Ever so often i become aware that i write too much about serious things. It’s raining hard today, with the odd moment when the sun breaks through. It was during one of those moments that i was to be found staring out of the window, lost in thought, through the streaks carved by the water through the city grime. I realised the rivulets left a pattern like staring through the trunks of trees in the forest. Emergent coherence from a chaotic system.
I understand the neurology: we see patterns, we see them everywhere, from dirty windows to financial data, where there is no governing artist or architect. We’re programmed to find pictures in the rain.
The Social Age of learning is about finding meaning, about doing this within our communities, but it can be like looking for patterns in the rain. Unlike in formal environments, everything is in flux: membership, curriculum, discussion and technology, all in a state of constant change (indeed, that state of constant change is one of the defining features of the Social Age).
It’s sometimes hard to know if you’re chasing genius or running down a dead end. Which is where the community comes in. Feedback from community has been incredibly valuable to me this week as i’ve been developing a new framework around organisational culture and change. Is there a good idea in there? I couldn’t have told you at the start, but nurtured by the community, i can feel meaning emerge.
The gateways of reason are moving: think about the hierarchies and mechanisms of the old age: publishing, control, mechanisms that ensured the meaning was intact and peer reviewed before it was ever released. Those gateways stand behind us now: in the post Gutenberg economy we publish and share widely, only later finding the meaning. The naysayers, the luddites, would have had us believe that we would find only chaos, only the rainstorm, but they were wrong. Communities are self organising, new mechanisms of sense making emerge, co-created by Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus: Wikipedia, Craigslist, methodologies and mechanisms to provide order in the chaos.
Sure, reason has not emerged overnight, but we had the printing press for four hundred years, so there’s a time to go. Wikipedia used to be a joke, but now it’s indispensable to all but the most academic of snobs. Peer reviewed? No. Peer created? Yes.
Later this month i’m taking part in a couple of community events: an HRIndia TweetUp and some activities and unconferences around change in the NHS. Do i have a clear view of outputs? No. Will meaning emerge? Almost certainly, yes. These are community curated and created events, communities coming together around shared purpose. Self organising and self moderating, co-creating shared narratives and telling those stories widely.
Indeed, the potential of social learning is so great that it challenges many of the formats that we have traditionally held knowledge within. There’s a conference in a couple of weeks time that i’m going to, except i’m not actually paying to go: i’m just participating in fringe events and conversations because, to be honest, i can get greater value there. Like Bart Simpson, my attention is shot and the thought of spending a day within four walls terrifies me: better to be agile, engaged in multiple conversations in many channels, each creating meaning within their communities. The formal conference is just an excuse to be in town, not the destination.
I’m working on three books currently, but the format of the book is just a frame for wider conversations. The blog is the first reflective space, community the second, with books coming third and my professional work fourth.
The Social Age is about creating meaning, about being effective, moving beyond hierarchies and models of control and secrecy. We are seeing the nature of work redefined: millennials now expected to spend less than two years in each job they do. Sure, we may not understand how it all fits together yet, but there is light, shining through the windows, painting tantalising pictures of what’s to come. We’re at the dawn of a new age of meaning: the Social Age.