The New World of Work is Not Work

Yesterday i ran the first of six sessions in California, exploring aspects of the Social Age: we started by exploring where we go ‘Beyond Organisations’, and today i will move into ‘The Storytelling Leader’, before tackling ‘Innovation & Disruption’, and ‘Communities’ later in the week. These reflective days are reasonably unstructured, Explorer sessions, looking not at the organisations that we have today, but more broadly at the type of organisation we may need to build for tomorrow. The Socially Dynamic Organisation will bring a more diversified strength, a deep capacity to change, it will be lighter weight, both from the point of view of size, but also hierarchy and control.

Organisational Design in the Social Age

I don’t believe that we should abandon formal structure and control: indeed, the opposite may apply. We should strengthen and optimise it. But we should unhitch power from position: when people nest within structures of power, they perpetuate those structures, because to change them undoes their narrative, unravels their power. The key change we should make is to enable, facilitate, and empower, the social structures that sit alongside it: we should not simply recognise this social expertise within, and on the terms of, the formal organisation, but instead should create more equal relationship: maintain a dynamic tension between the two systems.

Dynamic Tension

In many of the organisations that i spend time in, there is already a deep understanding of the need for change, a desire to explore new principles of leadership, of organisational design, of control, but often they ultimately struggle to adapt, held constrained by the very strength that made them great today.

One aspect i’m exploring this week is that of ‘two dimensions of change’. We are not just facing known challenges, within known ecosystems, to which we must adapt. We are not just facing known competitors within known markets. We are not just finding, hiring, and training, the best people in a known and understood labour market. We are, in fact, disrupted.

Today, alongside this known system (which we know how to adapt within, and respond towards), we face broader challenges, ecosystem challenges. Disruption, when it comes, it often asymmetric, unknown, and fast. Our markets are changing, not necessarily in shape (although with the emerging Internet of Things, they are that), but also nature: the shift from ‘transactional’, to ‘relationship’ based engagement is something that many brands have build great value upon.

But with relationship comes responsibility: Organisations are not entities that float above society, they are mechanisms of, expressions of, society, and, most importantly, increasingly accountable to society.

Consider that for a moment: organisations that are used to being accountable to shareholders and the law (and they are still accountable in these spaces) are increasingly accountable to their social communities. Indeed, the challenges faced by Uber, and increasingly by Facebook, are not strictly formal and quantifiable, they are social and emotional. The breaches we see may involve data, but they are judged on trust.

And all of this takes place against the evolved ecosystem of the Social Age: the second degree of change.

Organisational Design in the Social Age

The illustration above is a sketch of this new world. Is it right? I doubt it, but equally, i doubt it is entirely wrong.

Without a doubt, the advent of socially collaborative technology, globally, at scale, has led to new nesting places for emergent tribal structure: trust bonded groups, striving for shared purpose, providing foundational social belonging and community value.

Learning 2017

In parallel, education is on the verge of disruption: all of our old models were based upon outdated views of knowledge, and the geolocation of expertise. And today, both of those views can be challenged: the knowledge that we engage with most often is increasingly dynamic, co-created, adaptive, and tribal, held within these very practitioner structures that we feel most engaged with. Again, we still need the ‘old’, but we certainly need the ‘new’.

And the technology companies, who hold the vast and interconnected communities, are in a prime position to disrupt in this space. They are pouring money into immersive VR, which will provide experiential learning spaces, dynamic collaborative ones. They can produce high value interactive learning, in a global market with revenues that will make this attractive, and they understand that experience is everything. When i went to school, they were still using blackboards. And they’ve not come all that far since.

But this disruption in education will not simply be disruption of a known system, within a known space, to a known model. I suspect that we will see the emergence of lifelong engagement, the new ‘universities’ will not be physical structures, but rather engaged communities, providing ongoing, relevant, grounded, practice based, development, throughout our careers. They will form the portable community that travels with us throughout our career. Under this model, my ‘university’ would not simply write to me to ask for a donation: they would be engaged in, and invested in, my ongoing performance and success. And why not?

The fractured Social Contract has left us without a career backbone: the organisation you work for may be fantastic, but it’s unlikely to be with you forever, and in any event, the opportunity, and freedom, that you are afforded will often be grudgingly given, and limited in reach. People look beyond their organisation for true opportunity, and that is a tragedy. We hire people because of their brilliance, and then squander that brilliance through outdated notions of control.

It’s into this space that a truly meaningful model of lifelong education will emerge, indeed, aspects of it already have. Just look at Duolingo and Babbel, decimating traditional, location based, models of language learning.

One aspect i’m particularly interested in is the emergence of the new Guilds, although i’m unsure how this will play out. One thing i see clearly is that many organisations are forging intra market entities to look at shared costs around thinks like graduate programmes, and certifications, recognising that they cannot bear the formal costs of these things alone, in a market where people just leave. But this may be a short step taken too late. I suspect we will see the new Guilds emerging as professional bodies with real clout: holding both political power, high loyalty, and contractual power with organisations.

Just look at cyber-security: people in this field are constantly collaborating and competing, outside of any organisational structure. So why not collectivise, at scale, and shift from individual engagement, to Guild engagement? Combined with the evolved models of lifelong learning, and the need for organisations to shed structure in favour of purpose and effectiveness?

Four Aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation

I’ve written before about the Socially Dynamic Organisation: indeed, it’s acting as a unifying notion across much of my thinking right now, and will form the heart of my next full book, ‘The Change Handbook’. The notion is that we must explore evolved models of engagement, evolved types of strength. The specific capability of the Socially Dynamic Organisation will be change, achieved through a deep comfort with curiosity, an ability to hold ambiguity, an evolved structure of power, which recognises Social Authority, and a cultural agility.

The cultural agility is not the thing to focus on: it will be an emergent feature of the evolved system. If we adapt leadership, if we adapt learning, if we dis-engineer redundant process, system, and control, then we may create the conditions where this agility emerges.

As i said at the start, i doubt whether this sketch is accurate, but that doubt is matched by certainty that our existing models of Organisational Design, of recognition and reward, of training and development, of education, of professional growth, are outdated.

People are more connected than ever before, and no matter what we do, they are not going to become less connected. Instead, it’s likely that these new, democratised, collectives will establish real power. But i think they will be more than new unions, they will be creative in their own right, not standing in opposition to formal systems, but rather engaged with, and collaborating, alongside them.

This is the opportunity: to explore how we can fairly engage, how we can recognise the opportunity and overcome the constraint which is so often not applied to us from the outside, but rather engineered from within.

I have no doubt that organisations will persist, but whether those are the organisations that we have today, i am far less certain.

Those that survive and thrive will be those that can change: to take their existing strength, to understand the new world, to experiment, and adapt. They will be anchored in fairness, rooted in social justice, actively in service of their communities, and remaining relevant in an evolved world

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Ecosystem change & Organisational Design [part 1]

Where will we go, beyond Organisations? Much Organisational Design today is based upon outdated principles of collectivism, and effect at scale, through hierarchy and control, in a world that sees the democratisation of innovation, a rebalancing of power, and evolved modes of social organisation, disrupting those very systems, often in ways we understand poorly, if at all. We will always have a need for Organisations, but the question is, what will they look like, and can we adapt the behemoths of today, to the dynamic winners of tomorrow?

Organisational Design in the Social Age

In some sense, we can probably characterise the broadest shift as being away from a two party state, to a multi party one: we used to have ‘work’ and ‘not work’, but today, we have a grew space that blends the two. We used to have ‘national’ and ‘international’, but today we have ‘transnational’, and ‘socially global’. We used to have ‘cultural’, and ‘counter cultural’, but today, we rely increasingly on sanctioned subversion, and social engagement, all within the four walls of work. Whatever work is. Whatever the office is. Whatever education is.

Guide to the Social Age 2018

I believe that the full mechanisms of disruption are reasonably clear, at least clear enough for a cursory understanding: collectivism and the rise of social communities wielding structural power (collectivism outside of formal systems, and the ways that social communities can develop political power back into formal systems), a rebalancing of power, away from purely formal, to a mixed model of reputation (we see a general erosion of purely formal power, replaced by more consensual leadership, even slipping into evolved modes of democracy, not all for the good), democratisation of infrastructure (which used to represent power, but now often represents constraint for older organisations, coupled with democratised, on demand, access for social innovators), emergent modes of social organisation (our older models of social organisation, in States, Nations, Churches etc is being eroded by communities of global ideas, communities of aggregated dissent, purpose led etc), cross cultural connectivity at scale (which will be radically enhanced by synchronous translation), and so on.

One view of this change is through modes of social organisation, considering ‘education’, the new ‘guilds’, social ‘tribes’, and future ‘organisations’. At the highest level, the premise would be this: we are likely to see a shift away from formal education being seen as something provided on a national level, predominantly to the young, towards relationships that last a lifetime, provided on a more global basis, and forming something of a continuous backbone to work. Our local tribes will diversify, as the true impacts of collaborative technology, synchronous translation, and narrative artificial intelligence systems bite, providing a new meta culture, and highly trusted network, operating as a home to our sense of ‘being’. The new guilds will emerge as semi professional structures, which not only link into lifelong learning, but gain real political and economic power, holding distributed capability, outside of any formal system, and organisations will themselves reconfigure, to become lighter weight, more adaptive, fully Socially Dynamic. Or at least they will, if they are to survive.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

These ecosystem factors will lead to a new environment, one which will favour new models of Organisational Design, and actively sub optimise those that resist, and our challenge is not one for the future, but one to face now: how will we develop and refine the culture that can thrive in this new space? It’s unlikely that we will be able to import it, so we will need to grow it, but we cannot grow it if we hold onto the power, structure, and pride, of the past. We can only grow it if we relinquish certain levels of control, and focus on the dual structure, formal and social, of the Socially Dynamic Organisation. It’s taken nearly two hundred years of scientific management to get us into the current space: we had better start experimenting and learning what comes next.

There will be many domain specific challenges around this, not the least of which is the shift from domain specificity to a new generality. The solutions will be enabled by technology, but may be inhibited by IT departments. They will be governed by fairness, but may be constrained by mindless hidebound rule systems. They will be led, but not necessarily by us. Our challenge is to be prepared to change, and most of the constraint we face, as individuals, lies in what we already know, and in organisations, it lies in what we already do.

I’m in California this week, running a series of Explorer sessions, unpacking some of the dynamics that feed into this, so will use the time to expand on each of these areas in turn, and try to set some foundations for the conversation to come.

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The Friction of Innovation

I recently shared a post exploring cultural agility in relation to innovation and disruption: broadly the premise is that different states of innovation may require different manifestations of culture, some of which can co-exist, and some of which sit in opposition. As i’ve started sharing this work more widely, i’m building out of the illustrations, to form a better sequence, and sharing some of this new work today, as part of #WorkingOutLoud.

Innovation and Culture

At it’s heart, i’m looking at the following sequence: ‘KNOWN’ culture is a safe one, repeating the same action sets, with a focus on optimisation, followed by ‘INNOVATIVE’ cultures, which are curious, and explore the notion of new action sets. Innovative cultures look at potentially new ways of doing things. It’s perfectly normal for these two cultures to co-exist, often geolocated separately, with one tolerating or hosting the other.

Cultural Agility for Innovation

The shift from ‘innovation’ to a culture of ‘EXPERIMENTATION’ is a small one, and i’m separating them by attitude to risk. The reason for this is that ‘attitude to risk’ is a common reason regulated organisations share with me as to why they are unable to adopt more social approaches. They have the intent, they may even be innovative, but they are unable to experiment. Nonetheless, an organisation may hold all three of these cultures concurrently, if it is able to rationalise and segment them far enough.

Cultural Agility - innovation and disruption

That can change when we get to ‘DISRUPTION’ though: a Disruptive culture does not simply disrupt the market, it may disrupt itself, specifically it may disrupt established modes of power, established hierarchy and associated nested tribes, established wealth, established pride, and so on. And whilst external disruption may trigger a market, or regulatory response, internal disruption may trigger an immune response. Immune responses are those whereby organisations deny change, and actively kill it off.

Cultural Agility - innovation and disruption

There is a final, transient, cultural stage, which i am currently calling ‘EXPLOITATION’, because it relates to the ability to exploit innovation, but which i may change to call something more like ‘OPTIMISATION’, as ‘exploit’ has negative connotations, implying that we are exploiting people badly, rather than innovation, well. I’m sticking with it for now, because in this stage we are not simply optimising, we are trying to drive value, return, and profit, whilst streamlining to make it safe (reduce the risk we started to capture during experimentation).

Exploitation should be a transient cultural phase, but requires a specific cultural agility, in being reconfigurable (as we explore in the Socially Dynamic Organisation, which is reconfigurable to need).

I’ll return to this work in due course, to explore the implications for leadership, in creating conditions for this cultural fluidity.

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The Social Consequence of Exclusion #2

Excuse first: some days it’s hard to write, it’s just too busy. I’ve delivered a full day workshop, then travelled into the evening to prepare for another full day tomorrow. But #WorkingOutLoud is not about sharing excuses, it’s about sharing fragments of thought. And being unafraid to share imperfect or incomplete work. Today, i’m sharing the evolution of one of the illustrations i used today.

The Projection and Failure of Trust

This is the original, it is used to talk about exclusion from a group: once we have ‘conformed’, to gain membership, we run the risk of ‘exclusion’, if we subsequently dissent. But i included ‘frames of trust’ within the illustration, and it’s cluttered. This evening, between two trains, i redrew it.

The Projection and Flow of Trust

This new one is not perfect, but it’s the best i could do at speed, and it removes some clutter. The main idea i wanted to convey was how ‘members’ were different, so i switched to squares. The new member ‘conforms’ on the surface, but may have to ‘shield’ aspects of self to do so. This ties into another notion, that we may bear a cost of membership, in service of some future goal.

Really i need to redraw the whole slide, but i will prototype this new version in tomorrows session.

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I recently shared a taxonomy of Social organisation, looking at ‘tribal’ structures, ‘communities’, and ‘organisations’. I’m continuing to evolve this, partly to allow me to try out new language. The vocabulary we use, to describe things, is laden with predetermined context: sometimes by sticking with the same language, we stick with the same understanding, so it can be useful to evolve language deliberately, to give us permission to explore new meaning. Today, i want to consider ‘crowds’.


I’m considering crowds as communities of purpose or intent, but with a specific context that they are emergent and transient. This would allow for a structure something like this: tribal structures are trust bonded, and reasonably persistent, communities are meta tribal structures, and range from defined and short term, to ad hoc and long term, and crowds are emergent and always transient. Possibly crowds become communities if they persist for long enough? This means that the base unit of social organisation is the tribe, communities are functional structures that we can use to discuss organisations, and crowds are more aligned to social movement, agreement, or protest, but specifically in the short term.

Potentially crowds can act as seeds for community. Rapid prototype structures.

To try that language in a different way: members of a tribe may come together in a crowd. Members of many tribes may form a community, and on a particular occasion, or to serve a particular purpose, that community may spawn a crowd. And from across many communities, we may see emergent crowds arise in response to specific, and both location and time bound need.

But why even both to think about this? It could be an argument about semantics.

I think the notion of crowds may be valuable when considering accepted views and the movement of those views (what a community thinks), as well as when considering ‘sense making’ and access to knowledge.

Let’s consider a couple of examples: an organisation wants to source new ideas, so it deploys an ‘innovation’ system, where people can lodge ideas, and vote them up or down. If a community emerges around one particular idea, perhaps that is a crowd. If it persists, perhaps it becomes a more permanent community? But the very presence of the crowd allows purpose, or agreement, to be expressed.

Or another example, in the UK right now, University Lecturers are on strike in a dispute on pensions: perhaps the picket lines are crowds, united in dissent, but transient in nature.

We could consider this in the context of organisational change, and i will build this upon the language i’m using within the Dynamic Change Framework: to facilitate change, we should consider establishing SEED Communities, but perhaps also consider the use of crowds. Crowds may form part of our ‘sensory’ array, our ability to gauge the temperature of a community, to understand the dominant local view.

As with all social structures, and language, it’s contextual, and emotive. After all, when a crowd assembles, if we don’t like the message, we condemn it as a mob. If it’s genteel, we call it a gathering. The same emotive contextualisation is true of all social structures: church groups we call ‘congregations’, but groups of street artists are gangs.

There is one other angle of crowds to explore, building out of the Tribes and Trust work: crowds seems to be efficient structures for forming consensus, but also for exclusion. Membership carries immediate validation and vindication, or instant exclusion or persecution. They wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Possibly the consideration of crowds is just a useful mechanism to consider social structures and movement, but it may form something more permanent in my work.

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Domain Specificity into a Generalised Specificity

This is a conversation about the future of work. Consider this a half formed thought, but one which i’ve been chasing around for a while now. As part of the work exploring where we go, ‘Beyond Organisations’, and linked into the work on the Socially Dynamic Organisation, i’ve been considering a broad shift, away from ‘domain specificity’ (where we are excellent within a discipline), into a generalised specificity (where our excellence is distributed).

Beyond Organisation

Before you comment, i realise that a ‘generalised specificity’ is a tautology, but i’m unsure how better to represent the concept: i don’t mean that we need just more generalists, but rather that there is likely to be a specific capability around ‘generalism’.

Much of the professionalisation of work in the last two hundred years or so has seen the rise of domains, with underlying educational and development pathways, which have bought with them a segmentation of power, and a general constraint. The differentiating behaviours of the Social Age are one of interconnectivity: connecting knowledge to need, people to community, and surplus to need.

The rise of socially collaborative technology has, itself, seen a rise in recognition of the need for connective skills: Social Capital, as i call it within the Social Leadership work. The skills and behaviours that bond communities, that connect.

Formal domains have long held power, through their spans of control, but as the taxonomy of knowledge evolves, away from formally held and tightly controlled, through to being more dynamic, co-created, adaptive, and socially held, so too do the mechanisms of power, and spans of control, that lie underneath it.

Social Leadership 100 - types of power

This speaks to every dimension of our challenge: to evolve Organisations into a new structure, which is less domain specific, more an interconnected network, running on the social currencies of pride, trust, and respect, as much as the formal currencies of money and control. Purpose led, Socially Dynamic.

These changes will also blow back to models of education, and the very notion of career, as well as the respective structures that support those two things. No longer universities as places, but rather as lifelong communities perhaps, and no longer organisations as the backbone of career, but rather tribes and connections.

We will still build our domain specificity, and expert knowledge, but perhaps connected through generalised specificity, strong Social Capital, and an ability to connect, to create, and moderate, new knowledge.

This is an imperfect first pass through this language: part of #WorkingOutLoud is to rehearse and prototype new thinking and vocabulary, and to share that not with an intent to be right, but to learn to be closer to a new understanding.

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Trust Sketchbook: The Beginning of the End?

I’m the first to admit that i am not always great at finishing things. But i’ve been recognising recently that i have too many ‘open’ projects, and more that i want to start… so i’m making myself do some ‘finishing’, starting by finishing the Trust Sketchbook: this is a project i started more than six months ago, and promised to finish by Christmas… so time is up!

The Trust Sketchbook

The Trust Sketchbook is intended to be a practical tool: a guided, reflective, and graffiti led journey through the Landscape of Trust research. Where the ‘proper’ writing uses data and interpretation, the Trust Sketchbook is intended to create space for reflection, drawing, scribbling, and mistakes.

What has caused me to delay so far? If i’m honest, two things: firstly, from the start i have been unsure of my ability to write and draw it well enough, and secondly, it’s just taken far more time than i expected. But yesterday, and today, i completed two thirds of what remains. I reckon i only have around four hours work to go, and aim to finish it this weekend. So watch this space, and if you have been waiting for this to land… hold out a little longer, as i start to look at production!

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