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Culture, Complexity, and Informing: How Shared Beliefs Can Enhance Our Search for Fitness

, University of South Florida, United States

Proceedings of the Informing Science and Information Technology Education Conference, ISSN 1535-0703 Publisher: Informing Science Institute


Where shared knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and artifacts exist within a group, we have a culture. Culture plays a central role in informing research with two key themes being dominant: 1) the challenges presented by communicating across cultures, and 2) the impact of shared attributes, such as receptiveness to novel ideas, on a culture’s readiness to be informed. Recent research in organizational behavior suggests another perspective: that having a strong culture that is also adaptable can significantly improve an organization’s performance across a broad range of possible attributes. In other words, culture itself—independent of specifics—can exert a positive influence. The paper considers this proposition in the context of complex environments, finding considerable theoretical justification. Complex environments present major challenges to individuals seeking to improve their personal fitness; rules tend to be highly localized and fitness drops between states are often sharp. Using a combination of informing science models and simulations of complex landscapes, the paper demonstrates how imitating nearby neighbors proves to be a highly effective strategy as complexity grows. A strong culture fosters similarities across individuals or entities within a group, ensuring that participants have many self-similar neighbors to observe. The shared values can also serve to reduce the distortion we experience when we relate our own experiences and listen to the experiences of others. Encouraging the development of strong culture is not without risk, however. It is already well established that certain cultural traits—such as the unwillingness to attend to individuals outside the cultural grouping—can impede informing. There is also the danger that the underlying processes that produce strong culture—such as homophily and social contagion—may succeed too well in static environments, leading to values that are over-constrained and therefore do not adapt well. By understanding the informing implications of culture, we may be able to better avoid such obstacles in the future.


Gill, G. (2013). Culture, Complexity, and Informing: How Shared Beliefs Can Enhance Our Search for Fitness. In E. Cohen & E. Boyd (Eds.), Proceedings of Proceedings of the Informing Science and Information Technology Education Conference 2013 (pp. 71-98). Informing Science Institute. Retrieved March 29, 2023 from .



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