Understanding Culture Differently – SafetyRisk.net

Any approach that seeks an understanding of culture requires a sophisticated sense of ‘knowing’ because, culture in itself cannot be defined or controlled like some would like. Indeed, in seeking to define (and control) Culture one already reduces it by a method of reductionism. That is, culture cannot be defined propositionally. Neither can culture be dissected through science. You can’t know Culture by going to a dictionary to find meaning. Such an approach just gives a dictionary definition but loses all the nuances of meaning gained through engagement, living, being, context, Socialitie and experience.

So, we need to realise in seeking to understand culture, we are tackling something beyond definition, beyond textual/cognitive knowing. Indeed, trying to get a hold of a ‘tiger by the tail’ is perhaps a suitable metaphor.

Culture is NOT about: behaviours, organising, structure, systems or leadership. Culture transcends all of these.

Such is the paradoxical nature of Culture that we are writing about, is that one really can’t write about nor control. Culture should be seen and understood as paradoxical and ambiguous as a foundation. Culture can only be tackled and influenced, Culture can never be controlled or managed.

Similarly, Culture is not the domain of Engineering and Behaviourism, the common worldviews of traditional risk and safety. Culture is not known through these disciplines that seek to define and control what cannot be defined and controlled.

Much of the Social Psychology of Risk’s approach to Culture is helped by the work of Juri Lotman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Lotman). Lotman’s work The Unpredictable Workings of Culture should be foundational reading for anyone in the risk industry. You won’t find Lotman mentioned anywhere in the risk and safety sector. Neither will one find anywhere in risk and safety any mention of Lotman’s (1990) Universe of the Mind, A Semiotic Theory of Culture. Why is this critical? In 1991 Lotman received the Gold Medal of Philology, the highest award for philologists and developed the idea of ‘the Semiosphere’. He developed this language as his way of making culture knowable – Semiotically.

SPoR, through Dr Rob Long has developed the Culture Cloud to be a Visual, Verbal and Embodied way of understanding Culture.

In SPoR, we are most aware of how semiotic models influence thinking. SPoR doesn’t shy away from placing a structure over the wiggle but it is conscious that it doing it (see Envisioning Risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ).

The real question is, what kind of structure, method or model is the most helpful for tackling and understanding culture? What kind of model best reflects reality, the VUCA reality? (https://safetyrisk.net/kiss-safety-in-a-vuca-world/ ) Surely, we don’t want to mislead people in risk and safety by the delusion that life and being is fully knowable, predictable, and manageable? Surely, we know that Zero is a fictional delusion? (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/zero-the-great-safety-delusion/ )

So, faced with this challenge and search for a model, method and semiotic, Dr Long came up with a metaphor and semiotic of a cloud to help engage with the concept of culture. (Remember, all models are useful but wrong). With these considerations in place, he decided on the model of a cloud, to convey the wickedity of culture and risk. Yet, like all metaphors (that describe something by what it isn’t) this semiotic helps us step beyond the text/cognitive approach.

Why a cloud? Clouds can buffeted by wind, they create turbulence, can be rapidly moving, can be curiously shaped, they can change your behaviour (think of storm clouds coming), they can pack a powerful punch (think of lightning), and much more. There are so many aspects of the cloud metaphor and semiotic that remind us of the way Culture and Risk work together.

Clouds can be easily seen, but cannot be ‘touched’.  Clouds have their own trajectory and they remind us that the very air we breathe gives us life. The very water they reign down on us gives us life.

Culture is a ‘wicked problem’ and is beyond propositional thinking. By using a metaphor of the Cloud, we allow the understanding of Culture to grow in relation to the person trying to understand the Cloud. Some think It may be the greatest metaphor of our time. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/09/clouds-the-most-useful-metaphor-of-all-time/245851/

The SPoR Cloud Semiotic is at Figure 1. Culture Cloud.

Figure 1. Culture Cloud.

So, here is the risk and safety industry caught up in a Behaviourist-Cognitivist paradigm, wondering why things happen unconsciously and unpredictably and yet have no concept of a ‘collective unconscious’ (Jung) or how semiotics informs unconscious decision making. You would think that with such an interest in how Culture shapes risk, the safety industry would be interested in a Transdisciplinary view of culture, apparently not. Culture from the Behaviourist-Cognitivist paradigm simply becomes the causation of inputs and outputs.

Safety reductionist thinking has attempted to limit the definition of Culture to those things that it can control. Consequently, we get ‘safety is what we do around here’.  Culture is much more than this simplistic idea. Such a view proposes that controlling behaviour and structure/systems and you understand Culture???

SPoR approaches the idea of culture differently.

Culture can be better understood Semiotically and Poetically (by all that is non-measurable).

So, my question is, are you up for a a different way of understanding culture? Are you prepared to step out of the behaviourist/engineering approach to culture and embrace a new approach?

Matt Thorne from Risk Diversity and the Centre for Leadership and Learning in Risk (CLLR) is offering a free two hour SPoR Methods workshop for Organisational Leadership Teams.

In this workshop he will show you how to use SPoR Methods to improve your Risk Intelligence (iCue) and improve Organisational Culture.

If you are interested in a 2 hour online workshop please contact:

Matthew Thorne
Executive Director
Mobile: 0413 771 723
Email: matthew@riskdiversity.com.au
Web: www.riskdiversity.com.au
Address: Suite 32, T8Tonsley, 6 MAB Eastern Promenade, Tonsley, SA, 5042


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