#WorkingOutLoud on the Community Diagnostic

I’m consolidating several previous bodies of work into a new iteration of a Community Diagnostic as part of my broader work around building engaged communities: It will provide insight into, and visualisation of, a single Learning Community, as well as a comparative view across multiple Communities. This is early stage #WorkingOutLoud, it’s experimental, so i am prepared for parts of it to be wrong.

The Community Builder Guidebook

It is intended to help an Organisation measure, and recognise, it’s progress towards unlocking the power of Social Communities. It will explicitly help identify development and support needs, as well as barriers or obstacles to effectiveness and growth.

The aim is not to score communities on effectiveness or output, but rather to understand their individual culture, approach, and mechanisms of effectiveness.

The Community Diagnostic is based predominantly upon individual, and collective, narratives, so it is essentially a qualitative, but calibrated, measure of effect. Where possible, i’m also including more quantitative measures, although with a strong caveat that those things that can be quantified in social conversations are typically interaction frequency and visible connection, both of which may inform our view, but are not robust measures of engagement or effect.

One way to view the Diagnostic is that it visualises the Dominant Narrative of a specific community: because it draws upon both individual, and group, narratives, it provides both divergent, and consensual, definitions and results, meaning it forces the points of difference. In other words, five different Communities are forced into providing five different single narratives, which will each be different (as they are consensually moderated: people agree the narrative).

In this sense, you may find it easiest to view these as the political intent of a community.

In the analysis, i will reconcile this with Organisational intent, to provide practical, and pragmatic, development steps, which are focussed on how the Organisation can carve out space, resource, and opportunity, to help these communities to thrive.

Mechanisms of Effect

We use this term to describe the ways that a Community is effective: it includes both the formal aspects that influence this (things that are owned by, or under the control of, the Organisation), as well as the social factors (the interpersonal, tribal, and cultural factors, which are beyond Organisational control).

Note that even fully formal communities also have social components, they may just be invisible from the outside, or unintended in consequence: for example, weaker voices may still be silenced within formal teams if they contradict the established Dominant Narrative.

Formal Mechanisms

Formal Mechanisms of Community (those owned by, or under the direct control of, the Organisation) include things such as:

  • A charter, or formal remit, establishing the community, and hence giving it space to operate.
  • Formally appointed leadership roles.
  • A dedicated technology that is owned or controlled by the Organisation.
  • Formally recognised membership, or formal control of membership.
  • Any formal renumeration or reward for membership or contribution, including game or points based reward.
  • Formal rules, including safeguarding.
  • Any formal ability to moderate the conversation, including the ability to silence any individual voice, or exclude any individual member.
  • Provision of, or access to, any formally owned resources (space, technology, support etc)
  • Any funding, including for e.g. social functions

Social Mechanisms

Social Mechanisms of Community (those that are interpersonal, tribal, or cultural) include things such as:

  • A pact, or shared social statement, of intent.
  • Socially fluid membership, characterised by a democratised ability to invite new people to join.
  • Socially moderated membership, where membership is controlled, but by an internal, social structure e.g. a committee.
  • Conversations that take place on predominantly social technology (that which is not owned by an Organisation), or take place on formal technology, but in illicitly claimed spaces.
  • Exclusion through social consensus, or individual sanction, especially by those with greater social authority within the group.
  • Social recognition of membership, including, for example, access to opportunity, resource, or influence, based upon membership.
  • Social rules, which may either be written (but moderated by the community), or implicit (held in the dominant culture), hence unwritten, and possibly contextual or fluid.
  • Social mechanisms of moderation, which may include conflict based approaches e.g. open dissent or challenge.
  • Socially owned resources, including those to which the community is granted access purely dependent upon membership, even if not formally owned by the community.

Areas of Investigation

In the initial Diagnostic effort, i am exploring ten core areas:

  1. Purpose – view of shared purpose, and how this reconciles with the Organisational view
  2. Permission – how the Community understands the space it has to operate within
  3. Connection – the types, and breadth, of connection (correlated to the formal structures of the Organisation)
  4. Technology – the technologies that enable or constrain the community
  5. Tempo – the pace and synchronicity of interaction.
  6. Effectiveness – the ways in which the Community believes itself to be effective.
  7. Mechanisms – the self reported mechanisms of effect
  8. Membership – factors affecting membership, including rituals of joining and belonging
  9. Activity – the ways that the activity of the Community can be characterised
  10. Rules – the rules of the Community.
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Learning Science: Frames and Context

This is the latest in a series of posts that share my evolving writing from the Modern Learning Capability Programme: this piece explores ‘Frames and Context’ in the Learning Science Module. The previous post on the Learning Map will provide the best context on this. This work is shared as part of #WorkingOutLoud, and forms a small part of a large module, so please bear in mind the context. It looks at how we are efficient in our thinking, but also trapped, by the sociocultural frame, and behavioural scripts that operate within them.

Learning: Frames

I find it helpful, empowering even, to be willing to include elements within my Learning Map, indeed, within my personal discipline of Learning Science, of which i am less certain. Your map does not need to contain all of the knowledge that you already hold: it can represent your areas of enquiry, curiosity, and doubt.

Remember the context: science does not give us one answer, but rather is a process and mindset to discover answers, and to edge our understanding forwards. Science is a discipline bounded by doubt.

A Frame provides the context of our understanding: it’s built out of two notions, firstly, our socio-cultural context, and secondly, the cognitive foundations of learning.

I’ll try to illustrate this by talking about coffee: when you order a coffee, in a coffee shop, you are tying into two established narratives. The first narrative is that you understand the cultural context of a coffee shop (you would not walk into a Police station and try to order coffee, because you understand how that piece of partitioned space carries different cultural meaning. The second narrative is that you have learned how to follow the specific system for ordering coffee, so walking to the bar, speaking, counting out your money (or using Apple Pay) etc are all easy, subconscious, activities.

Or to put it another way, you understand the mechanisms of purchase, and the social constructs in which that purchase takes place.

Both of these factors optimise your experience, but equally both of them constrain you in your imagination and activity.

I’ve included Frames in my core map of Learning, in the conversation about Learning Science, because aspects of both of these elements (socio-cultural context, and behavioural scripts) directly relate to our ability to perform economically, and our ability to change (and hence learn).

An example would be the use of smartphones: today it is perfectly normal for someone to be in a meeting, using a smartphone, whilst still talking to you, though you may consider their actions to be rude, or distracted. The ability to use the smartphone is an example of learned skills and behaviour, and the willingness to use it in a meeting relates to dominant social norms, all of which provide a Frame. Our understanding of the activity as ‘rude’ relates to our historic view of ‘normal’.

Currently, wearing a VR headset may seen outlandish too, but doubtless in time it will merely be rude and potentially just normal.

Frames can limit behaviour, but more fundamentally can limit understanding, conception, and ultimately, our ability to learn and change, so to understand the scientific basis of these features is important.

Frames: Context

In the example above, of buying a coffee in a coffee shop, the frame provides context. I’m currently sat in a co-working coffee shop, where the tables are old and battered woodworking benches: the visual language is shabby, informal, up-cycled. Yesterday i was in Starbucks, where the visual aesthetic was ‘lounge’, with large armchairs, and low coffee tables, with artwork showing coffee beans and smiling coffee growers. I understood both expressions of design to mean ‘coffee shop’.

In Starbucks, i queued and paid by App, whilst in the Coffee Saloon, i sat down and the coffee was bought to me, but both mechanisms of effect are equally well understood to me, so i was effortlessly able to adapt. Again: both fall within my expected range of behaviours, and all i have to do is to calibrate my actions to the contextual space.

In Starbucks, dogs are not allowed, but here in the Coffee Saloon, they are, which means that to ‘thrive’ in this space i have to understand the rules and context. Both are still understood as coffee shops, but the formal rules of each differ: some are the same, i have to pay for my coffee in both, but the specific skills of paying are different.

In Amsterdam, i visited a cafe where you just paid what you thought it was worth: this fractured my established understanding somewhat. Whilst i’m familiar and comfortable with different visual expressions of the coffee shop, one of the fundamentals i’m used to is fixed pricing. In the United States, i understand that i need to add a tip on top, but the price itself is clear.

If i visit a friend, the coffee will be free, and in a shop, it’s a fixed price, so the mixed model, where i pay what i feel it is worth, was challenging: it added a layer of socially imbued value onto what was previously a transaction based exchange (albeit in a nice setting). Suddenly i could offend someone, or reward them.

Frames exist well beyond coffee: they are social constructs that are nested: much as we looked at Skills being nested into Behaviours, so too both skills and behaviours are nested within Frames.

But not passively so: the frame can cue up a particular script. If i walk into a situation that i understand as ‘coffee shop’, i am primed to act out specific scripts. So i understand a broad range of ways that i may pay, by cash, App, card, or through exchange, and i simply need to be cued up as to which one i should utilise.

It’s worth noting that this contextual cueing is a key facet of disruption and failure, as well as deceit and fraud: by cueing someone up by applying context, you can cause them to deploy inappropriate scripts.

For example, to ride the London Underground train, you have to ‘tap in’ with a credit card. Once, somebody approached me, once i had gone through the barrier, wearing a dark outfit that appeared to be some kind of uniform. They explained that they were carrying out random ticket checks, and needed me to scan my card so that they could check i had ‘tapped in’. But in fact, they were carrying a new card machine so had i tapped my card, i would have just been handing over money. It was a fraud, in which i could have willingly participated: they did not have to intimidate me into giving them money, but rather create the social construct in which it seemed natural to do so. The outfit they wore was not specifically a uniform, but it was dark, with detailing that suggested the context of a uniform. And the action, that of a ticket inspector, was appropriate for the wider context that i understood.

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A Methodology for Learning

Just a short post today, to share a new illustration around my Learning Methodology (which was one of the first books that i published, and a body of work that continues to evolve.

The Methodology is really a set of six spaces to explore, and to ask questions, before we ever build any solution: what is the CONTEXT of the learning, how will you DEMONSTRATE what you are teaching, where is the space for EXPLORATION, how will we support REFLECTION, do we need to ASSESS, and if so, what will we do with it, and how will we support ongoing PERFORMANCE.

I’ll use this today as part of a Modern Learning session, encouraging people to draw their own Learning Map, as part of developing their practice. Recently i shared my most current map, which is part of my newer work around Learning Science.

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A Vision of Culture

Culture’ is a much used byword for ‘effect’: we talk about ‘learning cultures’, ‘toxic cultures’, ‘agile culture’, and so on, describing the culture by the effect that it demonstrates, or perhaps we could say by the behaviours that it permits. Learning Cultures are ones in which learning can take place beyond constraint, toxic cultures are ones that permit harm, and agile ones demonstrate an ability to learn and change.

I take a rather pragmatic view of culture: it’s co-created in the moment, but influenced by the Dominant Narratives in which we swim (the Dominant Narrative is the term used to describe ‘the way that things are’. These narratives feel fixed, but are actually remarkably fluid, if pushed in the right way). So at a behavioural level, it’s just about people, but at an Organisational or Tribal level, it’s about the stories we are trapped within.

All this week i am working around culture, so i sketched out the illustration above to indicate some of the internal tensions at work: whilst we often consider culture to be a thing, perhaps it is best to view it as a Polaroid photo, snapped across a landscape, capturing the zeitgeist and emotion of the moment.

I started by showing the ‘C’ and ‘E’ as separate towns, or fortresses, which reflects the meta-tribal nature of must communities, and hence Organisational cultures: we are not dealing with one thing, but rather an aggregated set of battling identities. Other factors i have tried to capture here are the mechanisms of culture (the gears), which we need to understand (forces of identity, pride, power, etc). But we should not seek to understand them simply to try to force or influence them, but rather to enable or inform them.

Organisational Culture

The anchors represent the tension that culture keeps us safe (within a know tribe), yet also holds us back (because it silences quiet voices, or views, and can inhibit difference). And the sparks represent the power, the electricity: i think we can reduce most social systems to an understanding of power, and the ways that it is generated and held.

The question marks remind us that culture is always contextual: if you feel that you exist within one Dominant Narrative, a space that is good, kind, and enabling, it’s worth remembering that this is just the common, consensual delusion, that you share with your tribe. Others may not feel the same: others may live in uncertainty or doubt: ‘Culture’ is rarely unified, but rather the illusion of a few.

One final aspect of culture is important: we often describe it as the thing that we want, failing to recognise that it is generally the thing that we deserve: we get what we generate. This is the truism of culture: if we are passive, we inherit what we are given, but if we lead through action, in the moment, then we earn something more positive. But the culture we are judged to have is exactly that, a judgement. To have something better, we must build it.

Thank you for reading this: if you enjoy my writing, please consider sharing it. My work is enabled by my wonderful global community. Thanks for your support.

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The Culture Game

I’m running a multi day event next week, centred around a Culture Game: the premise is that i’l create a scaffolding for people to use to ‘invent’ a culture, and we will then explore how the different cultures interact. The game is played across four sessions: first we explore IDENTITY, followed by VALUES, then we visit each others culture, before finally going to war with them.

Organisational Culture

I’ll share a quick overview of how each part of the game works.

In the first stage, we look at what culture means (primary cultural identity), how people join (totems, tokens, artefacts and rituals), and how identity is created (Dominant Narratives). The group carry out activities to build their culture, some examples of which include:

  • Making a flag
  • Writing your values
  • Making up a ‘welcome’ ritual
  • Inventing some acronyms
  • Drawing a logo
  • Setting some rules
  • Electing a leader
  • Claiming a space

At the second stage, they effectively consider what that culture will enable them to do, and why. Culture is essentially a common consensual delusion: it’s a view held in the minds of many, but those collective views create a space to operate, or act to constrain competing, or dissenting, voices.

  • What is your culture uniquely able to do?
  • What would your culture struggle to do?
  • Who owns your culture?
  • How will you change it?

With this shaped up, we visit between cultures: the groups induct each other, and also explain the limits of freedom.

  • Welcome them by ritual
  • Gift them something
  • Induct them
  • Illustrate a limits of freedom:
  • What is forbidden?
  • Which stories are silenced?

The final section is the hardest: we pit the cultures against each other in Culture War.

Throughout the two days, i will work with the group to capture their culture on a graffiti wall: in Culture Wars, we create a chaotic scene where they battle the different cultures out, and explore how, within a global context, the reality of most Organisations is exactly this: that they maintain a notion of a unified culture, but in fact operate as multiple, local, fragmented and divided ones.

Culture is a fascinating space to explore: for this work, i’m drawing upon the Landscape of Trust research (which provides insight into cultural alignment, and conflict), as well as the Conditions for Community work, which reinforces the location based aspects of culture, and questions of territoriality, exclusivity, and exclusion.

I’ve not shared all the details of the game here (in case any of my diligent Explorers read it in advance! But i will share a perspective afterwards, as i iterate it to the next edition.

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Learning Science: Mapping Learning

I’ve nearly completed the new module i’m building on Learning Science, which forms part of my new Modern Learning Capability Programme: i have been #WorkingOutLoud and sharing the content as i go, and this piece if from towards the end of the module. In the third and final section, we build an individual Map of Learning, with a view to understanding how our platform and personal discipline as a learning scientist can inform this. Below, i share my own map for 2019, and the expanded text around the ‘Knowledge’ section.

Learning: Knowledge

In an overly simplistic view, i have positioned knowledge as the building blocks, with a sense that they can be picked up, and even exchanged or traded. This is a convenient fiction, but with some degree of truth: i can learn something, and share it with you. Whilst not physical rocks, these conceptual suggest nonetheless have mass and momentum of their own.

Within the space of Knowledge, i’m considering three elements: ‘Bias’, ‘Application’, and ‘Meaning’.

Knowledge: Bias

If knowledge is a foundation, then whatever knowledge we have, or lack, impacts the end result, so we should consider aspects of context, presence, or absence. We would also need to consider the role of consciousness, and subconscious action, which swerves us into neuroscience, and cognitive psychology. Bias is not simply about the obvious topics of diversity and equality, but also reales to weighting bias, where our view is built upon uneven foundations.

A simple view would be this: neurologists such as David Eagleman present a view of consciousness which is multi layered. They indicate that consciousness is a story that is told by our brain, to ourselves, built upon a whole series of nested ‘zombie sub-systems’. Essentially, as we grow, and learn, we build out these functional systems, and once they reach a level of complexity, consciousness emerges, written upon these foundations. This view can give us an interesting view of bias, discrimination, and social cohesion, whereby knowledge is important. It may indicate that providing spaces to learn, and experience, difference, we are likely to make real shifts in consciousness.

One could interpret this work (alongside a lot of other work that shows how knowledge changes the structure of the brain) to mean that knowledge is always important, and that a core role of learning is to push as much knowledge as possible to the individual, and that the knowledge itself changes the person.

But we could take other views: aspects of sociology, which relate to social cohesion, may indicate that knowledge alone does not shift our perspective, because we are not logical (or ‘constructed’) creatures. Take Climate Change: i can push as much knowledge as i like in your direction, but i may not change your perception (as either a believer, or denier, of Climate Change). Because we are not logical!

Questions such as this veer towards belief, and membership: some things we believe because that belief is part of our dominant cultural landscape (role of women), or because we crave membership of dominant groups, so we conform.

This view of bias would indicate that our challenge is not specifically to teach more knowledge, but rather to address questions of social norms, membership, identity, conformity, etc. This would steer us towards anthropology and sociology for insight.

But we may also consider just how much bias is conscious, or unconscious, which could push us towards the theory of Unconscious Bias, and implicit association: this research, conducted for over 30 years, presents a view that we develop innate, implicit, associations, which (in the language of the research), give us a view of what is ‘normal’. But the research methodology itself has come in for criticism, so it’s validity may not be intact.

My Learning Science foundations:

  • Neuroscience (foundations of consciousness)
  • Cognitive psychology (identity)
  • Sociology (social structures, membership, collective views, social consequence)
  • Unconscious bias [1] – a theory that may provide a structure to address bias

Knowledge: Meaning

The relationship between Knowledge, and Meaning, is something that has fascinated, and informed, my own view of learning for many years, and provides a foundation for my understanding of Social Learning, and the role (and importance) rehearsal spaces in learning. Indeed, i wrote a whole book on ‘Learning, Knowledge, and Meaning’, trying to make sense of this, much of which (in the spirit of #WorkingOutLoud) i would now rewrite as my own ‘meaning’ has evolved.

The simplest way i express it is that Knowledge is a building block, and Meaning is the building. We synthesise, and ‘sense make’ knowledge, to create meaning. So Knowledge is picked up, and Meaning is created. I hope it will be clear how this view supports Social Learning: the communities, spaces, and structure, of Scaffolded Social Learning provide both access to knowledge, and also the sense making support, to create new meaning.

IF you subscribe to this view, it informs our view of learning, and our views on things like ‘digital skills’, or (as i would express it) modern learning skills: we need to be able to access knowledge, we have to understand about validity, we need to access, build, and function within, diverse communities, we need to access challenge, as well as agreement, and we need to master storytelling to share our new meaning.

Our view of Learning Science may inform this in many ways:

  • Epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge itself, may provide a foundation.
  • Sociology supports our efforts to build communities for learning.
  • Economics may provide insight into how knowledge is transacted, as well as ideas for how social currencies may operate within these hidden social structures. Or it may provide insight into how we bridge back into formal currencies of an organisation [2].


In my own map of Learning, i’ve split Application out into a separate thread, and i suppose you could view this as an exercise in calibration: so Knowledge is the building blocks, and Meaning is what we create out of this (within our sense making communities), but that is not the end point: as we put this knowledge into action, we add in subsequent layers of meaning, in an additive and ongoing process.

To put it another way, there are two forces at work: one is the mechanism of learning (driven by codification and efficiency e.g. forming new habits), whilst the other is about adaptation and change (which is actively informed by emerging experience and new knowledge).

I’ve used the term Application to describe this: the process of calibrating what we have learned already, against the ongoing friction of experience. In this map of learning, it’s a reminder to keep myself honest: capability is not one learned and embedded body of knowledge, but rather is an ever evolving, contextual, and individual, experience.

I should stress that if we relate this back to the notions of Learning Philosophy, this is not simply a constructivist approach, but rather an emergent one: it’s easy to view ‘application’ as the process of putting knowledge into action, but in my map it’s a more involved process. The very act of putting it into action changes the thing itself, which for me at any rate captures what it is to learn, and also explains why learning is such an individual experience.

Indeed, it may be this very aspect of Application which sees the purist view of knowledge as a coherent body of work, fragmented into the reality of learning being highly individualised and more something that we forge ourselves, than something we pick up from others.

My Learning Science foundations in this context would relate to Cognitive Psychology (habits).


[1] Donald Clark, one of my favourite acerbic writers, and self professed debunker of academic myth, presents a strong case here, but other views exist too: https://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.com/2018/06/unconscious-bias-training-waste-of-time.html

[2] I’m personally very interested in these Social Currencies right now. You can read about it in this piece: https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/the-future-of-work-belief-and-currency/ although you should note that i share this work as a THEORY: i do not yet have a solid evidence base behind it. So you will need to decide if it is appealing, or actually valid.

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The Intent of Kindness

To act in kindness is to help others, not for your own benefit, but solely for theirs. Or so thought Aristotle, one of many social commentators who has professed a view.

Why Kindness Counts

In the context of a reputation economy, i guess that one could take a more cynical view, and say that to act kindly delivers the tangible benefit of reputation, which is increasingly quantified back into more traditional markets. We could effectively claim that ‘kindness pays’, in dollars and pounds. But to act in that way may be to reduce the quality of kindness to mere transaction, and the ‘help’ given to utilitarian, not social.

The ostensible gifting of things, a feature of certain US chat shows (where every audience member walks away with a microwave), and a mainstay of points based reward programmes, is not specifically an act of kindness, although the action may be deemed generous (which equates in some case to kindness). Or to put it another way, we may be unintentionally kind. Or an action that is deemed to be e.g. marketing, may be received in kindness.

But i think that most of us would define, or at least consider, kindness something more ethical and possibly intangible. Perhaps a value that we live by. Perhaps in part it is the intention behind the action: if you gift something, if you are generous with tangible assets, in expectation of reward, then that itself denies you the badge of kindness. Or to put it another way, you may give things away and be kind, but if you transact the very same things in expectation of reputation, you are not being kind. Indeed, you may be being cynical, or manipulative.

In that sense, kindness falls into the category of qualities that are awarded in judgement, not claimed in expectation. So i may act, through whatever imperative, and be judged to be kind, or otherwise.

It is this view, the judgement of kindness, that is perhaps most relevant to consider in the journey and context of Social Leadership: we do not set out to develop a transactional route to reputation, an instruction book for kindness, but rather we curate a space, build our mindset, and take action, that is value led, deeply fair, and continuously reflective. And in doing so, we may be kind.

A place to focus on may be that statement, ‘take action’. If we establish that action itself does not qualify automatically as kindness, then we must beg the question, can you be kind, but not take action? Can kindness be held solely through intent? Or aspiration?

I doubt it: if our intention is to be kind, and our actions are unkind, then in judgement, we are unkind. If our aspiration is to be kind, but our action is selfish, mean spirited, or unfair, then we are not kind. As with any value, holding it alone is not enough.

So perhaps kindness lies in an interplay of intention and action: an intent may inform action (but does not determine it), and action may be deemed to be kind. An imperfect definition, maybe, but possibly workable, at least at some level.

Considering Social Leadership, we can build our awareness of values, and hold an intention to be kind, and we must take action, but not purely transactionally. Which may be a balance so nuanced as to be practically impossible. Indeed, that would not be a wholehearted surprise: kindness may only ever be a thing that we imperfectly aspire to, judged in totality, over time. Certainly that ‘judgement over time’ is a common feature of aspects of the reputation economy.

So you cannot simply intend to be kind, not can you simply act your way to kindness transactionally. It is, perhaps, a striving.

I would not necessarily argue that Organisations can be kind, but they can be led with kindness, and their systems and rules may hold kindness as a value. Certainly, as leaders we can be kind.

I’m also unaware if there is a taxonomy of values: do some count for more than others? But would certainly argue that fairness is a more deeply distributed value e.g. you can always act in fairness, even if you do not actively help someone without expectation of reciprocity. And Organisations can act fairly in all contexts, be that in how they handle their customer service, to the ways they make people redundant. Indeed, in that context, you can be fair, even when taking something away, so long as you treat everyone in an even handed manner. So you could not be fair by making one person redundant, and retaining another, if you made that decision purely on how much you liked that second person.

To be a Social Leader is to act in ways that are deeply fair, and hence thoroughly transparent. And if we are thoughtful, we can act in kindness too. Certainly, we can, and should, strive for that.

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