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?


Technorati Tags: Pagel,wired,culture,RSA,Edelman,trust,barometer,social,relationship,learning,Crexia,#slconf


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  1. Barry Sampson9 March 2012 at 00:21

    I'm not denying that the trend to trust 'people like me' is something real and growing, and as @shackletonjones tweeted - this behaviour is definitely a feature of social networks; but a feature is not necessarily a benefit.

    This area has been well researched, extends far beyond social media and social networks and existed long before they did. You only have to think about newspaper choices to see the way that people look for sources that reinforce their existing views and prejudices. What social media has done, as it has with so many other things, is make it easier to find like minded people and to find them in ever smaller groups (cliques?) which they can join.

    Of course it can be very beneficial to use social networks to connect with peers that you would not otherwise have been able to.

    However, there is a problem that I see manifested in social networks (Twitter in particular) every day; the social media echo chamber. By finding, following and interacting with 'people like me', I can say what I already believe to be true and I know that my 'tribe' will give me plenty of positive reinforcement.

    I'm horrified by the suggestion that in order to learn we need to 'transform people like them into people like us'. I don't need to like, trust or be like someone in order to learn from them; I do need to respect them, no matter how different they are to me.

  2. Thanks Barry, I appreciate the comment, and its challenging nature. As I said yesterday, it's important 'social' doesn't mean 'nice'(not that this is nasty) - we need to be able to have robust debates in this media.

    Re your first point, I do disagree. I think social media opens people up to a whole new world of influences - obviously depending upon how they use it, but I see more of this than the other.

    And yes, regarding your second point, it is of course possible to learn from these influences.

    But although this is what I wrote above (though not what I believe I said in my opening), it's not quite what I meant.

    What I was really trying to get to is that we're going to struggle to learn WITH (rather than FROM), ie socially.

    We can learn based upon what people say. We can use what people say to challenge our own thinking and learn from this reflection.

    But I still suspect we're not going to be able to learn with them effectively - to learn through conversation, or to learn together - unless we have the sorts of relationships I've referred to in my post.

    I will say however, that I've not thought about this much before, and as I wrote, I don't know of any research that supports (or challenges) my conclusions (it'd be a different research area from whether people look for sources that reinforce their existing views).

    So I do reserve the right to change my mind on this and I am very much trying to engage in the social behaviour I talked about at the conference - of sharing ideas for social input before they're fully formed.

    I still currently think I'm at least partly right in my suggestion though!

  3. Oh, meant to add: this is, I think, why unconferences work so well - the environment (lack of hierarchy) helps people connect (become plm's) and this enables learning to take place.

    Also see:


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