Framing culture as a choice – using the “X over Y” formula

Recently I finished reading “Whiplash – how to survive our faster future” by Joi Ito, Director of MIT Media Lab and Jeff Howe – who coined the phrase crowd-sourcing. Media Lab has a reputation for innovative, highly experimental projects that push at the boundaries between art, technology, learning and society. “Whiplash” discusses 9 core principles that operate at Media Lab – and why they might be relevant more broadly where innovation is found.

"Whiplash" by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe

“Whiplash” by Jeff Ito and Jeff Howe

Each of the 9 principles is phrased as an “X over Y” statement – where one value is contrasted to another. It’s an intriguing formula that includes the following principles:

  • Emergence over authority
  • Pull over push
  • Compasses over maps
  • Risk over safety
  • Disobedience over compliance
  • Practice over theory
  • Diversity over ability
  • Resilience over strength
  • Systems over objects

The culture that we foster at work and elsewhere in our lives typically reflects similar choices – whether we make them consciously or not. Maybe we’re under pressure to always deliver results quickly and so speed is valued over presentation format. Or maybe being seen to be inclusive of everyone’s preferences is more important than mandating core processes.

Community management is an especially interesting case to consider because it often reflects an organization’s cultural values to the outside world, which may result in feedback that encourages those values to evolve. For example, an organization may have a clearly defined set of products that to date have performed well (“reliability over experimentation”). Yet, it may want to be more customer-oriented, and so creates new channels for customer feedback via a community platform. Some newly submitted ideas from customers could result in a change in the way new products are developed such that a new values statement might be “feedback over familiar methods.”

How would you describe your work culture if you had to construct a list of similar phrases to Ito’s?

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