Captain’s Log Issue #10 – Systemic Change

I’ve started writing a weekly Newsletter: it’s an email group, so old style! I will periodically share it here on the blog, as you may like the variety! You can signup here if interested.

Exploring the Social Age

There is nothing like Disney to make you feel reflective. I’ve spent this week in orbit around the theme parks in Orlando, inhabiting that weirdly distant relationship with reality that this entails. The whole environment is choreographed: the footpaths, lakes, hotels, park benches, fake volcano and dinosaur looming over me at coffee time. Strangely appropriate to have a conference here, as often learning is equally abstract. Interesting, fun, even entertaining, but ultimately lacking any correlation to the real world.

My focus has been on completing the Social Leadership ‘My 1st 100 days’ book and, as I write this, I have one illustration left to do… I will be very happy to get this into production!

In the News

Change is here

Autonomous driving in the news with Intel’s acquisition of Mobileye. I share this because it’s indicative of the Social Age: one the one hand, this technology is here, driverless trucks are crossing Singapore as we speak, yet on the other hand, I recently spoke to an HR director who denied that any ‘machine learning’ system would impact on the job market. We are not prepared for the massive disruption that is on the doorstep: we will need new types of organisation, new relationships with employees, new types of leadership to survive.

A living wage

We have a rather telling conversation in the UK at the moment, where we have a government mandated ‘minimum wage’, and a somewhat higher, socially acceptable, ‘living wage’. Lush, a company I see around the world now, but actually based near to my home, has opted for fairness and social responsibility to its community by adopting the latter. I like it, as it speaks to how organisations must be attuned to their community and, put simply, to share the success:

Doing the homework

A simple story, but I like it because it speaks to Open Data and engaged communities: a schoolboy corrects a NASA data error. It’s on my mind as we launch our Research Hub this month, and I’m thinking about how and why we run an Open Data Model: because we are stronger, engaged to our community.

My writing

I started the week reflecting on the ownership of conversations. As organisations gain access to the co-created thinking of a large population, who owns that story?

My main thinking and writing this week has been around Resilience. I worked up a new session that draws together a number of streams of work, exploring the limitations of formal systems, the strength of empowered communities, and the role of technology. I delivered this session yesterday and it seemed to go down well, so I’ll see where I can take this worth further.

What I’m thinking about

I’m primarily thinking about systemic change at the moment: how we require a holistic pattern of adaptation. Last week I sketched some ideas on Organisational Design with this in mind, the design focussed around purpose, not simply functional entities.

I continue to mull this over. Clearly, community sits at the heart of it, as well as a new mindset towards technology. More fluid, enabling, disposable, adaptive.

As I fly out to Seattle and San Francisco for the next week, I’ll keep working on this. Considering how we find the energy and shared vision to drive systemic change: to build the Socially Dynamic Organisation.

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Resilience: Technology, Community, and Power

I’m working on a new session to deliver this afternoon around resilience in organisations: our ability to become less brittle in the face of asymmetric and unknown disruption. I’m primarily concerned with linking up three separate streams of work: the first concerns Types of Power, with a particular focus on the emergence of networked power, the second concerns technology, specifically how it can buffer disruption, and the third is notions of the Socially Dynamic Organisation, and the diversified strength that it brings.


This is broadly a question of Organisational Design, but not simply in terms of formal hierarchy, assets, and infrastructure. Rather it is a question of capability and connectivity: the degree to which the organisation is able to leverage different facets of strength to achieve greater resilience, to be less brittle.

The Socially Dynamic Organisation

I’ve been doing work around these three areas for a while, but I thought it would be fun to bring them all together and consider how the connected and adaptive organisation, the Socially Dynamic Organisation, will be stronger.

Aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation - Diversified Strength

Communities have great sense making potential: features of social filtering and amplification. I’ve explored this previously in the context of Black Swan type events and the limitations of formal hierarchy to cope with them. Communities can provide us with a sensitive, distributed, sense making capability, and ability to filter weak signals from great noise.

Communities themselves are more powerful because of the evolved types of power we see in the Social Age: individual power, hierarchical power, and the newly emergent networked power which is causing widespread disruption. So if we build greater strength into our social communities, we may be better able to weather disruption. That will require us to navigate the dynamic tension between the formal and social systems: where formal systems prevail, we build massively strong, visible and hierarchical, system and process based strength. Where social systems triumph is through trust-based networks of reputation: sense making entities powered through tacit and tribal knowledge. The Socially Dynamic organisation ties into both and maintains a dynamic tension between the two.

Dynamic Tension

At the end of last year I started sharing some work around emergent technology, innovations and impact, exploring a basket of seven technologies with the potential to make organisations more agile, faster learning, higher performing, so it made sense to link that work into this.

Future State - Resilience

One notion that I’m particularly interested in is that of buffering: this is an adaptive relationship between systems, communities, and types of power, where our understanding of what is being said, by whom, aggregated scale, and learnt from, can be acted upon. This action may include progressively opening up, or damping down, channels of communication. If we have a greater understanding of the impact, the true grounded impact, formal leadership actions and Social Leadership communities, we stand some chance of avoiding the rapid, cascading type, failure that often prevails.


This is future facing work: I will positioning with the group as the kind of strategic thinking that they should be doing to look at the next 3 to 5 years. That’s about the time it takes to change an organisation, to evolve the culture, to become more connected and Socially Dynamic.

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Choose Wisely: Survival Skills for the Social Age

I remember choosing my first Swiss army knife: there was a large cabinet with a choice of about 40 different knives, a bewildering and beguiling selection for a young child. They all had a basic knife: the decision was what else you wanted to include. Scissors, files, screwdrivers, strange tools for sailmaking, a magnifying glass, pliers, and a pen, were just part of the selection on offer. To make a choice was a decision about the future: when the time came, what would I possibly need?

Social Leadership 100 - Skills for the Social Age

In the end I chose a simple knife with two blades, a screwdriver, and a corkscrew, which to my teenage self covered all eventualities. We face a similar decision when we consider what survival skills we will need in the Social Age. We know we all need the knife: the question is, what else will we select? This is one of the illustrations from the Social Leadership first hundred days book. In fact, its illustration 91 out of a hundred, so I’m nearly at the endpoint. It’s an encouragement to budding social leaders to consider what skills they have, and what skills they may need, because the skills that got us here may not be the ones that will get us the rest of the journey.

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Who Owns The Conversations?

Many of the conversations i have in organisations are around engagement, around innovation, around culture. The focus is generally how we generate momentum, generate change. It’s easy to focus on the symptoms, without diagnosing the issue: technology may bring us together, but it does not make a coherent community. Strong leadership may give direction, but it doesn’t necessarily earn trust. Underneath everything is a dynamic of ownership and power: who controls whom? Less about how engagement is desired: more about how it is earned.

Social Leadership 100 - Conversations

With the widespread experimentation in socially collaborative modes of working, where we engage community to help us succeed, we will increasingly have to consider the question of ‘who owns the conversation’.

Time and conversations are different things: my time you can buy in hours, but conversations flow. As we move outside the formal, we cannot assume that models of ownership persist. This is not simply a matter of money: it’s a matter of pride, of control, of fairness. People bring more than their time to a conversations, and we need to recognise contribution with more than money: and as we move beyond, above, simple, transactional purchases of time, we will have to consider ownership and control of conversations.

As our communities become more active, as the problem solving becomes more effective, as the community coheres, who will own it? We can’t mistake technology for space: conversations are highly fluid, agile, mobile. Just because we impart the initial momentum into a community, does not mean that we own the conversation.

Several times last week i spoke to groups carrying out semantic analysis of the chatter in corporate communication channels: aggregated data gleaned from the social chatter of the organisation. It’s becoming ever easier to do that, but that does not make it right to do. Just because we can, does not mean that we should.

Much of the balance in a Socially Dynamic Organisation will come through dialogue, through fairness and evolution. If we want to learn from the conversations within the organisation, we should ask a permission to do so. If we assume that our ownership of space means ownership of words, we risk damaging engagement.

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Investing In Co-Creation

Social Leaders gain strength from the co-creative power of their communities: the support, challenge and perspective that a high functioning community can bring. In Social Learning, we rely on co-creation too: for communities to come together, to learn, to share, to co-create stories. But co-creation itself is not free: it requires fertile conditions to grow, and investment, both by individuals and organisations.

Social Leadership 100 - co-creation

For an individual to engage in a co-creative activity comes at an opportunity cost of the time and effort, and a reputational cost, if their input is not valued. It may come with a social cost, too in certain contexts. Co-creation is an active and challenging process.

For organisations, there is an investment too: they are relinquishing certain control, they have to invest in people, they need to invest in technology and collaborative spaces.

Putting people together does not make a community: and even if we form a community, there is no guarantee that it will invest itself in co-creation. It’s a hard process with a solid legacy, but it’s not necessarily easy or quick.

The best we can do is to create the conditions for success: to put in place the spaces, the permissions, and the social recognition for those who engage.

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Social Leaders Do What’s Right, Not Just Easy

It’s a fine line: working within an organisation we have to fit within certain systems, take certain actions that are governed by the rules and social pressures of the organisation, but ultimately there’s a point where we have to take a stance. Will we do what’s right, or just what’s easy. This is not a conversation about people doing bad things, but rather a conversation about doing the right thing. Within our formal power, in a formal role, we do what needs to be done, but as a Social Leader, if we wish to be worthy of the title that we must earn, then we need to do what’s right.

Social Leadership 100 - Do What's Right

What does this look like? It means actively fighting for equality, striving for fairness in everything we do, and calling it out when we see failures. It means not waiting for requests for help, but anticipating it. It means acting with great authenticity, even when that authenticity takes us into conflict with the organisation itself. Doing what’s right is not always easy, but it is always right.

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People are disenfranchised, left voiceless, for many reasons: convention, gender, permission, poverty, technology (or lack of it), misunderstanding, bullying, bemusement, culture, the list goes on and on. As organisations strive to be more connected, more Social, it’s important to remember that it’s not simply access to technology that can leave us voiceless: it’s normalised inequality, globally differentiated status of gender, and varied legal approaches to homosexuality. The world is neither uniform, not equal, and nor will it ever be.


Social Leaders fight for fairness: part of this battle is through their Social Capital: the ability to thrive in these new spaces and, more importantly, to help others to find their way. To help people find their voice, and to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised through lack of support within the community. It’s easy to focus on the levelling and enabling facets of the Social Age, but for all the ways that technology brings us ever closer, it can just as easily leave us further apart.

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