The Friction of Innovation

I recently shared a post exploring cultural agility in relation to innovation and disruption: broadly the premise is that different states of innovation may require different manifestations of culture, some of which can co-exist, and some of which sit in opposition. As i’ve started sharing this work more widely, i’m building out of the illustrations, to form a better sequence, and sharing some of this new work today, as part of #WorkingOutLoud.

Innovation and Culture

At it’s heart, i’m looking at the following sequence: ‘KNOWN’ culture is a safe one, repeating the same action sets, with a focus on optimisation, followed by ‘INNOVATIVE’ cultures, which are curious, and explore the notion of new action sets. Innovative cultures look at potentially new ways of doing things. It’s perfectly normal for these two cultures to co-exist, often geolocated separately, with one tolerating or hosting the other.

Cultural Agility for Innovation

The shift from ‘innovation’ to a culture of ‘EXPERIMENTATION’ is a small one, and i’m separating them by attitude to risk. The reason for this is that ‘attitude to risk’ is a common reason regulated organisations share with me as to why they are unable to adopt more social approaches. They have the intent, they may even be innovative, but they are unable to experiment. Nonetheless, an organisation may hold all three of these cultures concurrently, if it is able to rationalise and segment them far enough.

Cultural Agility - innovation and disruption

That can change when we get to ‘DISRUPTION’ though: a Disruptive culture does not simply disrupt the market, it may disrupt itself, specifically it may disrupt established modes of power, established hierarchy and associated nested tribes, established wealth, established pride, and so on. And whilst external disruption may trigger a market, or regulatory response, internal disruption may trigger an immune response. Immune responses are those whereby organisations deny change, and actively kill it off.

Cultural Agility - innovation and disruption

There is a final, transient, cultural stage, which i am currently calling ‘EXPLOITATION’, because it relates to the ability to exploit innovation, but which i may change to call something more like ‘OPTIMISATION’, as ‘exploit’ has negative connotations, implying that we are exploiting people badly, rather than innovation, well. I’m sticking with it for now, because in this stage we are not simply optimising, we are trying to drive value, return, and profit, whilst streamlining to make it safe (reduce the risk we started to capture during experimentation).

Exploitation should be a transient cultural phase, but requires a specific cultural agility, in being reconfigurable (as we explore in the Socially Dynamic Organisation, which is reconfigurable to need).

I’ll return to this work in due course, to explore the implications for leadership, in creating conditions for this cultural fluidity.

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The Social Consequence of Exclusion #2

Excuse first: some days it’s hard to write, it’s just too busy. I’ve delivered a full day workshop, then travelled into the evening to prepare for another full day tomorrow. But #WorkingOutLoud is not about sharing excuses, it’s about sharing fragments of thought. And being unafraid to share imperfect or incomplete work. Today, i’m sharing the evolution of one of the illustrations i used today.

The Projection and Failure of Trust

This is the original, it is used to talk about exclusion from a group: once we have ‘conformed’, to gain membership, we run the risk of ‘exclusion’, if we subsequently dissent. But i included ‘frames of trust’ within the illustration, and it’s cluttered. This evening, between two trains, i redrew it.

The Projection and Flow of Trust

This new one is not perfect, but it’s the best i could do at speed, and it removes some clutter. The main idea i wanted to convey was how ‘members’ were different, so i switched to squares. The new member ‘conforms’ on the surface, but may have to ‘shield’ aspects of self to do so. This ties into another notion, that we may bear a cost of membership, in service of some future goal.

Really i need to redraw the whole slide, but i will prototype this new version in tomorrows session.

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I recently shared a taxonomy of Social organisation, looking at ‘tribal’ structures, ‘communities’, and ‘organisations’. I’m continuing to evolve this, partly to allow me to try out new language. The vocabulary we use, to describe things, is laden with predetermined context: sometimes by sticking with the same language, we stick with the same understanding, so it can be useful to evolve language deliberately, to give us permission to explore new meaning. Today, i want to consider ‘crowds’.


I’m considering crowds as communities of purpose or intent, but with a specific context that they are emergent and transient. This would allow for a structure something like this: tribal structures are trust bonded, and reasonably persistent, communities are meta tribal structures, and range from defined and short term, to ad hoc and long term, and crowds are emergent and always transient. Possibly crowds become communities if they persist for long enough? This means that the base unit of social organisation is the tribe, communities are functional structures that we can use to discuss organisations, and crowds are more aligned to social movement, agreement, or protest, but specifically in the short term.

Potentially crowds can act as seeds for community. Rapid prototype structures.

To try that language in a different way: members of a tribe may come together in a crowd. Members of many tribes may form a community, and on a particular occasion, or to serve a particular purpose, that community may spawn a crowd. And from across many communities, we may see emergent crowds arise in response to specific, and both location and time bound need.

But why even both to think about this? It could be an argument about semantics.

I think the notion of crowds may be valuable when considering accepted views and the movement of those views (what a community thinks), as well as when considering ‘sense making’ and access to knowledge.

Let’s consider a couple of examples: an organisation wants to source new ideas, so it deploys an ‘innovation’ system, where people can lodge ideas, and vote them up or down. If a community emerges around one particular idea, perhaps that is a crowd. If it persists, perhaps it becomes a more permanent community? But the very presence of the crowd allows purpose, or agreement, to be expressed.

Or another example, in the UK right now, University Lecturers are on strike in a dispute on pensions: perhaps the picket lines are crowds, united in dissent, but transient in nature.

We could consider this in the context of organisational change, and i will build this upon the language i’m using within the Dynamic Change Framework: to facilitate change, we should consider establishing SEED Communities, but perhaps also consider the use of crowds. Crowds may form part of our ‘sensory’ array, our ability to gauge the temperature of a community, to understand the dominant local view.

As with all social structures, and language, it’s contextual, and emotive. After all, when a crowd assembles, if we don’t like the message, we condemn it as a mob. If it’s genteel, we call it a gathering. The same emotive contextualisation is true of all social structures: church groups we call ‘congregations’, but groups of street artists are gangs.

There is one other angle of crowds to explore, building out of the Tribes and Trust work: crowds seems to be efficient structures for forming consensus, but also for exclusion. Membership carries immediate validation and vindication, or instant exclusion or persecution. They wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Possibly the consideration of crowds is just a useful mechanism to consider social structures and movement, but it may form something more permanent in my work.

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Domain Specificity into a Generalised Specificity

This is a conversation about the future of work. Consider this a half formed thought, but one which i’ve been chasing around for a while now. As part of the work exploring where we go, ‘Beyond Organisations’, and linked into the work on the Socially Dynamic Organisation, i’ve been considering a broad shift, away from ‘domain specificity’ (where we are excellent within a discipline), into a generalised specificity (where our excellence is distributed).

Beyond Organisation

Before you comment, i realise that a ‘generalised specificity’ is a tautology, but i’m unsure how better to represent the concept: i don’t mean that we need just more generalists, but rather that there is likely to be a specific capability around ‘generalism’.

Much of the professionalisation of work in the last two hundred years or so has seen the rise of domains, with underlying educational and development pathways, which have bought with them a segmentation of power, and a general constraint. The differentiating behaviours of the Social Age are one of interconnectivity: connecting knowledge to need, people to community, and surplus to need.

The rise of socially collaborative technology has, itself, seen a rise in recognition of the need for connective skills: Social Capital, as i call it within the Social Leadership work. The skills and behaviours that bond communities, that connect.

Formal domains have long held power, through their spans of control, but as the taxonomy of knowledge evolves, away from formally held and tightly controlled, through to being more dynamic, co-created, adaptive, and socially held, so too do the mechanisms of power, and spans of control, that lie underneath it.

Social Leadership 100 - types of power

This speaks to every dimension of our challenge: to evolve Organisations into a new structure, which is less domain specific, more an interconnected network, running on the social currencies of pride, trust, and respect, as much as the formal currencies of money and control. Purpose led, Socially Dynamic.

These changes will also blow back to models of education, and the very notion of career, as well as the respective structures that support those two things. No longer universities as places, but rather as lifelong communities perhaps, and no longer organisations as the backbone of career, but rather tribes and connections.

We will still build our domain specificity, and expert knowledge, but perhaps connected through generalised specificity, strong Social Capital, and an ability to connect, to create, and moderate, new knowledge.

This is an imperfect first pass through this language: part of #WorkingOutLoud is to rehearse and prototype new thinking and vocabulary, and to share that not with an intent to be right, but to learn to be closer to a new understanding.

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Trust Sketchbook: The Beginning of the End?

I’m the first to admit that i am not always great at finishing things. But i’ve been recognising recently that i have too many ‘open’ projects, and more that i want to start… so i’m making myself do some ‘finishing’, starting by finishing the Trust Sketchbook: this is a project i started more than six months ago, and promised to finish by Christmas… so time is up!

The Trust Sketchbook

The Trust Sketchbook is intended to be a practical tool: a guided, reflective, and graffiti led journey through the Landscape of Trust research. Where the ‘proper’ writing uses data and interpretation, the Trust Sketchbook is intended to create space for reflection, drawing, scribbling, and mistakes.

What has caused me to delay so far? If i’m honest, two things: firstly, from the start i have been unsure of my ability to write and draw it well enough, and secondly, it’s just taken far more time than i expected. But yesterday, and today, i completed two thirds of what remains. I reckon i only have around four hours work to go, and aim to finish it this weekend. So watch this space, and if you have been waiting for this to land… hold out a little longer, as i start to look at production!

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The Community Handbook: a #WorkingOutLoud post

I’m taking the results from the Landscape of Trust research, and the Communities of Practice research, and trying to hack together a short Handbook, intended to share relevant aspects of the combined research, alongside interpretation, links to other writing, and a series of sections on ‘what you can do about this’, some practical tips and guidance. It will probably cover ten aspects of Community, and i’ll make it freely available online. Again, i must thank our various research partners, the NHS NW Leadership Academy, and North West Employers, as well as the thirty or so Research Partners in my community research hub, all of whom have connected or contributed to this in some way. Below, i share an incomplete chapter, to illustrate the context, as part of #WorkingOutLoud.

Social Leadership 100 days

4. Ways That People Connect

People exist within social systems: within these systems, we connect in a wide variety of ways, using a broad range of technologies to do so. Sometimes the context of the conversations dictates or defines the ways that we connect, sometimes our perception of consequence dictates the channel that we use. If we consider that the subject of our conversation is ‘forbidden’, then we are more likely to take the conversation into a safer space, perhaps using hidden technologies. Technologies that exist beyond the sight or control of the Organisation itself.

Its very clear that the conversations we have are far more broad then any specific formal technology, or formal space, and this points clearly to the need for us to focus on the skills and capabilities of Social Leadership, community-based authority, alongside, or even more so, than formal leadership skills. To be effective, it will be necessary for us to engage in multiple spaces, using different, contextual, power to do so.

When we look at the results from the research, there is a very clear emotional overtone to much of the language that people use when describing the communities that they are part of: people don’t just express that they ‘need’ to connect with others around a specific purpose, rather they use a range of other emotive language.

Despite us talking about ‘Communities of Practice’, as if the ‘practice’ were the defining feature, in reality, it’s the ‘community’ that provides the dominant effect: if you lack the Social Capital, Technological Skills, or access to the technology itself, if you lack explicit Permission, or individual Impetus, to connect, then you can be disenfranchised, left out of the Community. And many of these things, like ‘permission’, and ‘technology’, can be actively denied to us.

Even when we do have space and opportunity to connect, we may lack the Cultural Grammar to do so: we may lack a full understanding of the rituals of engagement, or the artefacts of power, and the shared social scripts, that would enable us to do so.

It’s possible that there is a taxonomy of engagement too, something along these lines:

  • Direct personal engagement, one to one
  • Individual engagement, into an existing group
  • Role based engagement to other roles
  • Power based engagement into hierarchy
  • Subversive engagement outside the system
  • Oppositional engagement, held against the system

The ways that we engage may relate closely to this taxonomy, so that the ways we engage in ‘opposition’ are likely very different from the ways that we engage in ‘consensus tribes’.

What the research shows

21% of people described being ‘vouched in’ to a community, as opposed to being able to access it through ‘self driven participation’.

We know there are many different types of community, and not all are equally open, indeed some communities gain their internal coherence and value by being communities of status, or even communities defined by exclusion.

The majority of people ‘strongly agreed’ that meeting face to face is important in building relationships: this is not atypical, but may represent that this is how we are used to doing things.

Whilst we can quantify that we forge online relationships differently from face to face ones, there may be nothing inherently ‘bad’ about forging relationships online. This is an area that i want to unpack further in future research.

We could read this as a strong development need: how often is it practical to meet face to face and, possibly more importantly, if we just grow our communities through face to face interaction, are we building in greater bias and a stronger mono-culture?

What you can do about this

Here are some things that you can do to help people connect:

  • Consider regular sampling to see e.g. how many communities people are part of: if results present a broad spread, see if that correlates to demographics. Is part of your audience excluded?
  • Train specific capability around Social Leadership, the ability to understand how communities work, and how to join them
  • Consider how you view Social Capital within the whole organisation: consider curating a conversation, a diagonal story, across the organisation to explore how it currently sits

Resources relating to ‘Connectivity’

This piece considers how we create more trusted leadership.

This piece explores the notion of interconnectedness, how we link up the different tribes.

This article explores the taxonomy of social collectivism.

This piece explores the scale of social systems.

Finally, this piece looks as a culture of sharing, one component of Social Leadership.

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Cultural Graffiti

I’m running a session for only the second time tomorrow, on Cultural Graffiti: it’s an interactive session, with two poets, and a musician, exploring hidden and claimed voices, unheard wisdom, and how formal control can never fully silence social voices. It’s a fun session, but with a serious purpose.

Cultural Graffiti

Graffiti may be viewed as a nuisance, but it’s everywhere, and it’s a claimed voice, claimed in opposition to systems. Whilst much of it may be ‘noise’, it can provide both insight and wisdom, if we know where to look.

Unheard Wisdom

The purpose of the Cultural Graffiti work is to understand how, by developing our Social Leadership capability, we may learn to hear not just the sanctioned voices that we want to hear, but the un-permitted ones that we may NEED to hear.

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