The Social Leadership Game: Reflections on the Prototype

Yesterday i prototyped the first version of a Social Leadership strategic tool, a jigsaw that can be used by teams to explore what Social Leadership is, their individual and relative strengths, and to contextualise it in their own organisation. Today, i wanted to share a few ideas of ‘what’ i’m trying to do with this. I should be clear that i have no firm view: this is a prototype, just an idea at this stage, made of scraps of paper and glue.

The Social Leadership Game: Reflections on the Prototype

In it’s current form, the jigsaw reflects the NET Social Leadership mode: there is a central hub, surrounded by three spokes, and then the nine separate components. These represent MY version of the model, and the narrative that i most commonly share: first, you CURATE your space, set your foundations, then learn to be an effective STORYTELLER, considering authenticity and amplification. SHARE widely, but wisely. Consider your COMMUNITY, which ones you should join, start, or leave, and within those, how you develop REPUTATION. The magic happens when your reputation is rewarded with SOCIAL AUTHORITY. Once you have this, you can look at CO-CREATION, the sense making aspect of communities, you can build, and have, high SOCIAL CAPITAL, to ensure that nobody is left behind, and you can COLLABORATE widely, and in great complexity.

The NET Model of Social Leadership

In the first instance of the game, the group builds the model, then has some ‘points’ to spend against it. You can do this in a number of ways: yesterday, i gave them 45 points, to spend on what they felt was the most important aspect of the framework, but equally i think you could do it individually, to explore your individual strengths, and compare them to those of the team.

In a second round, i asked the group to create their own jigsaw pieces: they could keep the spokes, and the components, and add more, or remove some of my pieces and substitute their own. Naturally, this produced variation: some of the revised models i agreed with, some i felt were the same, but used different language, and some i felt were less strong. And that is as it should be: diversity is a strength within a team. And our own humility, itself a core component of Social Leadership, should be at the heart of our work.

Even my own thinking has evolved since i sketched the original model in 2013: today, i consider ‘Story Listening’ to be as important as ‘Storytelling’, especially for senior formal leaders. I also consider the role of ‘trust’ as more central. Perhaps, in time, i will revise the whole model. That’s part of #WorkingOutLoud, being prepared, and eager, to learn more, to be wrong, to revise and iterate.

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Prototyping the Jigsaw for the Socially Dynamic Organisation

It’s the end of a long day: i’ve been facilitating a group of senior leaders, exploring Social Leadership, Innovation, and Change. Which is another way of saying that i feel too tired to write. But part of #WorkingOutLoud is to be unafraid to share something short, just in the moment. And today, i’ll do that, and share this photo of a new jigsaw i prototyped today. It’s built out of the work on the Socially Dynamic Organisation, and it’s a jigsaw that can be used in groups to explore the ‘Dynamic Tension’.

Jigsaw for Socially Dynamic Organisation

I used it to provide some constrained structure around the group work, and it seemed to work well. Later this week i will share some of the different ‘jigsaws’ that the groups created, and reflect on how i can evolve the model further. Below is my original sketch on ‘Organisational Design Principles’ that this jigsaw is based upon.

Sketching the Socially Dynamic Organisation

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Sketch Maps of the Social Age

Last week i shared my new map of the Social Age, highlighting twelve core aspects of change. Today, for fun, i thought i would share the previous three iterations of the map, from my first sketch in 2014, where i first represented the Social Age as a landscape.

Mapping the Social Age

Aside from it’s rather low resolution approach, the first map identified many of the bedrocks: the changing nature of work, democratisation of publishing, and rise of collaborative technology.

Ecosystem of the Social Age 2015

A map of the Social Age 2015

In the second instance, i filled in some key sections: splitting out ‘co-creation and co-ownership’, and highlighting ‘amplification’ as a core feature. This represented my own increased interest in the mechanisms of storytelling and communication in the new ecosystem.

The ecosystem of the Social Age 2016

In 2016, i updated the map significantly: the island in the North East, for ‘fairness, kindness, and equality’ represented a growing realisation that these factors, previously considered ‘soft’, were now differentiators, and key to engagement. There is also more of a focus on ‘responsibility’, how organisations are grounded within their communities. Also, ‘curiosity’ made an appearance, which lead me through an exploration of just what, exactly, makes some organisations so successful? This work really led me into the notion of the Socially Dynamic Organisation, where my current exploration is based.

Guide to the Social Age 2018

The new map shows my current interests: firmly focussed on the ‘social’, seeking to understand how this system functions, and how it impacts. I’ve trimmed out some sections of the older maps, as some of this stuff is now so well accepted, it not longer needs a signpost. Everyone understands that careers have changed. The work on types of power (culminations of four years research and writing i’ve been doing in military contexts) and on modes of organisation (beyond organisations, transnationals etc) represent my first attempts to characterise the really broadest shifts in society, and start working towards new organising principles.

My focus this year is likely to be on ‘change’, and ‘the Socially Dynamic Organisation’. How we adapt, and optimise our organisations to thrive in this new space.

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A Rhythm of Change

They lifted the boat out today. It’s always a performance. For the last few days, men in fluorescent jackets (and they are all men) have bustled and flitted, clearing space, clearing the decks, preparing for the lift. Early yesterday morning, before the crack of dawn, the crane arrived.

A Rhythm of Change

It’s a monster: an itinerant beast that roves, i suspect every day, to lift something new. It rumbled down the canal path, before planting it’s feet: a few hours of ‘fussing’ around, and then it groaned into life, lifting the barge as it were a mere stick.

This is the pattern every year, here in the canal basin: the season draws in, leaves fall from the trees, the regular tourists dry up, leaving just dog walkers and the occasional intrepid canoeist. Then they come to lift the boat, regular as clockwork.

For two weeks they will spray, scrape, scrub and scurry, before the whole ceremony is reversed. There is a pace, a rhythm to life by the waterside.

Change has a temp: some moments are dramatic, pivotal, but it takes place against a backdrop of seasons. Life runs throughout the year, not just at lifting time.

Anything we do takes place against this tapestry, but it’s easy to miss it in the busyness of the moment.

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Thoughtful Abstractions

The Social world is complex, contextual, adaptive. There are no quick fixes: instead, our focus should be on how we create the conditions for success. As i sit on the train, writing, there is an advert in front of me. “Step aside fate, it’s time science had a go at love”. The notion that we can find the ‘answer’ to love is counterintuitive. Love (like trust) is not a deterministic response: i can’t ‘do’ something to determine, with assuredness, that you will love me, although, perversely, it’s the things we do that make us fall in love. An element of love may be causal (the things i do may cause certain responses), but there is more to it than cause alone. “Imagine being able to stack the odds of finding lasting love entirely in your favour”, the advert continues. Well, maybe that is more the point: whilst we cannot ‘determine’ love, we may be able to improve the odds. And whilst we may not be able to own, or control, complex social systems, we may be able to stack the odds there too.

Thoughtful Abstractions

We do so not by seeking deterministic relationships, but rather by seeking to understand. Most of my own work falls in this space: it’s abstraction really, not a truth, but a representation of an observed truth. These abstractions are how we understand the world: generalisable truths, observations of cause. Abstractions suit social situations which are often counter intuitive and just plain emotional. No matter how ‘logical’ a particular outcome would be, there is no assurance that we will ‘feel’ something is right or good.

Organisations are used to operating within the formal space: in this space, they can own and control every formal element. They can change contracts, physical spaces, they can change purpose and they own the application of consequence. But that does not give them ownership, or even sight of, culture, and it certainly does not give them momentum in change.

Within the social system, we move beyond logic, into a different space: we can seek to build out abstractions, and use that understanding to shape our actions. So to develop Social Leadership, we build broad understanding, we develop reflective abstractions, to help us understand how things may operate, and we build high Social Capital to help us guide and react to the ways things actually pan out.

All this is at the front of my head right now because i’m starting to share the work on Trust quite widely. I’m sharing it, but i have no deterministic answers: there is not answer to ‘what we do about trust’. There is simply the potential of reflective abstractions: if we understand ways that trust may work, based upon observation and storytelling, if we understand environmental influences, such as culture and gender, and if we are willing to act with humility, and to learn, then we may become more adept at fostering a culture of trust. We may learn to create the spaces where trust will emerge. Some aspects we can influence but the answer will never be a process, it will start in the head and, perhaps like love, it may flourish from there.

Abstractions are not answers, but if we are reflective, and willing to learn, then they may still help us find solutions.

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Modes Of Social Organisation: By The People, For The People

Things have always changed: i write today in Chichester, my hometown, an old Roman city, which became the capital of the Kingdom of Sussex. From marching fort and Roman camp, to fortified town and city state. Today, as part of the UK, it still houses a grand 12th century cathedral, and serves as a centre of religious organisation, as a diocese. Surrounded by farmland, the landscape itself of the South Downs is a grazed chalk pasture, shaped by agriculture, but not immune to the collectivism and nationalism of all farms, bought up and consolidated. Modes of social organisation have always evolved, and we are in the midst of the expansion, experimentation, and evolution of models as we speak.

Evolving Modes of Social Organisation

I’m fascinated by the evolution of democracy, nested in the notion of ‘nation’, a notion based largely in historical precedent (factors of conquest and marriage), transport infrastructure (hence trade routes), and communication (hence cultural spread). Government serves the nation, to provide for all, to organise, to strategise, to hold us safe. Or some such platitude and nicety. But neither the notion of nation, nor the conception of government that we employ today, are fixed or everlasting.

I wrote yesterday on the rise of the Transnationals, the emergence of (as yet ungrounded) new trade structures, empires of influence, shapers of culture, globally. The pioneers of the digital space have firmly re-grounded themselves in culture, but not geographically defined culture, rather subscription based.

I’ve been following one train of thought around this: governments exist in one nation, provide infrastructure, and levy taxes. Infrastructure was vast, complex, expensive, and beyond the individual. There were some variants in this: in the UK, the rail network, the canal network, indeed, most of the national road network, and many bridges, started as private enterprises, toll based, but were gradually consolidated, standardised, rationalised (not that you would know it from navigating the London Underground). Today, though, the picture is changing: it’s Tesla providing power in western Australia, offering to install a power grid in disaster struck Puerto Rico. It’s Amazon and it’s ilk that will create drone infrastructure, leapfrogging road or rail in Africa. It’s connected devices from Apple and running Android that will embed the connected network of health sensors heralding the move to continuous health (rather than emergency based reactive systems, such as the NHS).

Government provides infrastructure and levies tax: the transnationals provide cultural and logistical infrastructure, and levy subscription, but i’m not sure the two are entirely separable. The difference may simply be in where they are grounded.

And there are further differences: governments wield firmly hierarchical power, whilst the power of the Transnationals is more deeply consensual, and more socially accountable. Governments are nationally centralised, whilst Transnationals are geographically dispersed and, in any case, digitally based.

We have not yet fully seen the Transnationals reground their power in the physical domain, at least not at scale, and we have not seen widespread attempts to demonstrate geopolitical influence, at least not substantially beyond tax and trade. But we will.

When it’s reported the Bitcoin uses more energy than Bolivia, when Apple and Google start defending ‘citizen’ rights against an intractably xenophobic ‘government’, when people start to identify as brand aligned more than geographically aligned, the scales might tip. What if Netflix denies service to Virginia?

There may be no aspiration to power, but power can be imposed: we may end up embedded in new modes of social organisation not because we crave it, but simply because we have subscribed to it. And maybe that is no bad thing.

One train of thought i’ve been following is this: our two largest analogies of social systems at scale are governments (nations), and organised religions, neither of which are noted for changing and adapting to evolved social mores at speed. Just look at how long the battle for equality is taking, and look at how hard it is to accept the plainly true: i was disappointed to hear the new Bishop for London refuse to answer the question “is homosexuality a sin” on her ordination last month. It’s inexplicable to me that the head of the anglican church, in the capital city, of a supposedly cosmopolitan and contemporary nation, is unable to address such fundamental questions. Sure: i understand that that the church desires time to reconcile it’s differences, but in the Social Age, these changes do not take decades. Both nations, and religions, may simply be superseded by more relevant models: ones that are more synchronously connected to dominant social reality.

There’s another feature that’s fascinating: i wonder if the radical social engagement we see with key celebrities is, in fact, a quasi religious manifestation. A new religion. We know that we are evolutionarily predisposed towards belief: we have an innate desire to invest something of our hopes and dreams, and to mitigate our fears, in a ‘meta’ being. Perhaps, in the Social Age, that divinity is Beyonce. The route to a hundred million followers may simply be a matter of subscription, but the messaging is synchronous, and the engagement is high. Perhaps.

The challenge for governments is to adapt: to move from asynchronous, and utility based approaches, towards more empowering, collaborative, and continuously engaged models. No matter how much i care, there is simply no existing mechanism for me to invest my cognitive surplus in government today, beyond emailing my local MP. And he is an idiot, so i’m unlikely to try that.

This is not about relinquishing control so much as moving from partisan, party based, asynchronous models, towards collaborative, responsive, and agency based approaches. Government by the people, for the people. By the people.

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Guide to the Social Age 2018

This map is imperfect: a sketch from a moment in time. Twelve aspects in the landscape of the Social Age, our new reality. I’ve used a map to illustrate the Social Age for the last few years, and decided to redraw it for 2018, but to retain the notion of incompleteness, the sense of a fantastic landscape to explore. The old map still holds true, as does this one, and as will the maps that you draw yourself, as you build your understanding and narrative around our new world. That’s the point: it’s not an urban landscape that we can know and master: this is a wild landscape, which we are only just starting to map. In this rendition, i’ve picked out twelve aspects of the Social Age, the twelve factors which are most recently on my mind.

Guide to the Social Age 2018

1. Democratised Technology

This is a foundational aspect of the Social Age: the abundance and democratisation of technology has shifted power from infrastructure owning organisations, to the hands of individuals and communities. It leads to our widespread connectivity, and ability to choose the spaces where we are engaged, beyond the oversight or control of any organisation. Democratised technology liberates creativity and innovation, whilst eroding the ability of any organisation or entity to exert it’s formal control.

2. Fractured Social Contract

Another foundational concept: Organisations have spent much of the last forty years deconstructing and fracturing the Social Contract that exists between individual and the organisation. By treating people as assets, we have liberated those very people to consider their own individuality, to break their reliance on the Organisation as the central pillar of ‘career’, and to unify individuals into compelling and resistant Communities that exist, and persist (through the democratised technology) outside any organisational control. The Social Contract is broken because we broke it. And i don’t think it will ever be repaired. In the Social Age, the route to engagement is to be deeply fair, and to earn it.

3. Community and Collectivism

Organisations used to be the primary mechanism of collectivism at scale, but now there are perfectly good, socially moderated, alternatives. As collectivity, at scale, becomes easy, as we see the rise of the Social Community, all around us, and as we see those communities gain every more power, we see it becoming harder for any organisation to thrive without breaking down the walls, and engaging in these new spaces. ‘Community’ is no longer something that they can own and control, it’s something where individuals, who have earned high Social Authority, our Social Leaders, can gain a competitive advantage, by acting with humility, and engaging with fairness.

4. Power and Control

The Social Age sees a broad rebalancing of power, away from ‘hierarchy’, into ‘community’, away from the formal, into the social. This is driven by some underlying features, such as the amplification of authentic storytelling, the democratisation of technology, which we discussed above, and the strengthening of reputation based authority, authority that exists outside of any formal system or moderation and control.

5. Distributed Career

Career’ is no longer defined as a contracted period with one organisation, but rather a lurching series of engagements with many: portfolio, gig, distributed. So ‘career’ still exists, but no longer as owned and moderated by the organisation. In this context, some new organisations, third spaces, have emerged to try to claim that space (like LinkedIn), but also new communities, which hold the essence of our career. It’s through these third spaces, and the aligned communities, that we will increasingly be mentored, coached, guided, supported, and developed. It’s in these spaces, from where we can never be fired or outsourced, that our loyalty will lie. And the challenge for organisations will be to build productive and valued relationships into these communities. Indeed, i suspect that we will see organisations needing to contract to loosely connected labour unions, held entirely in these new spaces.

6. Bedrock Fragmentation

The bedrock upon which many organisations and industries are founded is fragmenting: blockchain currencies, and community based banking, will decimate financial services, whilst ‘whole life’ views of healthcare will decimate ‘emergency and exception’ based healthcare provision. Closed loop recycling will demolish extraction and distribution industries, and AI will destroy hourly accounting industries. And that is just to start. Many organisations have a vague sense of the cracks, but very few are prepared for the absolute chaos and fragmentation that is about to hit. And it will kill them.

7. Rise of the Robots

The only thing that surprises me more than the quantum leaps in capability and potential offered by emergent AI and robotics, is the blind belief expressed by some senior leaders and politicians that they can somehow control it, or that it will work for the benefit of all. The robots are coming, and they will be making a lot of money, for a few people. Make no mistake, for every ‘sympathetic’ and positive application, there will be a levelling of old industry and work. Already you can hire a robot security guard in 21 states in the US and pay it $7 an hour (or rather, you can rent it for that price). I am willing to bet that it does not take breaks either. And, sure, it’s rubbish, but that’s not the point. This is just the start. The robots are coming: AI and automation will transform everything, much sooner than many people think, and in ways we may not like at all. This is an aspect of the Social Age that requires deep understanding: i despair when i talk to HR directors who recite HBR and TED talks. This is the time to employ deep expertise, and to build a deeply fair Social Contract by engaging in open discussions.

8. Fairness and Magnetism

I’ve used the word ‘fairness’ a few times already: an organisation that is ‘fair’, deeply fair, in everything it does, in the way it treats people, in the ways it engages in it’s community, will hold a competitive advantage. Organisations have long acted as though society is there to serve them, that they can pick and choose how they engage, but in fact the truth is the opposite: organisations exist to serve society. The people they employ ARE the society. The offices they open, the markets they sell within, the clients that they have, all are parts of the society to which they belong. In global organisations, it’s important to build out local community accountability and answerability.

9. Domain Shifts

The domains of old, the pillars of many organisations and educational pathways, are being replaced, often faster than we respond. We no longer just need IT as a mechanism of infrastructure and control, we need an IT function that is facilitating and enabling. We no longer need HR as control, we need it as enablement, we no longer need innovations teams, so much as a deeply help capability to be innovative and curious. The Socially Dynamic Organisation will be lighter weight, scaffolded, and reconfigurable, at scale. It will be reconfigured to the need of the moment.

10. Beyond Organisations

I suspect that the organisation we exist within today are largely a remnant of Victorian engineering and mindset, based upon principles of collectivism and effect at scale, through the construction of hierarchy, specialism, domain building, and codified power and knowledge. But we need new models: ultimately, we will need new Organisational Design principles, new ways of seeing and being, which allow us to become truly Socially Dynamic. We must look beyond existing organisations, to the design principles of the organisation of the future: and then we must build it.

11. Rise of the Transnationals

Dominant modes of organisation are probably evolving: nations, organisations, religions, all of the primary mechanisms of social organisation at scale are being challenged: social communities, collectives, celebrity, relationship brands. Out of all this, emerge the Transnationals: organisations so large, providing infrastructure and much of the tangible capability and capacity of the Social Age (the infrastructure), and yet which exist beyond any simple country. These are emergent entities, not truly companies, but not truly countries either. Or not yet at any rate. At some point, we will see the conversation moving from ‘where you pay tax’, to ‘where you provide infrastructure’, and ‘where you exert influence’. When a Transnational directly engages in national policy, and does so with social mandate from a subscribed user base (a voluntary tax base…) then we will see a whole new wave of change.

12. Transaction to Relationship

At heart, many of the places where we engage most heavily in the Social Age are based in relationship, not simply transaction. Sure: technology allows me to engage anywhere, but it’s HOW i am engaged that counts. Transaction may be efficient, but efficient is not engagement.

These are just twelve aspects of the Social Age: alongside these, and the other aspects i have previously documented, we see the need for change, for transformation. We will need new skills as individuals, new capabilities within our organisations, indeed, we will need new types of Organisation. Socially Dynamic, deeply fair, able to constantly innovate, prototype, and embed change.

We are Explorers of the Social Age: nobody will have the whole map, but these sketches are shared as part of my own journey and, i hope to inspire others to challenge, adopt, prototype, learn, and share their own route.

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