I feel a little like i’m staring over a precipice: a sense of vertiginous excitement, coupled with more than a little trepidation. It’s probably coupled in some way to where i am with writing at the moment: i’ve dedicated more time this year into more reflective, longer form writing and, alongside that shift, i have felt my own thinking moving further forwards. It was as i worked deeply in ‘The Change Handbook’ at the end of last year that i first felt a pull towards overall organisational design principles, ideas that i’ve been fortunate enough to rapidly iterate on real projects this year.
Now, more than ever, i have this sense of how interconnected whole different strands of my own interest are: how the ecosystem of the Social Age has led to evolved learning, the new nature of knowledge, the need for Social Leadership, a need for organisations to build a capability in change, the need to be fairer, a need to innovate, a need to evolve. You cannot fit a square peg into a round hole, although you can waste a lot of time trying.
I’m sure there is wide awareness of this, but there is a clear polarity of response: in our systems of organisational design, government, transport, education, even law, we lag far behind, deeply embedded in resistant behaviours and wilfully blind mindsets. We have developed ‘professional’ structures that lie often in opposition to the democratised, crowd powers narratives that are gaining strength today. In many case, such as democracy itself, we have hide bound institutions denying the change, and widely held beliefs (usually from a privileged minority), that the crowd is simply not clever or engaged enough to make a difference. But that is to miss the point: the crowd may not be deeply engaged in the current understanding of democracy, but the current understanding of democracy may be increasingly distanced from today’s reality.
We don’t need systems of evolved government that allow us to engage more deeply in a jargon led, professionalised, exclusive form of government: we need evolved societal approaches to tap into the wisdom, cognitive surplus, and creative potential of the crowd itself. It’s not innovation within a known system: it’s innovation that subverts and surrounds the existing system.
If you’ve read many of my recent posts, you may have sensed an increased interest in democracy, a fire that i am feeling as i read more widely around it. I am intending to explore a series of five linked posts, perhaps in August, looking at the evolution of democracy, and exploring different aspects of disruption, but in many ways, i know that this will give me no answers.
It’s going to just be another part of the web: as knowledge changes, so does learning, and as learning changes, so does power, as power changes, so do the structures that surround and encode it, and as those structures change, so does the nature of society. That’s the earthquake that’s happening right now. The emergence of the New Victorians: the technoligarchs, the new Emperors, the data giants. Colonising the wild west with broad strokes of code on a map. We see the existing power structures trying to cage or tame them, but it will be to little avail: the battles that they win are mere PR triumphs, populist campaigns, not underlying tectonic controls. The sense of movement is clear.
I am no techno-utopian dreamer: indeed, i sense that the technology will damn us indeed if we fail to provide space to evolve the surrounding sociology. We must change. And change we will. The only question is whether that change is imposed, or whether we engage in the conversation. It’s that decisions that will doubtless define the winners. As Amazon consumes Whole Foods in the US, the conventional food retailers must be trembling. Once Apple declares intent to drive, it will be the creaking fracture of the automobile industry, at least in anything like it’s current format, a format which notoriously struggles to leverage profit out of a long supply chain in any case.
It’s not that there won’t be winners; it’s just that there may be new winners, and some very large, very bewildered, and very historic losers.
I’m sure that salvation lies in adaptation: evolution. There is no predetermined path to follow, but rather one of constant adaptation, a path that is there for the bold to follow. Develop a capacity for iteration, for creativity, for innovation. Develop a reputation to attract talent, develop fair ways of engaging with people (not human capital, or human resource), allow consequence to shine into any dark corners of the organisation, even from the bottom up, and be willing to change, by developing power structures, spaces, capability, to change.
One HR Director asked me last year what Glass Doors was. When i told him, he had two questions: ‘what are they saying about us’, and ‘how do we stop them saying that?’. The answer to the first question was that nobody was saying anything good. And the answer to the second questions was ‘rebuild your organisation, from the ground up, to be better, to be fairer. Evolve it.’
We cannot solve ecosystem challenges through simple, tactical, one touch solutions. You cannot solve a cultural challenge with leadership alone, and you cannot solve innovation through process. You can’t tackle the evolution of knowledge with evolved learning alone, and you can’t use a change process to navigate a new type of change. You can’t use formal power to influence in social spaces. We need a new balance, but we can’t have the balance until we accept and embrace the change. We have to find our way, together.
I’ve shared work around a dynamic tension: how the future of organisations will lie in recognising the formal and social systems, and in recognising and embracing the dynamic tension between the two. We must not seek to collapse that state: we don’t want either side to dominate. Instead, the energy that powers the Socially Dynamic Organisation will be this very dynamic tension.
As i peer over the edge of the precipice, i feel a sense of the complexity of the challenge, but also a degree of hope, because the new ecosystem favours bold explorers, it favours those willing to learn, to iterate, to adapt.
You do not need great structure, huge expenditure, high resources, to evolve. You just need pressure, and the right mindset. And that is where to start: share a picture, open ourselves up to be ready to explore.