Madrid is new to me: my first time in the city, my first time in Spain in fact. I speak no Spanish and have no mental map of the city. The best i’ve got it Google Maps and Wikipedia, which would normally be enough, until my iPhone died.


Normally, i relish being lost. Not lost as in “middle of the jungle” or “out in the desert”, but rather lost as an explorer. Out of the space that i know, finding my way around a new one. The process of exploration is familiar to me (as is the sense of being lost!): you start with one reference point, then your feet take you on a journey. To start with, you are connected to the space that you know only by a trail of breadcrumbs, but gradually, you construct a map.

Take Madrid: rapidly i tune into the concepts of the city. It has plazas, squares, often attractive, with coffee shops and bars, as well as main arterial commercial streets. The rest of the map is filled in with winding medieval feeling side streets. So: get to know the main squares, use the commercial streets as linkages, and explore the interesting side streets to your hearts content. Hard to get too lost in the centre then.

And yet such confidence is hubris. Amsterdam is a city i get lost in often, not because i don’t know it well (i know it pretty well indeed), but because the streets all curve, so you start heading north and gradually, insidiously, end up heading east. Or south.

With my phone dead in my pocket, and the deadline for a meeting looming, i had little choice but to activate PLAN B: ask a local.

Lacking even the simple Spanish for ‘left’ and ‘right’, i found the most useful directions were generally the non verbal (flailing to the left, pointing vigorously to the relevant street) or architectural (‘church, church’, or ‘palace’, which were reasonably easy to figure out with enough gesturing).

After some false starts, i recognised a restaurant, and my mental map snapped back into place: i was no longer lost. I was found.

These notions of ‘lost’ and ‘found’ move beyond mere geography. Take quantum physics. Do i know a lot about it? No. But do i have a rough mental map? Yes. I can kind of find my way around, but don’t go asking me about all those small side streets.

In fact, as a proud generalist, i have a lot of sketch maps, but very few truly detailed ones. We use the metaphor of exploration when talking about learning for good reason: it’s about location.

Be it as simple as understanding where the mountains are, or where the key concepts lie, we need frameworks, we need schemas, and we need an ability to navigate.

In the Social Age, the communities of locals who help us do it may be connected to us through technology, but the principle is the same.

This understanding can inform a lot of how we think about learning: certainly how we think about Scaffolded Social Learning. Under this approach, we help people understand where the squares are, where the arteries run, but we make no attempt to map the side streets. Instead, they do that for us and sketch a path as they go. When we bring all those paths together, we get a map: co-created and co-owned.

Just remember: Turn left at the church.

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Learning in the Social Age: A Sketch

I’ve been working with a diverse group of Learning professionals in Madrid today, exploring the Social Age and the ways in which learning has evolved. I sketched this up with a small group, to capture the narrative of ‘what learning is about in the Social Age’ and share it now, not really as a finished or polished framework, but rather in the spirit of #WorkingOutLoud.

Learning in the Social Age - a sketch

Learning is about performance: being able to do things, understand things, think things that we were not able to do before. Learning is about change. So i started with the box for ‘performance’ on the right. At least in an organisational context, we are trying to help people to perform.

The ecosystem of the Social Age 2016

Learning is not, crucially, about learning. The actual artefacts, systems, jobs and processes are incidental to the question of performance itself: if we find better ways to do it, we shouldn’t just hang onto the past because it’s familiar to us.

The Social Age of Learning

So we start with ‘Learning’, then move into ‘Rehearsal’, before getting to a place where we can perform. Pretty simple. So check out the other two key elements: technology and community.

In the Social Age, learning is often facilitated by technology and supported by community. So technology is part of the story, but it’s not the story. We are through the Digital Age and firmly into the Social one.

Into the Social Age

The ecosystem of technology most likely to work is one that is diverse and lightweight: i think the Day of the Dinosaurs is over, and those legacy systems that tried to dominate everything has passed. Truly Dynamic organisations will adopt an integration role: lightweight and replaceable systems serving learner needs, not controlling them.

Community only works on a foundation of trust, which must be earned. That’s where Social Leadership comes in: we can’t build coherent communities through formal authority: we have to develop the type of authority that counts in social spaces: Social Authority.

A key element is the loop from Performance back to Rehearsal: that represents the codifying of tacit knowledge into captured narratives, closing the loop from social to formal learning.

This isn’t a refined model, the key thing it does is put Rehearsal at the centre: Social Learning approaches are all about iteration, rehearsal, learning and application.

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Provocative Writing for a Better World: #WorkingOutLoud on an Experiment for the Social Age

I knew the experiment was working when i felt uncomfortable: sat on the plane, with the first copy in my hand, i worried what other people would think, how they would respond to the writing, how they would feel about the ideas captured between the covers. The back of the Zine was visible for all to see, and it said everything you needed to know: ‘Provocative Writing For A More Equal World’.

=Q@L Zine - the story

The Zine in question is called =Q@L, pronounced ‘Equal’, and the idea behind it is five weeks old today.

I want to share the story of an experiment in the Social Age: it’s a story about the power of writing, the emergence and potential of a community, the unifying nature of stories and the need for disruption, for subversion of those things which are just plain wrong. It relates to the ways that the Social Age works, and the ways that it bypasses or subverts formal systems.

=Q@L Zine - the story

It’s a story about equality, about fairness, about social justice, and how sometimes we have to fight for them, with words and phrases, not sticks and stones.

I’m #WorkingOutLoud to share this story, because i think it illustrates the power of community and the potential for change in the Social Age, if we can only understand how the mechanisms of stories work to drive change.

Ideas spread through magnetism: strong stories spread far. Not through formal channels, but social ones. If the ideas are strong, they are interpreted, contextualised, shared and grown.

In the Social Age, we inhabit many spaces, some formal, some social, some visible and some hidden. And we can choose to do different things, using different voices, in those different spaces.

=Q@L Zine - the story

This is an experiment for me, where i’ve been able to find a different voice, and join with the voices of others to try to make a difference.

The idea for =Q@L is that every movement needs a home, and there is a proud tradition of using magazines and journals to serve that purpose. In this case, i wanted a home for writing around equality, fairness, social justice and change, a place to provoke discussion and debate, but be unafraid to be challenging. A tone of voice somewhat different from the one i would normally use here in the blog, which is governed by it’s own rules.

Essentially, the blog is my ‘professional’ space: the ideas i write about are ‘safe’ in that sense: i never feel uncomfortable if people read over my shoulder, because it’s all there to share, and it’s written to be positive.

But some things need to be more provocative: if we want to drive change, sometimes we need to create ripples. And =Q@L is intended to be a stone in the water to do just that.

In the Social Age, core skills are to iterate and prototype, rather than think too long, so that’s what i’ve done with this.

How do you go about writing, producing and distributing a subversive magazine to drive change? Start with foundations: a storytelling space and a home for the community.

I was able to use free, democratised tools to set up the website and social accounts, as well as a collaborative working space using WordPress, LinkedIn, Google Docs and Twitter. This democratisation of technology is a key feature of the Social Age: where once infrastructure was expensive, complex and owned by the organisation, today it’s devolved, freely available and outside the control of any single power.

Social Collaborative Technology

Once the space existed, i could find fellow travellers: people united around shared ideas, ways that the world could be better. Social channels suit this well: hashtags are effectively aggregators, they unite people around ideas and let us connect outside our immediate network. So the first community members landed, started conversations, and in turn recruited through a second generation. Connections of connections.

Some community members i knew, others were new to me, but the speed with which we were able to create a fledgling community out of nothing is a core feature of the Social Age: it’s a key skill of Social Leaders to understand their communities. Which ones do they belong to, what purpose do they serve, what role do they take? Sometimes we need to leave communities, sometimes we have to nurture and support them, sometimes we have to push them hard, or help others succeed, and sometimes we have to start one from scratch, which is what i’ve tried to do here.

As our embryonic community found it’s voice, people started to share writing: ideas for articles, disparate and fragmented, as you’d expect, and it rapidly became clear that there was a missing skill. I realise i’ve never edited other people works, at least beyond the type of editing that spots spelling mistakes and grammar. I’m not a developmental editor.

Fortunately, two people within this young community are superb developmental editors: this is why community makes us stronger. I may lack the skills, but if i engage the right community and invest in it to help others succeed, when the time comes, others will invest in me. It’s reciprocal, but not transactional. In this instance, it was fortunate that we found unity around ideas and had the strength within our community to execute it, at least well enough for a first issue (remember: prototype and iterate. Dont’ worry about getting it right first time).

With a pile of articles to hand, illustrations started to arrive and a designer to stitch it all together.

But aside from the technical aspects of production, we have to consider choreography: how will the story be spread.

In the Social Age, where everything is so convenient, often accessible on demand through out technology, i decided on a more low key approach.

There will only be a hundred copies of the Zine, hand printed and distributed free around the world. I say ‘free’, but there is a catch: people have to explain how they will share the story.

=Q@L Zine - the story

Leave it on a train, post it to a friend, put it on the shelf in a library, Tweet it, photocopy it, share it. The physical copies will be limited to 100, but if we get it right, the story will spread beyond that.

Will it work?

I don’t mind, as long as we learn from it: that’s the point of running an experiment. You try, you test, you learn. It’s provocative writing to drive change, and it’s an experiment in the Social Age, drawing upon principles of community, storytelling, amplification, sharing and so on.

You can achieve a lot in five weeks, if you have the right community around you, and a desire to change something.

You can subscribe to =Q@L Zine here.

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Community Graffiti

Where do you turn when you need a graffiti artist? Today, i turned to the community, and within three hours i had twenty two. All recommendations from the community: validated, introduced, recommended.

Community Graffiti

It’s not coincidence: we curate our communities, we invest in them, we build our Social Capital and earn trust, and, if we do it right, when we need it, those communities support us.

Social Leadership is the authority that we earn: it’s contextual and consensual and based upon our Social Reputation, which is earned, not bestowed. It’s what lets us be effective in the Social Age.

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Induction: Mechanistic and Tacit knowledge

The Socially Dynamic organisation has highly connected individuals and teams, aligned to the strategic ambitions of the business, not just aligned to their local team. Typically we see two elements of an induction programme: the Mechanistic and Tacit.

Tacit and Mechanistic Knowledge

Mechanistic elements are about learning the rules and systems: where things are, who does what, how it all fits together from an organisational structure, what you can do, what you can’t do, and where the toilets are.

Tacit elements are around ‘how it really works’. This is about forming purposeful connections: understanding who knows what, how to get stuff done, where to get support. The tacit elements are about being part of a high functioning community.

Dealing with the mechanistic elements is easy, as they are fact based, rule based, and conventionally ‘teachable’. We can easily teach them and easily assess whether they have been learnt.

The Tacit elements are different: this knowledge is hidden within the community, not codified into a system. To learn the Tacit elements, you need to engage within the global community, not just the local one, and you need to develop the Social Authority to be valued and effective.

Authority in Social Leadership

The development of Social Capital, integral to unlocking tacit knowledge within an organisation, is often left to chance. But it doesn’t need to be: we can create the circumstances and provide the support for people to thrive in these spaces.

We can help them find a primary alignment with the global community, and become effective and socially connected fast, if we lay the foundations right.

Mechanistic knowledge may be easy, but it’s aligning with and expanding upon the tacit which counts.

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The Writing On The Wall

There are layers of writing throughout the city: i leave the train to the sight of formal, informational guidance, clean cut voices telling me where the stairs are, where the exit is, where the toilets are and what to do in case of fire. I exit the building to civic signs: helpful guides for lost tourists, pointing steel fingers to the cathedral, a famous bridge, the central square. Helpful and contextual pointers, formal and clear, painted on steel and nailed to the wall.

Graffiti - the writing on the wall

Surrounding and confusing them, other signs: street signs, sometimes intuitive, sometimes ancient and strange. North, South, East and West streets are easy to conceive, as is Market lane or High Street, but others reflect names of old estates, civic dignitaries, notable citizens whose names may have been lost to time. Yet others relate to acts or deeds best left unsaid: there are many seedy origins to street names, speaking of dastardly acts or spectacular lust.

Shops invade the civic space: they have painted signs, stuck on signs, A frame signs that have escaped from the walls and now roam vagrant in the streets. Coffee shops in particular are breeding these: competing for ever funnier or more compelling themes on beans.

Posters adorn flat surfaces: the circus is in town, ZZ Top are touring, a new exhibition at the gallery or a protest march outside parliament. These posters often accrete over time, stratifying into deep layers of past events, torn and fading in the rain.

Graffiti - in search of lost time

Finally, the subversive voices emerge: penetrate deeper into the city and you see these voices, the graffiti voices that crawl and creep and inch their way onto walls and hoardings and brick and glass. Scrawls of desperation or artistic expression, they are unclaimed and often unwanted, except in those rare times when society chooses to make it safe by calling it ‘art’ and selling it in modern white galleries. For many though, graffiti is simply one loud shout in a life bereft of opportunity and equality.

Which city am i describing? I’m in Haarlem, but i could be anywhere: every city has voices, layers of meaning from formal to social, layers of formality and decay.

Is it me that you forgot?

Art doesn’t have to be formal to be beautiful, but what makes beauty? This graffiti by MyDogSighs is strangely beautiful, to me at least [www.mydogsighs.co.uk]

It’s no different from organisations: we have formal spaces with formal writing, the rules that are literally inscribed on the walls, the aspirational statements of intent that often bely a graffiti truth.

But the scrawled subversive voices are likely to be online, adrift, in claimed spaces, out of earshot.

If we are lucky, we have the chance to walk down those alleys and read the writing on the wall. Because only by listening to every voice, only by reading every word, do we learn the true story of the city. Only by listening to the voices within, even those with no permission to speak, can we learn, can we change.

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Words About Learning: Pace

Woke up to a long list of jobs, settled at the table in my AirBnB, then stopped, stepped outside, and ordered a coffee by the Amstel. In the sun. With my book. It is, after all, always possible to be busy. Achieving balance is an altogether harder thing to do. It’s all about pace.

Words About Learning - Pace

We cannot achieve everything at once, but nor can we change anything without taking the first step. Pace: knowing when to start, and when to stop. And when, sometimes, to enjoy the view.

Words about learning is an occasional series of reflective posts, sometimes written in the sun.

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