Cultural Signals

FabrianoFabbri-4-thumb-342x511-64010As a linguist, I've spent a good portion of my time and work-life making sense of how we use expression as a way to design experiences — for ourselves even if just as thoughts, and for others in the form of stories.

What we say, and even before that what we think — our motivation and intent — affect what we do.

Expression comes in several flavors, including verbal, non verbal, and behavioral.

A culture is a collaborative conversation made of signals, noise, alignment, and dissonance. In this sense, we've had contextual technology since forever.

If you're familiar with the work of The Institute for the Future, you know that each year they publish a Map of the Decade#, a report that offers an overview of major forces that are more strongly driving the shape and challenges of the next ten years.

In this sense, IFTF looks at the future using the density of signal around a concentrated number of topics or issues and associated stories.

For 2012, they documented the flow of the incumbent path of impossible scenarios and those associated with the emergent path.

What's needed in the future of business

In a different report on the Future of Work, the Institute for the Future outlines the six drivers of change:

1. Extreme longevity: Increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning

2. Rise of smart machines and systems: Workplace automation nudges human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks

3. Computational world: Massive increases in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system

4. New media ecology: New communication tools require new media literacies beyond text

5. Superstructed organizations: Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation

6. Globally connected world: Increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations

These themes drive the search for a certain type of skills businesses and teams
should be looking for when hiring and collaborating with other pros.

This is essentially where we are now, and these skills or abilities are critical:

  • sense-making or critical thinking — the
    ability to deconstruct complex information and determine the deeper
    meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • social intelligence — the ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • novel and adaptive thinking — proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • cross-cultural competency — the ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • computational thinking — ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • new media literacy — ability to critically assess
    and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these
    media for persuasive communication
  • transdisciplinarity — literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • design mindset — ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • cognitive load management — ability to discriminate
    and filter information for importance, and to understand how to
    maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • virtual collaboration — ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team
an overview of the major forces that are shaping this century – See
more at:

Before you start developing matrices and psych quizzes
to onboard people with these skills sets, you need another vital data point:   

an overview of the major forces that are shaping this century – See
more at:
an overview of the major forces that are shaping this century – See
more at: you start developing matrices and psych quizzes
to onboard people with these skills sets, you need another vital data point:


What's needed for the future of business. What the business itself

And that is to shed the unnecessary complexity that has held trade hostage and
prevented organizations and brands from keeping their promises.

Business model rules

In a mature market, we need to get back to basics and rediscover the value of promises.

For trade to succeed, businesses will require discipline, structure,
and drill. So they can see once again (or for the first time) what they
have, what they need to start doing more of, and what they need to stop

To make this happen, you will need people who understand the effect of flows (for example: context, conversation, knowledge) on assets (the value exchanged).

This is not about where people sit, or what tools they should use to be more productive or collaborative themselves or on behalf of the business.

It's a conversation about culture and relationships.


My inspiration to revisit this idea of culture as context was an interview with Italian professor Fabiano Fabbri (who also graduated from the University of Bologna, my Alma Mater) about the bilingual publication of his recent book L'Orizzonte degli Eventi on Cool Hunting.

Fabbri says:

"event horizon" is the boundary of a black hole; an astrophysics phenomenon in which matter becomes incredibly dense and concentrated.

To me it works pretty well to track down the density of fashion as a cultural field in which you can find references to any type of nowadays aesthetic expressions.

Starting from fashion as a concentrated cultural object, you can actually identify uncountable connections to movies, philosophy, industrial design, video games and art.

A concentrated cultural object, signal. Words matter, language matters.


[edited from archives]


Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at
conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her for a
speaking engagement click here.