Time is remarkably elastic: remember those schoolroom days of double physics lessons, where the drone of the teacher was lulled to insensibility by the warmth of the sun through the dusty window and dreams of fields outside through the endless hours until break? The childhood car journey to visit Aunt Edith through endless miles of towns and traffic? Remember the late nights studying for final exams and the speed with which they arrived? Time goes fast, time goes slow, but go it does, and the question becomes what we take from it, what we document as we travel.
The last three weeks have been a blur: over 23,000 miles, six cities, many friends, old and new, and ideas more than i can count. But it’s not been all about performance: much of it has been for learning.
Consider three spaces: learning, rehearsing, performing. What balance do we seek between the three? It’s no idle question: many of the pressures of the Social Age force us down to performance. In the old model, ‘learning’ was formal, done when we were young, then parcelled out by the organisation to suit it’s development pathway as we climbed the ladder to leadership and obsolescence. But today the ladder is gone, and the heady heights of management hold little allure when you know that the foundations are shaky.
Today, ‘career’ is a fiction, replaced by eclectic roles we will play throughout the journey, some of which are paid, some of which are for learning, some of which we will enjoy, others that we endure. The common element will be ourselves, our story, our community. The narrative of our lives is ever more under our stewardship, guided and mentored by those around us.
Organisations have lost many of the levers of power that they used to exert over us: the lever of formal authority is eroded, the lever of permanence is gone, the lever of infrastructure (where we couldn’t do what we wanted to do without them) is fading, as the old world of ‘work’ and ‘social’ is replaced by a world of co-working, portfolio careers, open badges, global mentoring and Social Leadership. Put simply, the mechanisms of learning, rehearsing and performing are increasingly democratised and available to all. And in this new world, loyalty and trust must be earned through authentic action and fair reward.
Learning itself is evolving, away from something formal and abstract, defined by time and place and owned by the formal authority, towards something fluid, dispersed, on demand, co-created and often co-written by the community itself. Our responsibility as organisations changes with this: sometimes to be less about providing (and owning) the learning itself, more about providing prototyping, rehearsal and practice spaces. Safe spaces to develop vocabulary, to try new behaviours, to figure it out.
Throughout this, we write our story: as an approach, #WorkingOutLoud can take many shapes, but it’s essentially about exposing ourselves to the idea that the story is not yet fully formed. It’s about claiming or inhabiting permissive spaces where we can share our reasoning and co-create a view.
It’s not easy.
Our ability to survive and thrive in Socially connected spaces can be described as our Social Capital: partly it’s the ability to master the technology and understand how the spaces work, partly it’s the social skills that sit behind this. It’s about promoting equality, demonstrating empathy and humility, helping others to succeed, not because of any expectation of reciprocity in the moment, but because we value the community around us that will help us to succeed.
I have no boss, no employer, but i do have a community (or maybe many different communities), and even in this relatively liberal space, i feel pressure to perform. Regular readers will know that i write across broad spaces, but still i carry that old world notion that if i’m not ‘performing’ i’m not truly adding value, that somehow i’m wasting my own or others time.
Yes that ‘wasted’ time is often the most valuable. It’s the sense making space, the place where we roll ideas around and try out new ideas. Because try new ideas we must, unless we have an arrogance to assume that the old ones will last forever, or that the new ideas will land fully formed and ready to serve us.
It’s an infrastructural shift for organisations: away from an old model of formal learning and constant performance, to a new model of social learning, rehearsal where we #WorkOutLoud and develop capability, and performance, where we come together with our new voices and an earned authority.
For this new model of learning to work, it needs space to flourish: as well as looking at learning, organisations must adopt a holistic pattern of adaptation, which will see them change every aspect of what they do, from their approach to technology, to the ways they lead and the ways that they manage performance. Annual reviews and closed systems will no longer cut it. Formal leadership alone is simply a route to redundancy. In the Social Age, only the agile can thrive.
So here i sit, at the end of the Tour: left with a collection of air miles, a thousand photos, memories and new ideas. My writing has been constant, #WorkingOutLoud within the permissive space i have claimed or created. Will all of it be of interest to everyone? I doubt it, but if i censure myself to target one audience, i end up missing the most important audience of all: me. Because by engaging in our community, we are developing ourselves. Writing an open story that we learn from as we go.