States of Innovation

I’m grounding my new work around Innovation in two frameworks: ‘States of Innovation’, and ‘Cultural Agility’. Today, i want to explore States of Innovation further, a model which uses a grid to explore the current state in relation to two dimensions: the context of change, and the nature of disruption.

States of Innovation

The horizontal axis describes the context of change, ranging from ‘known state’ (the world as it used to be) into an unknown state (the world as it is today, the context of the Social Age).

States of Innovation

Broadly, this axis charts how Organisations are slipping out of their known world, and into the largely unknown one, but crucially it distinguishes between ‘change in a known space’, and ‘change in an unknown one’. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

The vertical axis describes the nature of change, or more specifically, the nature of disruption. This axis is most heavily influenced by my own work on Black Swans and the limits of formal systems, as well as broader notions of a VUCA world (and stands in debt to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s work in particular on Black Swans: my work is a pale shadow of his). When we combine both axes, we have two frames of change: the ecosystem, and the nature of disruption itself.

The black text in the four corners describes outcomes, ranging from perfectly adapted, through to failed, and it’s driven by understanding the things that organisations do well, within a known space, and those things that they do badly within that known space.

Once a market emerges, people inhabit it (or perhaps, to be pedantic, perhaps when people make an offering within it, they create a market), but once established, much competition takes place within a known space. Banks typically compete within a known space, coffee shops do the same. So they are innovating, and out competing each other, but broadly within a known space.

But disruption often (and probably increasingly) comes from outside that known space, for a range of reasons. Much of the context of the Social Age has democratised competition, removed structural barriers of power, democratised communication, collaboration, and the mechanisms of innovation (prototyping, design, marketing etc) essentially making it easier to enter a market, or innovate a new one. Collectively, this weakens the bedrock that sits underneath an established organisation.

States of Innovation

Whilst all of this is happening, Organisations do what they do best: they codify their strength, they drive for consistency, conformity, replicability. They drive down costs, outsource, and accrete strong hierarchies that allow them to control diverse resource. They build strength, but a very particular type of strength. They become Brittle Systems.

The Limits of Hierarchy: Brittle Systems

Optimised organisations inhabit the top right quadrant, and to be clear, they are excellent organisations, filled with the brightest people, at a peak of their success. But what if the context of their success, and the nature of their disruption, is evolving?

That’s where we end up: drifting to the left, or drifting downwards. I suspect that many organisations are moving to the left in particular: they have great codified strength, and hence momentum, and they are often large, and wealthy. They don’t notice the increased friction that drags on almost every aspect of what they do. They are actively sub optimised in a changing world.

Formal change programmes, strong formal leadership, and established formal models of learning, performance support, induction, and assessment, all hold them in the known space. But the known space is an illusion, a transient reality that is fading fast.

Our legacy organisations were built with a codified strength, in a known world: for the new world, where change is constant, power is rebalanced, and engagement is evolved, we will need a new type of organisation, a Socially Dynamic one. Best of the old, and best of the new. But crucially, one that does not ground it’s strength in mass, but rather in interconnectivity, in community. The strength of the Socially Dynamic Organisation does not come from system and process, it comes from engaged and interconnected people.


I’m using the States of Innovation framework to help organisations understand that much of what they experience is a subset of the whole truth. We operate within, and are hence blinded by, the ‘known knowns’, and the familiar world in which they take place. But we are increasingly assailed by unknown unknowns, and, worse, exist in structures of power that don’t understand the new reality and are unable to engage in it fully because the type of power they wield is wrong.

Innovation and Culture

From here, i tie into the work on Cultural Agility, which looks at the types of culture that an organisation needs (possibly multiple concurrent types), and also, of course, to Social Leadership, and the Dynamic Change framework.

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Building Social Leadership Circles

Social Leadership grows as a movement: not imposed from the top, but rather connected through every level. It does not follow the boundaries and structure of the formal hierarchy, but instead reaches out through bonds of trust, and new conversations. It is powered not by rules and process, but by reputation and humility. The exertion of Social Leadership is not through words, but action.

Social Leadership Circles

I’m playing with models of developing Social Leadership at scale: how do you start? Perhaps with the idea of Social Leadership Circles: a cohort that you build, to make the journey into Social Leadership in good company. Because developing Social Leadership is a journey: experiential, collaborative, and rooted in action.

I like the idea of building small circles, maybe thirty people, because the Social structure of the organisation is not limitless: we seem to collapse the wider entity down into tribal structures, bonded through experiences, and our development pathway could mirror that structure. We can create separate groups, Social Leadership Tribes, either organised centrally, or emergent from the community. Claimed spaces.

Social Leadership - my 1st 100 days

When i wrote ‘Social Leadership: my 1st 100 days’, i intended it to be a journey taken in company. The book does not contain the answers, but rather it creates the space and structure for us to find our own answers. Perhaps that journey is one that is best undertaken within a Circle or Tribe.

Social Leadership 100 - Skills for the Social Age

A Socially Dynamic Organisation will not have one type of strength, but rather a diversified strength, held in divergent views, immersed in strong ‘sense making’ communities. As we build our own Social Leadership tribe, we must reach out, to interconnect, between different conversations: parallel journeys being taken, each of which can learn from the others.

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Why Kindness Counts

Again, today, i found myself shying away from saying ‘kindness counts’, or rather i found myself apologising for saying it. Whenever i use the term, i fear it sounds weak, it sounds like a predictable liberal statement, more about ‘niceness’ than ‘effectiveness’. But nonetheless, i think that it’s true. A Socially Dynamic Organisation is one that is highly effective. It wins by any set of rules. And within it, kindness truly does count.

Why Kindness Counts

Not as an afterthought, used to apologise, but with forethought, to guide our actions and, hence, shape the culture.

Kindness counts, not simply when it is easy, but when things are truly hard. It counts because it moderates our actions, and it helps us achieve balance in the things that we do. And it counts because it puts people, and our relationship with them, at the heart of our thinking and action.

I don’t feel i should need to explain why kindness is a good thing, but i can certainly observe when it is missing. In all the noise of the modern world, and in the busyness of our dynamic systems, it’s easy for the one thing to get lost that we can value the most. A culture of kindness.

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The Control of Consequence

Consequence’ is a dominant force that acts upon us: our sense of ‘formal’ consequence, that which is applied by and within the hierarchy, and ‘social’ consequence, that which is applied by our community itself. Of the two, i suspect that social consequence is the most significant driver, or moderator, of individual behaviour. Today, i’m #WorkingOutLoud to share an extract from ‘The Change Handbook’, looking at ‘consequence’ as one of the 32 Resisters and Amplifiers of change.

The Control of Consequence

Actively understanding, and varying, consequence, can be a useful tool in change.

The Sphere of Consequence

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The Liberation of Less: Beyond Embodied Authority

Now that i’m into the flow, i’m rather enjoying the editing process for ‘The Change Handbook’. Today, i’ve completed the section on ‘Authenticity’, exploring how, if we lack authenticity in our storytelling, it can be harder to effect change.

The Liberation of Less - beyond embodied authority

Be prepared to be just one part of a story, not to own the whole thing”, is a phrase that jumped out for me: as we relinquish some of the control that comes from our formal power, we move to a more consensual type of power, and that, in itself, can be liberating. Communities bring their own type of momentum.

Bring an attitude of co-creation, not one of embodied authority”, is the other phrase that i settled on today: start from a place of collaboration, not one of power.

I only knocked 300 words out today, but i did fully rewrite several sections, i hope bringing a greater clarity and, probably more importantly, a more concise story.

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Not What You Take, But What You Give

So much of our power, as leaders, lies in creating space: not spaces for us to broadcast or control, but rather to facilitate, and to listen. There are times when we need our formal voice, when we can use the power that comes from our position within the hierarchy, to start a journey, to set a direction, to impart momentum, but rarely can we make the whole journey with this type of power alone.

Social Leadership - not what you take, but what you give

Social Leaders do this by creating spaces, and having the humility to step back: to create the conditions for a community to engage, to thrive. They engage to show respect, to share resources, to recognise achievement, but rarely to moderate, dominate, or simply control.

Social Leaders create spaces for others to thrive within: sometimes leadership is not what you take, but what you give.

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The Building Blocks

Our formal organisations are built in familiar ways: we assemble functional teams, buy them computers, put a roof over their heads, connect them through technology, and hold them safe with rules. These are the building blocks that delivered the Industrial Revolution, and the Digital one. But the Social Revolution may require a different type of strength, less codified, more consensual, less formal, more Social. Undoubtedly diversified.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation - Building Blocks

I describe the Dynamic Tension that exists in the Social Age: a tension between those things that formal systems do exceptionally well (collectivism, and achieving effect at quality and scale), and those that social systems do exceptionally well (community, innovation, and subverting outdated effect at scale). We need both systems: our challenge is not to replace one with the other, but to keep, empower, and enable, both, but that brings some innate tensions of it’s own, and it’s those tensions that i’m currently interested in exploring.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

The functional building blocks enable us to describe control and collaboration, but the purpose led building blocks enable us to explore complex collaboration, and internal tensions. For example, how ‘rules’ and ‘creativity’ co-exist, or how ‘Reward’ relates to ‘Community’. HR may control reward, but that’s a different thing from unleashing the dynamic activity that reward may enable. Functional structures may keep us safe, but i suspect we don’t just need ‘safe’. We need subversive and innovative.

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