Thursday, 8 March 2012

Making People Like Them People Like Us


   I’m chairing Crexia’s Social Learning Unconference today.  As part of this , I delivered this morning’s opening introduction, helping to provide some focus and context for later conversations.

Thinking last night about what I was going to say today, I focused on a couple of inputs I personally have experienced over the last couple of weeks.

The first of these was Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer which David Armano referenced in his session on social engagement as part of Social Media Week London.  The Barometer shows a continuing fall in levels of trust in traditional sources of authority (lawyers, politicians, journalists etc) and another big rise in trust in technical experts, joe employee, and particularly ‘people like me’.

Eg this is one of Edelman’s slides on this that I’ll be using in my training session on using social media that I’ll be running in Kuala Lumpur in just over another week:


The second input was an RSA session with Mark Pagel last week.  Mark’s the author of Wired for Culture and writes / speaks about the evolution of people vs neanderthals as social / tribal animals.

Ie we form tight tribes and to an extent sacrifice our individuality for the good of the tribal collective, eg wear odd clothes and paint our faces with the colours of our favourite team.  We’re one of the few animals, other than the social insects, that have learnt to co-operate with each other within our groups.

Outside these groups, are prime behavioural trait is that of competition vs co-operation.  Pagel shared the example of a man who punched and killed another for the simple, social though unproven crime of queue jumping.

So we co-operate with people like me, ie the in-group, but we compete with anyone we see as a people like them!, ie the out-group.


The impact of this on learning & development practitioners, which only really occurred to me last night, and therefore I haven’t yet really fully thought through, and also, as I said earlier – isn’t, as far as I know, supported by any research, is that for us to learn in groups, we need to find a way to transform people like them into people like us!


Note that I’m not suggesting we should only learn from other people like me.  As has been well tweeted this morning, this would be a real blocker on development – most new ideas are going to come from the people like them, not actually the people like me.

But I simply don’t believe we’re going to be able to learn easily from people like them – while they’re still people like them.  Trying to do so is likely to simply make us reinforce our existing positions, ie to block rather than enable learning.


So, somehow, before we can learn, we need to make these people like them into people like us.  We need to connect with each other, and build trustful relationships with each other, before we can learn.

Does that suggestion work for you?



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