Aspects of the Social Age

I’m working on a couple of larger manuscripts at the moment, alongside my work on the doctorate, one of which will be an overarching guide to the Social Age. Today i found myself playing with ideas, and i realised that there were a series of aspects that i had not previously drawn together, but which are collectively some of the most disruptive or destructive to legacy systems: asymmetry, individuality, radical disruption, choice, permeability. I should stress that is is really just a sketch, a captured thought, but let me elaborate on each, and why i chose it.

Historically we built Organisations that could compete effectively, through known mechanisms, in known markets. And hence we ended up with monoliths (which owned infrastructure, and people, within systems that served established needs). But today many of those monoliths are being toppled by asymmetry: smaller, more agile, less constrained entities that do not meet them head to head, but rather are more likely to simply take a bite out of a long value chain, or abstract the purpose or reason for the legacy Organisation to exist at all. If you wish to fear competition today, asymmetric competition may be the place to look, and if you are building strength, resilience, infrastructure, or seeking to be agile, you should also be considering in which dimension, the known, the balanced, or the asymmetric, because different types of strength are held in different ways.

Asymmetry also relates to power, which has become radically asymmetric in some cases, through the rise of community, of social collaboration, and hence of accountability at scale, and speed.

Radical disruption may be obsolete, but essentially relates to the pervasive fracturing of certainty, and increasing pain of carrying a legacy. Things that used to make us strong may now equally make us weak, slow, or blind. Legacy models of working, of engagement, of learning, of leading, all of which are disrupted by the radical connectivity and democratisation of the Social Age.

Individuality is not simply about people becoming more separate, but rather that people can hold stronger individual identity even when within Organisational systems, and indeed the reputation economies that we tend to foster or seek to exploit today may mitigate for this. We should not conflate individuality with selfishness, except in the obvious connotation that it is about self. Rather this is a perspective that we seek greater agency and individual control than ever before, and hence engagement (particularly in the context of remote work and the consequences of the pandemic) will be a negotiated and dynamic feature, not an imposed one.

It also speaks quite fundamentally to something i explored in the book on the Socially Dynamic Organisation: that the legacy of Organisations as entities of collectivism and conformity is fundamentally challenged in an age of dispersal and individuality.

This speaks also to Choice: in general, we have greater choice in almost everything. Starting with where we work, and how much we choose to put into work. Indeed the challenge may not be lack of choice, but rather the unfolding realisation of just how much choice we have, and just what an illusion we may have laboured under in the past. Many Organisations still act as if they own people, infantilise people, and seek to control them. But we have choice. Again: the future will be earned, negotiated, and more fluid.

Which leads to permeability: whilst you used to ‘own’ everything, today it is more important to be able to ‘access’ it, through a variety of models, be that freelance, tech led, co-created, open source, by the hour, or free. Almost everything is permeable, within and between our Organisations, which used to rely on walls that could not be breached. This is a fundamental challenge as it questions just what, exactly, an Organisation actually is. It is the boundaries that define ‘self’, and yet as boundaries become blurred, then the entity itself, in it’s nature, changes.

Perhaps again we need to re-conceptualise that an Organisation actually is, and how we understand it to be coherent and effective.

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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