I’m back to writing on the new book, with it’s provisional title ‘Organisational Change in the Social Age’. As is my habit, i’m #WorkingOutLoud and sharing some extracts as i write, in place of trying to write separately for the blog in the days i dedicate to the book. This piece is another part of the early chapter ‘Welcome to the Social Age’, and follows on from the piece i shared last week. This section talks about the democratisation of creativity and the devolution of brand. You may recognise parts of it from earlier writing on the blog, but i’ve rewritten this piece quite heavily.
One very visible change in the Social Age is the full democratisation of creativity and publishing: the means by which any device of consumption is a device of broadcast as well.
I can write this, on my iPad, sat anywhere in the world and, at the touch of a button, broadcast it. Social Collaborative Technology lets me be connected through multiple channels to the same community, as well as through multiple channels to multiple communities. There’s a whole spiders web of connections that range from the highly visible and almost formal through to the fragmented, anonymised and almost hidden, but my reputation is forged and my amplification achieved through my ability to create content and share it wisely, to engage effectively in these spaces.
Curation skills, creative storytelling skills, use of multiple modalities of communication and an understanding of what makes a compelling narrative therefore come to the fore.
The ecosystem we inhabit in the Social Age allows for this fluidity, this devolved creativity.
It’s interesting to note the extent to which Social technology, with it’s democratisation of storytelling and publishing, challenged and subverts on of the mainstays of formal hierarchical control: when anyone can broadcast and anyone can be amplified, David can take on Goliath and put the ensuing victory on YouTube, almost instantly. This levelling effect is highly significant and ties into the ways that your brand is now almost entirely owned by the community.
We can no longer control the story, so we can no longer hope to control or shape change fully through formal channels. You cannot write the future alone, simply hope for a permission to co-create it with the community. One of the skills of Social Leadership is to learn how to do this: how to take organisational stories, which are inherently grounded in hierarchy, and to tell and retell them to be relevant to your team. Bad storytelling starts “They’ve told us to…”, where the story becomes simply instruction: abstract and robbed of authenticity. Dynamic organisations co-create and co-own the future state.
The story of the organisation is not simply told internally though: in the Social Age, the brand itself is co-created by the community dependent on your organisations actions and engagement over time: so we can be in the conversation about what the brand means, but we no longer own and shape it, broadcasting it to dumb recipients. It’s a far more dynamic relationship where we are influencers, but not owners. If the organisation speaks in one voice, but acts in another, it will be found out.
In this context, as the marketing and brand functions struggle to retain control and justify their spending, they become less relevant: the role of devolved creativity and uninhibited curiosity take over as primary determiners of an organisations perceived brand. It’s the ability to question everything, then question it again tomorrow, and it’s this curiosity, the devolved creativity, facilitated by technology and hosted within community that gives us agility. That was a long sentence for a short purpose: we are made agile by asking questions and sharing our thinking as we do so.
All of this change happens in a globalised environment: organisations trade globally, but we, as individuals, are able to build and maintain much wider, looser, social communities, giving us access to expertise, thinking, support and experience at a whole new level. The badge of ‘globalised’ no longer belongs to big business: it’s more a mindset.
But not one without it’s challenges. I’m increasingly interested in the ways that, in the Social Age, this globalisation brings people together across legal, ethical, moral and geographical boundaries. We are connected in ways that we were never connected before, which creates a host of tension and challenge, not to mention safeguarding issues. In the globally connected space, who’s views prevail?
In a global community we are operating across many definitions of ‘right’ and ‘fair’, not just the legally defined ones. We can deny the reality of this, but the reality will come to bite us in the end. We cannot find unity through legal or hierarchical control and resolution, but rather through engagement and respect.
This get’s to the heart of the Social Age: the challenges we face are not simply logistical and financial. They are themselves social.
There’s a greater need (and desire, on the whole) for organisations to be socially responsible, but understanding what that means in practice requires some wholehearted navel gazing. How to be fair, responsible and equal. For me, this drives everything: you cannot be agile as an organisation without being both fair and inclusive. The equality and diversity debate therefore becomes as much one of competitive advantage as it is of simply doing what is clearly right.
As we travel around our map of the Social Age, you’ll see that so much of what we talk about happens within communities and outside of formal hierarchies. And i’ve left three of the biggest elements to last: the ways we learn, the ways we lead and the ways we gain authority and influence.