A More Human Future Of Work

I’m using this week to clear a few ‘titles’ that have been waiting to be written. They have been languishing at the end of my document, waiting for their words to land. Today, a title that i wrote back in July, but never completed: exploring ‘a more human future of work’.

Mosaic of Fairness

Some things are natural, some made up. Organisations, the entities in which we work, are made up. They are a modern construct, built according to principles of ‘scientific’ management, to achieve effect at scale. But they often (not always) come with an unintended consequence: they concentrate both wealth, and power, at the top, and they often evolve into mechanisms of control. They end up exploiting people, serving a narrow good. They end up being fair, as long as you are in the club of ‘fair’. They sometimes lack humanity.

In the Social Age, the balance of power, between individual, community, and Organisation, shifted. It’s a general rebalancing: an enablement of socially moderated systems, and a gradual de-powering of certain formal ones. It’s no longer enough to fill the seats: to truly thrive, we need the right people, and we must create the conditions for those people to thrive. We must act fairly, with humility, and with social justice to the fore. We must serve, not exploit, the communities in which we grow.

We know this from natural ecosystems: if we abuse the balance, the system can collapse. Society does not exist to serve organisations: Organisations exist within society. They have a duty to be fair, to create a more human future of work.

People worry about automation, about AI, about the effects that this will have upon people. But we are already in a world where, even without these things, we lack humanity and fairness. A more human future of work may well, without any additional effort, give us organisations that are geared up to thrive in the Social Age. Deeply interconnected, highly agile. Deeply fair

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The Speed of Knowledge

The end of the year is in sight: next week, i am going to be 100% focussed on completing ‘The Change Handbook’. I’ve cleared out absolutely everything, will be turning off email and wifi, and forcing myself to focus! With that in mind, this week is about tidying up some loose ends on the blog: i have written all of this year’s posts in one document, totalling nearly 84,000 words so far. But hanging around at the end are four titles not yet written. I don’t normally do this: normally i decide the topic and write all at the same time, but these four ‘ideas’ hit me at some point in the year, and never got written. So i’m writing them now!

The Knowledge

The first title is ‘The Speed of Knowledge’. Not hard to see where this came from: the notion that ‘knowledge’ is changing is one that i have visited and revisited from my earliest writing on the blog. Indeed, i wrote a whole book around ‘Learning, Knowledge, and Meaning’, back in 2013. But is ‘knowledge’ moving faster?

Without drowning ourselves in semantics, i’d hazard a ‘yes’. We are creating (and co-creating) new knowledge ever faster. And we are seeing that knowledge spread faster too, but not necessarily in even ways. Some people are connected, enabled, and empowered, by collaborative technologies, and immersed in co-creative communities. Whilst others are not. So for some, the speed of knowledge is increasing, whilst for others, the knowledge may be entirely invisible.

We live in the Social Age, an exciting time, but exciting, it must be said, for some more than others. Some people are enabled, whilst others are ignored. The Social Age is no utopia, although it holds the potential for us to construct new models of Organisations, new types of work, and new modes of being, all of which may be more utopian, if we choose to make them so. There is no automatic win here.

Perhaps my title should have read ‘The Selective Speed of Knowledge’. For those who are enabled, we can achieve ever more, be more. But for those without, there is no silver bullet. So knowledge can evolve all it likes, can move as fast as it likes, but if you cannot see it, you cannot use it. So before we can make pronouncements about change, perhaps we should ask ourselves who things have changed for.

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Leading with Trust: A Development Pathway

The Landscape of Trust research project is a year old: it’s intended to build a broad understanding of how trust works, between individuals, within communities and team, and into Organisations themselves. The work is in three phases: firstly, evidence gathering, learning more about ‘trust’, secondly, building out visualisation tools and diagnostics, and, thirdly, putting together developmental approaches, practical things that we can actually do with this evidence and knowledge. With this post, i’m kicking off this third phase, sharing a proposed development pathway around ‘trust’, and couching it in terms of ‘Leading with Trust’.

The Landscape of Trust

Primarily, i’ll use this post to provide a broad development structure, and as an index point, to link out to the other writing i’ve done so far. All three strands of work are ongoing, and my aim, as always, is to #WorkOutLoud, to prototype the new work fast, and to evolve it as the evidence grows. This structure will initially form the basis of some prototype development programmes i am running, but will possibly also form the structure of the book, which i provisionally intend to work on June to December next year.

Module 1: Foundations of Trust

This module examines the foundational concepts, based firmly in the research work:

Module 2: The Structures of Trust

In this module, we will explore how trust is held, at each of the different levels. This takes us into considering the social structures of trust:

Module 3: The Failure of Trust

This module is explicitly about how trust is eroded, fractured, and broken:

Module 4: The Flow of Trust

In this module, we consider how trust flows within the different structures, the forces that block or amplify it, and whether it flows freely:

Module 5: Technology and Trust

In this module, we specifically consider technology and trust. Looking at how the ownership of technology impact trust, and the differences between physical and virtually held trust:

  • Ownership: how ownership impacts trust
  • Identity: the link between concrete identity and consequence in trust
  • Virtual vs Physical trust: does it vary, and how.
  • The sequencing of trust: does the location of formation impact the type and persistence of trust

Module 6: The Projection of Trust

This module is based around a model of how trust is projected, and the various biases and barriers that can impinge upon, or shape, this:

  • The projection of trust: how trust forms and flows
  • Bias in trust: why we may not be as discerning in trust as we would like to think
  • Monoculture vs multi-culture in trust: how trust works in global organisations

Module 7: The Diversification of Trust

In this module, we consider how we look at trust in terms of building the Socially Dynamic Organisation, how we diversify our Trust networks:

  • Interconnectedness: the growth and interconnectivity of tribes
  • Confirmation bias: the limitation of monoculture
  • Structural and contextual barriers to trust, and how to overcome them

Module 8: Leading with Trust

This final module links the Trust work into the wider work around Social Leadership. It considers how we put trust at the heart of our leadership approach:

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The Carbuncle of Innovation

Part of my exploration of the Socially Dynamic Organisation has let me work work with a wide range of organisations on ‘innovation’, and one thing is really lodged in my mind. Many organisations are taking an approach that we can characterise as ‘innovation outside the system’. Effectively, they create external, or ring fenced, spaces, places for innovation to thrive. I guess that in itself, this should tell us something: that core culture is constrained, intolerant or un-permissive of change, but there is a challenge beyond that. In the work i shared recently around ‘innovation’, i differentiated between ‘disruption’ (taking innovation into applied, new, action sets), and ‘exploitation’ (where the disruption, and new actions sets, were looped back, and integrated into, the parent culture). Without exploitation, we end up with a carbuncle: innovation bolted onto the outside, potentially fuelling a cultural duel between incumbent, and challenger, culture.

The Carbuncle of Innovation

Today, i wanted to unpack that a little, specifically to consider which way the roadway runs: is it a one way street, or does traffic flow each way? Does the incumbent culture push regulation, oversight, and constraint into the challenger, slowly stifling it, or does the incumbent culture learn from, nurture, and support, the challenges, slowly reabsorbing the culture, and adapting as it does so? Effectively, can the system change, or does the system just tolerate externalised change.

The Carbuncle of Innovation

If the organisation is a net exporter of culture, then it creates this innovative challenger, but then seeks to impose the known rules upon it. it seeks to reintegrate through control, which may damp out innovation. This makes the system safe, but Constrained, or Resistant. By contrast, if the Challenger culture of the innovation body is able to influence the incumbent culture, that makes it a net importer. This must be the route to change: a learning organisation, an organisation that can learn. But that requires a humility, and a recognition that change involves both parties.

The Carbuncle of Innovation

Possibly the worst outcome is one of stasis: where the Challenges culture remains highly functioning, a carbuncle bolted onto the side, held in resentment by the Incumbent, with little cultural flow either way. Competing with ourselves. This is certainly a signal of Constraint: well meaning, ultimately disaggregated, with unaligned energy.

Creating innovation outside the system may be an indictment of current culture, but moving to an export model will flood the innovation we have managed to achieve, ironing out any potential gains.

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Research Project: Conditions for Community

I want to share some details of a research project that we’ve kicked off this week, exploring ‘Conditions for Community’. This is quite early stage work, building out of some earlier pieces on ‘communities in Social Leadership’, and some of the work on tribes and trust. The project has three key aims: [1] to understand the conditions in which communities emerge, [2] to explore the communities that people inhabit, and [3] to create some principles, guidelines, that we can use as a developmental framework for leaders, to nurture and support the growth of communities. My own language around this is ‘creating fertile ground’, how can leaders create spaces, and conditions, for communities to thrive.

Conditions for Community

This is true of much of my current thinking around the Socially Dynamic Organisation: we are moving from a place where leaders used to have the answers, towards a place where the role of leadership is to hold open spaces, to create conditions, to nurture, to support, with humility, and kindness. Idealistic? Maybe, but we are explorers in a new world. And the old models of leadership through exertion of formal power will not suffice.

Conditions for Community

I’m not yet fully clear what the outputs of this work will be: certainly, i hope for a better understanding of how communities emerge, and possibly some taxonomy of how they are viewed (formal to social, certainly, but possibly segregated in other ways too). I hope, too, to use this to spur development of more calibrated community mapping tools, not ones based purely on interaction, but on value. Many of the current social mapping tools measure membership and subscription, not necessarily the value of participation.

All of this forms part of a wider exploration of how the social structure of the organisation works: we have to put in the legwork to understand this, because without it, we are applying old rule sets in a new space, and that way will only lead to failure.

I will be #WorkingOutLoud on the analysis of the research over the next 12 weeks or so. If you are interested, you can take part in the initial survey here.

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Dimensions of Disruption

Last week i shared an initial sketch of a framework around ‘dual paradigms of disruption’: the notion is that we are seeing two aspects of change, the first being disruption within our constructed systems (organisations), and the second being disruption of our underlying ecosystem (the context of the Social Age). I’ve been redrawing that frame, from the initial sketch, into something more considered, and sharing that today.

Dimensions of Disruption v2

The ‘Known Ecosystem’ represents the world we know, and understand. ‘Known Challenges’ are those that we are familiar with, and towards which we have codified the formal strength of our organisations. So the top right quadrant represents our known space: organisations typically are effective and optimised in this space, or know how to work towards it. This space represents typical competition, opportunity, and change.

Beneath this, in the lower right hand quadrant, we are still within the ‘Known Ecosystem’, but facing unknown challenges. This is the typical space of the so called ‘Black Swan’, the ‘Unknown Unknowns’. Within the known ecosystem, but facing unknown challenges, we may be ineffective. The codified strength that we have is codified to known challenges. It may lack the ability to act effectively against unknown ones, or our ‘known’ strength may be an active weakness. But worse, we may lack the ‘sense making’ capability to even know what is happening. It’s this aspect that i describe by considering the organisation to be ‘Sub Optimised’. We are not simply poorly adapted, we are actively badly adapted. This is true for many organisations with traditional, codified, strength, who are actively resistant to change, actively hostile to new voices. In this illustration, i’ve called them ‘Blind Swans’, partly because i want to avoid one quadrant being ‘black’, and partly to reinforce that it is their lack of ‘visibility’ that leads to their failure.

On the left, at the bottom, we are in ‘Unknown Ecosystem’, facing ‘Unknown Challenge’, which is really a point of failure: we have either failed, or are totally disrupted. At this point, it’s too late to do much about it. Or possibly it is a space for radical exploratory cultures.

Top right is ‘Known Challenge’, but in an ‘Unknown Ecosystem’, and this is almost the most interesting quadrant of all: it’s where many of our organisations sit. They understand the need to change, and may well understand how they think that they should change (but check out this recent writing on ‘Innovation’ on that point), but they lack understanding of the ecosystem that change occurs within. The context of this is the Social Age: evolved structures of power, democratisation of technology, rise of connected communities, evolved storytelling etc. Broad ecosystem changes. This leave us with ‘Weak Swans’, organisations that have their traditional strength, but are weakened by their lack of understanding of the new world.

Organisations must adapt, in different ways, depending upon which space they are in.

Aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation - Diversified Strength

Known Change’ in ‘Unknown Ecosystem’ means a need for Social Leadership, and the creation of strong, interconnected, ‘sense makingcommunities, to figure out the new space. And it requires rapid change ability: true agility, the ability to rapidly prototype and learn to thrive in this new space.

For ‘Unknown Challenge’ in ‘Known Ecosystem’, we need ability to hold ambiguity in strongly kinetic systems. We need evolved Organisational Design. We need to build structures that are, themselves, reconfigurable.

A Socially Dynamic Organisation would exist in the top right quadrant, whilst a Resistant one may sit bottom left. The real challenge lies for those who fall across the other two spaces: facing known, and unknown challenge, and doing so within an ecosystem that they do not fully understand, or just understand today, without insight or vision of continuous change.

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Dual Paradigms of Disruption: System vs Ecosystem Change

This week i’ve been sharing my most recent writing around ‘Black Swans: Disruptions in Power’ at a conference in the US. This work is about types of disruption, the underlying power behind that disruption, and the inability of formal systems to effectively counter it. It links into the broadest organising principle of the Social Age: that we have formal systems (artificial constructs, up to the magnitude of countries, religions, companies etc), social systems (organising principles of the social, tribal, structure), and ecosystem factors (the Social Age itself, with it’s evolved dynamics of power, democratisation of technology etc). Today, i’m sharing the first sketch of a framework around this: it’s trying to present two frames of change, ‘change of the system’, and ‘change of the ecosystem’. I should stress that this is the very earliest stage of #WorkingOutLoud, and an early sketch, so i expect this to evolve significantly.

Dual Paradigms of Disruption

Here’s a narrative around the model. The vertical axis takes us from ‘known challenge’, through to ‘unknown challenge’. In a typical view of ‘Black Swan’ events, we would consider ‘known challenges’ to be those that we have prepared strength for, and ‘unknown challenges’ to be those which may subvert us.

The horizontal axis takes us from ‘known space’, which is the ecosystem that we are familiar with (and hence the ecosystem that our Organisation structure is optimised within), through to ‘unknown space‘, which is the new, and largely uncharted space of the Social Age, with many redistributed structures of power, new models of organisation, etc.

This leaves us in four potential spaces:

  1. Known challenge in a known space: we can be effective here, and are optimised in this space
  2. Known challenge in an unknown space: we can be effective here, but are sub optimised
  3. Unknown challenge in a known space: a typical Black Swan, and disruptive
  4. Unknown challenge in an unknown space: we are fully disrupted and unable to adapt

The terms i’ve given to these initially are rather tongue in cheek, but represent a potential view:

  • Beautiful swans may be optimised, but without pressure to change
  • Blind swans cannot see that the space has changed
  • Black swans where the risk is severe, but at least it knows the space
  • Disrupted swans (well, they may be dead…)

Beneath this, there’s a narrative that i’m trying to draw out: the formal system, through great effort and expenditure, can adapt, it can stay afloat in the unknown space. That’s how most organisations adapt: formally, through programmatic approaches. In an old ecosystem, that was ok, because change tended to occur episodically. But in the Social Age, change is constant, and we never land the adaptation, which is where our risk comes. We end up in organisations that are effective, at great cost, but are actively sub optimised for the new world.

This notion of ‘sub optimisation’ is one i’ve been chewing on for a while: it’s not simply that they are ineffective in a new space, but rather that they are actively sub optimised. Because they are optimised in a different space, an older one. This is a premise i’ve been chasing in the work on the Socially Dynamic Organisation: an organisation with a new type of strength, a strength founded in it’s ability to change.

Aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation - Diversified Strength

Our adaptation must take place in two ways: firstly, we still need this formal ability to change, but secondly, we must map the new space, understand the dynamics. And with that understanding, we must move to new models of organisation.

For as long as we hold on to organisational structures that are rooted in the industrial age, the best we can achieve is sub optimisation at great cost. Only if we evolve our organising structure, become more Socially Dynamic, can we adapt our formal models of change in a new space.

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