Watch Out! What a Values Lens is—and is Not!

Our users love Cultural Detective‘s Values Lenses. Many of them even call our toolset “Cultural Detective Lenses” rather than “the Cultural Detective Series.”

Customers tell us they use Values Lenses to:

  • Quickly build recognition that cultures are, indeed, different.
  • Establish credibility that these tools and their facilitation are effective.
  • Supplement—amplify and deepen—the analysis of a critical incident, or better understand a personal life event.
  • Reflect on ways in which they have become who they are by overlaying national, gender, generational, religious tradition or sexual orientation Lenses with Personal Lenses.
  • Contrast their “home culture” Lens with that of a new culture to predict where there might be synergy and resonance, as well as potential difficulties or challenges.
  • Learn to focus on the things that make a difference, to observe and respect deep culture, rather than becoming preoccupied with dos and don’ts.
  • Empower members of their organization to explain their culture(s) to others. Though they may not individually hold the values on the culture’s Lens, the Lens enables them to explain the larger society’s tendencies in ways that help newcomers to be successful.

All of this is fine and good, except that Values Lenses scare the bejeebers out of me!

Ever since publishing Ecotonos back in the early nineties, I’ve said that publishing a tool is like launching a child out into the world: products, like children, take on lives of their own. They do not always do what their parents or creators might have intended. Tools serve certain purposes and not others. Tools can be used expertly or misused.

Since Values Lenses can be such powerful tools, they can also be dangerous tools when misused. Thus the reason for this post. We want to make sure you understand how to use Values Lenses appropriately, and help us keep them from being used counterproductively.

So, what are Values Lenses? And what are they not?

  • Values Lenses summarize the top five to seven core values or general tendencies of a group of people, a culture. They do not apply to individuals within a culture, and the values have a complex influence on sub-cultures of the Lens culture.
  • They illustrate how members of a culture tend to see the world—looking out through the Lens, and how a culture tends to influence its members—like sun shining in through the colors of the Lens. It is important to remember it is “tend to,” not “always do.” Context is key.
  • They capture the ideal and actual aspects of a culture, intention and perception, positive and negative, yin and yang. A Lens both illustrates the values that members of a culture aspire to, and some ways in which the expression of those values might be negatively perceived by those who don’t share them. A Values Lens is a starting point for inquiry; it does not contain every value held by every member of a culture.
  • Values Lenses are tools for discovery and dialogue, clues that may give us an idea about what makes people tick. They are not yet another “box” into which to stereotype people!

Values Lenses can be extremely effective tools, and they are a key component of the Cultural Detective Method. Remember, however, that it is the process of using the Cultural Detective Worksheet that is fundamental to the Cultural Detective approach.

We’d love to hear your ideas and techniques for helping others learn through the use of Cultural Detective Values Lenses! Let us know how you are creatively applying Values Lenses in your life—personally and/or professionally.