There’s an illusion of a woodcut that you may have seen: look at it, and you see the silhouette of an old women, but then, the image shifts, and you see a young woman’s face. Concentrate hard, and it shifts again, back to the old women, then back and forth as your brain tries to superimpose the images. But you never can: perception is complex like that. When the old woman is perceived, the young woman is hidden to us. Take that analogy, and now forget it.
The formal and social aspects of the organisation are concurrently perceived: it’s not that we exist in one, or the other, but rather we exist in both at once. We sit in a formal, visible, office, whilst simultaneously being intertwined within an invisible social structure. We communicate in person, whilst also, simultaneously, communicating around the edges. Our perception of systems of power, organisation, and control, are concurrently multi layered, and we hold a strong ability to reconcile these conflicting views. Possibly much as consciousness itself is a meta narrative written upon the senses and zombie subsystems of control, so too is our perception of our tribal reality.
Through the fog of our limited perception and connections, we nonetheless conceive our place with an arrogance of assurance and certainty. We often believe we know where we stand, and how we may exert influence or control, where the reality can be far more fluid and indeterminate.
Both systems are intertwined, but the focus is shifting.
Historically, the formal system was both more visible, and able to exert greater influence at scale: it was the dominant source of consequence, and controlled both communication, and your allocation of formal power within the hierarchy. Today, by contrast, there has been a rebalancing of power: formal systems are generally de-powered, whilst social ones are enabled, by factors such as the democratisation and proliferation of social collaborative technology, the rise of Social Authority, and the consequent ability to collectivise and achieve effect ever further from any formal oversight.
This is at the heart of the need for change: the structures that delivered great success when our organisations were rooted in the formal space may become unstable as the foundation of power shifts. Unless we are able to be more socially cross connected, fairer, and responsive, we are liable to disruptions and failure.