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Acculturation: A Little Deeper

 18. September 2018

i’ve mentioned “acculturation” a couple of times lately. let’s dig in a little deeper on that.

in our trade, we make much of “education”, training and learning and skills inventories and such-like. i say we make much of it, well. that’s an overstatement, of course. companies talk about it a great deal. but i’m often struck by fabulously wealthy companies who are utterly dependent on and desperately needful of geek skills and won’t pay a dime to improve them. but even if only in theory, we’re a trade of people who value education in our profession.

you should understand that i am not speaking of education, lessons, slides, coursework, books, training, or anything of the stripe i refer to as information transfer when i refer to acculturation.

in information transfer, we are moving some information from person A to person B. and that’s fine, but it’s insufficient, on two counts.

first, information transfer as a scheme only works when person A both has the information and is aware she has the information. i don’t think you have to engage in any endeavor at all where there are highly-skilled practitioners before you realize that they know information they do not know they know. this is not mystical. many of you know perfectly well how to walk, provided only that you are not thinking about it as you do it. (that’s a great fun thing to try, by the way. try consciously controlling every muscle you can sense as you walk.)

so there’s a big difference, a gigantic difference, between being able to do a thing and being aware of how it is done.

second, a great many of the things highly skilled people know how to do are not technique at all. they’re not rules or mostly even heuristics. they are the stuff of culture. they are attitudes, feelings, approaches, style.

this second problem is even bigger than the first. if you think it’s hard to be aware of all the technique you use, multiply that ten million times by all the tradition, style, color, approach, humor, grace, and other non-techniques you use.

and yet all that stuff is actually critical to your success as a high-skilled practitioner.

and it doesn’t fit in powerpoint or lesson-plans, and parts of it do fit in books, but not the kind of books we send geeks out to study.

so when i push for acculturation, when i point out that the enculturation process in our trade has been completely swamped by the rate at which the insatiable demand sucks in noobs and promotes second-year noobs to leadership, i am not talking about more education.

as a geek, when do i laugh, and when do i cry? when do i say enough’s enough and go shape tool to hand instead of hand to tool? when do i say no and when yes? how can i tell when i’m having a touch-turns-to-shit day and need to go home?

sure, i have, we have, all kinds of advice for these things, and even some heuristics. but they don’t really hold it or even come close to it. the only thing that holds it is us living together, forming a culture, and bringing noobs into it even as they start shaping it.

an important point needs to be made here, too: if we attended more carefully to acculturation, we’d have far less of a diversity problem that we do now. when there is no time for the strange loop of bringing others in to our culture even as they help re-frame it, we fall back, in two ways to two stances, both of which are anti-diversity.

1 we force-fit. reject anyone who can’t or won’t or doesn’t already understand our pre-existing culture.

2 we adopt & adapt nearby culture that has no relevance to actually performing the geek life well.

both of these are profoundly crippling hacks, because both of them keep us from being able to bring in to our culture people who could readily improve our performance.

that’s an economics argument, but i can’t stop there, cuz it ain’t just money. both of them keep us from being able to maximize our shared geek joy. they keep us from being – some will snort – fully actualized beings who happen to be highly skilled geeks. they keep us – many more will raise eyebrows – from the love we seek in the world.

i don’t know what to do about this exactly. i have vague stirrings of ideas. i certainly can see that some movements within the trade would make great elements of an approach that would take acculturation seriously.

but if seems to me we have to take that first step. we have to speak of culture in a rich self-aware way. we have to shape our own cultures consciously.

we have the means to start all of this.

we have the means. when i talk about acculturation, i’m trying to stengthen motive.