Reframing Brexit

The UK is fractured by Brexit. The arguments, both for, and against, are largely tribal and intractable. And of one thing i am sure: whichever side ‘wins’, it will also lose. Unity is not something that can be imposed. And without unity, we simply remain divided.

The Humble Leader

A nation acts as a beacon: it can be a beacon of fairness, inclusion, and hope, or it can be a shadow for war, dissent, and oppression. Perhaps it is time that we reframed the debate to be about what type of beacon we wish to be. What do we stand for?

Much of our divisions sit upon a foundation of inequality: wealth, opportunity, and the rewards of the post industrial revolution, are not evenly distributed, and nor does power sit equally across the system. We are a country where opportunity is increasingly tied to wealth, and generational power, and you can be disenfranchised by birth, by geography, by status.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that the solution to these issues lies in our underlying models of representation and democracy itself: as pioneers of the art, we should also lead in evolving it. The Social Age is a time of radical connectivity, currently held in starkly opposing visions, but we may choose to engage in debate instead.

Disenfranchisement is best countered not by dogma or vision, but rather by engagement and opportunity. And unity is achieved not by colonisation, but often by listening.

We will not find a common space to agree, but we may be better able to understand our differences and, it’s quite possible, find the space to live with them. Even thrive by embracing them.

Perhaps part of our challenge is that so much of our experience of the UK is held in the currency of money, and yet the fabric of our culture is built out of so much more than that. Perhaps the fabric of our future will be woven from fairness, inclusion, and equal opportunity.

If we crash out of Europe, we will lose. But possibly if we remain within it, but divided, we also lose. When nether option A, nor option B, can bring us together, perhaps we should dispute the validity of the frame itself.

What kind of beacon do we want to be?

Brexit is not the end of a journey, it is the beginning of a new one. How will we evolve our politics, what kind of politicians do we need, to exist beyond partisan?

What kind of society do we want: to address the challenges of poverty, of division, of mistrust, of fear.

There is space in a nation for difference, but we have to find the edges of our dissent, and that will only come through engagement.

We are trapped in a battle that nobody can win, and it feels like time to reframe the narrative. By now it must be clear that no hero will emerge, because there simply is no unifying vision. There is no hill to climb, no flag to claim, that can give unity.

Instead, it is the process of debate itself, in the better understanding of our division, that can drive us. And part of the solution must be to address the underlying architecture of inequality.

A lack of fairness drives division, and it is only through finding fairness that we can unity: but we do not need to give much away.

Everyone can retain their views, their identity, and their pride and purpose. But on top of those things we must create spaces, and conditions, to welcome difference, and respect dissent.

A beacon throws light in every direction: it is not one focussed beam. We can be different, and yet still united. We can be a United Kingdom even in dissent. If we can reframe our cultural fragmentation as simply the start of a new journey.

Whichever side of the Brexit debate you sit on, perhaps now is the time to negate the division, and focus beyond. In victory, or in loss, how will you reach out, with humility, to find out what type of beacon we will be?

If we remain in opposition, we will be rich and comfortable, but disunited. If we can connect across our differences, we may find hope.

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The Wrong Currency

I used to have an elderly neighbour, when i was a student, in a shared house. I’m not sure quite how old she was, but in my memory she was about 170. One of my friends would often check in on her, on one occasion, finding her poorly, and looking after her after a fall.

Social Leadership - Reward

A few days later, her son came to visit: he worked in the city, drove a big car, and was an infrequent visitor to his elderly mother. Maybe his job precluded it.

When he learned what my friend had done, he tried to tip him, and my friend refused. Quite vocally. It was the wrong currency, being spent within the wrong exchange system.

My friend was operating on values: the way he acted as a neighbour was neither a duty, nor a job. It was part of his values and ethos. The way the son treated it was as a service. So he tipped, which may have been wrong on two fronts: firstly, it was not a service, so the tip was wrong, but even if it had been a service, he did not offer thanks.

If he had led by saying ‘thank you’, perhaps the outcome would have been different, but he led with money. He deployed financial currency in a gratitude economy. And he diminished his standing in the reputation economy (my friend, concurrently, increasing his).

Formal systems may operate on financial currency, but social ones do not: in my own research, when people help an Organisation build a culture that is ‘better’, only seven percent want more money for their efforts. Most want further opportunities to help.

As we evolve our Organisations, beyond domains, beyond utility, we will need to learn how to hold, and deploy the right currencies. And make no mistake, this is not a way of doing things cheaply: the currencies of gratitude, respect, trust, and fairness may be beyond value.

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The Social Learning Guidebook: A Free Resource

You can download my new Guidebook on Social Learning here. It’s intended to form a concise, practical, guide for practitioners who are trying to transform learning, through more social and collaborative approaches. It builds upon work i’ve shared previously, both in long form books (‘Julian Stodd’s Learning Methodology’, ‘Welcome to the world of Social Learning’, ‘Learning Technology’, and so on), as well as numerous articles on the blog (including this is key ‘Introduction to Scaffolded Social Learning‘).

The Social Learning Guidebook

For some time i have been considering writing a full book on Learning Transformation, but two factors have prevented me: firstly, time, and secondly, uncertainty. My time is currently taken up with half a dozen writing projects that are progressing well (‘The Change Handbook’, ‘The Social Age Guidebook’, and ‘Apollo: Leadership Lessons from the Space Race’ among others…), and uncertainty, because my work around Learning Transformation, and the core emergent skills, is still evolving rapidly.

But there are plenty of ideas that i wan to get ‘out there’, without waiting to write a full book, so i’ve been playing with these ‘Guidebooks’ as a way of bridging the gap between the blog, and a full manuscript. Taken together, they form my exploration notes for various aspects of the Social Age: a diverse, and evolving, body of work, growing directly out of my primary writing and research, as well as my applied work with Sea Salt Learning.

I will build the series out beyond this in due course, but all of these Guidebooks will iterate over time, to form cumulative bodies of work, but freeing me up from the time needed to try to rationalise them into one coherent book.

The ‘Guidebooks’ are all written to be under 10,000 words, allowing them to be read fast, and include sections for ‘What you need to know’, and ‘What you need to do about it’, after each short chapter. In that sense, these are aimed more directly at practitioners than some of my longer form books, but there is a lot of cross over: there are a lot of big ideas in here, but i hope also a lot of things that you can action this afternoon!

These Guidebooks are not complete work, nor are they definitive ‘answers’. i cannot stress that enough: i am holding comfort in the fact that they are not perfect, but they are shared openly. But i hope they will inspire you to find your own answers: they will iterate over time, so do go back and check your version number to access the latest thinking.

I adhere to a methodology of #WorkingOutLoud, whereby all my work is shared openly, and as it takes shape. Where possible, i try to identify which bits of this work are stronger than others, and i share my mistakes and evolving understanding as well.

The Guidebooks are grounded in my professional work through Sea Salt Learning: a global partner through change. Sea Salt Learning lets me engage in some of the key strategic challenges our time, with some of our most incredible global Organisations. I am lucky to be immersed in a community of people who want to drive change. This holds my thinking, and work, to account, in a very direct way. It is to that community that i am directly responsible.

If you enjoy my work, please consider sharing it: the work in these Guidebooks is shared openly and freely to provide one perspective on a complex challenge.

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The Map of the Social Age 2019

I’ve just completed writing all 13 primary articles, and now the final map to go with them: this will form the Social Age Guidebook for 2019, which i will aim to publish as a short eBook next month.

Map of the Social Age 2019

I’ve really enjoyed writing and sharing ‘The Trust Guidebook’, and the ‘Social Learning Guidebook’, which has had over 500 downloads in the last week alone! The ‘Community Builder’s Guidebook’ is now in production, and then this one will follow that.

These Guidebooks are short, highly iterative, and shared as imperfect work, part of #WorkingOutLoud, but they are all practical an applied, with sections on ‘what you need to know’, and ‘what you need to do about it’.

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Guide to the Social Age 2019: Change

This is the final article in a series of pieces that, together, annotate my Map of the Social Age for 2019. These pieces simply mark a dozen points in the landscape that seem of particularly important to me at this time: it’s not a definitive view, but rather builds upon my maps from previous years. Today, i want to consider the nature of Change in the context of the Social Age, and to understand how mastering it may require us to give away more than we gain.

A Rhythm of Change

Change is constant in the Social Age: it’s one of the foundational features of our time and will require us to adapt, both personally, and institutionally, to thrive. it’s not that we have not faced change before: history is a story of change, and told by the winners, but the nature of change is both more systemic, and faster, at greater scale, than we have seen before.

This is always a dance: systems change, and Organisations adapt. Expectations evolve, and Organisations adapt. Markets change, and Organisations adapt. And some fail. The selective pressures of history, at least for the last few hundred years, have been ones initially of collectivism, centralisation, codification, and scale, followed by globalisation, agility, and optimisation.

Social Leadership 100 - Skills for the Social Age

The Industrial Age built off resources, and critical mass, to centralise both manufacturing, and expertise, and then the Knowledge Age decentralised manufacturing, extended supply and value chains, and created a currency of knowledge itself. This led us to the monumental, Domain Based, Organisations of today: structured, codified strength, supported by systems of education, supply, and habitation, that serve their needs.

But since this codification, two key things have changed: technology has both proliferated, and democratised, and hence social conditions have evolved, and our underlying modes of social organisation have fractured and reformed, in response to the betrayal of generational applications of ‘HR’, and structural change that has had a cost paid almost entirely by employees, through redundancy and wage freeze. We exploited the system, and the system is adapting.

Domain based Organisations could certainly change, but they did so through formal programmes, and structural rework, and the cost, where it applied, applied unevenly. The Social Contract, the one that exists between the Organisation, and the society that it serves, was fractured in the process: it’s not that Organisations are ‘bad’, but it is that they cannot be trusted, over time. Their primary drivers of value creation and profit are not bad, but the distribution and underlying networks of loyalty and inequality often are.

The challenge lies in the fact that we now exist in a dual track system: we are functionally invested in a job, and socially inhabit the Organisation. Organisations can change the job, but only we, and the community, can evolve the social Organisation. Constraint, the inability to change, lies not simply in the complexity and weight of the formal Organisation, but rather lies in the complex social forces of identity, belief, trust, tribes, and purpose, of the Social one.

Formal Organisations, Domain based ones, can change, but only through the expenditure of great effort, both financial, and intellectual, and often through inputs from external ‘consultancies’. And yet they change almost nothing, except the shape of their physical footprint. Changing the Social Organisation is a collaborative and co-creative effort, where everyone gets their say.

If you want change, in the context of the Social Age, then we have to change everything, starting with ourselves, and followed by the type of Organisation that surround us.

A Socially Dynamic Organisation will carry phenomenal formal strength, like the Domain based Organisations of the past, but it will carry a different DNA within it: not the ability to transform through effort alone, but rather the ability to change constantly, through consensus and engagement.

Domain based Organisations become exhausted through change, and by constant change, they become breathless, whilst a Socially Dynamic one does not, because it never had the massive formal constraint to begin with. It never fully codified it’s own strength, so it never needs to undo it. It’s lightweight, scaffolded, reconfigurable to need: it does not have a strong capability held as a change function, but rather is a community that is interconnected, and can effortlessly adapt. Because it has put in place the conditions to do so, starting with a willingness to relinquish outdated control, and to distribute capability and leadership.

When change is such a constant feature, we cannot afford to become exhausted by it. For individuals, especially leaders, we need to build our capability around us, with our engaged communities, and our support of those communities. It is ‘community’ that will help us to find our answers, and within our communities that our primary cultural alignment lies.

Social Leaders will build strong SEED Communities (an idea i’ve carried forward from my thinking about the Organisation as a forest ecosystem): not communities that hold answers, but rather those in which we may find, or grow them. And crucially, they will hold a strong ability to interconnect between communities, to write stories not simply of consensus, but of opposition and dissent. Part of the strength of Social Leadership is the way that it crosses over these barriers: it’s not a tribal strength, held within a local community, but rather a humble and global one, held between multiple communities. In this context, Social Leaders help Organisations to change not because they can push a formal narrative through the system, but rather because they are able to hear the weak voices within the system.

They are connected to the true zeitgeist of the global culture.

To lead in this context of change will require certain key skills: to listen more than we talk of answers, to connect beyond the simple and similar, to create space for difference, not just consensus, and to find comfort in ambiguity and uncertainty.

What you need to know:

  • In the Social Age, change is constant, and if you are breathless, you are already failing.
  • Resilience lies in our social systems, not simply in greater formal strength.
  • If it’s really hard to change, then you are sub-optimised, trapped with the wrong strength in the wrong system.

What you need to do:

  • Build SEED Communities, spaces to ‘make sense’ of weak signals and broad trends.
  • Find comfort with ambiguity: look at how it is held, and what the typical immune responses are.
  • Build a new type of Organisation (ok, that may feel like a big ask…), but start with the first step. Look at your own space, and consider where you need to stand next: then take that step.
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The Price of Gratitude

I wrote a ‘thank you’ note today, digging my fountain pen out of the drawer to do so. It took me back to a previous era (one in which i used my fountain pen often enough that i did not have to spend twenty minutes clearing the dried up ink and finding a new cartridge for it). Bad as my handwriting is, i was rather pleased with the effort, because saying ‘thanks’ feels good.

The Price of Gratitude

I was reminded of this page from ‘Social Leadership: my 1st 100 days’. It’s one of the ‘Action Days’, around half way through the journey, when i talk about saying ‘thanks’. Part of Social Leadership is not having the answers, but creating the space, and respecting those who do.

Most recently, i’ve been using really cheap plastic coins with groups, and calling them ‘coins of gratitude’: the group claim a coin by sharing a vulnerability, and can then spend it to someone in the room, or someone outside of it. It’s often a very emotional exercise, with tears and hugs. But the coins are worthless, at least if we measure worth in monetary terms. In fact, they are insultingly cheap and plasticky. It’s the value we imbue in them that counts: we create the value of the currency.

Gratitude is cheap, yet priceless. See where you can spend yours.

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Guide to the Social Age 2019: Authenticity

I’m writing a series of longer pieces, exploring my new Map of the Social Age for 2019: ‘Authenticity’ is a key location in this new landscape, representing, for many, a foundation of Social Leadership, and a central mechanism of engagement. We ‘believe’ in authentic leaders in a way that goes beyond pure contractual bonds. Authenticity forms the roots of that that engagement, spreading deep into our reputation networks. To understand the importance of Authenticity in Social Leadership is to understand that not all power is claimed: much is imbued.

Guide to the Social Age 2019 - Authenticity

Authenticity is an imposed property: you can cut someone in half and it won’t say ‘authentic’ in the middle. It’s not measurable like height, or weight, and you cannot wear it like a coat. In some ways, it’s like beauty: others can perceive it in you, and no matter how much you aspire to it, you cannot buy it in a bottle.

The easiest type of authenticity to understand is that which is based in experience: if we are talking about mountaineering, and you have climbed Everest, then your perspective, your viewpoint, is more authentic than mine. I may have watched a movie, and read books, but i have not lived it. I may even know more facts than you: i could tell you what the rocks are made of, i could give you the height in inches, and i could tell you how many steps it takes, on average, to climb it, but unless i have actually put my feet on the ground that ten thousand times, my story is not authentic.

Authenticity is therefore imbued, experiential, and discretionary: you may have climbed Everest, but if i do not ‘believe’ in you in some way, i still may not count your viewpoint as authentic.

It’s not just individuals who can be deemed to be Authentic though: it’s a quality that we place onto Organisations as well. But in the same spirit, it’s something imbued, not bought, or demanded. And if we have it, it really counts.

In the context of Social Leadership, it’s easy to see why Authenticity is important: when we move beyond our formal bonds, when we move outside of the hierarchy, then all that is left is trust, reputation, pride, and the other social forces of connection, and Authenticity may act as something of a catalyst for all of these.

Authenticity is often a story of simplicity: an ‘authentic’ meal would often be a simple one, not heavily processed. A craftsman making a chair by hand may be seen as ‘authentic’ in their labouring, whilst a factory in Cambodia manufacturing clothes at international scales may not be. At least, may not be from a context of the consumer in the UK. Indeed, if the trendy brand that designs those clothes is discovered to be utilising child labour, any authenticity they have bought may be squandered. So it’s a currency, certainly, but not one that is easily traded beyond grounded experience.

We could view Authenticity is an element of resilience, in the sense that, when we have it, we can weather a storm more easily: we can be authentic, and fail, and yet be carried to safety by an engaged community. We may be forgiven if we are authentic, even if we make poor decisions. But if we are inauthentic, we may be judged harshly.

From a practical perspective, there are two things to consider: how we, as individual Social Leaders, can be authentic, even when Organisational pollution gets in the way, and secondly, how we can ensure that our Organisations themselves act with Authenticity, internally to their employees, and outwardly, into the community they exist within.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

The term ‘Organisational Pollution’ is one that i first used to describe the factors that inveigle their way between ‘intention’ and ‘action’, e.g. i ‘intend’ to act fairly, but in the execution, in the action that i take, directed in part by the Organisation, i act in ways that are less than fair (e.g. i don’t give you a 0.5% pay rise because my total budget for pay rises is capped, and so i award it elsewhere: i may have intended to, but action beyond my control prevented me, so my action is unfair as measured against my intention).

Of course, much of this is contextual: i may believe that i am acting with Authenticity towards you, and you may believe that i am not. And hence your view of my leadership is that it’s not authentic. Indeed, i suspect that in almost every case, this is true. The world is not full of people who try to act without authenticity, and yet not everyone is deemed to be authentic.

Authenticity is also contextual in another, more traditional, sense, in that our experience based Authenticity only counts in context: e.g. if we are discussing the gender pay gap, your experience climbing Everest is not really that relevant. So contextually, you are inauthentic.

From an Organisational perspective, we must create opportunities of authentic engagement: this may include things such as facing our own failure, sharing weakness and uncertainty, as well as conviction and strength, listening more than talking, and engaging with honesty in issues that are most significant into our work, and local, communities.

One of the reasons that i’ve included Authenticity as one of the key aspects for this year is because of the more recent work i’ve been doing on Dominant Narratives, and the amplification of failure. If we are deemed to be inauthentic, the consequence may not simply be local: it may be aggregated, and amplified, to be global. For that reason alone, understanding the importance and mechanisms of Authenticity, it’s roots in experience and action, and an active approach to building and maintaining it, for both individual Social Leaders, and engaged Organisations, is important.

What you need to know:

  • ‘Authenticity’ is valuable, intangible, contextual, and imbued upon us by others.
  • We cannot demand it, nor insulate against it’s loss.
  • Consequence of losing it may be aggregated and amplified at scale.

What you need to do:

  • Consider the roots of your own Authenticity: what action do you take that grows it, and what erodes it?
  • Consider if you can create conditions, circumstances, for people to engage in ways that permit them to engage with Authenticity?
  • Look specifically at the action of your Organisation into it’s local (and globally local) community: ground yourself in the communities that you serve
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