The Future of Organisations: scaffolded & reconfigurable

Everything will change. As the Industrial Age required us to build factories and dig coal from the ground, as the Knowledge Age required us to buy computers and go global, so the Social Age will bring change. Change of unimaginable breadth.

Adapting or drowning?

Everything has changed. If you think i’m scaremongering, consider this: the notion of ‘career‘ is dead, the ways we interact with and use knowledge have changed, social technology has matured, we are witnessing the rise of socially responsible business as a differentiator, change is constant, agility is key, formal authority is subverted by social authority, communication is democratised. And that’s just the start.

The benefit of days like today is the perspective it gives: i started at breakfast with a group of business leaders exploring the realities of Generation Y.

Gen Y: the youngsters. Evolved expectations. Bright and independent thinkers. Connected and collaborative. But it’s a mistake to think that this is a generational thing. It’s a Social Age thing. The bright, the independent, the connected, whatever their age, are being accelerated. Socially connected execs, socially enabled workers. Artisan workers. The disenfranchised and disconnected are being left behind. And organisations that fail to adapt will sink.

Future Organisations

That’s no throwaway line: organisations that fail to adapt to the realities of the Social Age will simply be unable to weather the constant pulse of change or catch up with the accelerating motion. This is not like the old days, where we could watch the early adopters waste their money and invest heavily and then jump in on their coat tails: the environment is less forgiving, because the talent will move elsewhere. The market will move elsewhere. The world will move on.

Organisations have part of the story right: we need elements of process, we need systems, we (unbelievably) do need philosophies and values. We may even need mission statements. But we absolutely do not need layers of control, codified rituals reinforcing hierarchy or customer engagement that is on our own terms not theirs. We need those things with authenticity: so you have have a philosophy if you really really live it. But you can’t have one if you just write it at the start of the Induction manual. You can have a mission statement if the mission is co-created with the community and, indeed, co-delivered by them. But you can’t have a mission statement if it’s aspirational, branded and bland. You can have a great brand if your customers talk about you to say you are great. You can’t have one because that’s a nice advert that marketing did.

Blanded. Made bland by review processes, team-think, abstraction from reality and trampling over fairness. Bland because we are not curious, we do not question, we do not quest. Bland because we think just enough is just good enough. Because it isn’t. The Social Age demands total quality: choreographed experiences that create value, that create meaning.

The future organisation will be heavily engaged in community. Because the community will be part of how it is created and expressed. Not the organisation separated from the world by four walls, but rather a permeable organisation that is highly social.


Think scaffolding: the organisation will not be monstrous, bloated, defined by divisions and functions. Instead, an organisational scaffolding. Creating spaces for teams to be highly capable. Facilitating learning. Facilitating storytelling. Facilitating great work. Using technology to facilitate, not control. Permissive of challenge, but able to unify behind a vision. Learning on every level.

Levels of NarrativeThink about the three levels of narrative, the three types of stories that the agile organisation has: firstly, individual stories of change and evolution. The story of my own reflection and adaptation. The story of the mistakes i make and the conversations i have. This personal story may be partly private, partly shared, but it reinforces and develops my reputation, my social authority. Individual stories are conversational, reflective, adaptive.

Then comes the co-created story, the story of the group, the narrative of the communities. In the old organisation, we had the intranet: cold storage for that which we thought would be useful one day so didn’t want to throw away. But like an attic, both dusty and strewn with cobwebs. Today, the co-created story is about tribal knowledge, about how we capture the conversation and use it to be more effective. This is a big shift of both mindset and practice.

The final level of narrative is the organisational one, created by all the individual conversations. Created not from on high, to shower down upon us, but rather co-created through all the conversations. It’s the meta-conversation. Instead of saying ‘this is who we aspire to be‘, it says ‘this is what we are‘. It’s a grounded organisational stance, a grounded truth.

The scaffolded organisation will not seek to own everything, but rather to share widely and co-create. It will be open source. The scaffolded organisation will not seek to own and control people, but rather to be magnetic to talent and magnetic to markets. They will not market so much as talk. They will empower individuals to use their own voice and support them in doing so.

The scaffolded organisation will be agile because that very scaffolding lets them bring people in, to populate a space, to be part of an emergent community, then leave again. It’s a revolving door. It’s like lego: reconfigurable.

For many organisations today, the reconfiguration takes years, pain and budget. But for the agile organisation, it’s effortless and constant. because they have invested time in building the blocks. They have invested in agility.

The patterns of failure are constant: an initial hunger and appetite dulled by the progressive calcification of innovation into process. A failure of accountability. A selective deafness to the market and an emerging sense of invulnerability.

Eternal youth is not given by an elixir, not drunk from any Holy Grail: it’s earned through mindset and curiosity. A willingness to learn, a willingness to adapt, a hunger for excellence. And a care: care of each other. Humility. Kindness. Differentiators for the Social Age.

Competition is fine, but collaboration given momentum. There was a sense this morning that Gen Y do not understand consequence: that’s not true. It’s about the permanence of consequence. In the old world, things wrecked your career: in the Social Age, it probably just spoils your week. Because everything moves faster: more rapidly iterating small decisions, not one huge one that you’ve gambled everything on. Look at the systems that fetter many organisations: huge, ungovernable, procured at length and retained out of fear. How can we have agility against that backdrop? When a career was gambled on implementing it, who is brave enough to kill it?

I’m aware that today is about provocation: it’s intentionally so. I see a lot of organisations thinking about this: but not so many fully invested in adapting. We are two years into the Social journey, and the waters will never settle. Wearable tech will transform everything. Communities will evolve. Agile organisations will topple the giants and slay the dinosaurs.

Better get ready.

Ecosystem of the Social Age 2015

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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