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Understanding Culture by David Perkins

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As Dave Perkins shared prior to his synthesis, t07_perkins_webhis is not an attempt to summarize everything that the LILA community explored during the October 2016 gathering, rather it is a way a 64,000 view that might help advance our thinking on the topic.


Defining Adaptive Cultures

  • Individual cultural knowledge is largely tacit – we don’t know what we know (we just behave)
  • Iceberg: like the being roughly 90% under water, not knowing like this is not just limited to culture, but to all fluent knowledge (example of grammar, used implicitly)
    • The 10% of explicit knowledge is very important to the human condition

Understanding Adaptive Cultures

  • The tacit character of knowledge must be emphasized to understand how we function within a cultural context we’re familiar with
  • We don’t know it by remember the knowledge and deploying it
    • Performance is reflective and intuitive
    • The moves we make (imitation), we often do them without understanding why
  • Not all reflexive → we also Systematize Culture:
    • Inheritance of knowledge: Education / Mentoring
    • Selection: identifying critical variables and testing their differential influence
    • Variation: rapid proto-typing
  • We therefore get the benefit of these cultural toolkits, which are 90% tacit, but we can begin to grasp it better by surfacing more

Valuing Adaptive Cultures

  • We encapsulate routines and hugely amplify our effective bandwidth, by submerging certain aspects of our awareness (–> leads to tacit knowledge)
  • Copying, variation, and selection are automatic and intuitive, which make them something we can rely on
  • The 10% of knowledge that we surface allows us to understand and re-direct
  • Caution: Losing track of the place of the tacit and how we function in any area of our lives

Fostering Adaptive Cultures

  • We have certain structures in place: formal education, the scientific method, rapid proto-typing, ideas, protocols, procedures, etc but these process only have an isolated role unless they’re supported by something broader
  • They must be supported by a culture
  • It’s not enough to just have research strategies and systems, the tacit knowledge is important, and they must be supported by the culture
  • We must remember there are only a couple ways that knowledge becomes tacit:
    • Internalization of self
    • Tacit learning (like how we learn our Mother Tongue)
    • If we want to be inclusive, adaptive cultures, we need to foster internalization f the explicit practices
    • It isn’t enough to articulate principles – we must repeat, persist, developing processes
    • As we design learning occasions, we must incorporate explicit learning and tacit learning from the get-go (combining the formal and informal learning)
    • Remember that we must
      • (1) take tacit knowledge seriously
      • (2) have gateways to the tacit knowledge
      • (3) foster internalization
      • (4) foster tacit learning


To listen to Dave’s presentation click the follow link:  Understanding Culture – the 64,000 foot view.

Harvard Graduate School of Education