Social Fluency

information fluency chris lott
After Nancy White pointed me to Chris Lott’s articles on Northern Voice, and on love, and Chris replied to my Tuesday post on how easily we unintentionally hurt each other through our actions, I did a bit more research on Chris’ work and discovered the remarkable chart above on Information Fluency. Chris put this together a couple of years ago for an IT audience and has since expanded on it, but for me it produced an immediate aha!

Our professional ‘value’ really is a function of the extent of, and our ability to integrate, our knowledge, our thinking competencies, and our communication competencies. Insight depends on our ability to apply critical thinking to what we know. Reportage is the application of our communication skills to what we know. Rhetoric is the articulation of our thinking. And the ability to do all of these things in an integral way is what Chris calls ‘information fluency’.

I think this is brilliant, and it got me thinking about how this model could be broadened to represent our social fluency — our ability to function socially in the modern complex world, to be of use socially to others in our communities. The chart below is what I came up with.
social fluency
What this chart says is that:

  • Our social value to others is a function of (a) the extent of our knowledge, our thinking competency (critical, creative and imaginative), and our communication skills (conversation, presentation and demonstration), and (b) our ability to integrate these three things.
  • This ability to integrate these three things gives rise to insight, ideas and new perspectives (application of thinking competency to knowledge), reportage and stories (application of communication skills to knowledge), rhetoric and provocation (articulation of our thinking competency), and art (the expression of thinking competency applied to knowledge). Chris and I love the addition of art, in its broadest sense (the representation of reality), to the model.
  • This ability to integrate is social fluency. If we represented individuals’ different social fluency graphically, those with high levels of fluency would have larger circles (more knowledge, greater thinking competency and communication skills) with greater overlap (better integration of these three things).

In thinking about this further and reading Nancy White’s blog, I realized that what was missing from the model was learning. I realized that the model was from the perspective of the actor (presenter, demonstrator, creator, artist) and not the perspective of the reactor (audience, listener, student, learner).

It occurred to me that since social activity is like a dance, there should be a ‘mirror’ set of attributes for effective response-ability (responsibility). My first cut at these is in red brackets above:

  • Our ability to derive social value from others (to learn) is a function of (a) our openness to others’ knowledge and ideas, our learning competency (ability to learn) and our attention skills, and (b) our ability to integrate these three things.
  • This ability to integrate these three things gives rise to understanding (openness to new ideas and knowledge, and the learning competency to process it), appreciation (openness to new ideas and knowledge, and the attention skills to be aware of them), and self-change (attention skills to be aware of change opportunities, and the learning competency to be able to apply them).
  • The reactive counterpart to art is improvisation. Social fluency requires not only the ability to integrate knowledge, thinking competency and communication skills as an ‘actor’, but the ability to integrate openness, learning competency and attention skills as a ‘reactor’, a learner. That’s precisely what improvisation is about.

What’s interesting to me about this is that some people are terrific ‘artists’ (they re-present reality well, as teachers, painters, presenters etc.) but not very good ‘improvisers’ (they are closed-minded and not open to new ideas and new learning). This is a terrible shame — such people are underskilled for a peer-to-peer world where social exchange is two-way. Likewise, there are some great ‘improvisers’ (people who have learned a great deal) who are unskilled at expressing that learning, ‘passing it on’.

It would be interesting to see a social network map that depicted individuals not just as dots (nodes) but with their six circles. This could show what people value in others in their networks/communities, and what they offer, and how that effects both their ‘popularity’ and the strength of the community as a whole.

So what can we do, as individuals, to improve our social fluency — to become better artists and improvisers? I think the first step is self-knowledge — to know what our strengths and weaknesses are in each of the six circles. Andthe second step is practice, with others who are both better and worse than we are at each.

What do you think of this model? Have I overloaded it? Is it useful? Is it missing something? Where does presence fit into it? Where does love fit?.

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4 Responses to Social Fluency

  1. Lisa Deng says:

    I think this model is very useful in understanding the social interaction and learning. After I read this, two variables that might influence dimensions in the model popped up. One is the media, be it online or offline, synchronized or asynchronized, might affect ways of communication, thinking and processing information. The other one is strength of social ties. Whether the social tis is strong or weak might influence our perception and attitudes during the interaction.

  2. Nancy White says:

    Nodding in agreement with what Lisa wrote. I call it the “slack factor.” We listen more generously and give more slack to those we have decided to trust/like/etc. It changes how we take in the communication.

  3. We used to teach salesmen and business people skills in two dimensions that are critical for communication. The one is the ability to show empathy, the other is to be flexible enough to move towards the other’s communication style. FOr example some people are very action oriented and wnat to talk about the planning dimension. Others are more oriented towards analysis and getting the facts right and understanding the situation before taking action. Another area, where I tend to go, is to prioritise that everyone feels good about the situation. These dimensions come from Jung. If I understand him right, he meant that all personality types are needed in a group in order for the group, or tribe, to possess a wide enough variety of ways of handling situations. I shall study the model closer. Mayber this aspect is in there or could be squeezed in somehow.

  4. Dawn+ says:

    Your model opens up some new ways of thinking on a number of levels for me. I spend a significant portion of my time thinking about, teaching, and engaged in hermeneutics. Improvisation connotes the kind of creative, fluid, and experimental work at the heart of the best work in my field, which involves ancient texts. While I would not describe the model as presented as “missing something,” I would adapt Communication Skills</e> a bit to include engagement with a text as conversation partner.Thank you for your part of my social network this day.

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