Trends of the Social Age

To understand a system we typically start with point observations, and generalise from there, framed within our legacy understanding: look around you, see what is different at the granular level, what you can see and sense, and then generalise back to the system as a whole. Legacy knowledge enables an efficiency of thought, but also constrains our imagination, literally blinding us to possibility.

So i walk down my high street and see some boarded up shops, i buy new coffee filters on Amazon, and i generalise to the collapse of retail and dereliction of the city centre, framed by broader media narratives that surround me. Which may not be wrong, but equally may not be right, for two clear reasons.

Firstly: the system i am observing (and many systems in general) are dynamic and adaptive, and hence what i observe today may not be the same thing that i observe tomorrow, and, secondly, generalising from my individual perspective to a collective one can fail to account for diversity of experience and perspective. E.g. in the example above my observation is biased by my ownership of a smartphone and coffee machine and existence of a societal structure that allows for cheap, fast and efficient postal delivery. Because i take these things for granted, my view is skewed.

Point observation is inherently subjective and personal, because i am holding the binoculars that i am looking through.

However, that does not make the act of prediction, or need to generalise, irrelevant: if we are to have any resilience or planned adaptation to our evolving context, in this instance the context of the Social Age, we need to rely upon both.

So our challenge is reasonably clear: firstly, to carry out enough observation to enable us to figure out just exactly what has actually changed, or is actually changing, and secondly to find the threads that run through it.

For example, we can make a number of discrete observations: social media have enabled the rise of individual social authority at scale (Kim Kardashian or Greta Thunberg), social authority at scale is a new expression of, or space for, political power that bypasses legacy gatekeepers (Donald Trump or Mark Zuckerberg), expressions of power are increasingly disaggregated from physical space (Citizen of America vs Citizen of Apple), proliferation of, and amplification of, social movements at scale and speed (#XR, #BLM), and so on, which in term may indicate new modes of social organisation, new mechanisms and intersections of power, new taxonomies of productivity and effect, new rules, new risks and consequence, new mechanisms of success and reward, and so on.

Or to put it more simply: a lot of things are changing, and the space in which they are changing is, itself, changing.

With my next two books (‘Quiet Leadership’ and ‘The Humble Leader’) firmly into production, my focus is shifting to the research for ‘The Experimental Organisation’, and to complete work on ‘The Social Age Guidebook’, the latter of which explores these ideas about the context of our leadership.

With that in mind, i will be sharing more of the emergent research and writing on both these manuscripts over the coming weeks and months. Some of this work will be clumsy or muddled at first as i use this #WorkingOutLoud space to attempt to find those connective threads.

Sharing point observations is easy, comforting, convenient, and potentially useless: this is what i see, this is what i think, if held locally is descriptive, not analytic.

Instead, i hope, across both of these texts, to surface some of the meta-narrative: start with what we are seeing and hearing, consider how this relates to broader ecosystems trends, and perhaps most importantly, to look at what we can do about it all in practice.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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