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The Geometry of Character and Culture

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Before moving to this analysis regarding attitude and geometry, it is important to note that Watson conceives of “attitude” as a dimension of human life that encompasses the dynamics of character and culture. For Watson, attitude includes anything that can’t be directly observed (as is the case with structure and process). As I have already noted, attitudes must be inferred from the behavior that is exhibited. Though attitudes exist at the level of tacit knowledge for the person who has the attitude, this dimension of human life has a powerful impact on the functioning of an organization or society.

The Rules of Topology

We can now turn to the more focused analysis of character and culture when creating a bridge to the mathematical field of geometry. Specifically, I propose that character and culture are both about the nature of shape. This seems like a very odd (or at least abstract) statement to make. Let me try to articulate what I mean here in concrete terms that relate specifically to masterful coaching strategies.

Topology and the Three C’s

The branch of mathematics that is concerned with shape is broadly identified as geometry; however, there is a sub-branch called topology from which I have gained many insights about the three C’s: coaching, character and culture. In topology, the primary concern is not with the size of things, but rather with the form that is taken and with the ways two shapes can be equivalent even if one is much bigger than the other. One can even talk about a microscopic (or even sub-atomic) shape being equivalent to the shape of a galaxy. In recent years this notion of equivalence has shown up in the analysis of fractals (shapes that replicate themselves at multiple levels). We see that fractal shapes are to be found in the branches of a pine tree, in a river basin, or in far-distant galaxy clusters.

We can also apply this concept of equivalency when examining character and culture. One’s personal character shows up as consistent behavior in everyday life and in the big decisions that are made at critical periods in one’s life. The same values are engaged when buying a tube of toothpaste as when choosing a life partner or career. Many years ago, I did a study with one of my graduate students regarding the founding stories of couples who have been together for many years. We found that there were certain interactive patterns in the founding narrative that still show up in the lives of these men and women. These patterns even show up in the very special way the founding story is told by the couple.

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