LILA ~ Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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February 2017: Creating cultural contagions

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In this session, we’ll look at culture at a more “meso” level, focusing on cultures that arise more locally, such as within teams or groups. We’ll explore the literature around social networks, and how ideas, behaviors, and emotions spread (via “contagion”) through networks. To do this, we’ll look at social network theory, social movements, and team dynamics, asking what is the role of culture in creating both positive and negative contagions across a network. How do you propagate or spread a desired culture from small enclaves into the entire organization (or beyond)? How do organizations amplify or downplay cultural elements depending on the current demands while creating a consistent sense of purpose and meaning? How do leaders work to support the most adaptive and efficient cultures? We’ll also explore the role of conflict at work. How does conflict harm a culture, and how is it a source of tension that creates a culture? How can we transform conflict into a culture-booster instead of a culture-sapper?

Documents to Prepare for the Gathering

Title File Name Caption Date
February 2017 Agenda Feb2017Agenda.pdf This is the agenda for the LILA gathering in February 2017 featuring Michele Gelfand and Damon Centola. January 26, 2017 1:57 pm
February 2017 Brief Final February-2017-Brief-Final.pdf In this brief, we’ll explore different types of culture and the notion of social networks, and we’ll also deepen our understanding of what makes a culture adaptive. We’ll also explore how ideas, behaviors, and emotions spread (via “contagion”) through networks. January 30, 2017 11:21 am
February 2017 Participant List 2017-FEB-Attendees-report.pdf A list of the members in attendance. January 30, 2017 1:29 pm
February 2017 LILA Member Profiles 2017-FEB-BIO.pdf Get to know your fellow LILA Members January 30, 2017 3:12 pm

Materials from the Gathering

Title File Name Caption Date
February 2017 Harvest Document 16-17_LILA_Journal.pdf This is the summary document for the February 2017 gathering focused on Creating Cultural Contagions. March 2, 2017 8:25 pm
February 2017 Animation Script February-2017-Animation-Script.pdf This is the script for the February 2017 animation. March 2, 2017 8:41 pm
February 2017 LILA Animation: Creating Cultural Contagions Feb-2017-LILA-Adaptive-Cultures_-Creating-Cultural-Contagions2.mp4 This is the animation created after the February 2017 gathering focused on Creating Cultural Contagions. May 31, 2017 4:22 pm

Optional Readings

Title File Name Caption Date

Blog Posts

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  1. The social structure of cultural change: Damon Centola

    A dominant theory cultural norms are functional, but Damon provoked us to consider that there are cases in which norms are not functional at all, and can even be dysfunctional. Conformity norms stifle speaking up, for example which is seen in the Emperor’s New Clothes story and Stalin’s Russia. Such norms often comes from some sense of exogenous authority that dictate a behavior (political science), or sense of what is better (behavioral economics), or snow-ball effects of what’s popular (sociology). But all of these explanations assume there is awareness of all these things and they are valuable in some way....
  2. Where the tipping point missed the point

    Damon Centola’s work unpacked assumptions in networks that related to how ideas/behavior spread through networks via “strong vs. weak” ties.  For many years, and argued well in Gladwell’s Tipping Point, the belief was that all ideas spread like viruses through networks. Daemon’s work points out that what is important is the distinction between simple contagions (ideas/actions that requires a single contact) vs complex contagions (ideas/actions that require multiple contacts and social reinforcement). Many cultural practices require social reinforcement, particularly when there is uncertainty & risk, run against norms, or interdependence with other technologies. What is important to know is how complex...
  3. Why tightness is terrible and terrific

    Michele Gelfand’s work in social psychology explores how micro changes in behaviors connect to larger shifts in values in cultures.  Her work has looked the effect of social norms across cultures. Her concept is that there are qualitative differences in tight groups (with strong norms, litter tolerance for deviance, more orderly) vs. loose groups (weak norms, high tolerance for deviance, less orderly). Her research showed that tight groups coordinate well amidst threats of survival, both human made (e.g. tribal conflicts) and natural (e.g. natural disasters).  Tightness can be activated, too, by real of natural threats. And the situations, such as libraries...
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Damon Centola
Michele Gelfand

Harvard Graduate School of Education