Culture is defined as the beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a social group. These attributes are agreed upon and shared by that social group. There are five key tenets of culture:
- Culture is learned
- Culture is shared
- Culture is based on symbols
- Culture is integrated
- Culture is dynamic
Understanding culture is paramount in leading positive change. Take for example the story of the Lucky Iron Fish:
In 2008, a Masters student travelled to Cambodia for a research project. While there, he was shocked at the high rates of iron deficiency anemia and anemia in the region. He decided to dedicate his future research to developing a safe, and affordable solution.
The student was Christopher Charles, now Dr. Charles. He was inspired by previous research which showed that cooking in a cast iron pot increased the iron content in food. He developed an iron ingot that could be boiled in soups or drinking water. But not everyone was ready to throw a block of iron into their drinking water. It was clear that Dr. Charles had to better understand the culture in which he was working.
After doing more research on the culture, he realized what he needed to do in order to persuade people to use the ingot, Dr. Charles cast the ingot into the shape of a fish that was considered to be lucky in Cambodian folklore. As explained in his thesis “the concept of a lucky iron fish design did not pander to superstition”, but created a cultural relevance for a solution based on science. To make the fish more attractive to the users, he gave the fish a smile. He called this prototype the ‘Happy Fish’. He went on to show that almost everyone used the fish and results from his research showed that regular use of the Happy Fish decreased anemia by 46%. In 2013, his thesis Happy Fish: A Novel Supplementation Technique to Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia in Women in Rural Cambodia was published. (1,2)
To promote a positive culture that is ready to change we must work to create a dynamic equilibrium with dialogue and shared understanding driving our decisions. Dynamic equilibrium is when a culture accepts change and is able to adapt. This occurs when the rate of change in culture is at a rate that is related to the culture’s ability to cope with it. The ability to cope is not fixed. We can change it for the positive or the negative. With purposeful intent and action, we can grow our togetherness, become more resilient to change, and be more capable of accepting change as a constant. In other words, we can promote a real culture of innovation and start a positive culture shift.
If you liked the Lucky Iron Fish Story, you will LOVE the Ax Story found in Chapter 5 of WanderlustEDU: An Educator’s Guide to Innovation, Change, and Adventure.