5 Elements of Curation in Social Leadership

I wrote about Curation in Social Leadership yesterday in preparation for a webinar that I’m delivering tomorrow: having introduced five elements, space, content, stories, reputation, and values, today I’m going to build those out a little further. In the context of Social Leadership, Curation is the first step. It’s about finding things out and determining what is valid from what is just noise. It’s about identifying networks and communities and seeing where the nodes and amplifiers sit. It’s about quality and coherence, not simply volume and mass.

Curation in Social Leadership

The first step to developing Social Leadership is to choose our space. This is the foundation, it gives us the rock upon which to build, because we have to start somewhere, and we need to achieve focus. The foundation is not the end of the journey, it’s what we build upon, so we are not constraining ourselves, but rather starting to shape our own development pathway. For example, I may wish to start by being a great project manager, but that doesn’t mean that I will ultimately build my reputation around that. It simply means that I will start by trying to build a reputation there, learning how to master the skills of Social Leadership.

Curation in Social Leadership

When we choose the space, we also set the rules: it’s a core principle of Social Leadership that we take active control over what may otherwise be accidental. What are the principles by which we will behave, and by which we will react. For example, around the block I have a specific set of principles which I have written about before: to always be positive, to share examples well I’m suggesting that things could be better, to never be negative about people or their work without engaging constructively, to always respond to comments and questions. I may not always achieve this, but I strive hard to get there, because our reputation is earned over time, and it is over time that we need to strive to build it.

We choose the stance that we will take: will we be drawing upon all of our varied sources of power, or specific ones. Will we seek to connect people, will we seek to bring in new sources of knowledge, will we tell personal stories or bring in stories from elsewhere in the network? The stance we take is something we can actively choose and in parallel to that is the attitude that we bring. It’s okay to be the comedian, to be serious, even to be challenging, and highly assertive, but we should recognise that this is a conscious choice in our Curation. If you are trying to cultivate a reputation for quality, the misuse of comedy may be a mistake. And all the time remembering, that we are trying to oust the signal not the noise, so unless we are specifically curating a light-hearted reputation, we may want to think twice before sharing amusing cat pictures.

Of course, if our space chosen is to unify the community, to bring people together, then cat pictures may be precisely what you need. It’s simply a matter of conscious choice rather than random effort. I realise I’m at risk of making Curation sound like it’s no fun, and whilst that’s not my intention, there is a serious intent to this: role of social leaders is to make their organisations better, more fair, more equal. It’s to question and challenge. So there is a serious side to it.

Curation in Social Leadership

In a traditional view of Curation, we think about content: this is after all where we derive the context from. Victorian curators with long grey beards and top hats, roaming the land acquiring artefacts to take back to their wood panelled museums. Librarians curating a collection, consciously selecting books which fits within their category. It’s an active process of selection, we don’t Curate everything, but rather a subset of the whole.

In that context, we should consider the sources that we draw upon: in the CEDA model, which explores the health of Social Learning communities, we look at bias. Is there a bias in what we curate? For example, is everything that we share from the Harvard business review? Or from Wikipedia? There’s nothing wrong with the sources that we use, but we should recognise that if we always quote the same sources, we us are assuming the bias of those journals and sources. When we look more widely across the community, does everybody share that bias?

We can also look at the style: do we always curate written articles, or sometimes videos? Is all of our content long, or is some of it short? Most importantly, is it aligned with the space that we have chosen? It’s all very well choosing a space as a conscious activity, but if what we curate is not aligned with it, or at the very least if we do not attempt to align it with context, then we are already diluting our own space. Does what we curate fit the reputation we are trying to build?

Curation in Social Leadership

When I talk about stories in Curation, I’m talking about the stories that we curate, not the stories that we use to share into our networks, which comes later in the Social Leadership model. Consider the types of stories: do we just curate formal stories, stories from the formal voice of the organisation, from formal channels, well produced, but ultimately abstract, and possibly lacking authenticity, or do we curate social stories, likely to be untidy, more multitudinous, but highly authentic, at least if we curate effectively!

Do stories have a cultural bias? In a global organisation, we always curating stories from the US? Or Dubai? Or Mumbai? Or do the stories themselves perpetuate stereotypes? This can play both ways: certainly I’ve worked with a team before where feedback was that we could not show a woman as a manager, because in that organisation, no women were managers. That represented a cultural norm in the society where the stories were being shared. We’ll revisit this when we think about values: what if we are unable to share the stories that we know to be authentic? As social leaders, fighting for what’s right, what do we do when there is no universal notion of right?

Do our stories align with the existing culture of the organisation? Or are they countercultural? Sometimes there is great value in countercultural stories, it opens up a space and a permission for other people to share ideas that we may benefit from. Indeed, there are times when we need subversive stories, stories that challenge the hierarchy and status quo of the organisation.

Subversion is key for the Socially Dynamic organisation: an ability to hear not only the voices that it wants to hear, but to hear the voices that it needs to hear. Part of our role as curators may be to surface those voices, either the voices that we hear in the social spaces of the organisation, or those that we hear in a wider community that need to be shared. Amplification is a feature of the Social Age, but it’s not simply our role to passively hope other people amplify our stories, when it’s right, when it’s aligned with the space that we have chosen, we must amplify those of others, especially when there are important stories that need to be heard.

We can curate stories that reinforce the position of the organisation, actively seeking out a range of evidence for the path we are taking, but of course, only doing so if we genuinely believe that the evidence is correct. If we choose stories to shore up a course of action that we do not believe in, we are acting without authenticity.

Curation in Social Leadership

Later in the Social Leadership model, we look at reputation, and the way it is earned through our action. Whilst considering Curation, we should nevertheless think about reputation: if we curate our space carefully, choose the right content, and share the right stories, we can impact our reputation, but if we fail, a reputation will be imposed upon us. Reputation is earned, it’s not determined simply by what we share. In a separate body of work, I’m looking at the Landscape of Trust, as social leaders we wish to be trusted, and we must curate the reputation that will support that.

Inevitably, we will get things wrong: reputation is not fixed, we do not choose a reputation, earn it, and then wear it like a badge forever. Part of our own learning journey is to recognise that the space we wish to inhabit will be fluid: sometimes we all make mistakes, and that will impact upon our reputation. It’s at times like that that our ability to have mastered Social Leadership, to have invested in our community over time, will pay dividends. If we fight, and bluster, against the community for judging us, we will make little progress: instead we must engage in the conversation and learn how to do better. And if this sounds hard, remember that humility is one of the foundations of Social Leadership, and humility must be lived, not simply claimed.

Curation in Social Leadership

Finally let’s consider values: there are two types of values within organisations, those that are stated, highly abstract, and aspirational, and those which are lived. As social leaders we must live our values: if we simply subscribe to aspirational values, we are not only perpetuating an inauthentic organisational stance, but we are also eroding our own reputation and authenticity.

Authenticity is quite the buzzword, but not an overly complex topic to grasp. Authenticity is a lived value, it can never be an aspirational one. But to be an authentic social leader may take us into opposition with certain formal positions: indeed in the Landscape of Trust work I look at how there is a gap between our intent and our actions, where we can fall away from authentic.

Curation is the first of nine steps toward Social Leadership: there is a whole chapter on this within the Social Leadership Handbook, but in the work here I’ve tried to develop new ideas around it. The webinar tomorrow is focused very much practitioners, so I’m hoping that much of the conversation will be about the ‘how to do this’ part.

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Curation in Social Leadership

I’m working up some ideas for a webinar later this week on ‘Curation’ in Social Leadership: this is the first of the nine components in the NET model of Social Leadership and forms the foundation. There’s a whole chapter on it in the Social Leadership Handbook, but for the webinar I wanted to draw out some new ideas. I’m going to focus on five aspects of curation: the space we curate, the content we curate, the stories we use, our reputation, and the values we represent.

Curation in Social Leadership

Curation is the first step towards Social Leadership: it’s where we take a stance and choose our space, where we set our foundations, but it’s also a skill in itself, where we gather the things that we will share and ensure they are aligned with our core purpose. I’m developing slides around each of these five aspects which I will share later this week.

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Exploring the Triangle of Trust

Last week I introduced the Triangle of Trust as a way of looking at how we can apply the Landscape of Trust work: it’s intended to be used as a developmental framework where we explore the relationship between values, intention, actions, and impact. Today, I want to just take a look at the types of relationships that exist between the separate elements.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

We start with intention: any given situation what is it my intention to achieve. My intention may map closely against my own individual Landscape of Trust, certainly it is closely informed by it. There is a gap between intention and action: intention is internal, moderated by our values and views of trust, whilst action is subject to external pressure and cultural pressure. Our intention can be swamped by these dominant factors before it reaches actions.

For example, I may intend to do something one way, the pressure from the organisation, either in terms of processes, rules, or tacit understanding, may direct me to take different action, action which is unaligned with my core values and intent. I may be entirely aware that this is the case, for this is the cost of being within a culture. There is therefore no direct correlation between intention and action.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

Actions are broadcast into the world, and they have an impact. The broadcast nature of action directly impacts the individual, so action is causal of impact, but not deterministic. Impact is internally moderated: how I feel about something is the impact that it has, or at least part of it. Whatever action you take, you can never fully control the impact it has, hence, it is not deterministic.

The relationship between impact and intention is decidedly loose, indeed we could argue there is often no link whatsoever. Values feed intention, intention informs action, but does not determine it, action causes impact, but equally is not deterministic of it, so quite clearly intention is not deterministic of impact. There is no causality necessarily, because intention may have been entirely derailed by external cultural pressure before we even get to action.

In some instances, intention may directly cause impact, whilst in others, there is no causation at all. Essentially, what we see, is that this is unpredictable. Within the Triangle of Trust work, this is really the point: being well-intentioned may have little or no correlation on impact. We sometimes work on the notion that our values are connected to the values of other people, whilst in fact it is our impact which is directly felt by other people, and it is the impact of other people that we feel most directly ourselves.

A mistake is to believe that impact relates to intent.

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12 Aspects of the Social Age

In the Social Age, everything has changed. The Social Contract between organisation and individual is fractured, the nature of work is changing, we’ve seen the democratisation of communication and the devolution of creativity, with the old structures of power and control replaced by socially moderated and dynamic forms of Social Leadership. I’m developing an online course for individuals who wish to build a broad understanding of the Social Age. Initially this will likely be a series of webinars and discussion spaces. Today I’m working on the outline of these and sharing it in the spirit of #WorkingOutLoud

The ecosystem of the Social Age 2016

The structure of these will be a 15 minute presentation and 45 minutes of discussion, with a co-created story being written out of each session, true to the dynamic nature of knowledge in the Social Age. Every story should be different, but each cohort can learn from the others.

Aspect 1: the Social Contract

In the Social Age, the relationship between organisation and individual is substantially different. The Social Contract itself has been fractured largely through the actions of many organisations over many years, treating people as collateral, and damaging the trust. In a world without careers, or rather with careers which are driven by us as individuals, surrounded by and supported by our communities, it’s down to organisations to earn a new kind of trust if they want our engagement.

In this session, we will explore the nature of the Social Contract in the Social Age, and consider how leaders and organisations more widely can work to develop a new type of contract, and hence a new type of engagement, based upon trust.

Aspect 2: the Nature of Work

In the old world, we worked in an office. In the Social Age, we work everywhere, or, more specifically, we work in places that let us be productive, collaborative, connected, and comfortable. Good coffee and free Wi-Fi are likely more important than a fancy office and access to the printer. Organisations should focus less on creating the perfect work environment and more on creating space for people to work in ways that they decide work best. There is not likely to be one answer to a question that involves so many people, so the solution may be to provide greater space and freedom for people to choose for themselves.

All of this requires a relinquishing of traditional mechanisms of control, where part of work was to be seen to be working, and part of leadership was to exert the power of leading. To make an organisation fit for the Social Age, we need to adapt the very nature of work and answer some key questions: what are we doing because we’ve just always done it, what are we controlling, because we just feel better if we are in control, and what spaces are we hanging onto simply because we have a legacy mindset where space equals power?

In this session, we’ll explore the new Nature of Work, and consider how organisation should adapt.

Aspect 3: Social Capital

Social Capital is our ability to survive and thrive in the new world, specifically in online collaborative spaces and Social Learning communities. We must develop populations of Social Leaders who themselves have high social capital, fighting for fairness and equality, nurturing and developing communities, and building a form of authority based upon their reputation. Those Social Leaders must then develop high social capital and others, ensuring no gap opens up between those who are enabled by new technologies and ways of working, and those who are left behind.

The NET Model of Social Leadership 2nd Edition - Social Capital

This is particularly important in global organisations, where we are separated not simply by geography, but by differentiated legal, moral, and ethical frameworks. It is the role of the Social Leader to navigate this space and ensure that nobody is left behind.

In this session we will consider what social capital is, how it is formed, how it is squandered, and how we create conditions for it to be built.

Aspect 4: Authenticity

As formal power is eroded by the impact of the Social Age, with its democratised webs of communication and socially moderated authority, authenticity becomes key. Authenticity is about the honesty of one’s own actions, and the integrity of the foundations upon which those actions are taken. Authenticity cannot be bought, only earned.

Spotlight on the Social Age - Authenticity

The Social Age sees two spaces: the formal world, governed by formal rules, and the social world that surrounds it. In social spaces, its authenticity, and specifically the authenticity of our stories, which enables them to be amplified, and hence for our reputation to be built.

In this session we will explore what authenticity is, how you earn it, how it relates to storytelling, and how organisations themselves can be authentic in their actions if they wish to generate engagement.

Aspects 5: Social Learning

Unheard wisdom is that which is hidden within our communities, out of sight of the organisation, embedded within the tacit, tribal knowledge that is both hard earned and almost entirely invisible. To be Socially Dynamic, an organisation needs to evolve its learning approach to be more social, still utilising formal aspects, the formal story that the organisation wants to tell, but incorporating increased social aspects, the experience that is lived within the community itself.

Unheard Wisdom

In this session we will explore what social learning is, how organisations can take this understanding on board and evolve the learning function, and the core skills required for people to thrive in Social Learning spaces. This includes skills around storytelling, sense making, challenging, and sharing.

Aspects 6: Social Leadership

Social Leadership is a form of authority that is founded upon our reputation, earned within community. It’s socially moderated, granted to us by the community itself, and taken away just as easily. It’s a form of authority that is earned over time the consistency and integrity of our actions, and it directly challenges formal authority.

10 Reasons For Social Leadership

In formal spaces, we can rely upon formal authority, as organisations adopt social learning approaches, and require greater collaboration to be successful, much of which takes place in social spaces, Social Leadership will come to the fore.

In this session we will explore the foundations of Social Leadership, and also explore the conditions for success.

Aspects 7: Democratised Publishing

The Social Age has seen change in many industries, few more so than publishing: it used to be that owning the printing presses, the mechanism of production, and the methods of distribution, meant that we owned the power and control, but today, through the impact of technology and the rise of community, that is no more. Today, anyone can publish, outside the control of any organisation (and also outside the support of the type of editorial development that that relationship may have given), but fully within sight of the community.

I am in a bookshop

It’s the community that will judge what is good or bad, and crucially it is the community that will amplify and spread the stories that we publish. In this session we will explore aspects of the democratisation of publishing, how it relates to reputation and Social Leadership.

Key to understanding the impacts of democratised publishing to understand the formality or social nature of the different channels through which we publish, not simply from a technical viewpoint, but how they relate to authenticity and even trust.

Aspect 8: Trust

Within a formal hierarchy power is codified into the structure itself: within a social community, it’s codified into trust, and trust is a fickle and subjective thing. The type of trust held between two individuals is different from that held between an individual and the organisation they work for, and different again from the type of trust we hold in things, technologies, and spaces. We need to understand how trust is earned, and how trust is broken. In the Social Age, trust has become a golden currency, not one that can be minted, or bestowed, but rather one which must be earned.

The Landscape of Trust - Flavours of Culture

In this session we will explore some of the work around the Landscape of Trust, particularly looking at the relationship between trust and its partner currency of mistrust. We can have a situation where we have both trust and mistrust, and it sits with us to understand how the two work together or lead to disconnect.

We look at some of the original research and narrative accounts of trust and consider what we can do individually and organisationally to create conditions where trust is earned. This will help us to build the Socially Dynamic organisation, one that is truly fit for the Social Age.

Aspects 9: Fairness

Some things that used to be considered soft now, in fact, hard. Fairness may be one of these, were previously we thought it was something that was nice to have, but that hard power would carry the day, today, in social spaces, it is fairness it will act as the foundation for the reputation that we earn and therefore the power that we can wield. Fairness, because that Social Authority is consensual.

Mosaic of Fairness

We need every conversation to be fair, not just the big ones

Fairness can act as a moderating force in many types of encounter: it’s something we should apply in the day-to-day, not simply something that should be written in corporate values. In this session we will explore the relationship between Social Leadership and fairness, and also introduce the framework for fairness, a model which allows us to consider the gap between intention and impact.

Aspect 10: Humility

In a broadcast model of authority, where those who shouted loudest were most likely to be heard, humility was less likely to be important: in the Social Age, our reputation will be founded upon our willingness to help others succeed, to act with fairness and kindness, to earn trust, and promote equality. Our strength will come from our community, and the relationships that we forge within it: not transactional relationships, where we expect reciprocity in the moment, but rather an investment of our time and energy in other people and the community itself.

Humility in Leadership

In this session, we will explore how humility it is important when dealing with community, how it directly reinforces the fact that the knowledge itself is spread through the community, and we will only be able to access this tacit and tribal knowledge if we earn the right. We are unlikely to earn it through bluster and strength alone.

Aspect 11: Community

The Social Age has seen the rise of community: many different communities, some formal, some social, and many lying in between. Some of these communities are visible to us, whilst others are out of sight, some are open, available for anyone to join, whilst others are exclusive, open only to a few. Some communities thrive and are active, whilst others are a community in name only,, dusty remnants of long gone conversations.

Social Leadership - Community - Location

In this session we will explore the different types of community, look at how communities are important in Social Learning, Social Leadership, and in the building of the Socially Dynamic organisation. We will consider the role of technology in facilitating community, whilst understanding the technology will not give us community in itself. Finally, we will explore how organisations must create space for community to emerge, and nurture it as it does so.

Aspect 12: co-creation and storytelling

Stories spread throughout our communities, different types of stories in different spaces serving different purposes. Some of these are formal stories, pushed through the network, whilst others are cocreated by the community itself. Some are individual stories we choose to share or which remain hidden forever. In this session we will explore co-creation, particularly the co-creation of stories, the benefit we can get through the process, how these stories spread and are amplified, and the relationship between formal and social stories.


We will learn about amplification, and the ways that we can create conditions for stories to spread through our network. We will understand about social filtering and social moderation, and how these forces shape the co-creation of stories.

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4 Flavours of Culture: Potential, Fractured, Functional, Invested

At the end of a long week, rounding up by sharing something about ‘four flavours of culture’, built out of the semiotic square i shared earlier int eh week. For me, this was something of a breakthrough: starting to consider two aspects: ‘trust’ and ‘mistrust’ as separate things. I had already been clear that i was considering a spectrum of ‘trust’ to ‘no trust’, not a sense that there was an ‘opposite’ to trust. But now i’m looking at it as parallel structures: so you have have ‘trust’ and you can have ‘mistrust’, and that the two may coexist.

The Landscape of Trust - Flavours of Culture

This diagram illustrates the two dimensions, with Trust running top left to bottom right, from high to low, and crossing it is the second axis that shows Mistrust, running top right to bottom left, again, from high to low. This gives us four spaces to plot in.

If we have high trust, and simultaneously have high mistrust, then we may have a ‘functional’ culture: a functional culture is one that may deliver, but has low investment of trust, and hence low ability to adapt. A functional culture is a kind of baseline: we can operate a business in a functional state, but it’s not going to win any races.

If we have high trust, and no mistrust, then we have an invested culture: people are willing to take risks, because the level of trust is clear. An invested culture is what we want: whilst we may never achieve a fully invested culture, this is why i talk about ‘incremental gains’, of marginal returns: even edging into this space will give benefits.

No mistrust and no trust may seem like a good thing: it’s a space of potential. But it may be highly unstable: when the baseline is nothing, we may easily tip straight (and deeply) into either invested or fractured states. So potential, but not without risk.

High mistrust with no trust is a dangerous place to be: the culture is fractured, even if we can’t see the cracks: they are internal, because with no trust, we know that people are less likely to share, to help, to engage. It’s hard to shift a fractured culture, and hard to drive change against this backdrop.

As i develop the Landscape of Trust research, i’m looking to be able to plot the results against this (or whatever grows out of this). Using this as the metric, we can explore how to shift the points, how to nudge the culture: either from functional to invested, or simply from fractured into having potential. Change is a journey: earning trust and eroding mistrust are key parts of that journey.

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Trust and Change: Exploring the Social Age

This week i’ve prototyped two new bodies of work: on Wednesday I shared the Landscape of Trust work for the first time, and today I ran through the whole Dynamic Change Framework with a group from the NHS. These two research areas significantly expand the landscape of the Social Age: trust is a theme that runs throughout Social Leadership, Social Learning, and culture, and the change work I anticipate being a core theme that I will continue to explore as change is constant in the Social Age.

Aspects of the Socially Dynamic Organisation - Diversified Strength

A Socially Dynamic Organisation is agile not through system, process and codified strength, but rather through its ability to engage with it’s communities. It’s strong through a diversified strength, through it’s willingness to be curious and permeable to new ideas and expertise. In that spirit, this week has been challenging: sharing new work, new thoughts, much of which are still stuck at the ‘complex’ space, but we can only get to ‘simple’ through complexity: we have to iterate, prototype and find the core narrative. And where better to do that than in our communities?

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Prototyping the Landscape of Trust

So far i’ve pulled together some of the foundations of this work: there is a research programme in place around the ‘Landscape‘, which seeks to establish definitions and a baseline, i’ve started sketching out the Taxonomy (which runs from ‘no trust’ to ‘blind trust‘), i’ve introduced a first framework around Trust/Mistrust, as a way of viewing how healthy the organisation is, and i’ve introduced the Triangle of Trust as a practical tool for exploring how individual action and intent impacts in the organisation.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

Today i’m sharing all of this work for the first time, to a conference of 260 graduates in a global organisation. I’ve pulled together the core narrative, and developed some exercises, but necessarily this is a prototype event: the narrative is untested and new, and the research itself is early stage, but the opportunity to iterate and test in this way is invaluable. It’s only through the telling and retelling of stories, the feedback and refinement, that we find the true core narrative.

This body of work is barely five weeks old, so i’m quite prepared for it to evolve rapidly, but already it’s garnered some great interest and feedback. It sits within my wider area of exploration of the Social Age, and clearly directly relates to Social Leadership, establishing Social Learning communities, and building the Socially Dynamic Organisation, so in that sense, i’m pleased with how well it holds together so far, but under no illusions that there is a long way still to go with it.

Thanks for sticking around and being part of the community as i #WorkOutLoud to refine this!

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