Lesson 4.4

Virtues, Principles, and High Performing Cultures

Key Concepts:


People who come from different cultures or who have cognitive diversity will probably not share all the same values.

  • As we’ve learned in earlier lessons, different ways of thinking are essential to groups becoming smarter than their smartest or most powerful members.

There are some universal virtues that all cultures tend to see as “good.”

  • See Lesson 3.11 for more on this, and in particular the virtue of Wisdom and its components.

A lot of “value systems” don’t dispute other groups’ virtues (guiding principles), but they do say that certain virtues are more important than others.

  • Moral Foundations theory (see Lesson 3.6) says that most humans feel things are good or bad because of the same six biological impulses. E.g. Most people believe that caring for others is usually a good thing, and harming others is usually a bad thing.

  • However, virtues often conflict, leading to moral dilemmas. E.g. What happens when taking care of someone in need requires you to harm someone else?

  • Value systems—often religion- or culture-based—help people sort out which choice to make in a moral dilemma.

  • When our “values conflict” with another person’s or group’s, it’s usually actually our ranking of principles in our value system that conflicts. E.g. A pacifist may believe it’s better to not actively harm a person to prevent harm to a defenseless person; and an activist may believe it’s better to prevent harm to a defenseless person even if it means causing harm to someone else.

In a culture that wants to solve problems in novel ways together, it’s helpful to not force people to conform to a ranking of values, and to instead use Wisdom to mediate dilemmas on a case by case basis.

  • This allows the equation of Cognitive Diversity + Cognitive Friction + Intellectual Humility to actually work.

  • Easier said than done? Yes.

  • But worth it? Also yes!


Now that we’ve delved into the nuances of virtues, values, and principles, we’re going to move on to actionable steps we can take to make a high-performing cultural environment that makes use of our differences!