Fitting out the new office this weekend and i decided to lend Sam a hand: he’d borrowed a special drill bit to take out a large circle of wood to let you put cables through a desk. Between us, we decided that the dust from these composite boards was probably not healthy, so i was delegated to hold the hoover against the drill to eradicate the problem. All went well until, in a fit of over enthusiasm, i hoovered up the tiny bolt that holds the whole contraption together. If you need a job done properly: better call an expert.
But who’s an expert these days? WordPress lets me see the search terms people use to arrive at the blog. Every now and then, alongside the obvious terms, there’s an outlier. “What size wooden square fits a five inch square wooden hole?“. Whoever used that term in Google and landed here yesterday probably left this site disappointed, although i’d hope they saw their way through that particular problem easily enough. The thing is, somewhere out there is an expert ready to provide the answer. An answer in fact, for pretty much anything.
In the Social Age, our relationship with knowledge is evolving: away from simply knowing things to creating meaning. The network connects us to the people who know stuff, or the sites that hold that knowledge, but it doesn’t make us an expert. It gives us access to expertise.
Which may be enough.
The Net isn’t dumbing us down, it’s enabling us.
Take healthcare. Speak to any doctor or surgeon and they will be familiar with patients turning up who have already researched their symptoms and condition online. That could be viewed as positive, because taking control and ownership of a condition can feel empowering, although it does threaten the traditional role of the doctor as ‘holding the knowledge‘. I was reading about a consultant the other day who described his feelings when the patient not only knew the basics about their condition: they knew of recent research finding that not even the consultant had had time to read yet.
Connected to communities, which are desperately efficient at sorting information and filtering it for value, it’s no surprise that the first casualties of the Social Age are hierarchies based simply on knowledge. Fortunately for us all, expertise does not need to be simply about knowledge. The value of the consultant isn’t simply an isolated fact that they know: it’s about how that knowledge relates to everything else they know and, critically, what they can do with it. It’s about outcomes.
Much of the old infrastructure that surround us was about controlling access to knowledge: everything from physical libraries and bookshelves, filing cabinets and rolodexes to hold it through to payment gateways and postal systems to distribute it. There were hierarchies and snobberies surrounded by geographical and linguistic gateways, not to mention acronyms and jargon.
Technology has eroded most of these barriers and is working hard to remove the last: language.
The ecosystem of knowledge is unrecognisable from what it was even twenty years ago, but it’s how that permeates through the system, from how we work to how we lead and how we approach strategy that interests me.
Social Leadership is a type of leadership fit for the Social Age: it’s a style and approach that is grounded within these ‘sense making‘ communities. Social Leaders are familiar with the ecosystem and have high social capital: they actively reach out to develop and support others.
In the Social Age, every aspect of our relationship with work is changing: the ways we are recruited, the ways we are trained and the ways we perform. The brand of the organisation stretches out into it’s communities (indeed, brand is largely owned by the community), so before we even step in the door we understand the social context of the business. Social responsibility is no longer about Corporate Social Responsibility policies typed out and glued into your staff handbook: it’s about how you are judged on your actions. I wrote recently about ‘Rifts in trust‘ that open up when perception fractures from intent in these areas. You are what you do, not what you say.
The evolving nature of work means that careers are likely to be fragmented too, leaving ultimate responsibility for personal development on the individual, not some nebulous training department.
It’s a time of change: it’s easy to find stuff out but the value comes in creating meaning. Organisations need to adapt to support these realities: encouraging and nurturing social communities, providing space and support for developing social capital, attracting and developing social leaders. It’s the only way to remain agile and relevant in the Social Age.