#WorkingOutLoud on Illustrations for ‘Domain to Dynamic’

Just a short post today: i did not manage to complete the next part of the series exploring the birth of the Socially Dynamic Organisation, but i did finish the illustration to go in it!

It’s a re-drafting of an image i use often, which positions the Organisation as having two aspects, the formal and the social, which exist in a Dynamic Tension. The premise is ‘the best of the old and the best of the new’, meaning that we need to maintain this tension, not collapse it.

This series of articles are allowing me to create a lot of new imagery, but also redraw some in the same style, which will give me content to build out a Guidebook about the Socially Dynamic Organisation next year.

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Domain to Dynamic [Pt 5]: the Organisation as Story and Belief

This is the fifth in a series of pieces entitled ‘From Domain to Dynamic’. Collectively they explore a new model of Organisational Design that moves beyond hierarchy, infrastructure, and control, and into social collaboration, communities, and Individual Agency at scale. In my broader work, i refer to this adapted entity as a Socially Dynamic Organisation, and explore how we will bring it into existance.

In the first article i gave a definition of an Organisation as a mechanism of collectivism to achieve effect at scale, and looked at how it built ‘domains’ to support this (and how everything else, from education to career was shaped in this image), and in the second we looked at the context of the Social Age and the way that emergent forces act upon these Domain Organisations. The third piece considered how we can move from a notion of Codified Strength (held formally) to Individual Agency (held socially and individually), and the fourth piece considered the idea of the ‘Porcelain Organisation’: one that holds incredible codified strength, but which shatters under emergent and un-modelled threat.

Today we will look through a different lens: many Organisations understand the need for change, and many are in the midst of large, complex, and expensive, efforts to adapt: from ‘digital fitness’, through ‘ways of working’, to ‘social learning’ and so on, they can see a shiny future. But many will fail to reach it, because they are locked into structure of power, consensus, and belief, that will ultimately hold them back. Good Organisations, full of good people, but failing, because they are structurally constrained (and often willingly so).

The route through this is to unhitch ourselves from these older structures: to disassociate power from position, to disconnect hierarchy from place, to deconstruct infrastructure from control. And to understand that this process of loss is actually the foundation of gain: you cannot change without giving a great deal away, but the prize is even greater. A Socially Dynamic Organisation is strong not through infrastructure and formal power alone, but rather through it’s people, and the overlapping social structures that permeate throughout it.

Building the Socially Dynamic Organisation

A Socially Dynamic Organisation is not simply an evolution into a new state, it is a parallel emergence into one. The best of the old, the best of the new.

Start with this position: an Organisation is a legal entity, with possessions, but also a series of stories. The ‘things’ give a context of existence: architecture in the physical domain segregates and sanctifies space, whilst both websites and social media profiles do similar in the digital one, but without the context of a third spatial dimension. So the phallic towers of Wall Street or Canary Wharf separate space and securely consecrate it, but the way we perceive them in culture, the stories we write about them, are where that power is held.

The very terms ‘Silicon Valley’, the ‘Bronx’, or ‘Rust Belt’, apply both geolocation and context to power, as indeed to some extent to the domains .ac, .gov, or .mil. But in the model of parallel existence, there is the location, and then there is the narrative. And in the context of the Social Age, the narrative is the harder one to control, not least because it is not yours to control, and there is not one, but many, of them.

An Organisation is a story that it tells (it’s written history, it’s induction and onboarding story, it’s legal records and published work, etc), and also that story that is told about it (customer reviews, testimonials, urban myths, alumni narratives, media coverage, personal narratives etc).

But those narratives just set the scene: on the inside, the Organisation is an entity of belief, held in the stories that are told by every individual: the job that they do, the pride that they feel, and the space (individual agency) that they have to operate within. As i have said before, stories carry within themselves a type of violence: they can empower and enable, or they can be imposed upon us as a limitation of space. They can constrain and control us, often by marginalising or characterising us in a way that is hard to counter.

So why is this web of storytelling important?

Largely because the move from Domain to Dynamic is not simply a formal transition in the physical realm: it is a transition of belief in the spiritual one! It is the fracturing of one narrative and the potential space for a new one to emerge. So in this view, change happens both structurally, and conceptually, at the same time in the same space, but with one view imposed by formal power, and the second one created collaboratively by the community itself, all underpinned by the individual narratives of every individual who forms part of the collective.

SO an Organisation is a collective belief: the story that it projects, the stories that are told about it, the consensual narrative of the internal teams, and the individual stories of belief and space of operation felt by every individual.

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Prototyping the Community Builder Action Cards

The second book i wrote about Social Leadership is called ‘My 1st 100 Days’: it does not deal with the overarching concept, or a detailed model, but rather is centred around ‘action days’, and activities that take less than five minutes to do, but which are done every day, and each of which provide experience of Social Leadership in action, or the reflective space to build understanding. It’s a model of ‘theory into action’, where overthinking things can be a hindrance. I kind of like writing in both spaces: about ideas, and about pragmatic action. In that vein, through this year i have been prototyping approaches to doing something similar around my Community Building work.

The Community Builder Guidebook, and Trust Guidebook, have explored the research into Communities and broader social structures, as well as some practical guidance on how to nurture and grow them, but i wanted to build out a really distributed and practical tool.

I have not been confident of the time to write another 100 Days book right now (the experience of crowd funding and illustrating that last one was quite a shock to the system), or at least, not yet. And in any event, there is one specific mechanism of Communities that i want to tie into: social currencies, and the trading of these. So a trading card game seemed appropriate.

Thus were born the Community Builder Action Cards: over 100 of them so far, of which i hope to end up with a tested deck of 52.

The idea is simple: within a Community, somebody is nominated as the Dealer: they hold the deck and hand out one card to each member. People can they either play the card, or trade it. Some cards you are allowed to trade back to the dealer, others you can only trade after you have played them, and some you just get to keep.

A couple of years ago i prototyped a not dissimilar deck around Social Leadership, where we used QR codes to scan and track the actual cards through a Community. I may revisit that when i can shift these to a digital format, perhaps trading through an App, but for now, they are physical. Pleasantly real.

The trick with these things is to make them easy to action, but challenging enough, fun to use, but also provocative. But not too provocative… hence the need to prototype in both open and closed communities.

When i comes to Community Building, the likelihood is that the cards themselves are really a proxy for ‘connection’. Almost every card requires you to have a conversation with a Community you know, or one that you do not, with a person you are familiar with, or with a stranger. A few are reflective, and some are explicitly directive, but most provide a space, provocation, context, and opportunity, to act and learn.

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The Porcelain Organisation [Domain to Dynamic Pt 4]

This is the fourth in a series of articles exploring the evolution of Organisations, from ‘Domain’ to ‘Dynamic’. In the early pieces we explored the origin and evolution of Organisations, how they evolved from an Industrial Age heritage, and built out the familiar hierarchy, structure, and mechanisms of effect that we see around us today. I introduced the notion of the Social Age, and the pressures that this exerts upon the older Domain structure, and yesterday discussed the tension between Codified Strength and Individual Agency. Today i am going to expand on a term i have used recently to describe the brittle hierarchy: the Porcelain Organisation.

Domain Organisations hold great compressive strength: through their systems and process, hierarchy and infrastructure, through their codified knowledge and institutional strength: through their great people, aligned to face a challenge that they understand well.

Through this series of articles, i have outlined how that challenge is changing, and the need for Organisations to adapt, at the level of their very DNA: not a ‘known change’ to thrive within a ‘known space’, but rather to change in new and novel ways, to adapt to a challenge that is not yet fully understood. The notion of the Porcelain Organisation is one that lets us explore that challenge.

A Porcelain Organisation possesses a great strength within that known space: ceramics are hard crystalline structures that can bear great weight. Running head on into competition, into known markets, within well understood regulatory and broader legal and financial structures, they are able to win. But hit from the side, they can shatter.

What does this force look like?

The forces of the Social Age that i outlined earlier are part of this: fragmentation of career (hence displacement of loyalty into emergent social structures), emergent community (hence devolved and rebalanced power between formal and social systems), diversified technology (hence weakening of formal infrastructure in favour of social moderated, owned, and trusted channels) etc. But there is more: un-modelled risk, ambiguity, asymmetric shock market fragmentation, and abstraction.

Our risk managed Organisations run on an assumption of understanding risk. And they often do, within the known space. But as Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s work has clearly demonstrated, it is the ‘unknown unknowns’ that kill us, and risk modelling is a remarkably arrogant exercise. Much of the true risk is held in things that do not feel ‘risky’ to a traditional Organisation. Look at Peloton, manufacturer of high end exercise bikes, that yesterday wiped 9% off it’s share value by tweeting a Christmas Ad that runs counter to the empowered women’s zeitgeist of the day.

Formal and hierarchical systems love certainty and kinetic action, but cannot abide ambiguity (i have previously shared my broad research on this in the writing on Black Swans and the limits of formal hierarchy). But it is in ambiguity that we may find the weak voices that we need to hear.

Asymmetric shock relates to the rebalanced power: the blows that rain down upon the Organisation may not be hard, in the normal sense, but can stun us because they carry a different type of power. Authentic action can shock the Domain Organisation.

Underlying markets, the very conception and concept of Domains, is being challenged by new connective and democratising technology: will notions of ‘financial services’, or even ‘healthcare’ survive, or be replaced by new organising principles? Many of our existing Domains describe utility, but we live in an age of experience.

Related to this is Abstraction, which i explored in a broader article last year on ‘modes of failure’: abstraction is where the market takes an existing packaged offering, and fragments it, extending the value chain, and abstracting the original player into irrelevance. It’s a slow death.

The attitude that many Organisations have is to change in known ways: they understand the evolved context, and need for change, but try to change on known terms, and often terms that preserve existing structure and power. But a Dynamic Organisation will be fundamentally evolved, which i will explore in subsequent articles.

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Domain to Dynamic: A New Model of Organisational Design [Pt 3] – Codified Strength to Individual Agency

This is the third in a series of articles charting the evolution of Organisations ‘from Domain to Dynamic’. In the first piece i discussed the evolution of Organisations, and the way they built out Domains and Hierarchy, as mechanisms of scale and safety. In the second piece i explored the forces of the Social Age that act upon these Organisations. Today i will consider why we need to move beyond the codified strength of the Domain Org, and into a model of Individual Agency, connected up at scale.

The Domain Organisation is tremendously strong, when facing known contexts. But also it is typically curious about moving beyond this ‘known strength’. As the forces of the Social Age erode historic power, and recontextualise legacy strength, we see an increased interest in the language of agility and fluidity: sometimes expressed as a capability to change, to transform, to become ‘digital’, to upskill, to evolve. All of this language means to be more fit: to be better, to be suited to this new context of the Social Age, but my contention is that this is not simply a matter of known change in a known space. Instead, it’s a matter of building a fundamentally new type of Organisation in a fundamentally new space. Moving beyond Domain, to Socially Dynamic.

I will explore what this means in greater depth in a subsequent post, but today i want to talk about Individual Agency.

Agency is both the ability, and motivation, to operate: it is your space to play. In that legacy Organisation, your agency was contextualised within a Domain, and within a hierarchy: you were limited both by power and space, but in the context of the Social Age, neither truly applies anymore.

We have agency, claimed socially, even if not granted formally.

When Organisations describe being more agile, having an ability to collaborate socially, to unlock the tacit and tribal wisdom of their Community, they are talking about Individual Agency, and space to engage. But what they do not always consider is the price of this engagement, and the factors that will drive it underground.

In the simplest of language, Individual Agency is an ability to help shape the future space, and a freedom to find a way to invest yourself within it.

So it’s a co-created model of change, and a collaborative model of engagement.

But to have this, we need to foster the conditions in which it can occur: conditions of power, space, opportunity, structure, and reward.

Factors like collaboration, creativity, innovation, and agility, do not happen in the abstract of the background context, or in absence of process or control. But the systems that they take place within may not be formally owned or moderated. So even the most liberated individual is constrained by norms of culture and doubt, consequence and judgement.

Perhaps a useful language is to consider scaffolding; scaffolding allows us to construct a building, but it is not the building itself. It enables.

If we want to unlock Individual Agency at scale, we may need to build out the scaffolding to support it, but not try to own it.

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Domain to Dynamic: A New Model of Organisational Design [Pt 2] – Forces of the Social Age

Yesterday i started a new series exploring the need for a new model of Organisational Design: the move from the Domain Organisation, to the Socially Dynamic one. I introduced a definition of an Organisation as an entity of ‘collectivism’ to achieve ‘effect at scale’, and the specific mechanisms that it used to achieve this: ‘consistency’, ‘conformity’, and ‘replicability’. This Industrial Age paradigm has served us well, building out distinct ‘Domains’: HR, Manufacturing, Quality Assurance, IT, Legal, Logistics, and so on. All the structure of the modern Organisation, and permeating throughout it, a hierarchy, which codifies the power and consequence that enable it to run. Today, i want to consider how the reality of the Social Age has eroded the value of this model, and to consider how the balance of needs has changed.

I’ve written extensively about the context of the Social Age, but to capture a few core tenets, we can see that this evolved ecosystem exerts pressure on the Domain based Organisation in many different ways.

The fractured Social Contract means that ‘Organisation’ is no longer the backbone of ‘Career’: your social network, empowered at scale, is taking over that function, and increasingly both learning, and opportunity, exist outside of the Organisation you are contracted into. Similarly, your authentic leadership, and reputation based power are validated outside of the formal structure, again at greater scale (and hence with greater resilience) than ever before. Essentially we inhabit a parallel democratised infrastructure, which enables us in many ways, all of which are beyond oversight or control.

I often lead a conversation about the Social Age by describing the radical connectivity we experience, again almost all of which exists beyond formal oversight or control, and with great resilience. And radical connectivity is not simply about remaining connected: it’s a conduit of power, held in distributed reputation and knowledge based structures, which differ from formal infrastructure not simply in WHERE they exist, but in their multi dimensional nature. HOW they exist: our social networks are multi dimensional in that we inhabit multiple different concurrent structures (in the NHS in our research in 2018 they inhabited ‘belonging’ to an average of fifteen different communities that helped them to be effective).

This nature of connection also fosters a feature of Emergent Community, whereby in times of need, we are primed to aggregate into short term communities of intent or interest. These may be transient, but can be powerful, and in nature may not purely be consensus based, but rather oppositional: in other words, communities that come together to oppose something, then disperse to be held in potential.

Map of the Social Age 2019

The diversified technology of the Social Age also exerts significant pressure on Organisations, which historically have viewed technology as a formally controlled aspect, and a mechanism of control in itself. People describe in our own Landscape of Trust research that they ‘trust’ formal technology around 30% less than they trust ‘social’ tech: one emergent feature of this democratised availability and usage of technology is that weak voices can claim a space and volume. Instead of the printing press letting us print pamphlets to nail to the church door, we can create blogs, podcasts, subversive videos, and viral communities at scale, all claimed as communities of intent.

A fundamental of the Social Age is the rebalanced power that this gives us: rebalanced generally in favour of the individual, and at the cost of the formal system. You can understand just about any system in terms of power, and the outlook for Organisations that rely on hierarchy alone is bleak. Engagement is a currency that must be earned in the context of the Social Age.

In terms of Organisational focus, social collaboration is of great interest: it’s seen as a way of mining the collective wisdom and brilliance of the people who we have already hired. And it is: but there is a price to be paid, and we have to understand the cost. It’s typically paid in social currencies, and through opportunity and access. Engagement is not something we can demand, so we need to learn how to earn it.

That’s a snapshot of forces that impact the Domain Organisation, which is ill equipped to respond. The issue is not that it lacks strength: it just hold the wrong type of strength, a topic i shall explore further tomorrow.

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Domain to Dynamic: A New Model of Organisational Design [Pt 1]

The design of our Organisations of today is largely a legacy of industrial design, and the search for effectiveness at scale: it is a model that has served us well into the Digital Age, but may fall short in the Social one. This week i am writing several pieces to explore this evolution as we move from ‘Domain’ to ‘Dynamic’, from ‘Control’ to ‘Connection’, from ‘Fixed’ to ‘Fluid’. This is a #WorkingOutLoud post that draws upon concepts and context that i have been building out over the last few years, so i am linking our to existing material where relevant.

Let me start by sharing one view of what a modern Organisation is, as a relic of our industrial heritage. Organisations can be described in two ways: they are entities of collectivism, to achieve effect at scale. An Organisation brings together a diverse group of people, according to an overall plan, and uses them to achieve a specific effect at larger scale. Central to this is that the specialism, and collective effort, can achieve more than an individual or collection of individuals. It’s an additive model.

They achieve this specific idea of ‘effect at scale’ through consistency, conformity, and replicability: consistency is a notion of quality scaled up, conformity is a production value that allows assembly line and handover, and replicability allows for globalisation and scale.

In parallel with this, or to achieve this, we end up with hierarchy, and domain: hierarchy is a structure to hold power, drive consistency (punish deviation), achieve conformity (exclude divergence), and replicability (oversight and reporting). I should stress that all of this is a very good thing indeed: this is not about control by megalomaniacs and freaks, but rather the most sensible mechanisms to drive quality and productivity through distributed systems.

Domain relates to a system of education and empire: we structure our education systems to feed the domains of our dominant Organisational design, and we also nest within these, building out networks and knowledge based power. Domains are not fluid social structures, but rather more permanent tribal ones. Once we are invested in a domain through education and tenure, we are invested in maintaining it: this is why i usually say that the constraint we feel in trying to change is held largely by good people doing good work, within systems that radically reward them for continuing to do so without changing.

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