innovators, we are like basket weavers.  As collaborators, our ideas are like threads.  Our soution may well be the resulting basket.

Here are a few questions to drive this thinking home.

Q1. What challenges do we face when we seek to weave together ideas?

Q2. Why are notion of durability and flexibility important?

Q3. Have you seen examples of ideas woven into a “solution fabric”?

Q4. Where and how else might we apply the basket weave metaphor?

We’ll discuss these topics WEDS 10/16 at 9pET using hashtag #cdna, and again in the social change context with SMCHAT cofounder & special guest moderator Kelli Schmith WEDS 10/23 at 1pET using hashtag #smchat.

I must point out that idea weaving is already in progress. Props to Angela Dunn, Shell Rummel and the crew at #ideachat who provided deep insights on “Design Thinking” that contributed to this post.  To me, the richness of the weave metaphor provides plenty of inspiration, or at the very least, some new thinking based on a very old way to make baskets.

More on metaphor? See G.Lakoff: Metaphors We Live By (1980). In The DNA of Collaboration (2012) it’s chapter 6.

Let’s compare notes on this. I’ll see you online.

Chris aka @sourcepov


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


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


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