Words About Learning: Generosity

I’ve been working with a group of NGOs today, exploring aspects of Social Learning. One thing that’s apparent in this space is generosity: a sharing of ideas, of resources, of spaces and networks. Generosity is core to Social Learning, learning which is founded upon communities, reliant upon each other to be successful.

Words About Learning: Generosity

We are mislead into believing that ‘generosity’ is about giving things away: it’s not, it’s about freeing yourself up, of sharing and, in return, being shared with. The more we give away, the more we get back, but not in a case of immediate reciprocity: the returns we gain are offset in time and space. The payback is a community within which we are a valued and engaged member, and a community to which we can turn when we need help or support. Generosity is a small price to pay for that.

Words about learning is an occasional series of blog posts written when jet lagged, stuck in airport lounges, or simply giving myself a permission to write short but sweet.

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Edge of Shadows: The Trust We Feel

The Landscape of Trust research is intended to surface the notions that, together, make up our understanding of ‘trust’. It’s a highly subjective term, but there are commonalities of understanding: if we can understand the landscape, how different components relate to each other, and how we can influence that, we can use that knowledge to do better: to earn trust better. For example, how does ‘trust’ relate to people, or to ‘contracts’, how does trust in a colleague differ from that in a manager, is there a relationship between ‘trust’ and ‘reward’, and so forth. I’ve prototyped around ten questions so far, and at this stage am running through some top level assumptions: today’s question related to ‘types of trust’. It asked the question, “Is the type of trust held between two individuals different from that which is held between an organisation and an individual?”

The Landscape of Trust - individuals and organisations

The result was not surprising: 75% of the 388 respondents said ‘yes’, trust in the organisation is different from that between two people, with the other 25% ( sizeable minority) saying ‘no’.

Without doubt, organisations are personified: we hold them in affection or disgust, we talk about them as individual entities, not assemblages of infrastructure and people. This is a facet of organisational culture: it’s not quantifiable in itself, you can’t pick it up and measure it, but rather you see the edges of the shadow. We can see when culture fails, and feel when it’s strong. But culture itself, a co-created fiction of everyone inside it, cannot be photographed or weighed. It can only be experienced.

Aspiration and culture

Trust is an interesting emotion (is it an emotion? If it’s not quantified, it it’s not a physical mass or waveform, it must be a fiction we invest, a kind of imagined currency?) in that it can be invested earned and squandered not only by people, but by inanimate objects too: i trust that my phone will store my photos, i trust my house will not fall down, i trust that water will come out of my tap when i turn it on. Indeed, i trust these things so much that i have no backup plan: if the telephone network goes down, i’m reduced to two tin cans and a length of string.

So 75% of respondents feel that trust in an organisation is different from trust in people, but i wonder how they act differently as a result of that: do the people who feel it’s different act differently, or do they simply report that they feel differently. Do they have a different expectation when they turn the tap on, or simply instinctively feel that ‘trust’ in people is a different thing, even if they act no differently when the ‘thing’ is a tap?

I could hypothesise that the experience of trust has changed the outlook: we know already that a majority of people have no or low trust in the organisation they work for, so they seem to be buying into at least the notion that ‘trust’ in organisations exist, so does that now leave us thinking that it’s a different type of trust, or just a different quality of trust? Maybe that’s a more fruitful angle to follow: is it just that ‘trust’ in organisations is less good than that in people? Or better? My question (at this stage) is neutral on whether trust is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ when invested in an organisation. Maybe some of those 75% feel that Organisational trust is better, simpler, or simply easier to quantify?

If the 75% are right, and that ‘trust’ in organisations is fundamentally a different thing from ‘trust’ between two people, the what does that mean for the 25% who simply don’t see this: are they blinded by belief, unable to see the obvious?

The questions that are coming up in the next phase of the research will build out of some of these core notions: where we see strongly dominant responses, it may be that a clear consensus exists, or it may be that we are venturing into parts of the Landscape of Trust that we simply cannot see clearly, so resort to our deeply held beliefs, irrespective of the evidence. In some cases, we may be wilfully blind, because that convenience prevents us having to confront harder truths: for example, history shows us that organisations will cut people out at a moments notice. If we saw that behaviour in a friend, we would be wary, but we accept this fractured Social Contract from the organisation without a second thought.

Trust is complicated: this #WorkingOutLoud post is one of a series around the Landscape of Trust that i’m writing as i work on the diagnostic tool and baseline data.

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Outside The Sphere Of Consequence

One artefact of culture is to create spheres of consequence: if you are within the sphere you experience the consequence that the culture imposes upon you, whilst if you are outside of it the consequence is almost entirely irrelevant. One culture does not have one sphere of consequence: there are many, overlapping, and sometimes contradictory spheres in play. The degree to which one experiences the effects are both the function of our place within the formal hierarchy and a degree of attachment we have to the organisation itself. Put simply, the more we are reliant upon, or invested in, the organisation, the more deeply we are likely to be embedded within the sphere of consequence.

The Sphere of Consequence

I found myself swept up in a perverse example of the misapplication of power this week which relates to this effect: whilst flying to Berlin, i tried to check in at the airport desk, but was told there was a problem with my ticket. I was sent to the other end of the hall to speak to a Customer Service Agent: having queued for this, it turned out that there was no problem, she had simply misread the system.

The Customer Service Agent insisted that i walked back across the hall with her to point out the person who had made the mistake, then proceeded to tell that person off in front of me, despite my protests that it was no problem at all.

The end result appeared to be this: the person who made the mistake was doubtless annoyed, maybe embarrassed, or possibly angry. I was annoyed, at being coopted into putting down someone for making a mistake. And presumably the Customer Service Agent thought they had somehow made things right, despite actually having made almost every aspect of the experience worse for everyone involved. The action that they had taken projected a sphere of consequence both over themselves and the other person. From my perspective, I was fully outside the sphere, observing the fractured culture at play within it.

Aspiration and culture

Aside from the obvious things at fault here, consider wider aspects of culture: in what type of corroded culture would this be considered normal or fair? To me, the symbol of a troublesome culture is not the actions of the individual so much as the lack of ability to protest the actions. In other words, it’s not specifically the actions of either of these individuals that count, so much is the aggregate experience of culture that defines the sphere itself. Neither the lady being ‘told off’, not any of her colleagues watching, felt able or willing to call out the behaviour, leaving it to me, who existed outside the sphere of consequence, to do so.

In other words, the observers were also within the sphere of consequence, or possibly within slightly different spheres, but nonetheless unwilling or unable to challenge the behaviour. By failing to challenge, the behaviour, and the sphere of culture that sits around it is reinforced.

I’m still, a few days later, bemused by the whole thing. From the outside, it was so obviously abnormal, but from within, it was accepted and acknowledged. Maybe even normal. And that’s the thing about spheres of consequence: from inside they may be opaque. Behaviour is reflected back to us as normal, whilst in fact from the outside, where the walls are transparent, we can clearly see the microcosm of a dysfunctional culture.

In the Social Age, it’s only through high trust and engagement that we can build the Socially Dynamic Organisation: a culture of blame, humiliation and stagnation is unlikely to provide the foundation we need. Consequence is a key component of this: we need to shine a spotlight on consequence and actively vary its application, something I explore further in the Dynamic Change Framework. Left to chance the spheres of consequence can radically impact not specifically the behaviour of individuals, but the ability of the organisation to affect change. As we know, spheres are an incredibly strong shape, highly resistant to pressure from the outside. Cultures can only evolve from within, through the deconstruction of the spheres of consequence to the actions and co-created narratives of every individual.

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Types of Power: the Struggle for Control

I wrote recently about the types of power that exist within organisations: individual power, based upon our relationships and sphere of direct influence, hierarchical power, which is codified within the formal defined power structure of the organisation, and networked power, reputational authority held and amplified by the community. My original writing in the space was around resilience and understanding how the different powers compete, but today I have been reflecting more upon how organisations need to understand and utilise all three. They are, after all, in a struggle for control of the story, so we will be better off if we understand the dynamic.

Types of Power

In the old world the battle was primarily between individual and hierarchical types of power and facets of the ecosystem ensured that hierarchy generally one: organisations had mass and momentum and were able to broadcast their message with a loud voice, whilst the individual was limited by communications technology and transport systems that kept them primarily local and only able to communicate synchronously, locally. In the Social Age, the individual is substantially empowered and enabled by the democratisation of technology, the democratisation of communication, the rise of social collaborative technologies, and evolved sociology that allows them to maintain multiple strong social ties that ever greater distances, whilst the organisation finds its power eroded by an inability to dominate the story through volume alone, and the fracturing of the Social Contract.

In this new ecosystem, the ecosystem of the Social Age, we seen the emergence of networked power, not just individual authority held through direct connections, but amplified and interconnected authority held within the community itself. Individual authority can challenge the hierarchical nature of the organisation, but networked authority can fully subsume it if it so chooses.

This struggle for control typical of the Social Age: there is one dynamic of change which is familiar, the dynamic between the individual and the organisation, between individual power and hierarchical authority, but we have also seen the ecosystem itself change, the emergence of networked power at wide scale, and, to the various democratising damp occasion effects, the erosion of formal and hierarchical authority.

In my own frame of reference, this is why Social Leadership is so important: as older forms of power and control are eroded, we need to find new mechanisms, new types of power that are formed as a dynamic between the individual and the organisation. Contextual and consensual authority, which can support and enhance formal power, but only on a foundation of trust and permission.

Future Organisations

I suspect we are at a point of evolution in the nature of organisations themselves: the emergence of new currencies, not purely financial, but reputational and validated by the community itself, the evolution of work which will lead to organisations contracting not simply with people, but with communities of expertise, and of course the rise of the new technologies, machine learning and augmented reality to name but two which, as they mature, will transform both the marketplace of work, and the nature of work itself. And we’re just at the start of that journey.

The formal organisation will not win the struggle for control, but it may be able to forge a new contract, one that is fairer, with individuals, and if it is able to do so, it will be able to leverage new types of power, to co-create a future that is more resilient and more fair.

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The Things We Invest

As I work around the Landscape of Trust I’ve been thinking a little bit about investment: not the money that we invest, but the other things, the things that we as individuals invest in the organisations that we work for, and the things that the organisations invest in us. I started wondering about what that balance looks like, so today I’m just catching a few thoughts and seeing how it shapes up. Partly this ties into something else I’ve been exploring around Social Leadership, which relates to the different types of currency that we use, such as reputation, or trust itself.

The things we invest

As individuals, we invest our time in the organisation: I guess you could argue that we sell our time to the organisation, but my senses that it’s still an investment, in that we could choose to sell it elsewhere. Time is the easy thing to measure: when we work for an organisation, we also invest something of our reputation, especially if our work is public. If we work for a GM food producer, or for a petrochemical company, some of our friends and contacts may judge us for our choices.

We invest the opportunities that we forego: the things we could be doing, the opportunity cost, even this is some kind of conscious investment by the individual in the organisation. We also invest our authority, the strength of our voice in our social communities, the power of our networks themselves. Today, if you hire me, in some ways you could argue that you are hiring the sense making capacity of my community. Indeed this is a strong argument for Social Leadership itself: our power comes from our sense making communities.


Of course we invest our trust in the organisation, although the trust research is indicating that that investment may not be total, and that we may in some senses be investing our pragmatism, or even selfishly exploiting the organisation for personal gain. Or, let’s reverse that, sensibly exploiting an organisation that may exhibit no sense of trust towards us. If the organisation is not investing in us, why would we invest in it?

Finally, in this shortlist, we invest our ignorance, our curiosity. The things that we don’t know, and are willing and able to learn, may well significantly benefit the organisation. So we could argue in some real sense that our ignorance is itself a quality that we invest.

Uninhibited curiosity

And what about the flip side of this equation, what does the organisation invest in us? The mass of the organisation, its energy, resources, and momentum, in themselves may help us to be more effective, may benefit us in real and tangible ways. The resources that we have access to, certainly historically, would have been a key benefit of investing time in the organisation, although we should be aware that in the Social Age people may have alternative investment choices for their time.

The systems and infrastructure that the organisation can bring to bear can be of great benefit to us, supporting our learning and performance. Similarly the people that we are connected to through work can make is not only more effective in the moment, for direct support, but they may be recruited into our sense making communities and remain with us beyond this job, beyond this organisation. If we have strong Social Leadership skills, and utilise high social capital, they may choose to invest themselves in our communities, and invest their efforts in helping us to be successful.

The reputation of the organisation itself may be of benefit to us, and in some sense, when we invest in the organisation, the organisation invests its reputation in our care. Certainly we can see when people betray that trust that the organisation can be tangibly damaged, especially in an age where brand is substantially owned by the community itself.

Finally, money itself, which may ironically be the least of what the organisation invests in us. There certainly is a transactional nature to employment, but that may not be true of the Socially Dynamic organisation, in that money is simply the foundation of functional trust, whilst invested trust is more a matter of balance between what the individual and organisation are willing to spend.

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An Introduction to the Landscape of Trust #WorkingOutLoud

I have the opportunity to present the early stage research on ‘Trust’ within a global organisation in the near future, to a group of young leaders. Today, i’m sharing my notes from an introductory article i’m writing for them, on the Landscape of Trust and the early results. One of the key benefits of #WorkingOutLoud is that i can rapidly iterate ideas and refine language, using the emerging understanding to shape each new telling of the story.

The Landscape of Trust - Introduction

Trust is complicated: a subjective term that, when we try to analyse it and share consensus, reveals more nested sub- concepts each as ephemeral as the one that came before it. And yet we know it: we know trust, we feel it, we build it, and squander it. Trust can be invested or misplaced, it can be carefully considered or blindly given. We know types of trust: the trust that exists between parents and children, between siblings, between friends, these types of trust are typically unwritten, deeply bonded, but unquantifiable. Other types of trust exist: we can view contracts and legal bonds as types of codified trust, attempts to remove ambiguity and introduce formalised consequence, but somehow these things feel different.

Landscape of Trust - Taxonomy

When it comes to the nature of trust between an individual and the Organisation that they work for, instinctively it feels as though we are looking at a multilayered relationship. Certainly there is a contractual element which defines behaviours and renumeration, formal expectations, and processes of consequence when these expectations are not met (or this trust is breached). But that is not the limit, that alone is not what it means to have trust at work.

We also invest a different type of trust in organisations, treating them in some ways as though they are individuals. The type of trust that we see between individual and organisation is interesting in that it can hold multiple concurrent views of reality. I may trust the people that I work with, the people in this office, but be suspicious of our counterparts in the office on another continent. I may trust my manager, except when it comes to annual performance reviews, when I realise that they are just a mouthpiece for an organisation that doesn’t want to give me a pay rise. I may believe in what the business does, and yet have no trust that they will look after me along the journey. The ways that trust is experienced between individual and organisation forms a complex landscape and is the subject of my most recent research.

There are functional types of trust: background layers, such as a belief that you will be paid at the end of the month, which allow us to operate, but do little to novate or engage, and there are invested types of trust, the types that draw us in, which hold power over us.

I’m interested in the Landscape of Trust, this subjective network of nested notions that we feel so strongly, and yet often lose, sometimes without even realising it. My work covers the Social Age: the new reality we find ourselves in, a new nature of work, a new nature of knowledge, a new Social Contract between individual and organisation. In the Social Age some organisations resist change, many are constrained within it, thrashing and churning and trying to change the formal aspects of the organisation, the teams and structures, processes and systems, desperately trying to capture an agility that often eludes them.

Aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation - Diversified Strength

If we understand it, we can create the Socially Dynamic Organisation, an organisation that understands both how formal systems work, the ones that are under the control of the organisation, and social systems, social ways of working, learning, and leading, where the strength comes from invested and engaged communities. You cannot demand the Socially Dynamic organisation because it is founded upon trust: so to create it, together, we have to earn that trust. The way that the strength of the Socially Dynamic Organisation is invested in people give it a diversified strength: strength not simply through infrastructure and process, but through reputation and trust.

Types of Trust

The Landscape of Trust is just that: an attempt to capture what ‘trust’ means to different people, to tease out common elements, to understand where, if anywhere, elements are opposed or can be opposing. For example, in the early research we have seen that to feel ‘valued’ people wish to be ‘rewarded’, whilst to feel ‘trusted’ they must have ‘freedom’. So feeling ‘valued’, and feeling ‘trusted’, may be different things, or at least may provide an interesting part of the Landscape for us to explore. Even more interesting, only around 40% of people wish for financial reward: most wished for opportunities and the chance to build a legacy.

This is early-stage research, already there are some interesting, if potentially worrying, results: 54% of people said that they have low or no trust in the organisation that they work for. 50% of people feel ‘somewhat’ or ‘highly’ valued, whilst the other 50% feel that the organisation ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ exploits them.

Conversations about trust

Less than 20% of people invest their trust ‘blindly’, but less than 20% have had an explicit conversation about trust at work. And if trust is missing, just over 30% say that they are more likely to leave the organisation, whilst the rest say that they are less likely to ‘engage’, to ‘help’ others, or to ‘share’, all of which are key behaviours for the Socially Dynamic Organisation.

The ultimate aim of this work is to baseline what the Landscape of Trust looks like across different organisations, different cultures and sectors, and to use this to target specific interventions to build trust. This will be a project of marginal gains: to have a competitive advantage, we don’t need to double our effectiveness, we simply need to earn progressively more trust, and to squander progressively less: we maybe need a more level landscape, not the pits and troughs of the organisation that cannot maintain ‘trust’ at an invested level.

Part of this work involves looking at the Taxonomy of Trust, across four levels, which run from having ‘no trust’, through to the second level of ‘functional’ trust, the bare minimum we need to run an organisation, then on to ‘invested’ trust, that which we as leaders and future leaders, as Social Leaders of the organisation must seek to build, and finally through to ‘blind’ trust, which may not be a good thing, which can contribute to failed or fractured cultures where there is little permission or incentive to question.

The aim is not to score an organisation or individual on trust, but rather to understand the ways that it is manifest and experienced within any specific organisation, and to understand the ways that we can influence and earn this most valuable of commodities. There are things that we, as leaders and community members, can do to make the organisation more fair, more equal, more worthy of invested trust.

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#WorkingOutLoud on the Landscape and Taxonomy of Trust

Sharing some sketches as i refine my thinking on the emerging Landscape of Trust, and introduce the second element, the taxonomy, the levels of trust. My current thinking is to map the landscape, through a series of survey and narrative exercises, to provide a space that captures the subjective elements that people associate with trust, and any correlated relationships between them (e.g. the relationship between ‘trust’ and ‘reward’). On top of this, i think there are levels of trust, which i am currently mapping from ‘no trust’ through to ‘blind trust’. All of this may evolve.

Landscape of Trust - Taxonomy

Once complete, i hope to be able to baseline any organisation or team against a broad data set, with cultural, sector and regional variants. With the baseline, and an understanding of the invested levels of trust, this should provide indicators of development areas: e.g. if ‘reward’ is flagged as having no trust, whilst Leadership has high invested trust, we can consider change accordingly.

Specifically, this is not intended to be a ‘trust score’, but rather a heat map, indicating areas that are out of alignment. Nor is it intended to be a mechanistic ‘pull this lever to build trust’ exercise: it is, instead, an exploration of nested subjective notions of trust, and an attempt to put a pragmatic and fair framework around it, to allow us to take practical steps to both reflect upon and earn greater trust within an organisation.

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