#FutureWork Stories [Pt 2] – ‘Management into Marketplace’

Anna is a member of the small Strategy Tribe in her Organisation: she comes out of a weekly meeting, held in the reconfigurable Hub, and meets Neharika for coffee. Virtual coffee. She shares the story of strategy that her Tribe have spent the morning shaping, and Neharika bids for the work to turn that into a project. The price she negotiates is not in money, but rather opportunity for the Apprentices in her Guild.

Neharika is a member of the Project Management Guild, which long ago divorced itself from any particular Organisation, and now inhabits a shared space between the top 100 Organisations globally. Alongside a Cyber Security Guild, emergent and fluid teams self organise to structure and translate Strategy into projects, sometimes for money, sometimes for other currencies. These negotiations can include Sabbatical opportunities, where members are loaned between Tribes and Guilds for extended periods, partly to build capability, but also to ensure a strong social fabric and shared understanding.

Anna chose Neharika for this negotiation because, although they have never collaborated before, they are both members of a Coin Network: a blockchain based currency of trust, this particular one of which holds quantified reputation. Neharika’s strong work in the past has been captured in a reputation that she can trade within a gated community.

Neharika determines that they will need a set of assets for this project to succeed: some physical assets, and access to some IP. She shares this with Anna, who recognises a problem.

Don, who controls the IP required, and she have a longstanding dispute. Don controls the IP because he earned equity in it by challenging a previous product owner: he presented his evidence and solution to a committee of IP alumni and was awarded a controlling stake as his challenge was deemed fair, and likely to increase overall value to the community.

Anna recognises that Don will not give her access unless they can somehow quantify their differences, so they agree to contract Selena, a Social Storyteller, to help them: their role is an evolution of the Coach, but who typically works in conflicted spaces to write stories that capture exactly what people disagree on. This mechanism of storytelling can allow teams in fragmented cultures to agree contested space, and also space of limited cooperation. Sometimes they choose to contract currencies of disagreement, essentially codified favours for the future, options to be repaid against future work.

With strategy aligned to resources, and a truce with Don, Anna is able to deliver on her commitment to her Tribe, generating market share and significant profit.

Everyone is happy: shareholders receive a dividend, which reflects a bonus paid because the project had a high social component (the apprentices got valuable experience). Anna, Don, and Neharika’s teams and tribes each received both monetary payment for their time, but also determined, and allocated, social currencies.

Anna minted a coin of recognition for Don, which she coded with ‘gratitude’. Don minted a coin of recognition which he coded with ‘respect’ for Anna, in recognition of her work to help write their Story of Difference. Neharika traded her coin for a dollar bonus, as her Guild required cash for conference and already carried high value in social currencies, recognised in the blockchain networks. Their judgement was that for now, money was more important.

Selena carries their story forward: both the Story of Difference, but also their Story of Success, to their monthly Campfire. At this virtual event, the story is shared, and awarded both ‘challenge’, and ‘recognition’ by the global teams. The project is then debated, to ‘sense make’ it, and lessons are captured in a Wiki. Mistakes are explored, and analysed, then memorialised, so that they are not carried forward. The Organisation hosts a Museum of Failure, where these memorialised stories are lodged, and anyone can visit, to explore.

What Just Happened?

This is the first of my #FutureWork stories. These are deliberately imperfect, and i am making no effort to ensure they are consistent or aligned. These are fragments of thought that may root or take hold.

This Organisation has evolved in key ways:

  • It inhabits a marketplace, where both capability and resource are permeable beyond it’s ownership or control.
  • It keeps key things internal, but in a much smaller group, and contracts widely.
  • It trades in both financial and social currencies.
  • It used blockchain technologies to qualify reputation, and other previously subjective forces.
  • It has expended significant energy, time, and money, to build the ‘interconnecting’ group of Social Storytellers, that help it to find wisdom, not simply within tribes, but between them.

This type of Organisation exists where managers cease to own and deploy, and move to scope, enable, and trade.

This story is not intended to be your answer: it is intended to inspire answers. If we are afraid to change, we will fail.

“Management into Marketplace – we come from a place where managers, within hierarchies, organise and allocate resources (human, intellectual, and material) to achieve known mechanisms of production. The evolution will be into the Organisation as a marketplace, where leaders may bid for teams, where self organising teams or Guilds will own their own development and where productivity may be more creative, but also more consensual, with rewards negotiated according to success or urgency.”

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#FutureWork – a Series of Imperfect Essays

This week i’m sharing a short series of imperfect essays exploring aspects of the evolution of work, and the Organisations that it takes place within.

Specifically, i am not trying to make this a coherent and congruent view: there may be inconsistencies and disagreement between the views. I am using this as a space for ideas, and fragments of thought that may take root, or blow away in the breeze.

The initial pieces will explore the organising principles of work, and in particular i will try to challenge my own established frames of ‘how things just are’. My aim is to keep these disparate essays in a short and common format, intending to create spaces for conversation more so than ‘answers’.

Initial ideas i will explore include the following:

Management into Marketplace – we come from a place where managers, within hierarchies, organise and allocate resources (human, intellectual, and material) to achieve known mechanisms of production. The evolution will be into the Organisation as a marketplace, where leaders may bid for teams, where self organising teams or Guilds will own their own development and where productivity may be more creative, but also more consensual, with rewards negotiated according to success or urgency.

Qualifications into Capability – exploring an Organisation that values evidenced capability (defined at the application of diverse skills to effect productive means) above formal qualification or specific job role.

Office into Ecosystem – work as defined by a formal place, evolves into many social places where work is realised as an outcome. This will see the transformation of our built environment, a general distribution of labour, a wealth of richly networked third spaces, and the emergence of self organising specialist units of labour that contract into multiple organisations, including education and healthcare.

Separation into Curation – this piece will take a more holistic view about how ‘work’ evolves from something we do, into a central part of who we are, but but that the nature of engagement shifts into a structure that is curated on an individual basis. ‘Work’ in this context will become a series of connected communities and capabilities that we move between over time. Boundaries will be less formal, and the nature of engagement more fluid. ‘Work’ defined by a formal view of separate domains evolves into ‘capability’ as curated by leaders or individuals

Codification into Co-Creation – the idea that the Organisation itself is formally defined as something you join, evolves into the idea of the Organisation as a belief system where everyone has a voice and chooses to believe. Purpose becomes more fluid, accountable, and co-created.

Contract into Fairness – the idea that your primary alignment to an Organisation is legal, evolves into the idea that the primary engagement is based upon fairness (both to you, and to broader society). Notions of social accountability and social justice become core recruitment enablers, and accountability of the organisation leads to a focus on nett contribution to local culture, rather than global unification or homogeneity.

Centralisation into Virtualisation – the idea that we bring people, materials, ideas etc together centrally devolves into connected networks of capability and arms length production. This piece considers specific skills and capabilities, and the mechanisms by which they are learnt.

Money into Mobility – a far future view of an Organisation beyond money, where opportunity and a blockchain based reputation economy takes prominence.

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5 Broken Things in the New Normal

Amidst much hype of a ‘New Normal’, some things may well have actually changed for good. The Pandemic carries with it two fundamental truths which have finally fractured some dominant narratives of the past.

Firstly, real change happened fast, imposed upon us by circumstance and enforced action before any antibody effects could kick in. A wave of fearful social compliance and lack of organised resistance moved established behaviours fast. And secondly, there has been a protracted period for us to experience something new as a result. The change has been normalised, and if the current arrangements are not permanent, at the very least the old ones are fractured or broken.

Does this mean that things won’t snap back? No, but it may test the elasticity of the system, and some things are almost certainly broken beyond repair. Let’s consider five of them.

Space as Control: for decades Organisations have experimented with virtual work, but clearly it has taken a Pandemic to shift the experience onto the majority. That in itself is not the thing that i would call broken, but the notion of ‘space as control’ is.

The office, even when full of bean bags and dry-wipe walls, is a formal space, governed by formal rules, and under formal control. And ‘remote’ has always been at the discretion, or under the control of, that dominant view. We ‘negotiated’ remote. But that changed as everyone went remote, and a return to ‘normal’ became subject to mysterious ‘COVID Secure’ practices. In other words, to continue as we are requires little effort, but to return to the office requires new rituals, artefacts and behaviours, none of which are readily defined, rehearsed, or intuitive.

Organisations accrete hierarchy, and that hierarchy nests within physical spaces, but deprived of those spaces, a new balance emerges. Of necessity things have been done without negotiation, and for many Organisations, it’s worked remarkably well. Local, tribal, tacit, problem solving, coupled with pragmatic and largely consequence free rapid rehearsal spaces, have led to a new system establishing fast, but one where the Organisation was not central, but devolved.

To attempt to reimpose formal control on this system, especially as we are already seeing by reimposing the need to be in the office, is highly likely to backfire, because it’s imposed upon a largely invested system.

We will go back to the office, but it will be under a model of rebalanced power, and into less utilitarian space.

Teams as Tribes: coupled to the change in space, we have found that formal teams have evolved into social tribes, in a way that simply did not happen when the shared space was formal.

We know that shared experience helps people to bond, and the bonding of the rout to remote has led to evolved behaviours, and a new sense of belonging. Not universally, and not globally, but for many it is local (to team) and persistent, partly shaped by the ways that we are now often ‘sharing’ our family and social spaces and realities with people who previously did not know we had children or guitars.

Teams evolving to encompass an additional layer of social bonding may be a double edged sword for the Organisations that they inhabit: whilst providing what appears to be quite resilient performance during the crisis, they will likely be more unified against any imposed change that does not permit invested ideas, and indeed the co-creation of that future state.

Again, this speaks to the rebalanced power: a socially stronger Organisation, more tribal, is likely to respond better to negotiated change, than imposed.

Technology as King: the third aspect of Organisations has creaked for a while, but may have now broken, which is the idea that technology, as owned by the Organisation itself, is King. As our teams became remote tribes, and as they found their performance fast, it often involved connection, radical connection, through multiple and often emergent and social technologies.

Two years ago my own research showed that NHS teams typically used multiple social technologies in favour of the formally controlled ones, even when specifically not permitted to do so, because they ‘just worked’, but now we have seen this behaviour at much greater scale.

The enduring change will likely be a recognition that only certain systems need to be centrally owned, and fully controlled. More pragmatism around diverse ecosystems of technology will be the most robust route forward which may not be as bad as some may fear.

Technology keeps Organisations safe in one way, but real safety is a cultural phenomena more than a technical one.

Leaders as Managers: this is a more speculative sense of something that has broken, and it’s the ratio of ‘managers’ who allocate work, with ‘leaders’ who perhaps are more invested in culture. It’s an arbitrary and contested definition, but broadly i suspect that we have seen a rise in leadership behaviours of care and connection, and concurrently a diminishing of oversight and direct talk knowledge, largely because you cannot look over someone’s shoulder so easily. And the wheels have not fallen off.

Perhaps this one is just a hope rather than an observation, but i do think that at the individual leadership level we will have seen enduring changes in behaviour, although with the caveat that we will doubtless also have seen emergent inequality and some people more disenfranchised by the current context than are enabled by it.

Knowledge as Business: this one is again somewhat speculative, and i think represents an acceleration of something that was already in flow. Potentially a shift from ‘knowledge as business’ to ‘knowledge as network’. Arguably, we have already moved, or are moving, towards leadership as a collective and highly networked capability, necessitating an evolved mindset towards capability, knowledge, and skills, but the Pandemic may have accelerated this, with more knowledge and actual capability seeping into networks more so than into codified Organisations systems and doctrine.

Essentially it’s because the rapid evolution was not scripted and planned, but largely emergent and co-written, meaning that much information has overflowed traditional (imposed) boundaries, and may reside more locally.

As i say, this is half thought though, but it’s worth remembering that we have already seen a shift from a manufacturing, to a knowledge economy: there is no defining reason why we will stick at this point. Perhaps we stand at the start of the network economy. Post industrial, post knowledge, post control, distributed, devolved, democratised… who knows. The only thing we can be sure of is that it is the innocuous traces of change that are often overlooked as indicators of a paradigm shift.

This is a time of risk, and opportunity, but the opportunity will most likely be held or seized, by those who can reframe their own understanding, and to recognise that change, even change where things are broken, is not the same as loss.

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Diagnostic to Mechanistic

When we seek to understand something, there is great value in frameworks or tools that can let us observe, categorise, quantify, and assess. Our quest for knowledge leads us to take things apart as we learn how they operate: anything from an engine to the functioning of a market, or the behaviours of leadership.

But during this process, we can slip into mechanistic understanding: our emerging knowledge can gently slide us into a space where we believe we can intervene, where we can effect change, by pressing things and pulling levers.

There is a chasm between learning how something works, and building that capability elsewhere. It’s not a behaviour driven by hubris, but rather by desire: the desire to drive change.

Often it is the journey that is most important, a realisation that may inform how we intervene. Instead of trying to ‘do’ something to a system, we can create the space and support for a system to evolve.

A lighter tough, and carefully nurturing of emergent behaviour, may be more effective than any number of gears and any amount of power.

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Curiosity – My 1st 100 Days – Day 9 – Where is your Wonder?

My ‘First 100 Days’ books ask you to take 3-5 minutes a day to explore a subject. This is a draft activity exploring ‘Curiosity’.

Take 60 seconds to consider where your wonder lies, where it may take you?

  1. Do you find beauty in discovery?
  2. Does your satisfaction lie in synthesising something discovered into what you already know?
  3. Is your fascination is taking others on a journey?

What do you find wonderful?

  1. Is it the lives of others, and seeing what they achieve and how?
  2. Is it the discovery of the mechanics of a thing: how something works, or the principles behind it?
  3. Is it the pure joy of something that makes you go ‘ah!’

Try to understand where you wonder lies: then compare that view with what you see from your window.

Does your job, your environment, your leadership, permit and enable you to explore this? Are you in balance?

If you were on a spaceship, what would you see through the window: feel free to deface the book to capture this thought.

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Curiosity – My 1st 100 Days – Day 3 – Mindset or Behaviour?

Day 3: Mindset or Behaviour?

If you are curious, is it because you are thinking about things, or doing things?

Is curiosity a cerebral exercise that takes place within your head, or is it an activity that you do?

If it’s a way of thinking, then do you think it is influenced by education, by culture, or by the company you keep?

If it is a behaviour, then how come babies are curious? Are they born that way, or do they just learn really fast?

Is Curiosity a Mindset or Behaviour?

  1. If curiosity is a mindset, can you learn to be more curious? – If so, how?
  2. If it is a behaviour, can you learn it? – if so, what does that behaviour look like?

And whether it is a mindset, a set of behaviours, or both, is there a role for Organisations to support, or provoke, curiosity?

This week i am #WorkingOutLoud to prototype activities for a potential book around Curiosity – let me know what you think!

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Curiosity – My 1st 100 Days – Day 2

Day 2: Discover, Uncover, Create

Imagine the ways that we are curious.

We can reach out and DISCOVER something: perhaps we watch a YouTube video, or read a book or blog and learn something new.

We can UNCOVER more details by digging deeper: once something has sparked your curiosity, do you delve further into it? Maybe by link hopping, or asking questions, or trying something out and letting your hands and mind explore a new sensation, thought, or material.

We can CREATE something: in our moments of inspiration, our curiosity can help us to assemble chunks of what we discover or unearth into something new. A new way of knowing. A new perspective, a new ability. These are not things we just pick up fully formed, but rather something we create ourselves out of the fragments that curiosity collects.

  1. How do we discover things as we are curious? Write down a ‘name’, a ‘place’, a ‘behaviour’, or a ‘habit’ that can lead to discovery.
  2. Are there specific skills to uncover something when our curiosity demands it? Can you name one?
  3. What do you need in order to CREATE? Is it ‘time’, ‘resource’, a ‘community’, or something else? When you have your answer, ask someone else what they think about this too.

#WorkingOutLoud on ‘Curiosity’

This week i am developing some concepts for a potential ‘100 days’ book.

Curiosity: My 1st 100 Days’ takes you on a guided, reflective journey, to build your own understanding of what Curiosity is, and how being curious can unlock both your, and others, potential.

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Curiosity – My 1st 100 Days – Day 1

Day 1: The Edges of My Curiosity

Curiosity is that which exists beyond what we already know.

Behind the forest, beyond the mountains, under the surface of the lake.

It may be connected to what we are familiar with, but it involves knowledge, context, skills, or behaviour, that are as yet unknown.

Within Organisations, we may be curious about opportunities, about change, about challenges and competition. We may want to do known things better, or learn about new things to do!

Outside the Organisation we may be curious about knowledge for the sake of knowledge, or about skills to enable us to create, to share, to learn, or to amaze.

Curiosity drives us forward, beyond the edges of what we already know to be true.

What are you curious about?

Look at the systems and spaces around you, in any part of your life:

  1. What is familiar? – what makes it familiar? – does it feel safe? – does it ever surprise you?
  2. Are you consciously aware of the edges? – when you look at something, do you focus on what you know, or deliberately think about what lies beyond?
  3. Can you think of something that you used to be curious about, but it no longer makes you so?

Curiosity: My 1st 100 Days

Today i am #WorkingOutLoud sharing part of a book that i am working on. I have no publication date yet, nor full commitment to publish it, but i am enjoying playing with it! It takes the same approach as my previous book ‘Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days’, in being structured around 100 days of activity.

Curiosity: My 1st 100 Days’ takes you on a guided, reflective journey, to build your own understanding of what Curiosity is, and how being curious can unlock both your, and others, potential.

Through questions, activities, challenges, and Action Days, it will help you to find your own path: to move beyond the familiar, to be curious, and to help those around you to find their energy and passion to learn.

We are all curious, but perhaps we find ourselves caught up and busy in everyday life.

By taking 3-5 minutes a day, for 100 days, i hope you can rediscover how Curiosity helps us to change everything, starting with ourselves.

I hope that you enjoy the journey, and that you share your discoveries as you go.

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#WorkingOutLoud on ‘Belief’ in Leadership

I’ve started exploring the second phase of work exploring the role and nature of ‘belief’ within Organisations, relating to leadership and engagement. At this stage i am running a series of phases, each of which will prototype a short set of questions in a different part of the landscape. The first set (which i shared recently) was to gather views on whether people believe that ‘belief’ is a thing, if it is fluid, and whether it is important to ‘have’ it. In this second phase, i am starting to look at where, and how, it ‘functions’, and the perils of dysfunction.

All this work in these prototype sessions is small scale and open groups: i will be trying different question formats and collections. Once it’s firmed up, i will take a more structured approach to repeat the surveys within defined and intact groups (specific teams in Organisations etc).

In parallel with that, i aim to carry out some individual and small group interviews gather narrative experiences and definitions. This will also give me the opportunity to explore in a sensitive way the relationship between more traditional views of ‘belief’ as held in religion, relate to more contemporary parallel models of ‘belief’, perhaps as held in celebrity, or culture.

Last week i tested the first of the ‘Function vs Dysfunction’ questions: in the phase 1 questions, we saw clearly that ‘belief’ can be held both in Individual leaders, and in Organisations, but this particular question explores the potential tensions between those two things.

A large majority of people believed that the actions of a leader should be aligned to their words, more so than to the published values of the Organisation.

One could consider this as the difference between ‘internally coherent’ (where actions align to words) and ‘externally coherent’ (where actions match published aims, but not necessarily internal beliefs).

That we celebrate internal coherence is no surprise, as this is really a definition of authenticity (which we saw in the Landscape of Trust research is deemed a central desirable trait of leadership. Authenticity is about action matching words, so that is what we deem important. But this leaves us with a gap: how actions align to published Organisational goals.

I will explore this tension further in subsequent questions.

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Aspects of the Social Age: Algorithmic Wars

Today i am #WorkingOutLoud sharing the second full draft of the chapter on ‘Algorithmic Wars’ from ‘The Social Age Guidebook’. I feel this second draft is stronger, but still needs work.

Humans are pattern recognition machines, so it’s ironic that we are facing such a struggle conceptualising, and coming to terms with, machines that can determine the patterns of humans.

And yet that is exactly the foundation of the Algorithmic Wars we face: the new battleground of sense making, productivity, and power, in the Social Age.

It’s partly a battleground of ignorance and misunderstanding, partly a battle about existing power and disruption, and partly an exploration of what it means to be a self determining, free, ’human’, and how free we really are.

In many ways it’s a war that will determine our future as a species: if we harness the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence in ways that are broadly productive, highly creative, and equitably owned, then we may find a society that is more equal and better off at scale. If, however, we leave it to the market to determine the outcome, we will doubtless end up more efficient, but more exploitative, and less equal than we are now.

When i was twelve, and busy trying to fail at maths, i got as far as ‘equations’. And ‘algebra’. Teachers would occasionally set challenges, typically involving cars, distance, destinations, and efficiency, and i would struggle to discern meaning from chaos. At no point did they ask me to mathematically predict human behaviour, or wrest control of policing, or policy, from human hands.

Math was largely the purgatory between ‘History’, and ‘Home’, best endured sat next to the window, which facilitated daydreaming.

Today, more than at any point in human history, ‘maths’, characterised and expressed as ‘algorithms’, rules our lives.

It keeps planes in the air (or fails to do so for inexplicable reasons), minimises the amount of time it takes an ambulance to reach you, determines the price of your wheat and gas, and directly impacts on the words that your politicians speak to you when campaigning.

Not specifically because the Organisations behind these things have recruited people who were brilliant at algebra, but because computing power, and the conceptual frameworks of programming and analysis that it enables, have evolved.

The tools are now more powerful than the hands that wield them.

When we hear conversations about ‘algorithms’, we are typically not simply hearing about hard problems that are solved faster by computers: we are hearing about radically large and hard datasets that are being ‘understood’ by computers.

If you run a warehouse distribution business, then knowing where all of your stock is sitting, what condition the tyres of your trucks are in, and how many hours overtime you are paying, are all hard problems to solve, but can all be solved in predictable ways. Machine learning may help optimise the systems that do this.

But the real power comes from prediction, based upon large data sets: if you can optimise where to keep your stock and dynamically adapt pricing to match stock levels, if you can correlate tyre wear to individual driver behaviour, and track overtime back to optimisation of stock holding, then you can reframe your business to be both more effective and more cost efficient. It’s this second type of understanding that we are attacking, and the questions will be around who controls it, who benefits from it, and who loses out. Like the driver who is fired for braking too heavily.

We are seeing pattern recognition at scale, predictive power unleashed, and a level of understanding that would be beyond us as humans, no matter how engaged i had been in that class.

It’s a search for the shadows and whispers of patterns that exist in the footprints we leave.

Algorithms’, in the contemporary context of debate, are radically complex predictive, and analytic, systems, which enable us to make sense of large scale data at speeds that are typically useful.

I would venture that if we had to characterise the foundations of Algorithmic War, it’s not the specific outcomes in isolation that are usually the issue (although in some cases, most certainly are the issue), but rather it’s the broader context of those outcomes, and the ways that those outcomes become inescapable, as we feel the imposition of new systems of organisation, sense making, and power, at great scale, and speed.

It’s the way that algorithms give rise to new types of power, and how that power is impacting back into our wider society.

Take Facebook (an easy target, i realise, but when ‘sense making’, it’s ok to start at ‘easy’). Contemporary criticism of Facebook hinges on how the hidden algorithms give us something unexpected, undesired, or somehow deceptive: by ‘choosing’ one news item over another, by ordering and regulating my ‘feed’, by filtering future stories based on my profile and interaction with current stories, we find ourselves individually, and collectively, in a new space. We like to think that we make sense of the world by looking around us, gatherings news, evidence, opinion, and fact, and making a judgement. We react badly if we feel those inputs are being deliberately skewed.

And yet, of course, we have never been the objective problem solvers that we would like to think we were: every way we look at the world is through a filter, and the context of stories is personal in every case. But despite these failings, we have at least felt an element of control: i can ‘choose’ to read the Guardian, or the Daily Mail, i can watch Fox or the BBC. I can choose who is in my community, and who is outside of it.

Those people who take issue with Facebook may be described in two camps: those who feel that the ‘well intentioned’ algorithms are driving undesirable outcomes (echo chambers, inappropriate juxtaposition of content, filtering out of alternative views etc), and those who feel that the fundamental technology is bad, and possibly being used in deliberately deceptive ways (fake news, interference in democracy, creation of artificial social movements, and pseudo viral effects).

Or to put it another way: in one view, we are progressing in broadly positive ways, but with highly undesirable side effects and consequences, or we are progressing in fundamentally flawed ways, deceived by technocrats who are unaccountable to anyone.

This is reflected in the responses of the wider system: governments seek to regulate, to control poor effects, whilst concurrently seeking to automate, to maximise beneficial ones.

Individuals seek to disengage and tune out, to minimise concerns on privacy, and deliberate bias, whilst seeking to maximise individual gain (through optimising individual utility and personal value), and amplifying those messages that mean the most to us within our local tribe.

Predictably, we are in a conflicted time, hence that term ‘Algorithmic War’, because it’s not an outright acceptance, or rejection, of the technology that is at stake: it’s more about how we can evolve our structures of understanding, and effect, in considered ways.

Because one thing is certain: if we do nothing, then technology will take us into places that we, as society, are entirely unprepared to go. And we are already well down that path.

In popular media, in Organisational adoption, and in the initial narratives of success, or failure, we are often acting as unconscionably naive, or unhelpfully vague. For example, we understand that ‘bias’ can be an issue, but that leads to populist narratives around inherent bias that simply do not stand up to scrutiny, for two reasons: firstly, that there is nothing inherently biased about every machine learning system, there is just bias in the data we feed them, or sometimes bad design, and secondly, a failure to realise that a core feature of machine learning systems is that they learn.

So how things are now is not how things will always be.

This was my conversation with a taxi driver in London: he accepted the arrival of self driving cars, but described how they would not know how to react to a pigeon in the road. He said that ‘professional’ drivers knew to just keep driving, because pigeons always took off at the last minute. So he could accept that self driving cars could learn to drive, but could not accept that they could equally model the pigeon avoidance mechanisms of professional drivers, and learn to do that too.

Some issues are more clearly emergent ethical conversations: should we feed people up images of self harm and suicide (some evidence shows that the ability to explore these topics can lead to better outcomes), or is it simply exacerbating the issue.

Should we have adverts for McDonalds showing up next to those posts as well, or should they be held more ‘respectfully’. As a society, i have no doubt that we will figure these things out, although not without some fails along the way.

Because these questions are not about quantifiable success: they are about ethics, about belief, about the reinforcement of dominant narratives, and about self righteous indignation, as well as about justifiable self righteous anger. Sometimes all those things at the same time.

These emergent and ethical conversations (about privacy, about decency, about protection, safeguarding, and harm) are of vital importance. But they are not the whole foundation of the Algorithmic Wars.

The enhanced ability of computers to predict behaviour goes far deeper than serving up adverts, or suggesting news stories. There is a predictive power of conversations on social channels to indicate future action, e.g. protest turning into violence. Or the ability for Organisations to scan social channels to predict who of their staff is most likely stealing, or rousing dissent. Our ability to ‘listen in’, to ‘predict’, to sense the location of tipping points, all of this is evolving.

Unless we smash the looms, unless we choose to reject the many benefits of these new technologies, we are just at the start of a long, and evolutionary process.

There will be many mistakes along the way, and some people will make a very great deal of money, or achieve significant influence and power, by exploiting the new dynamics faster than we can regulate, or even notice what it is that is happening. But none of this makes it all bad or wrong.

As ever, our challenge is this, and it’s a challenge we must face up to in the middle of this war: technology will take us into places that we are ill equipped to deal with. But our ability to deal with it cannot be framed in the old understanding of knowledge, decision making, and power.

It’s a new type of challenge that is faced in a new kind of space.

And it will require new types of thinking to ensure that, on balance, the change takes us into a new type of space that we can comfortably inhabit. Primary interpretations of the current swathes of change according to well known and well understood frameworks may be dangerous: it may comfort us to think of small groups of elite enemy agents undermining our democracy, but this is but one facet of change.

The real outcome of the Algorithmic Wars may be decided through schism and conquest, but most likely will be an outcome of optimisation and greed: the ways we engage with knowledge, the ways we shop, connect, think, act, all influenced by myriad underlying algorithms. An unknowably complex series of filters and moderators of individual action: a radically complex set of predictive engines, and all continuing to learn, to evolve, in a tumbling wheel of change.

Perhaps our greatest challenge is to find ways to narrate, and understand the sheer scope of the challenge, and to articulate what it means for us as individuals, for our Organisations (which have so much to gain, and so much to lose) and for wider society as a whole.

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