This post was written by Jennifer Einolf, a Newfield graduate of the Coaching for Personal & Professional Mastery program and a member of Newfield’s Alumni Committee.
Intelligence expert Jean-François Noubel walked out barefoot onto the stage of the ICF Converge Conference in Washington DC and invited the members of the audience to remove their shoes as well. A few people accepted the invitation and many others squirmed and looked uncomfortable. He then began to talk about what he calls the “hidden architecture of culture.”
Beneath the seen, the intentional, the noted and the deliberately created, is the unseen blueprint, the unnoticed belief, the unintentional lesson, the automatically replicated blueprint of culture. It is this blueprint that often prevents us from creating something new.
This concept of the hidden architecture is similar to what Newfield Network calls “cultural drift.” The idea that the culture that we live in is like the air we breathe, ever present yet largely unnoticed. Our culture has a very sneaky impact on us: It often directs our ideas and actions without us being aware of it.
This is very relevant to coaching and to change. We often seek transformation by taking new actions yet we end up replicating the same disappointing results. The stories that we inherit from our families, absorb from our culture, learn from our institutions, and accept from our neighbors’ influence, shape and limit the actions we will take. It is when we become aware of the hidden architecture, when we see the cultural drift, that we can suddenly see a whole new world of possibilities.
If the architecture is hidden, how do we observe it?
One experiment that Noubel did to explore the hidden architecture of culture was to try walking barefoot as much as possible for a few years. This practice allowed him to notice the thoughtless ways in which he had been relying on shoes to protect his feet and taught him to make more conscious decisions about where to place his feet. This new way of seeing the world not only changed the mechanics of his stride but also led him to become more connected to his surroundings.
While this multi-year experimentation of barefootedness may have disappointed some of the attendees looking for bite-sized, social media shareable shortcuts, it opened up an intriguing line of inquiry for me. How might we take challenges and run experiments to reveal and investigate the hidden influences that shape our choices, our actions, and our outcomes?
One place to start is another experiment that may be a bit more accessible than wandering about barefoot. Noubel referred to this experiment as “E-Prime.” E-Prime is the practice of communicating in English without the “to be” verb. It requires that you eliminate the use of ‘is,’ ‘was,’ and ‘are.’ Consider the difference between the statements, “He is lazy,” and “He wants to conserve energy right now.” The first statement is a permanent statement that elevates opinion to fact. The second serves as a temporary observation of the moment. By eliminating the “to be” verb, a speaker learns to be more mindful and learns to own the full weight of his or her opinions.
Nothing could be more simple and nothing more difficult than challenging the hidden architecture of our lives. As you wake up tomorrow morning and embark on the habit-rich path of your day, what opportunities exist to challenge the unseen messages and beliefs that frame those habits?
Perhaps a simple change, a tiny experiment, a slight deviation from your established norm can yield an insight-rich glimpse into the inherited underpinnings of your decision-making platform.
When we take actions, ask questions, and our observe story from a fresh perspective, we can put the hidden architecture of culture in a place that is within reach for change.