Our actions affect others affect our actions

How does the culture of a group emerge?

Culture is created when behaviors of those within a group establish patterns over time and, in turn, the behaviors of the individuals are reinforced by those patterns. Ed Schein says “culture is the sum total of all the shared, taken-for-granted assumptions that a group has learned throughout its history.” Those assumptions, both implicit and explicit, shape the behavior of the individuals, and the individual behaviors collectively shape the ongoing assumptions.

No matter the size of a social group (team, department, organization, industry, society), culture is formed whenever the collection has enough common experience to form patterns. These patterns are not unchanging, set in stone, but instead are more like the flow of water, constantly adapting to the obstacles and paths of least resistance.  As the external environment changes, as the individuals within the group change their responses, the patterns shift. When individuals move in or out of the group, the culture changes – it is now made up of different components, influenced by different behaviors, and presents new patterns.

There are countless components to what makes up the culture of a given group of people. It may include patterns of individual behavior such as honesty, anger, service, intimidation, or conviviality. There may be components of organizational behavior - development cycles, pay schedules, responses to emerging opportunities, workflow, etc. Changes inside a system and changes in the environment affect the look and feel of culture at any given point in time. Again from Schein, “…cultural assumptions involve not only the internal workings of the organization, but, more important, how the organizations views itself in relation to its various environments.”

Let's take this to the individual level. How do you view yourself in relation to your various networks?  Do you behave differently depending on the situation and the people you are with? Think of the common experiences and backgrounds that shape your behavior in these different settings. Consider groups where you feel at home – and those where you feel like an outsider. How does this impact your behavior? When you consider your behavior across several groups, what patterns do you see?


Families as patterns of interaction

The concept of family as a pattern is shared across many cultures.  Is a family defined only as a nuclear married couple and the children in that home, or is a family defined as any close and personal bond formed by mutual love, respect, and appreciation?  Is family a closed pattern or is it one that is rich with possibility and diversity?  Do human beings create their families and communities by choosing those with whom they relate and how those relationships will play out?  Or are human beings placed, by destiny, into family and social relationships where roles are strictly defined and assigned?  Can human beings influence the patterns in their lives or are they at the mercy of chance and fate, struggling to live the roles into which they are cast? 

We believe that one scenario opens and generates powerful possibilities and the other shuts out both promise and possibility.


Foundational ideas

We believe that human beings, as they interact over time, generate patterns of behavior and relationship that characterize their co-existence.  These patterns come to be known as the “culture” of the group. 

In HSD, patterns are defined as similarities, differences, and relationships that have meaning across space and time. Whether those relationships are formed in families, communities, organizations, or nations, patterns of interaction and behavior bind people together in their similarities and set them apart by making them unique.  As a member of a group, I define myself by these patterns.  Politics, religion, and national priorities are just a few of the patterns that are played out at all levels of human existence and give meaning to individuals’ lives.

We believe that human beings influence those patterns as we respond to triggers and events around us.  When we experience a pattern positively and return to it frequently, we amplify that pattern, increasing the chances that it will continue to grow.  For instance, humans seek the safety and comfort of family and community.  Because of what those relationships offer us, we continue to build and honor them, increasing the chances that those patterns will be preserved and expanded. 

Possibilities are defined as unspecified qualities that hold unbounded promise.  We believe that human beings can and do influence patterns in their lives.  Further, if they come to understand dynamics of those patterns, they can take intentional steps to shift those patterns and influence real change in their lives.

We are not saying we are fully in control of patterns of life.  Those patterns are generated by actions and interactions beyond our own influence, so we cannot hope to control everything that happens in our world.

What we can do, however, is take steps to influence patterns in our immediate spheres.  In our moment-by-moment interactions, we choose our responses.  We choose to move toward self or other; we choose to move toward health or not; we choose to move toward or away from long-term or short-term fitness in our environment.

The choices we make about patterns in our lives create possibility.  Each individual makes choices.  Families and communities make choices.  Nations make choices about what is or can be possible.  That is our focus. 

How can we participate—at every scale of living and interaction—to identify, describe, and influence patterns in our lives to bring about the greatest possibilities for each of us as individuals?  As partners and colleagues?  As siblings and friends?  As Americans or as members of the global family?


Who are we?

In addition to the About Us link, here is a little introduction:

Royce Holladay – After spending almost 25 years working in public education, I jokingly refer to myself as a “recovering educator.” I am addicted to learning and engaging others in a shared dance of looking beyond where we stand. I explore complex ideas and find ways to explain them in simple, elegant ways. Talking and exploring are so much more engaging when shared with others.

Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) captures my attention because it puts words to what I have always sensed about my experience as a human—we are systems in systems in systems, growing and adjusting every moment as our world around us shifts. We change our worlds simply by being in them; our world changes us every moment.  We are semi-autonomous – we make our own choices and destinies inside a world of experiences, relationships, and responsibilities that influence us.  We are complex beings, massively entangled with each other and with our environments.  Language describes these experiences and lets me explore and expand them.

I am a writer, consultant, and artist who raised two daughters.  I have one granddaughter who is the light of my life.  After having grown up in Texas, I have lived on both US coasts in urban, suburban, and rural settings.  I work as the Director of Network for the Human Systems Dynamics Institute in Minnesota, USA.

Mary Nations – I am one who readily finds connections, and I like to build bridges where those connections are not so obvious to others. I began my career as a statistician and was very comfortable working with data. However, in the process of going through two large-scale mergers and the subsequent culture shifts, I became much more interested in how people work and interact.

What is it that binds some people together? What drives others apart, and what might shift that dynamic? These are the questions and stances that attracted me to Human Systems Dynamics. HSD helps me learn about, make sense of, and engage with the patterns of human interactions. Each choice I make in a system affects that system, and the system also has an effect on me in making my choices.  These dynamical effects exist in a constantly changing landscape of interaction with others. I like to consider what influences these shifts, and what actions I can take to have the influence I want.

Like Royce, I love learning.  In particular, I love to learn by asking questions (just ask Royce!). I am a natural researcher, and often stay consumed by looking for ways to understand a new topic. I like to jump into the confusion to figure out new ways of seeing. In this blog, I hope to share what I am learning, and invite you to do the same.

Mary and I met about 3 years ago as she joined a cohort of people who came together in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, to become certified as Human Systems Dynamics Professionals.  Having gone through the certification class in 2003, I was a teaching Associate in that session.  We recognized almost immediately that we were seeking similar insights, standing in almost identical inquiries and approaches.  Since that time we have spent time—electronically and in person—to exchange and explore ideas as we pursued this path of shared learning. 

This blog establishes a public side to our exchange and exploration. 

So that is who we are—and only such a small part of who we are.  Part of the purpose of this blog is to continue that exploration into who Mary and I are as we participate individually and together in this ongoing dance of self-organizing, emergent life. 


What we are not about...

We want to be sure to state, up front, what we are not about.

  • Exclusion – Language, ideas or insights that arbitrarily exclude individuals or groups of people. 
  • Final answers – We believe that there are no final answers in this exploration—human beings continue to grow and adapt across time. They learn from each other and from their environments in this emergent dance of self-organization.  Our answers, rather than being final can only be good enough.  They are good enough for our current understanding; good enough for where we are now; good enough to help us move forward.
  • Closed loops of information – Learning is constant and expansive by nature.  We want to continue to open the field, explore possibilities, and seek the next answer, even as we share what we are seeing today.

We are human – complex and adaptive; learning new stuff everyday. It is entirely possible that we will, in our excitement or naiveté’, look arbitrary; seem to offer a final answer, or appear to be closing something off.   At any point, we don’t know what we don’t know, and we encourage your feedback.  Let us know if you believe we have violated our intentions—it can open a whole new avenue of exploration.