Afraid of the Dark? The Perilous Grey Space

There’s the light of the engaged: people who are committed into the organisation, driving it forward, valued and valuable. Then there’s the dark side: people who are uncommitted, detract from success, pulling us down. In this polarised view, It’s easy to deal with this: lose the losers, engage with the winners. Head to the light, abandon the dark. And yet in reality our problem is neither black nor white. It’s grey. And it’s vast.

The Perilous Grey Space

The Social Contract governs the relationship between organisation and individual: it’s the trade off of security, freedoms, reward and aspiration. It’s about balances of power and control, as well as intent and desire.

In the Social Age, the Social Contract is fractured: redundancy, restructure, uncertainty and change, all conspire to make our journey more disparate and disconnected. Indeed, the only constants will be ourselves and our communities, floating through a sea of organisations on a raft of technologies and contract types. In this new space, many of the old levers of power are broken, replaced instead by reputation based authority and earned trust.

Engagement and Silence

A consequence of this is that excellent organisations can attract the very best talent, but good ones can be in a harder space. Where the Social Contract is fractured, we can have people inhabiting the space, but not contributing to the evolution of the organisation. They are in grey space: quite possibly amiable and present, but not dynamically engaged and certainly keeping their options open.

It’s not a bad thing that so many people are in this grey space: indeed, they have been driven there in response to the systematic erosion of trust driven by the organisation itself, but it carries significant risk.

If we fail to engage fairly, we can drive them out. Worse, if we engage with ambiguity, we may keep them there, simmering away, neither leaving, nor fully engaged. When we are in the grey space, we are not fully engaged, but neither have we fallen away. These are people who may be dragged along, but only at a cost of energy and effort.

These are the people we need to engage, with fairness, with respect, and with purpose if we want to truly make the organisation Dynamic again.

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A Great Surprise: Thank You

With great surprise, i was very flattered and somewhat humbled to receive the ‘Services to Learning’ award from the Learning Performance Institute in London last night. Surprised, as it came out of the blue, and humbled because i feel my work is hardly started yet. My ideas are still developing, and the journey we take as we explore the new realities of the Social Age is a long one, best made in company.

Services to Learning award

In the old world, we wrote our books and published them: in the Social Age, we publish, and then rewrite, iterating our understanding as we #WorkOutLoud and share our stories. Our stories of success and failure. To be successful, we need to nurture and support our communities, so that they in turn nurture and support us when we need it.

The ecosystem of the Social Age 2016

I had the opportunity at the Awards to share the notion that the world needs a new type of approach to learning, and new organisational and individual mindset: one where kindness, fairness, humility and a striving for equality are differentiators. Where the relationship between organisation and individual is based on earned trust, not contractual power.

If we wish to attract and retain the very best talent, we need to create organisational culture that is appealing not only through the physical environment and associated benefits, but one that is attractive through the way it values and rewards people in authentic and meaningful ways.

We need to foster coherence in values and purpose if we wish to avoid the fractured cultures that afflict so many of our organisations today: disjointed, ruled through formal power, unable to adapt and innovate at speed.

The Social Age will require and reward Dynamic organisations: ones which value people at the heart of what they do, ones which are fair, equal and exceptional at what they do. That’s the type of organisation that we would be proud to be part of and invest our effort within. Investing, because it provides value and reward, where it counts.

I am very grateful to the LPI and Community for the award last night, not for what it represents and the pride i feel, but rather for the momentum and permission it gives me to keep exploring, to keep writing, to continue to share and build our community around the world as we take this journey together.

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Reflections on Learning Technologies 2016: Infrastructure and Lethargy

There’s a dilemma: when an organisation is small, it tends to be Dynamic by design. As it grows, it engineers in it’s own lethargy: systems, processes, mindset, embedded power and authority, culture, all contribute to make it safe, but inhibit it’s ability to adapt.

Learning Technologies 2016

Infrastructure is a case in point, and as i’ve spent the day at the Learning Technologies Conference in London, it’s very much on my mind. Here’s the challenge: many of the technologies on show are great. They are heavily engineered to solve a problem. The challenge is, it may be yesterdays problem.

In the Social Age, the most Dynamic organisations utilise a diverse ecosystem of technology, not one system that thinks it can rule them all. Why? Because of that lethargy that’s built in. One system may solve one set of problems, but it won’t solve all problems and, indeed, as it reaches out and tries to, it just becomes more complex, more frustrating, more lethargic and unable to fundamentally reengineer itself to the task at hand. Within a diverse ecosystem, you just swap out the component that you’ve outgrown, or add in the node that you are missing.

Learning Technology Map 2016

Learning Technology Map 2016

Part of the problems is in the suppliers who try to overreach their expertise to capture too much of a market, the other part is with procurement that makes it hard to let go.

Organisations tend to procure for the long term, in an ecosystem that favours agility, prototyping, experimentation and iteration. Long term procurement leads to the purchase of dinosaur systems that are not flexible, not adaptive, and simply try to bolt on the solution to your latest challenge.

4 aspects of the agile organisation

Four aspects of the agile organisation

Fundamentally what’s needed is a mindset of adaptation: an understanding of how people learn, of what they need to perform, and a diverse ecosystem technologies that learns to service that.

Not control it.

In the old world, technology was a mechanism of control over the individual: in the new world, it should be facilitating. And in the new world, we are used to App based solutions that are both lightweight and disposable.

The notion of disposable is important: on my iPad i currently have 140 Apps, of which i have used 12 in the last month. What are the odds that the organisation backed one of the 128 that just didn’t work for me right now?

The boldest organisations that i work with are ready to break this cycle: keep control of the mindset, own the space, and cycle in the technologies that suit the organisation in the moment. And cycle them out again when they don’t, even if that’s in six months time.

Facilitating technology that moves away from a mindset of control.

Adaptive technology that can be trusted.

Changeable ecosystems of diverse technologies that fit our current needs.

Innovative technologies that are lightweight and solve one problem well.

Connective technologies that support social and adaptive learning.

Disposable technologies that are not deeply embedded.

Truly Dynamic organisations adopt a holistic pattern of adaptation: always remaining relevant in the moment. Not anchoring themselves to the past.

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End Of The Tour: #WorkingOutLoud

Time is remarkably elastic: remember those schoolroom days of double physics lessons, where the drone of the teacher was lulled to insensibility by the warmth of the sun through the dusty window and dreams of fields outside through the endless hours until break? The childhood car journey to visit Aunt Edith through endless miles of towns and traffic? Remember the late nights studying for final exams and the speed with which they arrived? Time goes fast, time goes slow, but go it does, and the question becomes what we take from it, what we document as we travel.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The last three weeks have been a blur: over 23,000 miles, six cities, many friends, old and new, and ideas more than i can count. But it’s not been all about performance: much of it has been for learning.

Consider three spaces: learning, rehearsing, performing. What balance do we seek between the three? It’s no idle question: many of the pressures of the Social Age force us down to performance. In the old model, ‘learning’ was formal, done when we were young, then parcelled out by the organisation to suit it’s development pathway as we climbed the ladder to leadership and obsolescence. But today the ladder is gone, and the heady heights of management hold little allure when you know that the foundations are shaky.

Today, ‘career’ is a fiction, replaced by eclectic roles we will play throughout the journey, some of which are paid, some of which are for learning, some of which we will enjoy, others that we endure. The common element will be ourselves, our story, our community. The narrative of our lives is ever more under our stewardship, guided and mentored by those around us.


Who owns your development? It all seemed so easy when we were at school

Organisations have lost many of the levers of power that they used to exert over us: the lever of formal authority is eroded, the lever of permanence is gone, the lever of infrastructure (where we couldn’t do what we wanted to do without them) is fading, as the old world of ‘work’ and ‘social’ is replaced by a world of co-working, portfolio careers, open badges, global mentoring and Social Leadership. Put simply, the mechanisms of learning, rehearsing and performing are increasingly democratised and available to all. And in this new world, loyalty and trust must be earned through authentic action and fair reward.

The ecosystem of the Social Age 2016

Learning itself is evolving, away from something formal and abstract, defined by time and place and owned by the formal authority, towards something fluid, dispersed, on demand, co-created and often co-written by the community itself. Our responsibility as organisations changes with this: sometimes to be less about providing (and owning) the learning itself, more about providing prototyping, rehearsal and practice spaces. Safe spaces to develop vocabulary, to try new behaviours, to figure it out.

Throughout this, we write our story: as an approach, #WorkingOutLoud can take many shapes, but it’s essentially about exposing ourselves to the idea that the story is not yet fully formed. It’s about claiming or inhabiting permissive spaces where we can share our reasoning and co-create a view.

It’s not easy.

Our ability to survive and thrive in Socially connected spaces can be described as our Social Capital: partly it’s the ability to master the technology and understand how the spaces work, partly it’s the social skills that sit behind this. It’s about promoting equality, demonstrating empathy and humility, helping others to succeed, not because of any expectation of reciprocity in the moment, but because we value the community around us that will help us to succeed.

Humility in Leadership

I have no boss, no employer, but i do have a community (or maybe many different communities), and even in this relatively liberal space, i feel pressure to perform. Regular readers will know that i write across broad spaces, but still i carry that old world notion that if i’m not ‘performing’ i’m not truly adding value, that somehow i’m wasting my own or others time.

Yes that ‘wasted’ time is often the most valuable. It’s the sense making space, the place where we roll ideas around and try out new ideas. Because try new ideas we must, unless we have an arrogance to assume that the old ones will last forever, or that the new ideas will land fully formed and ready to serve us.

It’s an infrastructural shift for organisations: away from an old model of formal learning and constant performance, to a new model of social learning, rehearsal where we #WorkOutLoud and develop capability, and performance, where we come together with our new voices and an earned authority.

For this new model of learning to work, it needs space to flourish: as well as looking at learning, organisations must adopt a holistic pattern of adaptation, which will see them change every aspect of what they do, from their approach to technology, to the ways they lead and the ways that they manage performance. Annual reviews and closed systems will no longer cut it. Formal leadership alone is simply a route to redundancy. In the Social Age, only the agile can thrive.

So here i sit, at the end of the Tour: left with a collection of air miles, a thousand photos, memories and new ideas. My writing has been constant, #WorkingOutLoud within the permissive space i have claimed or created. Will all of it be of interest to everyone? I doubt it, but if i censure myself to target one audience, i end up missing the most important audience of all: me. Because by engaging in our community, we are developing ourselves. Writing an open story that we learn from as we go.

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Spotlight on the Social Age: Authenticity

In the Map of the Social Age, ‘Authenticity’ is special location. It’s special because it’s hard to find. Authenticity is almost intangible, and yet easy to spot when it’s missing. It gives you nothing in return, and yet without it you have nothing. Authenticity generates power for Social Leaders and erodes it in organisations that lack it. It can’t bought, but can be earned. And the best thing is, by getting things wrong, you may well be earning it right.

Spotlight on the Social Age - Authenticity

The birth of the Social Age saw shifts away from formal hierarchies of power, towards a more reputation based economy. What you did became worth more than what you said you would do, because suddenly the communities around us had the almost synchronous ability to organise and comment. Within this democratisation of communication and creativity, sole voices were amplified, whilst the ability of organisations to own the conversation through volume alone was diminished. All voices became more equal, and the ones with greater authenticity became more listened to.

Authenticity is not about glamour or worth, it’s not about media or message: it’s about the platform from which the story is told and the person telling it.

My bank can tell me that they care, but i recognise that what we have is a transactional relationship. There is little that can be truly authentic in this. It’s a relationship in which they hold both power and authority and exert it in a way that leaves me little recourse, because they control the channels of communication too. Or at least they did until Twitter came along, and i was able to claim a conversation on my terms.

Authenticity is more than just words: it’s actions. It’s more than intent: it’s experience.

Within the Social Leadership frame, authenticity is important because it’s a factor in reputation, and reputation leads directly to Social Authority, that form of authority which is granted by the community itself. By acting with integrity, by being authentic in our action, by being humble in how we work and learn, we can be granted reputation and, hence, gain Social Authority.

The ecosystem of the Social Age 2016

I read somewhere a simple guide to how good a particular foodstuff is for you is to consider how much it’s been processed: raw fruit is good, tinned fruit is ok. Fruit made into cake is less good. It’s probably something like that when it comes to authenticity: the less things are processed, the more authentic they feel. So wrapping the message up in a glossy corporate story is probably less tasty than a handwritten thank you note. Things from the heart don’t come overproduced.

One space where actions speak louder than words is when we are learning, when we get things wrong. The humble leader is one who narrates her or his actions, shares learning and the process they used to get there. Warts and all. This willingness to share the workings of the story, rather than just the polished story itself, is of great value and contributes to ones reparation as an authentic leader. Recognising that we need rehearsal spaces as well as just performance ones.

It’s not that organisations can’t act authentically, just that ‘authenticity’ itself is more likely to be rooted in individuals, not teams or organisations. Indeed, that’s the very reason why social authority subverts formal hierarchy so effectively.

We need to understand authenticity in order to earn it: because it’s about every aspect of how we operate. And it’s within our control to act in ways that are truly authentic.

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Change: Friction In The System

I’ve been working around organisational change this week, exploring the space between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’. The premise is this: it’s reasonably easy to get an organisation from ‘bad’ to ‘good’. Implementing specific actions, sharing understanding, targeting learning, leading well. It’s not an impossible task: indeed, there are many good organisations out there. But in the Social Age, good may not be enough.

Friction in the System

We recognise excellence, often expressed in the Dynamic organisation: able to innovate, coherent in culture and action, able to respond fast and fluidly to changing operational environments. Excellent is the place that many organisations want to be, but few manage to get there.

Because the chasm between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ is vast, and it cannot be crossed through executive action alone.

You cannot drive excellent: you can simply create the circumstances for it to emerge, because excellence is more than just a system, more than just a reengineered process, more than just great leadership or great teams. It’s more than any of those, because it’s all of those and more. Excellence resides in the DNA of an organisation.

There is great commonality between organisations of every shape and size: that commonality resides in their imperfections. Every organisation has strengths and weakness The key to understanding excellence is that is lies in the space between people, the space between technologies, the space between processes. The issue is not a specific person, technology, process, product, market or office: the problem is the friction in the system. To be excellent, you have to be excellent throughout: strength in depth and at breadth. Which is precisely why you can’t get to excellent through executive action alone: you cannot order it or buy it. You can only achieve it together, through mindset, action and adaptation.

I talk to many people striving to unlock innovation within their organisation, but the truth is that innovation exists in most spaces. It just often lacks the ability to be heard, to be amplified, to be nurtured. Indeed, it often gets smothered, denied and starved. It does so because of the friction, because of resistance: when the DNA of the organisation is constrained, it’s hard to penetrate the lethargy. When the organisation is dynamic in it’s DNA, it’s hard to stop ideas spreading. Which is why excellent organisations draw ahead: not because they are excel in one space, but because they excel in many. They learn from their own excellence.

To the key to culture transformation lies not in one or two places, but rather in every place, with the change connected by golden principles or threads: principles of sharing, storytelling, learning, principles of social leadership, recognition, reputation, prototyping, humility and community based reward.

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Break Stuff: Exercises in Agility

But what to break? That which you own? That which you have permission to challenge? Should you break processes or thoughts? Perceptions of conventions? Whether your permission is granted or claimed, social or formal, the decisions remain: what aspects of your everyday reality will you challenge? And what will you do afterwards?

Break Stuff

We use the notion of breaking stuff as a deliberately provocative action: we don’t talk about shelving processes, or putting them in a cupboard. We break them: a deliberate act of violence to show both our rejection of the old and our power over it, our ability to effect change.

Ultimately though, breaking stuff needs to be incorporated into a regenerative or constructive activity: it’s not enough to just break things. We need to create them as well: it’s a cyclical activity.

So break stuff, but do it whilst considering how to build: what can we cast aside, what can be made anew?

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