What’s on Your Mind (and in Your Culture)?
Most of us — I hope! — can automatically adjust the way we behave depending on the situation or culture (system of beliefs, behavioral rules, traditions and rituals) we find ourselves in. At a rock concert, the culture encourages standing on your seat, pumping your fist and singing at the top of your lungs. In a boardroom … well, let’s just say the cultural norms are very different.
We can make these shifts because our brains, in their wondrous complexity, interpret the world around us and let us know what kind of behavior fits our circumstances at a particular moment. But just as the culture we are in influences our minds, our minds can influence our culture.
From Belief to Culture Change
We see this most clearly when we go into a new organization or a subculture in our own organization that differs from our own.
For example, let’s say that you start a new job and then observe a supervisor berating or humiliating their people publicly. Based on what you’ve experienced in your past jobs, your mind tells you that this supervisor’s behavior is wrong.
If you are in a position of influence, you have the capacity to change that supervisor’s behavior over time through coaching and training. And when one supervisor starts doing things differently, others might follow suit. A belief you carried in your mind could spark a wholesale culture change.
What Are You Feeding Your Mind?
Just like our bodies use the food we consume to build muscle, bone and flesh, our mind uses the information we feed it to determine right from wrong, what comes next and the culture we want to build.
For example, if you constantly feed your mind messages that science is wrong, experts are charlatans and “outsiders” are dangerous and untrustworthy, you will inevitably act in ways that build an “us vs. them” culture.
As leaders – and as humans – we create the cultures that we and others must live and work within. We have a responsibility to each other in the kind of cultures we create, which means we also have a responsibility to be intentional about the kind of information we allow to shape us.
So, if you are in a position of leadership or influence (for your organization, in your family or in society), I offer these questions to help you reflect on what you are feeding your mind:
- Do you take in information from a single source or a single perspective? Or do you listen to a variety of sources from different perspectives?
- Do you consider others’ perspectives, the possibility that your own perspective is wrong and that you have the capacity to be misled? Or are you certain that your views are correct?
- Do the words you use to communicate invite alternative ideas from those around you? Or are they more likely to shut down differing perspectives?
- Do your actions invite others to think and speak openly, even when they may disagree with you? Or do they ensure that there is no dissent?
- How do you know (and how can you prove to yourself – not others) that your answers to the above questions are accurate?
As you make decisions about the information you will consume, remember that your choices also affect how you shape the culture around you. The boundary between our minds and the cultures we exist in is a porous one indeed.
I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.
Until then, let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!