A Little Bit of Rebellion

I found this chair in a shoe shop, of all places: incitement to rebel, a challenge to live a little. It’s an interesting things rebellion: a force for change, an upsetting of the apple cart. Highly contextual: lead the rebellion and you may end up a dead folk hero or an elder statesman. Precisely the outcome may be unclear until the very end.

A little bit of rebellion

And yet the sentiment may hold: be curious, be bold, challenge authority because, unchallenged, authority can delude itself. Only by remaining connected and relevant to the now can authority remain authentic and grounded. And to do that, maybe it needs to be challenged a little now and then.

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San Francisco: Hinterland

I don’t know if it’s called ‘fly tipping’ here, but it was noticeable that, under the concrete flyways, between the monumental arches, at the dead end of endless tracks, the rubbish was piled high. Ironic really that the yard next door housed the slumbering tourist buses: the carriers of optimistically narrated fictions and potted histories, stories of origin and rebirth, sleeping here at journeys end for washing machines and bags of diapers. The other side: rusted taxis, dented and holed, retired from airport runs and drunk students, poor excuses and failed dates.


There’s a particularly American preponderance of auto shops: body repair promises that nevertheless seem to propagate decrepit hatchbacks and pimped trucks. Each roller shuttered maw gives onto darkly veiled caverns: my imaginations populating them with Russian gangsters and money laundering (whilst recognising the inconvenient truth that all they contain is the bent fender of a VW Beetle, awaiting repair or rehousing).

In England, the edgeland tends to be compact: thin layers between urban sprawl and rustic neglect, but here they stretch endlessly onwards, neither the manicured convenience of Downtown, nor the liberated academic grandeur of the college town beyond. Here, just the guts of society: the meat packing, ice breaking, importing, metal grinding, precision engineering, architectural salvage, air conditioning, bulk transport, concrete making, coffee roasting dregs of convenience and commerce.

Standing two storeys tall, the train was already winning some points for difference on height alone: rush hour back home means crowded trains, running late, costing a fortune. Here, the train was on time, i got a seat, and it cost me less than a Vegas coffee. I sat on the top deck, looking down onto the carriage full of bikes below: another difference from trains at home, where carriage of a bike is more often looked on as a favour than a service. I settled in for the ride, glued to the window for the traverse: from city to suburb, suburb to eternity. Trains carry both promise and utility: microcosm of society hunched over coffee.

Stations are transient by nature: constant flows, punctuated by lone islands, texting or waiting, lost or idle. In San Francisco that inevitably includes the homeless, the ever present sub culture, ignored and dispossessed, vagrant in this interlude between home and office, college and game.

As my train traversed the hinterlands of ‘Frisco i caught snapshots of the graffiti: flashing past too fast to photograph, but slow enough to read. Tags and art: territory and expression. Graffiti: the reclaimed and self proclaimed voice of the voiceless. The last voice to be stolen from us. The scratching, scraping, painted, sprayed, stickers and scrawled voices of dissent, disdain and despair. Not here the repurposed, commercialised, castrated and screen printed safety of graffiti as art, hung in urban white space gallery or reproduced on postcards and tea towels, no here is graffiti as scream and cry, violence and pain, ending on occasion in the screech of brakes and a darkness beyond the tunnels.

Graffiti aggregates in the hinterlands, migrates to the train lines that cut arcs through divided city blocks, forming some kind of dead ground, some kind of no mans land between the owned and the desolate. Nobody is here legitimately, unless hi-vis clad and on a work schedule: no, the urban artists are all piss and vinegar, dared and daring to cross the lines, cross onto the lines, cross a line and speak in voice uncensored and lit up by reclaimed freedom and social recognition to be the one to lived, the one who was heard. The voice eternal.

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Sharing from the new book: Change in the Social Age

I’m back to writing on the new book, with it’s provisional title ‘Organisational Change in the Social Age’. As is my habit, i’m #WorkingOutLoud and sharing some extracts as i write, in place of trying to write separately for the blog in the days i dedicate to the book. This piece is another part of the early chapter ‘Welcome to the Social Age’, and follows on from the piece i shared last week. This section talks about the democratisation of creativity and the devolution of brand. You may recognise parts of it from earlier writing on the blog, but i’ve rewritten this piece quite heavily.

Core skills for the Social Age

One very visible change in the Social Age is the full democratisation of creativity and publishing: the means by which any device of consumption is a device of broadcast as well.

I can write this, on my iPad, sat anywhere in the world and, at the touch of a button, broadcast it. Social Collaborative Technology lets me be connected through multiple channels to the same community, as well as through multiple channels to multiple communities. There’s a whole spiders web of connections that range from the highly visible and almost formal through to the fragmented, anonymised and almost hidden, but my reputation is forged and my amplification achieved through my ability to create content and share it wisely, to engage effectively in these spaces.

Curation skills, creative storytelling skills, use of multiple modalities of communication and an understanding of what makes a compelling narrative therefore come to the fore.

The ecosystem we inhabit in the Social Age allows for this fluidity, this devolved creativity.

It’s interesting to note the extent to which Social technology, with it’s democratisation of storytelling and publishing, challenged and subverts on of the mainstays of formal hierarchical control: when anyone can broadcast and anyone can be amplified, David can take on Goliath and put the ensuing victory on YouTube, almost instantly. This levelling effect is highly significant and ties into the ways that your brand is now almost entirely owned by the community.

We can no longer control the story, so we can no longer hope to control or shape change fully through formal channels. You cannot write the future alone, simply hope for a permission to co-create it with the community. One of the skills of Social Leadership is to learn how to do this: how to take organisational stories, which are inherently grounded in hierarchy, and to tell and retell them to be relevant to your team. Bad storytelling starts “They’ve told us to…”, where the story becomes simply instruction: abstract and robbed of authenticity. Dynamic organisations co-create and co-own the future state.

The story of the organisation is not simply told internally though: in the Social Age, the brand itself is co-created by the community dependent on your organisations actions and engagement over time: so we can be in the conversation about what the brand means, but we no longer own and shape it, broadcasting it to dumb recipients. It’s a far more dynamic relationship where we are influencers, but not owners. If the organisation speaks in one voice, but acts in another, it will be found out.

In this context, as the marketing and brand functions struggle to retain control and justify their spending, they become less relevant: the role of devolved creativity and uninhibited curiosity take over as primary determiners of an organisations perceived brand. It’s the ability to question everything, then question it again tomorrow, and it’s this curiosity, the devolved creativity, facilitated by technology and hosted within community that gives us agility. That was a long sentence for a short purpose: we are made agile by asking questions and sharing our thinking as we do so.

All of this change happens in a globalised environment: organisations trade globally, but we, as individuals, are able to build and maintain much wider, looser, social communities, giving us access to expertise, thinking, support and experience at a whole new level. The badge of ‘globalised’ no longer belongs to big business: it’s more a mindset.

But not one without it’s challenges. I’m increasingly interested in the ways that, in the Social Age, this globalisation brings people together across legal, ethical, moral and geographical boundaries. We are connected in ways that we were never connected before, which creates a host of tension and challenge, not to mention safeguarding issues. In the globally connected space, who’s views prevail?

In a global community we are operating across many definitions of ‘right’ and ‘fair’, not just the legally defined ones. We can deny the reality of this, but the reality will come to bite us in the end. We cannot find unity through legal or hierarchical control and resolution, but rather through engagement and respect.

This get’s to the heart of the Social Age: the challenges we face are not simply logistical and financial. They are themselves social.

There’s a greater need (and desire, on the whole) for organisations to be socially responsible, but understanding what that means in practice requires some wholehearted navel gazing. How to be fair, responsible and equal. For me, this drives everything: you cannot be agile as an organisation without being both fair and inclusive. The equality and diversity debate therefore becomes as much one of competitive advantage as it is of simply doing what is clearly right.

As we travel around our map of the Social Age, you’ll see that so much of what we talk about happens within communities and outside of formal hierarchies. And i’ve left three of the biggest elements to last: the ways we learn, the ways we lead and the ways we gain authority and influence.

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A Formal Request to Change

A Social model of organisational change is one that combines both formal and social elements: the formal being the organisational view and the social that of the community. It’s in the interplay between formal and social spaces that engagement occurs: engagement through involvement and co-creation, not simply hierarchical instruction. In this #WorkingOutLoud post, i’m just reflecting on the dynamics between both spaces, the formal and the social, and the mechanisms by which each expresses it’s opinion and control.

Formal and Social change

Change conversations play out in multiple spaces: the real world, private communications and online shared space. Each of those communications ranges from fully formal through to fully social: the differentiation usually being decided by the platform or space it takes place within, the context of the conversation and the nature of the other participants. For example, a conversation with other leaders, in a formal office, talking about team changes is undoubtedly a formal conversation. Two of those same people talking about the change via WhatsApp later in the same day may perhaps be only semi-formal. But move that conversation onto work email and it’s probably more formal. Why? Because the space the conversation takes place within dictates in large part the formality of the conversation.

Dynamic Change, the term used within the Change Curve framework to describe organisations that are adapted for and agile in their approach to change, recognise the spectrum of conversations that take place and, indeed, engineer in the spaces and permissions for each of them to take place and be shared back into a central space. It’s this interplay between formal and social that gives the Dynamic model it’s power: a story framed by the organisation, but co-created and co-owned by the community.

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Reflections on DevLearn Day 3: Game Dynamics and Trust

I presented my session on Game Dynamics this morning: really an exploration of the underlying ways that games work and how it relates to some of the wider work around learning in the Social Age. The framework i’m using to present this distinguishes ‘game mechanics’, which are the actual nuts and bolts of the game (moving things, collecting things, scoring, shooting, winning), from ‘game dynamics’, which are underlying aspects of interactions (such as ‘sense of loss’, ‘micro failure’, ‘risk’, ‘collaboration’, ‘nurturing’, and so on).

Game Dynamics and Game Mechanics

One aspect that i focussed on today was the notion of who owns the authority behind reward: is it community generated, or formally bestowed. The analogy i used was this: which would you value more, an email from the organisation thanking you for your work on a project, or a hand drawn card from your nephew, thanking you for a birthday present? Clearly the latter would have more authentic value, even though transactionally they are the same encounter. I was using this as a conversation about intrinsic, inherent value: often the context is central to the value perceived. The point being that even if we design learning with the rituals we observe elsewhere, we won’t necessarily carry the intrinsic value with them.

Interestingly, much of the interest from the group was around notions of trust and community, how we generate engagement. For me, this is always about understanding that it’s about more than just the space or the technology. We have to address the sociological context too: how people engage, why they engage, how trust is built, how shared value is found.

The high points of the conference this year were really around analytics and data driven decisions: it’s good to feel that many organisations are looking at how to assess more social approaches, although i remain concerned that the gap between measurement and control is always small. Measuring things is just a function of measurement: it’s not validation that the organisational story is right.

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Reflections from DevLearn 2015 Day 2: Sense Making, Curiosity and Sharing

I’ve been producing a video diary at DevLearn this year, trying to extend my #WorkingOutLoud to a process of continuous reflection. I’m recording short, one minute videos and uploading through the day. It’s reasonably time intensive, but forces me to think and commit to action: it’s a personal narrative that gives me a legacy and some challenges. Is it any good? Who knows: that’s the point of working out loud. You learn what works and what doesn’t!


So this process, plus the other interactions through Twitter and in real life have given me my three themes from the conference today: sense making, curiosity and storytelling.

Sense making is the process of figuring out what we believe: what will we take away from these events, what will we discard, change our beliefs on, adopt or challenge? It’s both an internal activity and a group one. Through the web of conversations that surround the formal sessions we sense make and, once we’ve done that, we should share our stories.

This type of reflective #WorkingOutLoud is one way, but there are others: i see teams huddled together, sharing what they’ve learnt from the different sessions. The thing about storytelling is that it’s iterative: we don’t have to get the story right first time. The trick is to start it and see where it takes us, so the story is not fixed and static, but rather iterative and evolving.

And, at the heart of this, curiosity: these events, at their best, are about being curious. Sampling new ideas, sharing new thoughts, challenging the status quo. If we get that right, if we are curious, try to make sense of it, and share our stories, it’s worth the trip.

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Reflections from DevLearn 2015: Innovation, Badges and Social

I’m at DevLearn in Vegas this week: for the first time, i’ve been using YouTube to share some #WorkingOutLoud reflective posts through the day, and now, in the evening, i’m writing a summary of key themes i’ve taken out from the day.

DevLearn 2015

The theme of this years event is Innovation: for me, there’s a sense of dissatisfaction, of something not quite being right, and that innovation is seen as key to solving that. But that may miss the point: the disturbance is the recognition that the world has changed. Innovation is the straw we are grasping, but we can probably break it down to something more granular. We need to give permission to be curious, to question. We need to see new technologies as provocation to find new ways of working and learning, not as solutions in themselves. We need to recognise that innovation and creativity are more a function of the right spaces and permissions than of technology alone. It’s easy to reach for the tag of innovation, when in fact, what we may mean is different. Similarly, it’s easy to just try different, when what we need is true innovation, which can only occur when the ecosystem permits or provokes it. A circular question that sometimes traps us.

Creativity and Innovation

Another theme today was ostensibly ‘badges‘, part of a track on gamification (which i’m presenting in on Friday), but which really uncovers another fundamental recognition that learning is being both democratised, to be more on our terms, and made more social. The insistence on viewing badges as being somehow engaging fails to recognise that they only engage one type of behaviour. Any conversation about games needs to be in a wider context of learning and effectiveness, recognising that they are only one part of a complex answer.

Game Dynamics and Game Mechanics

Finally: social learning is still firmly on the radar, but still with an unhealthy focus on systems, when in fact it’s primarily a matter of sociology. Trying to own the space will only give us the conversations we deserve. Which may not be the conversations that we need.

If we approach Social correctly, we have a permission to be in the conversation: if we get it wrong, we just drive the conversation elsewhere, where it may be more subversive.

So a good first day: i’m enjoying that many of the conversations are moving beyond purely the technology, but i still feel the need to recognise the widest lens of change is that of the Social Age itself: the democratisation of learning and the move to Social.

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