Taking Time

It’s rarely gifted, time. If you want some for yourself, you usually have to claim it. ‘Give me time‘ is usually a plea, a desperate cry. I’m sat at the airport departure lounge, drinking coffee, whilst next to me three people chat: all young, each from a different country, talking about why they are travelling: to ‘get away‘, to recover, to think.

Taking Time

We need time for reflection, time to relax, time to invest in purposeless hobbies and purposeful competitions. We want time for sport, for cooking, for gardening and lying by the sea with a good book.

But so often time is outside our control, particularly when technology has got so good at demanding it from us and invading it.

So maybe reflect on where you time goes, and what you’d do if you could take it back again.

On which note, i’ll be on holiday next week, so the blog will return when that time ends and the next chapter begins.

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Fragments of Thought: Reflections

Reflections layer upon each other, especially at night. Every window bounces light back and forth, angled and fractured, splintered out of it’s original context and shape until it’s simply a glittering array of midnight stars, shifting as i take each step. It’s almost impossible to conceive the broadest sense of the whole vista as it’s overlaid with so many reflected images. That’s Vegas: a city of light, multiplied.

Las Vegas Reflections

Ideas are like that: they fragment and coalesce into new shapes, interact with each other in strange and unpredictable ways. It’s been a week of ideas: reflecting, shifting, aligning, creating a new vista of thinking. A story reflected out of the chaos of debate.

As this chapter closes, as i start to think about the world outside this bubble, it’s time to start writing the story: what have i learnt, what has changed me, what have i changed. Where is the story going next: how has my narrative evolved through the week of sharing and learning.

The thing about reflections is that they are transient: you can never recreate them exactly the same. The story always changes. We just have to find time to reflect and narrate it as we go.

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Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas: Transient Culture

Rising out of the desert, nothing about Vegas is either to scale or normal: it’s a space built for a community that comes and keeps on coming. A parody of worlds far away built to escape from this one. It’s a non stop cacophony of electronic noise, bright lights and capitalism. It is, when all is said and done, decidedly odd.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

After four days here, i’m ready to leave: to move from this abstract existence back to my reality. Conferences are transient communities in themselves of course: i know people here, i’ve just never met them ‘here‘ before. Like old time circuses, they role into town, perform, then go, leaving nothing behind except some flattened grass and the memories. Except in Vegas, i suspect nobody remembers you when you’ve gone.

It’s not all that different from what we do in organisations: we build spaces and wait for communities to land. We like to pretend that they’re permanent, but what’s permanent in the Social Age? Except change, which is constant, like the flashing lights and glare of the casinos.

I grew up in a Roman city: the plaster and plastic of Caesars is a far cry. Not a reconstruction, not even an echo. Rather a pastiche, given some kind of faux authority by association: Paris, Venice, Egypt, all echoed here as dislocated spaces to house temporary communities. United by loss and impermanence.

The city is trying to find it’s heritage, with the new Neon museum actually being one of the highlights for me: the bright signs of old, now corroded and decontextualised, lying in the sand, but still singing echoes of their former glory. Illuminations dimmed, but not extinguished.

Las Vegas

But ultimately, i am purposeless here: dissociated from home, from my landscapes, from even things like daylight and routine. I am adrift: recklessly wandering landscapes of noise and light, searching for a stillness that eludes this place.

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A Sense of Culture

Our notion of culture seems tied to geography: a distinction that may be losing it’s relevance in the Social Age. For fun, today i’ve been sketching out a model of waves of culture, overlapping but distinct ways in which we may belong to multiple, differentiated cultures that fulfil different needs, and how our primary alignment may no longer be that which we were born into or live within.

A Sense of Culture

A culture can be define by and cohesive through location: i am English and so, by default, my culture is English. Indeed, under the co-creative model of culture that i advocate, if my behaviour changes, in some small way it distorts English culture. The primary alignment is the one we are born into, defined by geography.

But we have secondary alignments to different communities and, possibly, we belong to, or are shaped by, or shape, multiple cultures. The secondary alignment may be cohesive through our actions: because it’s not geographic, we are not simply a member by living there: these cultures are maybe based around our passions, our interests, often facilitated by social collaborative technologies and lived within our communities. I’d advocate that, over time, these may indeed become our primary alignment.

Maybe there are also secret alignments: cultures that are cohesive through intent. Disruptive or aspirational ones. Maybe cultures of change which require risk to join?

There is a difference between ‘culture‘ and ‘community‘: the community is the defined total of individuals, united by shared value and purpose, and the culture is the meta narrative of beliefs and values written on top of that. You cannot have a culture without a community: without it, it simply becomes a fossil, the documented record of a culture that was.

This works on the premise that we can belong to multiple communities, each of which has their own culture: what i’m really interested in is how we define primary alignment. Is it always geographic, or can it be something else? Is it always imposed, or is it increasingly a lifestyle or work choice?

Notions that seem fixed can become fluid in the Social Age: maybe culture is one of them. Maybe we are swept away in multiple cultures, any one of which we may choose as our own.

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Heartbeat of the Social Age

With a degree of trepidation i found myself on the roof of the old rum distillery: maybe five floors up and clutching the ladder with white knuckles. It’s not that the ground i stood on was particularly precarious (indeed, it was a well maintained flat rooftop the size of a squash court), but rather the cumulative effects of the route up there and the lack of fence around the edge. Clearly i’m conditioned to react to such things. Vertigo for me is always a matter of stubbornness. I made it to the roof of St Pauls Cathedral once, although it admittedly took me an hour, clinging to the walls like a limpet as Japanese tourists waltzed past.

Heartbeat of the Social Age

The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing, all the more so when life takes you round the world and into strange communities. Except that Derek Hoffend, my kind host, wasn’t exactly a stranger. We were connected through a social web: friends of a mutual friend. Friends once step removed, connected purely through our communities, forged over shared interests and values.

A few weeks ago i was in Boston: Scott read that on LinkedIn and linked me to Derek, who extended an invitation to a stranger, based on the suggestion of a friend. Social connectivity and testament to communities formed on shared interests: you will doubtless have something to talk about, even if we don’t yet know what it is, was Scott’s implicit message. And he was right.

My first visit to Boston was as an explorer: alone, walking, wandering, reflecting, so it was with some delight that my second visit was to meet with a friend who i did not yet know. My second experience of Boston was less about the environment, more about the community. Less about the spaces, more about the performance.

Derek is an artist in sound and metal, wood and space: his sculpture is multi layered, not just physical, but rather aural and somewhat visceral.

And so it was that i found myself in his loft studio, after the tour of the rooftop. We sat in a box that he had a great name for, but to me was clearly a womb: opposite each other, grasping a sensor in two hands that measured our heartbeats. My heartbeat was reflected back to me in a pulsing blue light, the entire roof of the box. Also, in a deeply reverberating bass beat that resonated through my back and body. Derek, holding a similar device, was generating red flashes of light and a similar, although different tempo beat. When our heartbeats synchronised, the light flashed purple and the resonating sounds grew louder.

I loved the idea: as an artist, he had created a physical space, but the ‘creativity‘ was co-created by two people in a shared experience, through multiple media. Dynamic, co-creative, adaptive, expressive.

Derek’s building itself is adapted: repurposed from a distillery to house a series of workspaces and residential units: art, life, people, sculpture, all coexisting. A creative space: creative because of the community, not because creativity is inherent in the space itself.

These notions are important: we talk about creating both spaces and permission for conversation. The physical space is part of it, the building itself, but it’s the permission that is key. And if we don’t grant it, it will be claimed, possibly out of earshot.

Derek and i talked about art, about music, about the ways we communicate and create. Next day i’m at a conference in Vegas on cross cultural decision making. Talking to people from the military, government, industry. About largely the same things. The environment is different. The people are more formal. But the concepts are the same, probably because we are all thinking about the same thing: how do we communicate, how do we share a reality, how do we create the space and permission to engage.

This is what i love about the Social Age: it’s the time of communities, the rise of Social Authority that transcends barriers of distance and rank, erodes formal hierarchies. We go where the conversation is most interesting, most relevant, most timely. We go where we can debate and create, share stories and ideas, and #WorkOutLoud as we do so.

Connected to ideas through our networks: challenged to move ourselves from our established views by experiencing (in this case literally) the realities of others, of new ideas, new experience, new thinking.

So my return to Boston was exploration of a different thought: exploration of ideas, provocation to think, space to reflect, in the best of company.

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The Loci of Engagement

I’ve talked to Cath about this before: does she describe herself as a musician, or something else? She doesn’t really earn her living from it, although it’s what her life is all about. Do i describe myself as a writer? Do you describe yourself as an employee, a leader, or something else? Where’s your primary location of loyalty? Where’s your heart at? And what are you selling? In the Social Age, our identities, the location of our purpose is far less defined. I could be a writer by day, a mentor by night and a parent the rest of the time. None of these activities are particularly defined by time or place, by rank or hierarchy.

The loci of engagement

Does it matter? Of course, consider this: in the historic model, we paid for people’s time and loyalty, we contracted with them in return for their best efforts. But what if their best efforts are elsewhere? We might think that it doesn’t matter much, just consider what we are missing: the ability to help people be effective and the ability to utilise all of this excellence.

In the Social Age, much of our value falls to the ways we engage in our communities: to share, to learn, to co-create meaning, to tackle problems, to bring new ideas and to be encouraged to throw out the old one.

Social organisations understand this: if you stick to formal methods, you will only access formal engagement. But if you use and encourage more Social approaches, to everything from learning to leadership, to change and innovation, you can unlock the power of these communities. And in the process you can help people be both more effective and more fulfilled.

So what should we do? We should engineer our organisations to be more agile: more open to Social approaches. We need to develop Social Leadership skills, to grow leaders who can identify, nurture and deploy communities, who can build Social Capital in themselves and others. We need to build trust and goodwill into our communities. And we need to recognise when to step back and leave those communities to be fully Social.

Organisations often fret about people being in Social spaces, presumably because they worry that they are wasting time: and that’s an ok concept, if you’ve kidded yourself that time is what matters. It isn’t. What matters is trust, engagement, and effectiveness. And if the price for having an agile organisation is that people sometimes book their holidays at their desk, well so be it. It’s probably not a high price to pay.

But it goes beyond that: people are booking holidays whether you see it or not. But if you don’t treat them fairly, they will shift ever more of their energy to the external focus, to their communities and passions. Remember: you can only force people to spend time with you: no amount of rules or controls will pull their loyalty, their dedication or their community towards you.

In the Social Age, great organisations will be ones that are Social through and through: they treat people fairly and create spaces for people to bring their social behaviours into the workplace. A great organisation will recognise that their role is to create a space for people to perform, not to micro manage that performance. And that’s about mindset more than it’s about technology, recruitment or training. If you can get your organisational mindset into a space of valuing people, then you have a foundation for engagement and loyalty. Then maybe people will be proud of where they choose to spend some of their valuable time: a number of hours in a day that offer multiple loci of engagement.

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When you wake up to the sun coming through the window, clear blue skies, the warmth of it on your skin, it’s a good start to the day. Sunlight is good: we talk about the sun coming out from behind the clouds as redemption, as a sign of clarity and illumination (both literal and figurative). When our view is clouded, we lack perspective or any kind of distance vision. Clouds obscure, bring the rain, darken our mood, whilst the light burns it away, gives insight.


We call someone ‘sunshine‘ if they are happy. The light on the trees as i ride the train home tonight makes the trees glow green. It brings an intensity of colour and a sharply delineated shadow. Light: good. Sunshine: good.

There are certain metaphors around learning that i tend to repeat: i talk about learning as a journey, use geographical concepts for navigation, talk about ‘discovery‘. It’s an ancient notion of turning over the stone to see what lies beneath (an early version of todays ‘clickbait‘: if you don’t turn them all, you’ll never know which celebrity dated whom). We like to discover, the shine the light, to banish the shadows.

I’m reflecting on learning: both the external aspects of discovery, the journey itself, as measured in miles and time, and the internal one. The internal journey is the ‘sense making‘, the reflection, the consideration of how ‘what you tell me‘ impacts on ‘what i already know to be true‘.

Funny that: even i write that phrase, i think back to when i first used it a few years ago in a book about learning. Even for something as apparently simple as ‘how we learn, my understanding continues to evolve as i travel further and think more deeply (or maybe think in wider and wiser company).

That was learning in itself: sometimes you learn by shining the light, but sometimes someone else shines it for you. We can live experience ourselves, or hear about it vicariously through stories.

Stories: Handle With Care

Sunlight suffuses the forest: deep shadows exist as i rattle past as speed, but shafts of sunlight penetrate through, lancing down to the forest floor itself. The light abides.

Sometimes the more we learn, the less we know. As i find myself reflecting on, writing about and exploring ever more facets of the Social Age, it’s not lost on me the irony of how interconnected it all is. I see tantalising glimpses of understanding: how culture is co-created by people, how it changes, how we learn to change it, how it’s facilitated by technology, how we need fairness and equality to gain traction, how we use stories to amplify our intent and to invest ourselves in learning.

Whilst the sensible thing may be to focus a laser sharp light into one tiny corner, the temptation is to see how wide our view can be. Can you be satisfied with one tiny point of clarity, or do you crave for the panorama? Is your journey linear or rambling. For me, it’s about the journey, about the emergent views along the way.

If we restrict our thinking (or if restriction is imposed upon us) then the light is limited. The ignorance that lurks in the shadows crowds in. It’s not that seeing the light gives us all our answers: as Terry Pratchett once said, it may simply elevate our ignorance to a higher level, a new false summit in view. But it’s not always about the summit: sometimes it’s the journey that counts, the view as we travel.

That’s what drives me, and what gives the permission to explore where my feet take me: it’s not a weakness, but rather an uninhibited curiosity.

And from the journey we learn: the whole notions of Scaffolded Social Learning and co-creation of meaning come out of that reflective process. You can’t just travel to see the view, you have to reflect to understand what the light has illuminated.

Medieval monks used to ‘illuminatemanuscripts: filling them with beautiful, stylised letters and images, in red and gold, the colours of the sun. Illuminating knowledge.

The processes of learning, of change, of writing and reflection, of sharing and collaborating, these are processes of illumination, of ourselves and others.

And from it we can learn to structure the journey: to learn how to be more effective, to do things better, to shine the light.

If we have a permission to think differently, we will achieve differently. If we give just a chink of space, the light will get through: this is why we find co-creative spaces are so dynamic if we give them just enough provocation, just enough support. You don’t have to light everything up yourself, just open the curtains a crack and let the light flood in.

And sometimes sit back and bask in the warmth of it, taking time to reflect on the journey so far.

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