The Social world is complex, contextual, adaptive. There are no quick fixes: instead, our focus should be on how we create the conditions for success. As i sit on the train, writing, there is an advert in front of me. “Step aside fate, it’s time science had a go at love”. The notion that we can find the ‘answer’ to love is counterintuitive. Love (like trust) is not a deterministic response: i can’t ‘do’ something to determine, with assuredness, that you will love me, although, perversely, it’s the things we do that make us fall in love. An element of love may be causal (the things i do may cause certain responses), but there is more to it than cause alone. “Imagine being able to stack the odds of finding lasting love entirely in your favour”, the advert continues. Well, maybe that is more the point: whilst we cannot ‘determine’ love, we may be able to improve the odds. And whilst we may not be able to own, or control, complex social systems, we may be able to stack the odds there too.
We do so not by seeking deterministic relationships, but rather by seeking to understand. Most of my own work falls in this space: it’s abstraction really, not a truth, but a representation of an observed truth. These abstractions are how we understand the world: generalisable truths, observations of cause. Abstractions suit social situations which are often counter intuitive and just plain emotional. No matter how ‘logical’ a particular outcome would be, there is no assurance that we will ‘feel’ something is right or good.
Organisations are used to operating within the formal space: in this space, they can own and control every formal element. They can change contracts, physical spaces, they can change purpose and they own the application of consequence. But that does not give them ownership, or even sight of, culture, and it certainly does not give them momentum in change.
Within the social system, we move beyond logic, into a different space: we can seek to build out abstractions, and use that understanding to shape our actions. So to develop Social Leadership, we build broad understanding, we develop reflective abstractions, to help us understand how things may operate, and we build high Social Capital to help us guide and react to the ways things actually pan out.
All this is at the front of my head right now because i’m starting to share the work on Trust quite widely. I’m sharing it, but i have no deterministic answers: there is not answer to ‘what we do about trust’. There is simply the potential of reflective abstractions: if we understand ways that trust may work, based upon observation and storytelling, if we understand environmental influences, such as culture and gender, and if we are willing to act with humility, and to learn, then we may become more adept at fostering a culture of trust. We may learn to create the spaces where trust will emerge. Some aspects we can influence but the answer will never be a process, it will start in the head and, perhaps like love, it may flourish from there.
Abstractions are not answers, but if we are reflective, and willing to learn, then they may still help us find solutions.