The Age of Engagement

The mechanisms and mindset of engagement in many organisations lags far behind the lived reality of the Social Age: Organisations exist in a realm of expertise, domain specific input, hierarchical power, at a time when communities are rising, co-creation is maturing, and dynamism is key. The solution will not be adaptation within an existing mindset, but rather a paradigm shift to a new space: the Age of Engagement.

The Age of Engagement

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, trying to quantify the change, reflecting on how we got here, and today, i thought i’d share a strand of thought around the evolution: our journey from the Age of Subservience, through the Age of Domains, and finally into the Social Age. The Age of Engagement.

As our earliest societies emerged, we developed models of subservience, enforced through physical dominance, the invention of power structures (proto-religious or cultural), and simple poor communication. People knew no different. Power was absolute and hereditary, codified into castes, royal lineage, priesthoods, aristocracy, serfdom, and slavery. There was no standardisation, nor any pathway between the rulers and the ruled. The notion of meritocracy did not exist.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation - Bonds of Power

The Age of Subservience was one of absolute control, an age of empires, an age of glory through infrastructure: the ability to build cities gave and enforced power, the ability to build road networks and run postal systems gave power, the ability to control messaging gave and enforced existing power. Controlling an army, through systematised careers gave and maintained current power.

Through the advent of technology, improved communication ecosystems, better transport, and emergent transport modalities, as well as the revolution of printing and broadcast, we moved into the Age of Domains. The defining principles of the Age of Domains are expertise, measurement, codification, standardisation, replication, scale.

The formalisation and scaling of education, alongside the pervasive spread of books, and the eventual emergence of fully synchronous broadcast, and connected transport, led to the centralisation of power through the emergence of the Victorian organisation, the pyramid of organisational power. Pyramids of power that were vertically segmented by specialisms, standardised and trained. Self supporting domains of expertise, that coincidentally acted as controlling entities.

Whilst standardisation of time and quantity allowed us to sell our days and our goods in common ways, so too did it allow for new mechanisms of collectivism and control. Organisations that aggregated and distributed labour: the new mills and factories, and the massive scaling and emergence of bureaucracy.

This was a transition time: whilst the Age of Subservience allowed the unchallenged succession of power with no concern for merit, the Age of Domains rewarded the radical innovators. For the first time, it permitted the disruption of formal power through merit. It enabled the industrialists to build huge wealth an influence, with the ‘new rich’ sitting uneasily alongside the aristocratic elite. So domain specific success and expertise did not oust absolute control, but it eroded it.

A key feature of the Age of Domains is that is rapidly moved to codify and cement it’s own emergent power: this is a fascinating feature of hierarchical systems, that they reinforce and perpetuate themselves, if left unchecked.

So in the Age of Subservience, the individual was held in place through absolute power, ignorance, and an inability to effectively collectivise, and in the Age of Domains, we achieved a certain freedom, but still shackled within organisational hierarchy and systems of ‘professions’, education, and reward, that effectively still limited opportunity. You had a freedom of movement and self determination, with some potential to rise to the top, but largely if you played the game. And engagement was still controlled.

Until everything changed, again, and we entered the Social Age: the Age of Engagement.

The most visible manifestation of change around us is the technology, but the technology has driven, has shattered, everything else.

In the Age of Domains, both community and co-creation were limited by technology. But today they are not. We are, instead, limited only by mindset. We are seeing the emergence of radical new behaviours, and the emergence of massively disruptive networked power, all playing out against a Domain system that tries to limit us, organisations that are designed, and optimised, for an outdated model of organisation.

This is what i’m trying to surface through the expiration of a Socially Dynamic Organisation: how will we reengineer our very entities of organisation to become better able to listen, better able to adapt, better able to change?

Many organisations i speak to worry that they cannot get engagement, but that is precisely because they are shutting out the very voices that they want to hear, and the mechanism to hear those voices will not be pure technology, nor certainly new rules. The mechanism to hear the unheard wisdom is to evolve: to open up the formal hierarchy to new voices, and to learn to respond not with formal power, but with humility.

We are in the age of the generalists: cross connected, sense making, dynamic. We will still have domains, but they must be more fluid, and the skills of the Social Leader, to connect, to sustain, to nurture, to drive fairness, to do what is right, these are the skills that count in a connected world.

We need new technologies that support democratised engagement, not ones that utilise measurement to somehow value and control it. Most of the legacy systems, and a good many of the emergent social ones, are still based on a premise of power and ownership that lies in the Age of Domains. In the Age of Engagement, we will need new ways to engage!

Subservience will no longer be tolerated, but so too we will reject the absolute control of a fully formal hierarchy. Just as the mills and emergent factories decimated the aristocratic models of power, so too with the socially connected community decimate the hierarchical organisation, and possibly the dominant, asymmetrically connected, wilfully blind, model of government we operate in many western states. Engagement and power will shift to the trans-nationals, the communities of social brand power, the new Victorians.

Alarmist: maybe. Maybe we should be alarmed. This is a paradigm shift, a fundamental evolution of power and organisation. It’s the Social Age, and we had better get ready, because it’s already here.

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#WorkingOutLoud on the text for ‘The Trust Sketchbook’

I’ve been working on the text for ‘The Trust Sketchbook‘ this month. A week or two ago i shared the first six aspects of trust, and today, sharing a few more, based around the structure of the ‘12 Aspects of Trust‘.

12 Aspects of Trust

The Trust Sketchbook will be a hand drawn, co-creative space, a sketchbook that you fill in, so here i am just #WorkingOutLoud, sharing my notes for what the text will be. Once i’ve completed this draft, i will draw up a first draft of the book. I’ve already prototyped a few drawing styles, and from this, i will finalise the design. I expect this text to change, as i work out what will fit on each double spread, but for now, here you go!

How does NEUROLOGY think about Trust?

Not all the choices we make about TRUST are conscious choices. We talk about ‘instinct’, ‘intuition’, and ‘feeling’.

  • Are your instincts valid?
  • Is TRUST a matter of fact or feeling?
  • Draw how TRUST feels
  • Write the equation by which your brain arrives at ‘TRUST’
  • Is your judgement ever wrong?
  • What face do you pull when you lose trust? 😦
  • The research into unconscious bias shows us that we are influenced by dominant cultural factors that surround us: our brain may not be as neutral as we would like to think.
  • We tell stories about how trust is built or fails, but do you think these stories are justification for deeper cognitive processes?
  • Are you rationally in charge of your brain, or might your judgement sometimes fail?

The Trust Sketchbook

What is the VISIBILITY of Trust?

How visible is TRUST? Do you think that it is held implicitly in our relationships, or is it necessary to call it out, to vocalise or demonstrate it? And if ‘trust’ is visible, is is possible to fake it? It ‘feels’ as though it’s something more than visible signs.

  • How do you let someone know you TRUST them?
  • What are the signs and signifiers of TRUST?
  • Do you have to look someone in the eye to trust them?
  • Can the signs of trust be faked?
  • Draw a badge for trust.
  • How do you share trust with others?

Is ORGANISATIONAL Trust different?

In the research, people identified that ‘organisational’ trust was different from that held between individuals, but this was not universally held to be true.

  • Do you need trust to run an organisation?
  • Is trust held in contracts?
  • Draw where trust sits in this organisation.
  • Who owns responsibility for trust?
  • What words would you use to describe organisational trust?
  • Can you ever really trust an organisation?
  • What is BLIND trust?
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Alice Loves Matty

Graffiti is a voice claimed when no other is given: the ultimately democratised language, subversive, irreverent, free. So often, we wonder why people will not engage, why they will not comment, question, or challenge. But that may be to miss the point. The challenge may not be that people are not engaging, but rather that we are failing to listen in the right places.


The graffiti of organisations is written in social spaces: a claimed permission to comment or criticise, reflect and shout. By claiming a scrawled voice, we can shrug off the implied consequence or oversight of any formal power. If you want to learn what a community is really thinking, search for the graffiti.

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A State of Kindness: A Shared Humanity

Somewhere along the line, we have accepted the marginalisation of kindness, normalised dispassion, and deepened the inequity of our society. Equality and fairness were never to be taken for granted, have always been fought for, but our current manifestation of State leaves fairness further than ever away from our truth. Kindness is relegated to a soft medicine, to be dispensed with grace, bestowed by the empowered. I speak neither as an idealist, nor a liberal, when i say that the current way we express our common good is neither common to all, not good for many. I speak not of left or right politics, or views of government, but rather of our deeper humanity.

A State of Kindness

What has changed? At a time when the voice of the individual is democratised and freer than ever before, we have silenced the vocal majority with excuses of complexity and politics that belie the fact that these are simple matters of decency and respect, tolerance and kindness.

Can we forge a society built on shared values, one that respects difference? Can we build a State that cares, not purely in a macro economic context, but at a personal and individual one? Can we find space for kindness against a backdrop of complexity and cost, where we have allowed compassion to viewed as a luxury for the charitable rich, or the saintly sign of the virtuous poor? Can we build a view of society that is built not from the extremes, not from saints and sinners, but through the everyday kindness of action, by state, by organisation, by individual?

Society has always evolved: from granular tribal units, through to organising principles of proto-states and kingdoms. We have experimented with hereditary power, through aristocracy, the state held power of bureaucracy, and the collective power of social communities, empowered by technology. But with growth has not come greater equality, universally higher access to resource, or State wide kindness. Our culture is still tribal and granular, reflected in the entities that we have built around us.

We have seen key transitions in communication and transport technology that have driven much of this change: improved communication allowed knowledge to be both standardised, attributed, and shared, allowing people to build expertise, grow reputation, and reach the masses. We have seen transportation systems that allow goods to be traded and to spread, for infrastructure to proliferate, for the functional utility of the individual to be mobilised to follow jobs, and for the boundaries of State to widen from as far as the eye can see, to as far as the signal will spread.

But this growth has come at a cost, and that cost may now be more visible than ever before.

In the old world, the organising principles of villages, towns, cities, and State, made sense: the unit of global expression was Nation, and national concerns trumped all others. But as the Digital Age crashed upon us, the infrastructure evolved and we became misaligned. Transport is no longer a constraint, and neither is communication: we have moved from deficit to surplus. We now have too much of both.

The West struggles to prevent extremists travelling to hotspots, and our own government seeks to prevent closed communication. Neither of these things were historically possible: it simply wasn’t an option to travel with such ease, nor to hold broad secrets at scale. Our organising units were still essentially localised, whilst, over a few short years, we have become truly one shared planet. We are connected in many different ways, with ever more resilience in the system, ever more redundancy in our networks.

We exist in communities, leaving governments to rule over increasingly abstract geographies. I myself do not rely on a government to permit me to be European. Being European is my mindset, not the gift of formal power.

But in this titanic shift, through the rubble of our perished industrial economy, and through the shoots of the new Social one, we have allowed something precious to slip through our fingers. An aspect of our humanity has been lost, at the very time when we have the potential to score the greatest gains.

We have lost families that span generations, in favour of nuclear units that industrialise maternity, education, and old age. We have lost a local sense of community, in favour of closed cells of comfort, pods of consumerism, nested in abstract lattices of zoning. Whilst our villages and towns used to evolve through the actions of the individuals that inhabited them, today, they are planned, not simply from the perspective of bricks and glass, but social class and culture. Order is imposed rather than being emergent.

Our world has always had the potential for tragedy: illness, natural disaster, war, these things we strive to monitor, quantify, and change, but there is something that lies beyond this.

We are in a new Age, the Social Age. We can carry forward as much of our baggage as we like, but ultimately, we must make a decision: do we normalise old inequality and malice, or do we seek, do we strive, for a kinder space?

Again: i am not speaking of politics or power, but rather about the nature of our engagement. Our engagement with each other, within communities, into our wider society. Can we engage in our differences, or do we vilify and exacerbate them? Must we rule through conflict, or can we find consensus.

I wrote recently about ‘authenticity’, about how we strive to define this concept. We can see it: if a story is authentic, if it rings true, and we react badly when it’s lost or demonstrated to be false. Perhaps our authenticity is earned in the moment, through the way we engage in the world.

We are kind: but not universally so. Kindness is used and awarded upon a layer of convenience. We must run a health service that is effective, and if we do so, we can afford to make it kind. We run businesses that are successful (generating power and accumulating wealth at the top), and if we do, we can afford for it to be kind. We approach politics with the conflict of difference, instead of seeking out our shared differences, and finding the foundation of our common good. Conflict sells, it’s easy, but perhaps what we need is something hard.

In the work around Social Leadership, that form of leadership power that is awarded to us by the community itself, i put ‘collaboration’ at the top. It’s at the top, because it’s the hardest thing to achieve. True collaboration. Complex collaboration. And it’s hard, because it requires us to work for less than we want: it requires us to negotiate, to empathise, to work towards, a shared vision of commonality, not a selfish one. It requires me to start with a view of what you can have, rather than a view of what i may be able to take from this. Complex collaboration requires selflessness, humility, and an ability to be kind. And to do so not for either immediate nor deferred gain, but rather as an investment in society. The prize for kindness is society. The society we earn is the reward that we get.

Perhaps it’s a question of value: do i seek value in that which i own, or do i derive value from the society that i live in?

A true capitalist may seek value from possessions and the cocoon of the immediate, but a wise capitalist would find value in giving, in helping others to succeed, because they recognise the separation of mere currency from true society.

The conflict that we see in our society, the rise of extremism, the threat of terrorism, the hardening of right wing politics, all of this is a symptom of a society that has marginalised kindness. We retreat to our fighting tribes because we can see no option than to fight. We are separating on religious, ethnic, and wealth grounds, because we can see no option than to fight. We are unequal, because we somehow feel we must fight to retain inequality, as if in some way to be more equal would diminish the values of our beliefs, of our money, of our happiness.

The ecosystem of the Social Age has led to the rise of the New Victorians: men (and they are largely men) made rich and powerful beyond the dreams of avarice. But it’s a mistake to think that these individuals are uniformly driven by greed. Indeed, many are driven by curiosity and drive, a sense that everything is possible. Just witness the drive to the stars, the move towards autonomous infrastructure, the evolution of experience itself. These technological titans have barely begun to scratch the reach of their new power.

It is a new power: networked authority, held outside of any State, but not without limits. Uber has taught us that culture counts, but the problems that Uber faces are not simply a wild Chief Exec: instead, it’s a broader cultural context, a culture that promotes profit over kindness, that ultimately treats people as assets, not people. I suspect that the problem stems largely in principles of organisational design, and understanding cultural cohesion.

Old models of organisation will be punished by the new proto-cult, quasi-religious nature of the trans-national gods of technology. The State of old may become worth less than your iPhone. Not in financial value, although that is possible, but in terms of emotional engagement. People do not love politicians in the way that they love Netflix.

Our new organisations are linked to the societies they both profit from and serve in new ways. And the societies that surround them are bound together in new ways: no longer linear, governed purely within bonds of formal power, but rather networked, multi layered, and increasingly global and democratised.

It’s easy to look at the failings of our emergent society, but opportunity exists in equal measure, if we can find a state of kindness.

The ease of storytelling has rewarded a culture of conflict and exception, but through this ‘reality tv’ of culture, we have failed to explore the need for kindness. The need to celebrate difference, to organise around the primacy of the individual.

Perhaps it’s a rebalance: away from pyramids of power, to a view of society grounded firmly in the citizen. And in a view that we can engage on our shared views, and respectfully explore our dissent. In contrast to our current culture of difference, which collapses individuals and contexts to binary arguments of conflicted ‘right’. A culture of conflict, a culture of inequality, a culture of individual success at the cost of others, can only give us a fractured society. By contrast, a culture of engagement, a culture of celebrated difference, a culture of kindness can give us so much more. Starting with an ability to effect change, together.

An over reliance on the hard power of the State leaves us unwilling to believe in the co-creative power of an engaged citizenry. And yet without the power of the community itself, we are forever reliant on these levers of economics and industry, with no account for the economics of kindness and collectivism.

A culture of selfish individualism, a culture of persecuted difference, these are not the shared values we want: instead, we should find a humility to change.

As we move into the Social Age, we must explore the evolution of our hard structures of power, away from being simple mechanisms of control, towards being engaged and facilitating entities of fairness. We must find models of leadership that celebrate compassion and kindness. We much fight for equality through a recognition that society comes at a collective cost, and that if that cost is born by one individual, we collectively fail.

We need a new State: a State that learns to be kind. Industry built on kindness. Leadership through community. And a State that celebrates difference as a chance to engage, to find a new path, a shared path to a shared humanity.

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#WorkingOutLoud Finding The Change Story

I’m presenting a workshop around the work i’ve been doing for ‘The Change Handbook’ today: it’s the first time i’ve been able to present this work in it’s entirety, with the new framework that i completed a couple of weeks ago (when i finished the first draft manuscript of the book), so i thought that my preparation would be easy. Not so. I’ve spent the three hour train journey restructuring, editing, shortening, the presentation.

The Change Story

I’ve been searching for the story. Not just any story: the story of how change happens, of how it’s constrained, of how we build the Socially Dynamic Organisation. Finding the narrative can be a complex process, but to get to simplicity, we often have to weather complexity.

The Dynamic Change Framework

Sometimes a story is stronger when it’s shorter, when it creates the space for reflection, without feeling the need to fill in all the spaces. Much the same as the way we should view change in fact: in a Dynamic Change approach, we would frame the change, but allow the community to co-create and co-own it.

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Conditions for Community

I’m working on some principles for supporting the development of Communities of Practice, so sharing this illustration, which is about ‘foundations’, what are the conditions for Communities to emerge? It’s not intended to be definitive, just part of a conversation about how ‘community’ is more than simply ‘technology’, or ‘space’.

Conditions for Community

We need high Social Capital, something that Social Leaders have themselves, and develop in others: an ability to survive and thrive in social collaborative spaces. Not something to take for granted, and much more than simply technical skills.

There is value in having Democratised Space, space which is not owned purely by the organisation: in the Trust research, we see that ownership of the space impact engagement quite strongly, so relinquish some control if you want to win the prize of engagement.

We need clear Rules, ideally co-created, or at the very least, explicitly stated. Ambiguity leads to retrenched behaviours, safe behaviours, but not innovative or engaged ones.

Consequence is a powerful tool, i’ve been writing about ‘the Sphere of Consequence’ in change recently, and the ownership of it, and location of it, is important. Clear triggering, clear format, clear permanence, and clear ownership of consequence is valuable.

We need strong Social Leadership in social communities, which, agin, may be obvious, but the corollary is also true: we do not need an abundance of formal leadership. Leave formal power at the door.

Broad Fairness is an organisational wide need, but especially in communities: if the organisation has a culture that is not fair, then it cannot hear all the voices within these communities that it needs to hear.

We must have Equal Opportunity: opportunity to engage, to be heard, and to respond. This ties in with the ownership of stories. Communities are not broadcast spaces, they are co-creative ones.

Trust is central to coherent communities: focus on building out wide and strong webs of social ties.

And a condition for the emergence of community is ‘Need’, need from individuals, not just need from the organisation.

Tied into the emergence of agility is the need for Fluidity of Role: we cannot carry our formal role into a social space, and indeed, we see far greater fluidity of roles within these spaces anyway.

Fully social communities may not need a Purpose per se, but social ones within organisations probably should, even if the purpose of a Community of Practice is simply to support ‘best practice’, development, application, and reflection.

We will find Shared Values within our coherent communities, but we must put the effort in to do so: shared purpose can be imposed, but shared values must be found.

Finally, Segmented Utility: if we are all the same, our community will be weaker than if we have a broad and diverse range of skills, knowledge, viewpoints, and perspective. The more segmented a community, but aligned with core shared values, the stronger it will be.

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#WorkingOutLoud on ‘The Trust Sketchbook’ text

I have started work on ‘The Trust Sketchbook‘, a lightweight experiment to explore ‘what trust means to me‘ through a co-created journal. Last month, i crowdfunded the production costs, so now i am starting to explore the text. It will be based around the 12 Aspects of Trust that i shared previously. Today, i’m #WorkingOutLoud and sharing the first draft text that i will draw by hand on the pages of the book. It’s not complete, but i will do a draft, then actually draw it, to see how the space works, and how it flows.

12 Aspects of Trust

The Trust Sketchbook

Page 1: Introduction

You hold in your hands ‘The Trust Sketchbook’. It’s a guided journey through 12 aspects of trust.

Trust is complex: we all know what it means, but we all describe it in different ways. This book will let us explore ‘what trust means to me, in my community, in an organisation’.

This book is not complete.

That’s your job.

Draw it.

Deface it.

Write it.

Co-Create it.

The 12 Aspects of Trust

We will explore 12 aspects of trust.

[The 12 aspects of trust illustration, represented as a tree]

Can you think of other aspects? Cross these out, or add to them. Draw your tree.
The Landscape of Trust Research

In ‘The Landscape of Trust Research’, i am asking 1,000 people to explore Trust. You are undertaking the same journey, but through subjective prose and art. You are drawing your truth, sharing your words.

How would you describe trust? Share your words. Share your picture.

This book has no answers, but i hope it helps you to form, and to share, your own answer.

Does TECHNOLOGY impact Trust?

People trust formal technology (owned by organisations) less than they trust social technology (which they own themselves). As we become ever more ‘digital’, we should consider how trust is held in technology.

What technology do you trust?

Does the permanence of ‘digital’ affect how you trust it?

Does the visibility of what you share impact on trust?

Can you trust the identity of people online?

Do you TRUST the robots?

The Trust Sketchbook


How does Trust relate to CREATIVITY?

Organisations want creativity and agility, but how does trust impact this? Creativity is not a process: it’s a constant experiment, conducted in front of an audience.

Do you TRUST your own creative ability?

What makes you trust someone enough to share your creativity?

What is the risk of sharing?

How will you know if you trust someone enough to co-create with them?

Graffiti this page.

How does Trust treat FAILURE?

We say ‘it’s ok to fail’, but is it really? Do you trust your organisation to hold you safe if you fail whilst you are learning? Do you trust others? Can they trust you?

Who will catch you if you fall?

Draw an experiment: what does experimentation mean?

How does your community judge you?

If i fail, will you trust me less?

What causes trust to fail?

Does ETHNICITY impact Trust?

Let’s consider whether ethnicity impacts trust: do we trust more within our ethnic identity? Do different notions of trust exist?

Does TRUST vary around the world?

Think about SHARING: do we share equally, irrespective of ethnicity?

Does your trust network cross beyond your ethnic identity?

How do notions of trust collide?

Is there a TAXONOMY of Trust?

I think we can consider a taxonomy of trust: no trust (completely absent), functional trust (where you believe in the basics), invested trust (where we step the extra mile), blind trust (where trust is over invested).

Many organisations operate at ‘functional’. I think we need to create invested trust spaces. But never blind.

What types of trust exist?

Draw a scale of trust.

What words do you associate with ‘no trust’

What type of TRUST exists in your organisation?

Quantify it.

Name it.

Score it.


What is the CURRENCY of Trust?

We often use metaphors based around currency: earning trust, investing trust, you cannot ‘buy’ trust. Or can you… let’s consider the currency of trust, or whether it’s a fool’s gold.

Can trust be bought or sold?

Can you quantify trust?

How is trust held?

Draw a lot of trust.

Who do you invest your trust in?

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