This post is one of a series exploring aspects of the Social Age, written as i complete the sketch map for 2019. Belief: Organisations exist in many different ways. They are legal entities, which give them security and defined power, they are physical entities, which gives them geographical footprint and connection to community, they are networks of influence, through employment and supply chain, which, through the currency of money, gives them influence and sway. But above all of this, and more consequentially in the context of the Social Age, our Organisations exist almost entirely as structures of belief.
Almost every decision we make, in relation to a company, or it’s products and services, can be gauged in terms of utility, and belief. An investment of belief. A phone may provide utility, but my decision to buy a specific brand will be influenced by belief. A bank may provide utility of banking, but my decision as to which one i use will be partly driven by invested belief. Sometimes ostensibly, where i chose a company with greater social conscience, or perceived fairness, sometimes subliminally, where i anthropomorphise the entity in line with decades of marketing and brand. Increasingly, my belief is tied not simply into product and service, but also to the association of the hero leader.
Especially true of the emergent trans-nationals, the new generation of post-national world powers, it’s impossible to separate individual from Organisational identity. Musk is Tesla, Cook is Apple, although also note that these individuals transcend Organisation and may carry influence (invested belief) beyond one Organisation, and into a broader social movement or cause. For example, i firmly believe that mankind will make it to Mars, but i also believe that it is Musk who will land us there.
Belief is not an abstract concept: capitalist markets directly transpose belief into value. When Apple became the first Organisation capitalised at $1 trillion, that valuation was substantially an expression of belief, as indeed was the subsequent loss of almost 25% of that value. Money itself is a conduit of belief: i ‘believe’ that it has value, and hence it does. Or at least, it has every time up until the last time i used some.
Belief itself is not new, but the mechanisms by which we invest it, and the entities in which we invest it, are. Historically, we have seen religion as the dominant mode for the investment of belief, but almost certainly the emergent culture and cult of celebrity represents (at least neurologically) a parallel path. Our desire, our need, to believe in something may be one force that drives the 100 million Twitter pathway. The sheer scale, focus, and power, of social networks of celebrity figures is not something to be too readily dismissed. Belief is power in a very real, possibly the most real, way.
And the new entities of belief act differently from the old ones: historically, belief was held through the sanctity of power, and separation of space. Almost every single structure of historic belief, and power, separated seniority, from the wider population: parliaments, alters, pulpits, churches, shrines, castles, offices, all represent the sanctity of space, and separation of space, correlated to power. And almost every aspect of the Social Age runs counter to that: whilst historic belief was held in asynchronously narrated stories, current belief is highly synchronous, and whilst space used to be separated, almost a definition of social media is that it de-sanctifies space. It opens up the private to the public.
All of this conversation of belief acts as a new lens on power: if Social Leadership is a reputation based form of Authority, then it’s a belief based form. I follow you because i believe in you (something which showed up clearly in the research we carried out in the NHS in Scotland late last year), where people seem to describe a mechanism of ‘follow-ship’ that is belief based, separately from one that is structurally based. Or to put it another way, they may follow you as a leader due to your formal role, but they will invest in you as a leader due to your social reputation. Your aggregation of belief.
Investment sits at the heart of this (and not simply the financial investment i referenced earlier). Utility, my functional skills, can be rented for money, but anything extra, arguably including my creativity, innovative potential, and willingness to assign risk, is a matter of willing investment. And it is far from certain that any individual will make that investment purely on the factor of where they work. I may work for an Organisation, but invest my energy elsewhere. Indeed, the ecosystem factors of the Social Age make that second option increasingly likely. The aggregating, and amplifying, features of the Social Age make it every easier for me to find areas to invest, and to derive pleasure and reward (social reward) from doing so.
So i have a friend who is a Financial Analyst for a bank, but invests herself in a parallel music career. And a friend who is a senior civil servant, who invests herself as an artist. Both entities that they are employed by could benefit from their creativity, but have not created the conditions whereby they have earned the right to have it.
And this is the crux of belief: it’s discretionary investment. Belief, in the Social Age, is hard currency, one that backs the reputation economy, at scale. But to have it, we must earn it. And with it, we must honour it.
What you need to know:
- Belief’ is an invested currency, and relates to engagement at scale. With invested belief, we can help unlock creativity, and the agile Organisation.
- Almost everything about the Social Age relates to the erosion of sanctity: power, and space, both democratised.
- Our newest, most successful Organisations, are substantially entities of belief, and to be Socially Dynamic, we must treat them as such.
What you can do:
- Focus on Social Leadership and the reputation economy.
- Consider at every stage the ways that you honour that belief.
- Recognise the separation of utility and belief: pay for utility, earn belief