culture as identity

If you want to watch a 3 minute video of me in my pajamas at a conference instead of reading this email, I recorded this as video on YouTube

Last time I claimed that culture is just mental models. Not some core unchangeable essential part of your self, but a mental model that you use.

Another popular definition of culture is that culture is what you do when nobody is watching. Although it’s a catchy definition, I think it’s less useful.

The reason it’s so useful to think of culture as mental models is because even if you have a preferred model that you like to use in particular situation, picking up and looking at a problem or a situation through a different model, or using a different model doesn’t betray your self, it doesn’t change who you really are.

It turns out we do this already with our identities! There is a very interesting chapter in the book Strategic Networks , the chapter is published for free as an article entitled Bramble Bushes in a Thicket. The article is written by the authors of the Cyenefin framework for sensemaking in complex adaptive systems.

The article shows research and examples of how each of us carries with us multiple identities which we do not integrate. For example, one identity might be a novice guitar player, another identity might be an authority figure such as a judge, another identity a frightened cancer patient. In turn organizations carry multiple identities. To me this all sounds like different terms for similar concepts.

We need to use different mental models for facing different problems, and learning more models is useful.

Culture is not some central part of a singular identity that defines the real you.

Next time I’ll talk about how simple rituals help us switch modes between different mental models or identities.

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