When BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones walked onto my TV this morning, the first thing i noticed was that he was wearing his Google Glasses: wearable technology with sharing and collaboration at it’s heart.
He wasn’t there to talk about the glasses, they were incidental, but the first time i’d seen someone wearing them on mainstream TV as ‘normal‘. Another convention broken, another piece of revolutionary technology on it’s way to become mainstream. Sure, we’ll have to blunder through endless privacy and ethical issues on the way, but the first step is already taken. The step towards normality, acceptance.
Change is often about breaking convention: the first person to wear trainers probably stood out a bit, as did the first person who suggested women should have a vote, but without people willing to break convention, convention would never change of it’s own accord.
Part of effecting change is to generate momentum, to unbalance the status quo. There usually has to be some disturbance for change to start, some externally or internally generated force. Change programmes often try to push from the outside, whilst i favour a co-created and co-owned model of change, where momentum is generated from within.
Convention can be about inertia: it’s how we’ve always done it before, it’s how we’ll do it in the future. Convention is inherently based on history and unseating it can be a challenge.
In the Social Age, where change is constant, we may face another challenge: an inability to form conventions in the first place. Where technology drives change so fast, as social dynamics evolve so rapidly, there barely seems to be time for anything to bed in before we upset it again in favour of the next greatest idea. Is there a ‘convention‘ for behaving on Facebook? Maybe, but it’s hardly deeply seated in society: it’s fresh, new, malleable.
Organisations form conventions because they’re effective strategies for dealing with recurring situations. From both a cognitive and effort led dimension, efficiency is good: it’s less tiring, easily replicated. But it can also slow us down: it makes us lethargic when our ecosystem demands agility.
Someone came to give me a quote for a new window earlier: ‘how would you like the quote?‘ he asked. By email obviously: who sends letters anymore? Well, they do apparently: ‘we can’t email quotes‘, he said, this right after explaining to me how they were one of the oldest and best quality businesses in their sector. He said ‘old‘, i heard ‘tired‘. If your business is unable to be agile, to adapt to the evolving ecosystem, you may as well pack up your office now.
The skills of Social Leadership are forged around agility: agility in thought and action, with the skills to support it. These are not ‘nice to have‘, they’re essential tools to let individuals and organisations function in the Social Age, where our formal authority and presence needs to be bolstered by social authority and authenticity.
‘Would you like an extended guarantee‘ he asked. No: if they fit them and they don’t work and don’t fix it, i’ll just Tweet them about it. The Social Age is on my terms, not theirs.
Where reputation and brand value are so deeply embedded in the conversation that happen around us, organisations have lost the ability to own and control them. Convention is all well and good, but if it’s distanced from what the market expects, if it’s grounded in an older age, it’s redundant, even if it doesn’t realise it yet.
Failing to adapt is tantamount to giving up.
So how do we break conventions constructively? By co-creating a vision of the future, by providing a scaffolding of thought and holding conversations around it.
In the CAIR model of change i try to use structured conversations around difficult areas to find a sensible way forward: true change to address toxic behaviours needs to be owned within the community, you can’t impose it from outside (you can input momentum, but if it’s not self sustaining, it can’t be sustained).
What can organisations do about this?
1. Recognise where convention is restricting your agility: even if there’s no clear way to change, recognition is a vital first step.
2. Think about co-creative approaches to change instead of top down models. These will let you build momentum.
3. Think about benchmarking yourself for agility against others in your sector: are you ahead or behind and are you comfortable with the position.
It’s one thing to be innovative and another to be a close follower, but whatever happens, you don’t want to be left behind. Like the guy on TV commenting on Rory’s article: i don’t trust mobile, i just stick with my old phone. If you don’t trust it, the onus is on you to learn, to find the trust. Even if it takes time: do nothing and you’re disenfranchised by an evolving ecosystem.