I work with a shockingly bright group of Instructional Designers, a team of 12 professionals from crazily diverse backgrounds. I often refer to them as the X-Men even though it’s kind of a misnomer (since we’re 75% female). We possess a wide range of skills, from technological to artistic to athletic. We’ve assembled in this profession in part due to the hiring practices of our boss, but the job lends itself well to the autodidact. The derogatory term for the autodidact, “the dilettante,” is used to denote folks who never really acquire enough knowledge or understanding to master a field, but don’t call any of us dilettantes, because among other skills, some of us are trained kickboxers and axe-wielding endurance runners. I’m not kidding. We will destroy you.

I’m fascinated with this team as a whole; how we work, why we get stuck or burned out, where we display streaks of genius, and how we sometimes manage to build an innovative online educational environment despite some of our best efforts to sabotage our own progress. Perhaps I’m driven by an adolescent desire to believe that I’m part of an archetypal gang, one like the Goonies, or the A-Team (more recently I’ve been obsessed with SciFy’s Alphas, a show that revolves around a team of genetically mutated but advanced humans), but I’d rather believe that I’ve somehow been lucky enough to end up surrounded by an honest-to-goodness group of eccentric, intelligent, anti-authoritarian, creative, and generally disruptive autodidacts.

I recently bumped into a review of a book I have yet to read, Dan Mezick’s The Culture Game, that struck me as encouraging an oddly similar environment to the one I’m blessed to be part of. The review sums up the 16 practices that form the backbone of the book, and each of them are valuable actions that, for the most part, form the culture of UAF eCampus. You can see the list here. I looked into the central theme of the book, what’s referred to as “culture hacking” and found that Jim and Michele McCarthy in their book Software for Your Head define the activity as

itself a distinct kind of culture engineering, and is faithful to the particular hacker ethos that originated in the world of software hacking. Good culture hacking will tend to protect personal freedom, extend openness, embody rationality and promote culture design elegance. Culture hacking takes into account the limits and uses of authority, is skeptical of incoherent institutional power, and is subversive of it. As our many cultures become increasingly (and fruitfully) hacked, we will likely grow in effectiveness, and ambition. This will bring more and more of the world’s problems into manageable scope. This will likely trigger an unprecedented Golden Era.

Skeptical and subversive of institutional power? Check. Extending and encouraging openness and promoting culture design elegance? Check.

Really, the 16 point framework of The Culture Game weren’t activities that I’d never heard of, but they were a nice collection of things that are already being done in my office and may have something to do with why the Instructional Design Team is so extraordinary. We are more than the simple sum of our parts. At least, we are for now. Identifying the unique and effective ways we operate as a team and distinguishing them from the unique talents that we display as individuals seems important to the longevity of the team in the face of inevitable changes in management. The concept of culture hacking and the idea that it can make a collection of remarkable team members function at optimum levels is appealing, and I’m relieved that there are books on this topic out there that I can bury my head in later on.

P.S. Here is a list of skills and interests we as a team possess. Note that only half of the team responded when I asked for personal lists:

sport climber, spear thrower (javeline), axe wielding, parachutist,propagandist, endurance runner, photographer, wood turner, bookbinder, paper cutting/collage sculpture, paddler, apple picker, basket weaver, sewer, dressage horsemanship, fixed wing single engine pilot. telescope operator/tour guide. swim instructor/life guard. hang glider pilot. masseuse. politician/local representative. campaign manager. Apple picker. McDonalds worker drone. journalist/editor/photographer. mediator. level 85 night elf priest healer. guild leader, antique fountain pen restorer, collector of antique and modern watermarked paper, hand bookbinder, writer of poetry, collector of monkey ephemera, origami folder, dedicated (and I mean really dedicated) snail mail correspondent, rock guitar god wannabe, modular unit origami, fountain pen restoration, ink mixing and preservation, racquetball (those were the days), “extroversion for the introverted,” and rock and metal guitar playing, the art of the letter, and “exploring marginalia.” graphic designer, web developer, web designer, web marketing and SEO,   relational database monkey, silver smith, photographer, printmaker, bike mechanic, cat whisperer, technical illustrator, world traveler, bike racer, deckhand, merchant mariner, watchman, kickboxer, glissader, roller skater, disco dancer, DJ, barista, bartender, EMT, science writer, clothing designer,  belly dancer, stain glass quilting, tile & stone work,  programmer analyst, manager, designer, owner, marketer, bookkeeper (hated it), editor, data specialist (ETL), buyer, Distinguished Toastmaster, writer (knitting patterns – self published for store). staffing, HR, budget, help desk, sheetrock, Deacon, local talent for radio and tv ads