I’m in New York, a unit of one: alone, but not lonely. I feel lucky: i get to travel, but i have a wonderful home and friends around the world. I’m sat in Irving Farm Coffee Roasters: it’s one of my favourite spots in the city. Independent, quirky, relaxed. It’s typical of the spaces i tend to write: unified by their social nature, in company, but left alone. This is my 997th blog post. I’m approaching a milestone, not just numerical, but in my reality. Writing has changed how i see the world and the ways i interact with it: i know that once i pass a thousand, i can never look back.
I walk the city, my backpack holds my iPad, keyboard and sketchbook, sweltering in the heat. They’re filming in Central Park. New Line Production trucks skirt both sides of the boundary road: trailers for actors and production staff, lorries full of kit, showers and food vans. It’s an army. My army is on my back.
I operate as a unit of one, but connected to thousands.
I’ve immersed myself in the Social Age: jobs, offices, colleagues, all things of the past. Today, i share, i collaborate, i partner, i learn. And i do so in the company of like minded travellers. Explorers in the new world.
Last night i ended up in an independent bar in East Village: tiny, space for a dozen people. As i sat reading, four people settled next to me, sporting hipster beards and high fashion. One had a waxed moustache, like Dali. They spread out watercolours, diagrams, photographs, set up their MacBooks and talked about theatre. They were organising a circus show of some sort: it was clear that this was an emergent group, four people coming together for a single performance, bringing their expertise, their skills, and their contacts, for one night. A community coming together to perform.
I loved it: hearing them solving problems, watching them work. Democratised, liberated, dreaming and free. And yet this is not a dream: this is the reality of the Social Age. We are liberated: democratised infrastructure, democratised communication, the release of creativity. We have more choice that we ever imagined, even if we don’t see it yet.
The Social Age is the age of communities: liberalised, open, cross boundary, sense making. Hire me, hire the community, is the message we bring to work. And, conversely, deliver poor service, act unfairly, and it’s both me and the community that will respond. It’s a rebalancing of the Social Contract, a shift to where brand is owned by the community itself.
To thrive, we need fairness, we need respect, we need humility and social leadership, we need equality and tolerance.
We need each other.
The good times are always punctuated by the bad: last night, walking back up Broadway, there was a couple, homeless. The guy was sat, cross legged, starting into space: the girl lying asleep with her head on his lap. He was holding her head, just staring, with a cup in front of him. They were far from the only homeless people here, but the pathos seemed different: i guess at least they had company. Some people here are utterly alone, utterly lost. I feel lucky, but sad: it’s no coincidence that last time i was sat in this very coffee shop i wrote about homelessness.
With opportunity comes responsibility: both individually and as an organisation or society. Intolerance and ignorance are no longer excusable. We might not be able to save the whole world, but maybe we can save each other. Maybe it’s the small steps that count.
I’m encouraged by the level of interest in the Social Age (and, more importantly, how we can be ready to survive it). Everyone can see that things are changing, and what could be better than exploring it together, learning from each other. Some people change the world by breaking the rules, others because they never even realised they were there to constrain them. Ignorance may not only be bliss, it may be the thing that saves us.
Unintentionally, my writing often crosses into a kind of travelogue. I’ve written about Amsterdam, New York, Singapore and San Francisco at length, and other places in passing. Partly it’s about the learning we do as we change the location of our stories: the way that different places give different perspectives. Partly it’s because i enjoy the freedom: i realised early on that you have to write what you want to write, not what you think people want to read. You have to be yourself. It may be all you have.
As i walked south, down Manhattan, yesterday, i passed a gospel church in full flow: from the outside, i could hear nothing, just see in through the large glass doors, watching the choir, dressed in white, swaying and clapping. Like a window into someone else’s community. It’s looked like a happy one. It’s like that with every window we peer into: windows into different communities, only a small number of which we will ever belong to.
In some ways, writing is so passé: probably i should be doing a video blog, but there’s still something wonderful about words on a page, something persistent.
This is how it goes: build your personal narrative, share it, collaborate, learn. Capture the co-created narrative, share it, learn. Solve problems, share how, learn. Create spaces for ‘safeness’ and spaces for risk. Share what you learn, and do it in communities.
It’s not about getting it right first time: it’s about getting it more right than last time. Iterative, evolutionary.
The city constantly changes: each time i visit, buildings go up, buildings come down. It’s an unfinished symphony with an ever changing audience. Iterative, changing. Cities adapt to meet the needs of the moment, which is precisely what we seek to do in organisations and within our communities: staying relevant.
I walk the city as a unit of one, but connected: through technology, through common interest, through companionship and curiosity. A unit of thousands.