London FootstepsI walked far into the night, traversing the city, in a wide, sweeping curve from from east to west, then an abrupt turn north to cross the river and back to my hotel. My den: sanctuary with room service and a free cookie.

The city at night is abstract: a series of lit up vistas serenaded by drunks and theatregoers, separated by periods of darkness and renovation, building and dereliction. It’s a juxtaposition of the completed, the performed and the rehearsal space. The work in progress and the finished art, all in one frame. There is no backstage in the city, but rather a rolling landscape of evolution, a progression of capitalism and art, aspiration and decay.

As you walk, you are aware of textures: the mottled and rusticated stonework of the War Office deeply shadowed, it’s normal creamy finished dulled to grey under sodium caress.

London FootstepsMy feet cut through the gloom: i become aware of the red flash, flash, flash as they edge into my peripheral vision. I take a photography, because that’s how i document the city: sequential snapshots, stolen visions of the path, freeze frames of mini dramas and end of night arguments.

I am highly aware: aware of my surroundings, aware of other people. My eyes dart, my head turns. Footsteps echo: it’s strangely not hostile, but with the promise of it at any moment.

The traverse is emergent reason: the unfolding story. But not without a map. Earlier in the day, an American friend had pointed out the pineapple, captured in stone and summiting a dome on the National Gallery. Pineapple as fruit? No, pineapple as symbol: on Victorian estates they were grown in heated glasshouses, fires burning through the winter. To keep this smouldering nursery functioning required both wealth and power. So pineapples represent not just desert, but rather concentrated authority, hierarchical power. The trappings of establishment.

We can read the landscape with the right knowledge: architecture is, by nature, self referential. Doric and Ionic columns rub weathered shoulders with steel and wood, each referencing bygone styles, contemporary influence. This is not true evolution, but rather stylistic development: it’s like the circular movements of music: you need the structure to complete the experience. Without structure, internally moderated and realised, you just have noise. Without the visual continuity, we would just have a building. With it, we have a skyline.

Although it’s not always done right. Some architecture looms, some buildings are brutal by design, others by accident of misdirected creativity. But who’s to say what route to iconic? Accidental brilliance, emergent style. It’s a gamble.

London FootstepsI love to walk at night: i covered twelve miles in a wide arc, thinking, snapping, watching. I saw the city: the skeletal horse on the fourth plinth, a porcelain pony, bronze figures on pedestals and plinths, red phone boxes and power substations. Railways and Tube stations, trees and the river.

It’s only through the traverse that you can make sense of it: only by walking, by exploring, that we can feel the relationship, make sense of the city.

Exploration is a skill: maybe innate, but stronger when rehearsed. We learn to see differently, as we learn to paint, to speak, to sing or play. We learn the language of the skyline, the vocabulary of architecture. We learn to read the signs.

It’s a metaphor for learning: discovering through experience. Finding our way, with a few dead ends along the way.

London Footsteps

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The Subscription Career

The theme this week is the future: yesterday, the evolution of knowledge, before that, the future shape of organisations. Today: the future of ‘career‘. Specifically, the subscriptions or community career.

The Subscription Career

Organisations used to own our career: they recruited us, structured the journey and sent us on our way at the end with a carriage clock and pension. They provided both infrastructure and development. But no more. The career as it was is dead.

Today, we each own our own journey and the only constants will be our community.

Other sectors are adapting fast: take music. I’ve written previously about ‘Kickstarting‘. The example i use is the last album i bought by the Flaming Lips. Or, to be precise, the last album i didn’t buy, because i Kickstarted it. I pledged music to fund it and in return had weekly video updates from the band. I got ‘behind the scenes‘ as they created it and was granted membership of a community. At the end, i didn’t get a CD or vinyl, but rather a hand screen printed poster signed by the band. And through social channels i’m able to interact with the band directly: no middlemen. It’s a democratised and immediate form of engagement.

Today Cath sent me a piece about Patroen, a new service that goes one step further: you pledge regular subscription amounts against each new release, be it a song, a long form piece of writing or a video. Patronage reborn. In return, again, you get exclusive community access.

Imagine that in our world: organisations providing patronage to experts in return for exclusive access to content and input. An evolution of career: beyond even consultancy. Communities that persist over time based upon quality of output.

Consider the farce of performance management and annual performance reviews: once a year defining objectives and targets, for someone who will probably only be in role for three years. It’s outdated, not to mention insulting, and generally used as a mechanism to avoid giving a pay rise or, worse, awarding a small pay rise and expecting gratitude and loyalty to be bought (not earned) in return.

We need to evolve these systems, move towards more immediate and relevant models of engagement with teams: more community based and awarding social reputation and recognition, not paltry bonuses.

Patronage may not be the worst model: support over time, democratised to the community. Developmental and engaged.

Careers, as they were, are dead. Models of development and learning are evolving. The very shape of the future organisation will be different. Maybe we should examine models of the subscriptions career, the community career, in response.

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A Little Bit of Knowledge…

I walked Daniel to school for the first time today. My nephew is all of seven years old, so key topics of conversation were [a] Power Rangers, [b] what would happen if all the traffic lights in the world turned red at once and [c] the news that he managed to fart forty times yesterday due to the high fibre diet imposed on him by my brother. On two of these three points, i had an insight.

Knowing: Knowledge

I asked him how he had found out about the chronology of Power Rangers and he replied (slowly and carefully as if to a hard of thinking uncle) ‘wikipedia‘. Of course.

Finding knowledge is easy for him, natural and instinctive, although not, as yet, validated or discretionary. He had no idea how the knowledge on Wikipedia was co-created and nor, when i explained it, did he seem to care. I guess that maybe at seven years old the consequences of dietary rumination are of more significance and interest. He did not view the knowledge itself as power, but rather as fuel to the fire of our conversation.

One facet of the Social Age is our evolved relationship with knowledge. Less authority and power is bestowed by what you know than by your ability to find things out and, crucially, to make sense of it within your communities.

To do so requires key skills and behaviours: we must understand where the knowledge is and how it’s created. We must understand how to find it and when ‘good enough‘ is just enough. We must understand how to curate our space and tell our stories, to share wisely, adding to the signal, not just the noise. Within our communities, we must take different roles, adapting our stance, tone of voice and input according to need and makeup of the group: sometimes supporting, sometimes challenging, sometimes nurturing, sometimes cross linking and so on.

And when we have found something out and made sense of it with our communities, we must share it again: storytelling to feel knowledge back into the tribe, back out to the world.

For me, having grown up in the Age of Concentration, when knowledge was geolocated in books, in reference libraries, in Universities, the shift to decentralised knowledge is huge and empowering. As is the advent of effective collaborative technology. For Daniel, it’s instinctive and everywhere.

Why knowledge?But it’s not just children changing mindsets: Cath is on a course this week, Health and Safety. She texted me, asking why she needs to ‘know‘ all this stuff and she is, to an extent, right. She doesn’t need to know it so much as know what to do about it. Now i realise we can argue that those are the same things, and that we need the knowledge to build the framework, but that’s an old school view. We may not. We may simply need access to that knowledge and to know a new, evolved framework. We may have to understand diagnostic processes, to let us know when to apply knowledge, but we may not need to know the actual knowledge itself, all the time, in our brains. Like train timetables: i don’t need to know it, i just need to know that there is a line to London and that there are two trains an hour.

I suspect that much organisational learning is done the way it’s done because that’s how it’s always been done. And as a function, we define ourselves by being the guardians of knowledge, at a time when that role is becoming the ancient palace guard, stood outside the palace whilst it burns behind them.

Knowledge is democratised and available: our skills and behaviours need to evolve to match this new environment. More about sense making and sharing, less about simply knowing.

Because when simply knowing is not enough, just a little bit of knowledge may be exactly what we need.

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The Future of Organisations: scaffolded & reconfigurable

Everything will change. As the Industrial Age required us to build factories and dig coal from the ground, as the Knowledge Age required us to buy computers and go global, so the Social Age will bring change. Change of unimaginable breadth.

Adapting or drowning?

Everything has changed. If you think i’m scaremongering, consider this: the notion of ‘career‘ is dead, the ways we interact with and use knowledge have changed, social technology has matured, we are witnessing the rise of socially responsible business as a differentiator, change is constant, agility is key, formal authority is subverted by social authority, communication is democratised. And that’s just the start.

The benefit of days like today is the perspective it gives: i started at breakfast with a group of business leaders exploring the realities of Generation Y.

Gen Y: the youngsters. Evolved expectations. Bright and independent thinkers. Connected and collaborative. But it’s a mistake to think that this is a generational thing. It’s a Social Age thing. The bright, the independent, the connected, whatever their age, are being accelerated. Socially connected execs, socially enabled workers. Artisan workers. The disenfranchised and disconnected are being left behind. And organisations that fail to adapt will sink.

Future Organisations

That’s no throwaway line: organisations that fail to adapt to the realities of the Social Age will simply be unable to weather the constant pulse of change or catch up with the accelerating motion. This is not like the old days, where we could watch the early adopters waste their money and invest heavily and then jump in on their coat tails: the environment is less forgiving, because the talent will move elsewhere. The market will move elsewhere. The world will move on.

Organisations have part of the story right: we need elements of process, we need systems, we (unbelievably) do need philosophies and values. We may even need mission statements. But we absolutely do not need layers of control, codified rituals reinforcing hierarchy or customer engagement that is on our own terms not theirs. We need those things with authenticity: so you have have a philosophy if you really really live it. But you can’t have one if you just write it at the start of the Induction manual. You can have a mission statement if the mission is co-created with the community and, indeed, co-delivered by them. But you can’t have a mission statement if it’s aspirational, branded and bland. You can have a great brand if your customers talk about you to say you are great. You can’t have one because that’s a nice advert that marketing did.

Blanded. Made bland by review processes, team-think, abstraction from reality and trampling over fairness. Bland because we are not curious, we do not question, we do not quest. Bland because we think just enough is just good enough. Because it isn’t. The Social Age demands total quality: choreographed experiences that create value, that create meaning.

The future organisation will be heavily engaged in community. Because the community will be part of how it is created and expressed. Not the organisation separated from the world by four walls, but rather a permeable organisation that is highly social.


Think scaffolding: the organisation will not be monstrous, bloated, defined by divisions and functions. Instead, an organisational scaffolding. Creating spaces for teams to be highly capable. Facilitating learning. Facilitating storytelling. Facilitating great work. Using technology to facilitate, not control. Permissive of challenge, but able to unify behind a vision. Learning on every level.

Levels of NarrativeThink about the three levels of narrative, the three types of stories that the agile organisation has: firstly, individual stories of change and evolution. The story of my own reflection and adaptation. The story of the mistakes i make and the conversations i have. This personal story may be partly private, partly shared, but it reinforces and develops my reputation, my social authority. Individual stories are conversational, reflective, adaptive.

Then comes the co-created story, the story of the group, the narrative of the communities. In the old organisation, we had the intranet: cold storage for that which we thought would be useful one day so didn’t want to throw away. But like an attic, both dusty and strewn with cobwebs. Today, the co-created story is about tribal knowledge, about how we capture the conversation and use it to be more effective. This is a big shift of both mindset and practice.

The final level of narrative is the organisational one, created by all the individual conversations. Created not from on high, to shower down upon us, but rather co-created through all the conversations. It’s the meta-conversation. Instead of saying ‘this is who we aspire to be‘, it says ‘this is what we are‘. It’s a grounded organisational stance, a grounded truth.

The scaffolded organisation will not seek to own everything, but rather to share widely and co-create. It will be open source. The scaffolded organisation will not seek to own and control people, but rather to be magnetic to talent and magnetic to markets. They will not market so much as talk. They will empower individuals to use their own voice and support them in doing so.

The scaffolded organisation will be agile because that very scaffolding lets them bring people in, to populate a space, to be part of an emergent community, then leave again. It’s a revolving door. It’s like lego: reconfigurable.

For many organisations today, the reconfiguration takes years, pain and budget. But for the agile organisation, it’s effortless and constant. because they have invested time in building the blocks. They have invested in agility.

The patterns of failure are constant: an initial hunger and appetite dulled by the progressive calcification of innovation into process. A failure of accountability. A selective deafness to the market and an emerging sense of invulnerability.

Eternal youth is not given by an elixir, not drunk from any Holy Grail: it’s earned through mindset and curiosity. A willingness to learn, a willingness to adapt, a hunger for excellence. And a care: care of each other. Humility. Kindness. Differentiators for the Social Age.

Competition is fine, but collaboration given momentum. There was a sense this morning that Gen Y do not understand consequence: that’s not true. It’s about the permanence of consequence. In the old world, things wrecked your career: in the Social Age, it probably just spoils your week. Because everything moves faster: more rapidly iterating small decisions, not one huge one that you’ve gambled everything on. Look at the systems that fetter many organisations: huge, ungovernable, procured at length and retained out of fear. How can we have agility against that backdrop? When a career was gambled on implementing it, who is brave enough to kill it?

I’m aware that today is about provocation: it’s intentionally so. I see a lot of organisations thinking about this: but not so many fully invested in adapting. We are two years into the Social journey, and the waters will never settle. Wearable tech will transform everything. Communities will evolve. Agile organisations will topple the giants and slay the dinosaurs.

Better get ready.

Ecosystem of the Social Age 2015

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Relating to People

I spent an enjoyable day at the National Motor Museum yesterday, on the Beaulieu estate in the New Forest.

A day out at Beaulieu

I realise this gets us off to a bad start, especially if you don’t live in England: pronounce it ‘Bew-Lee‘ and, not ‘Bow-le-o‘ and, in case you were wondering, the New Forest is approximately a thousand years old. I’m unsure if there is an Old Forest, but it was certainly before my time if there was. How would you know if you don’t live here? I have no idea, unless you have connections into a community that does. That type of tribal knowledge is not easy to find.

But i digress: the main house on the Beaulieu estate is still home to Lord Montague. You can visit many of the rooms. Fashioned out of the original Cistercian monastery, its massive stone walls and
wood panelling must have seen many stories play out over the centuries, not least stories of the Earl’s family, who have lived there for thirteen generations.

Which is why i enjoyed the pictures so much.

Instead of the usual captions that accompany dark and faded oils, (‘Rembrandt, oil on wood, 1586‘), labels on the heavy frames decorating the walls of the Drawing Room and old Library were family stories. Anecdotes about what great, great, great, great, great, great Uncle Ralph got up to with the Nanny in 1780. Illegitimate children, Royal intrigue and the perils of inheritance, fossilised in pigment, nailed to the wall.

It’s all about people: the tribes that hold knowledge, the stories that carry authenticity. The picture itself is just a token: without the story to interpret it, it’s abstract.

The lesson here is in how we design systems, organisational stories and how we engage with learners. It’s all about meaningful and authentic communication and effortless interaction. It’s easy to create pictures, easy to build collateral, but it’s the authenticity of the interpretation, the quality of the stories that count. And very often it’s about understanding people.

I wrote last week about the choreography of learning: it’s this mindset for joined up experience, a mindset of total quality that leads to engagement.

The Motor Museum itself is part of this: it was Lord Montague’s father who established the museum, as one of the first motorists in the UK and a pioneer of motoring legislation. He collected half a dozen cars together and displayed them on his lawn. So the story of the museum which grew out of that, as well as the story of the house (and indeed the story of the Cistercian monastery from the ruins of which the estate grew and whose bones still poke through the ground around the estate, are all joined together. The history shapes the present, will influence the future.

This aspect of change over time, of connection with the past and future is often missing in organisational learning too: we favour ‘just in time‘ over context. We favour compliant and vetted by marketing teams over authenticity. We go through the motions instead of telling compelling stories.

Storytelling styles

I wrote an article for a magazine this morning about learning technology in the Social Age: you’ll recognise the theme if you are a regular reader. Technology facilitates communities: it lets people do the things people want to do. If we start using technology to constrain or dictate what people should do, we are losing.

You’ll forgive the disjointed nature of todays post: it’s reflective. Reflecting on the closing gap between ‘formal’ learning within organisations and what happens out in the real world, which contains everything else. To have any chance of generating engagement, of effecting meaningful change, we have to ensure that our stories relate to people, using a real tone of voice. We have to make learning relevant and timely.

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The Inexorable March in the Quantification of Me

Jawbone MoveAt just over five and a half hours, i only achieved 84% of my sleep target last night, and the sleep that I had was disrupted. On the plus side, my 11,628 steps smashed the 10,000 step milestone. Nearly ten kilometres walked burnt over 600 calories, which is no bad thing considering the volume of apple strudel we consumed in the meeting.

In parallel with all this physical and metabolic activity, my Google Glass told me where to go and then took photos when i got there. It even helped me share the narrative on the way. The weather, in case you’re interested, was largely sunny, and i felt good. Smiley Face.

Quantified Self

My performance, it appears, is thoroughly quantified. And shared with a qualitative interpretation.

The emergence of wearable technology is transforming the quantification of me. The first step was connectivity: the always on internet. The perpetual connection to notifications. The second step was miniaturisation and the democratisation of sensors and capture. The inclusion of GPS and cameras in everything. The final step was interpretation and community: taking the technical data and creating meaning out of it. Using it to get me to do something: chiding and inciting, encouraging and providing feedback.

The technology is maturing fast: the people who question the viability of Google Glass are missing the point. This is just the first step. Wearable technology will transform every aspect of everything we do.

Quantified Self

It will geolocate and contextualise information depending upon who you are with, where you are and what you are doing.

It will help you achieve that thing you are doing by both pulling in new information and letting you share your story as you learn.

It will move us from formal, abstract, old world models of learning to ‘on demand‘ learning and performance support fit for the Social Age.

It will ground our learning in facts of performance and support us in changing those facts.

And it will do all of this under the radar, changing the world before we even realise it’s in motion.

The Jawbone Move that i’m using this week incorporates some of the best features of community and technology, game dynamics and choreography that i’ve been working on these last few years.

The experience is total quality: it doesn’t send me ‘push notifications‘ or emails, but rather engages me through dynamic feedback, micro rewards and links to appropriate deeper knowledge. It uses community to both support and spur me on. Most organisations could learn more from playing with this $50 toy than they would learn from a year of strategic navel gazing.

It’s rapidly iterating, willing to learn and, most important, meaningful to me.

Today, there are virtually no applications of wearable technology outside of specialists and explorers. Today, there’s a community that uses Google Glass to provide real time close captioning subtitles for deaf users. Transformative. There are communities using it to narrate surgery and share the learning globally. Many people are using the tech to support exercise and activity. But not many applications in work.

At work, we tend to use technology as infrastructure, to get information to people, and for assessing them. Not much in the way of facilitation.

But tomorrow, that will change. Over the next two years we will start to see innovation and application: the technology is cheaper and more accessible, more interconnected than every. Not mature, but maturing.

JawboneIn five years, everything will have changed. That’s not a bold statement, it’s conservative. As around your office: who has a smartphone? Everyone. Who is wearing a FitBit or Jawbone, Garmin or Nike fuel band? Not everyone, but some. The march is inexorable.

It’s our role to explore: to think. To try things out. The Social Age is about iterative learning and a willingness to question everything. To humbly share our success and failure and learn together. Cynicism and denial are not differentiating behaviours.

The technology will not transform us: our curiosity will. So let’s get curious together.

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Friends Forever?

We were in a conversation today about establishing communities when Laura reminded me about ‘Friendship Books‘. A thing of our childhood, before the days of t’internet, the premise was this: a book, made of actual paper, where you wrote a page about yourself. You put your address, your phone number and a little bit about you, then posted or gave it to a friend. They did the same and passed it on. In time, the chains grew longer, and as they did so, you could browse through second, third and fourth degrees of separation. And if you liked the look of someone, you could write to them and make friends.

Forever Friends

Happy days, and yet how much has really changed. Today, communities sit at the heart of the Social Age: we curate our communities as we go. But many of the principles that were there with friendship books remain: we are investing trust, we are taking leaps of faith around identity, we are disclosing things personal to us in the hope we find shared values, shared purpose. The mechanics of community have changed less than we may think, even if today the dynamics are facilitated by technology and not postage stamps.

Communities do not grow by accident: they are nurtured or driven, by desire or need. They are not purposeless and, without being given purpose, they cannot thrive.

So the day spent looking at how we establish organisational communities, whilst forward facing, was strangely reflective. Put value in the people, not the technology, was the message i took from it.

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