The Map of the Social Age 2019

I’ve just completed writing all 13 primary articles, and now the final map to go with them: this will form the Social Age Guidebook for 2019, which i will aim to publish as a short eBook next month.

Map of the Social Age 2019

I’ve really enjoyed writing and sharing ‘The Trust Guidebook’, and the ‘Social Learning Guidebook’, which has had over 500 downloads in the last week alone! The ‘Community Builder’s Guidebook’ is now in production, and then this one will follow that.

These Guidebooks are short, highly iterative, and shared as imperfect work, part of #WorkingOutLoud, but they are all practical an applied, with sections on ‘what you need to know’, and ‘what you need to do about it’.

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Guide to the Social Age 2019: Change

This is the final article in a series of pieces that, together, annotate my Map of the Social Age for 2019. These pieces simply mark a dozen points in the landscape that seem of particularly important to me at this time: it’s not a definitive view, but rather builds upon my maps from previous years. Today, i want to consider the nature of Change in the context of the Social Age, and to understand how mastering it may require us to give away more than we gain.

A Rhythm of Change

Change is constant in the Social Age: it’s one of the foundational features of our time and will require us to adapt, both personally, and institutionally, to thrive. it’s not that we have not faced change before: history is a story of change, and told by the winners, but the nature of change is both more systemic, and faster, at greater scale, than we have seen before.

This is always a dance: systems change, and Organisations adapt. Expectations evolve, and Organisations adapt. Markets change, and Organisations adapt. And some fail. The selective pressures of history, at least for the last few hundred years, have been ones initially of collectivism, centralisation, codification, and scale, followed by globalisation, agility, and optimisation.

Social Leadership 100 - Skills for the Social Age

The Industrial Age built off resources, and critical mass, to centralise both manufacturing, and expertise, and then the Knowledge Age decentralised manufacturing, extended supply and value chains, and created a currency of knowledge itself. This led us to the monumental, Domain Based, Organisations of today: structured, codified strength, supported by systems of education, supply, and habitation, that serve their needs.

But since this codification, two key things have changed: technology has both proliferated, and democratised, and hence social conditions have evolved, and our underlying modes of social organisation have fractured and reformed, in response to the betrayal of generational applications of ‘HR’, and structural change that has had a cost paid almost entirely by employees, through redundancy and wage freeze. We exploited the system, and the system is adapting.

Domain based Organisations could certainly change, but they did so through formal programmes, and structural rework, and the cost, where it applied, applied unevenly. The Social Contract, the one that exists between the Organisation, and the society that it serves, was fractured in the process: it’s not that Organisations are ‘bad’, but it is that they cannot be trusted, over time. Their primary drivers of value creation and profit are not bad, but the distribution and underlying networks of loyalty and inequality often are.

The challenge lies in the fact that we now exist in a dual track system: we are functionally invested in a job, and socially inhabit the Organisation. Organisations can change the job, but only we, and the community, can evolve the social Organisation. Constraint, the inability to change, lies not simply in the complexity and weight of the formal Organisation, but rather lies in the complex social forces of identity, belief, trust, tribes, and purpose, of the Social one.

Formal Organisations, Domain based ones, can change, but only through the expenditure of great effort, both financial, and intellectual, and often through inputs from external ‘consultancies’. And yet they change almost nothing, except the shape of their physical footprint. Changing the Social Organisation is a collaborative and co-creative effort, where everyone gets their say.

If you want change, in the context of the Social Age, then we have to change everything, starting with ourselves, and followed by the type of Organisation that surround us.

A Socially Dynamic Organisation will carry phenomenal formal strength, like the Domain based Organisations of the past, but it will carry a different DNA within it: not the ability to transform through effort alone, but rather the ability to change constantly, through consensus and engagement.

Domain based Organisations become exhausted through change, and by constant change, they become breathless, whilst a Socially Dynamic one does not, because it never had the massive formal constraint to begin with. It never fully codified it’s own strength, so it never needs to undo it. It’s lightweight, scaffolded, reconfigurable to need: it does not have a strong capability held as a change function, but rather is a community that is interconnected, and can effortlessly adapt. Because it has put in place the conditions to do so, starting with a willingness to relinquish outdated control, and to distribute capability and leadership.

When change is such a constant feature, we cannot afford to become exhausted by it. For individuals, especially leaders, we need to build our capability around us, with our engaged communities, and our support of those communities. It is ‘community’ that will help us to find our answers, and within our communities that our primary cultural alignment lies.

Social Leaders will build strong SEED Communities (an idea i’ve carried forward from my thinking about the Organisation as a forest ecosystem): not communities that hold answers, but rather those in which we may find, or grow them. And crucially, they will hold a strong ability to interconnect between communities, to write stories not simply of consensus, but of opposition and dissent. Part of the strength of Social Leadership is the way that it crosses over these barriers: it’s not a tribal strength, held within a local community, but rather a humble and global one, held between multiple communities. In this context, Social Leaders help Organisations to change not because they can push a formal narrative through the system, but rather because they are able to hear the weak voices within the system.

They are connected to the true zeitgeist of the global culture.

To lead in this context of change will require certain key skills: to listen more than we talk of answers, to connect beyond the simple and similar, to create space for difference, not just consensus, and to find comfort in ambiguity and uncertainty.

What you need to know:

  • In the Social Age, change is constant, and if you are breathless, you are already failing.
  • Resilience lies in our social systems, not simply in greater formal strength.
  • If it’s really hard to change, then you are sub-optimised, trapped with the wrong strength in the wrong system.

What you need to do:

  • Build SEED Communities, spaces to ‘make sense’ of weak signals and broad trends.
  • Find comfort with ambiguity: look at how it is held, and what the typical immune responses are.
  • Build a new type of Organisation (ok, that may feel like a big ask…), but start with the first step. Look at your own space, and consider where you need to stand next: then take that step.
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The Price of Gratitude

I wrote a ‘thank you’ note today, digging my fountain pen out of the drawer to do so. It took me back to a previous era (one in which i used my fountain pen often enough that i did not have to spend twenty minutes clearing the dried up ink and finding a new cartridge for it). Bad as my handwriting is, i was rather pleased with the effort, because saying ‘thanks’ feels good.

The Price of Gratitude

I was reminded of this page from ‘Social Leadership: my 1st 100 days’. It’s one of the ‘Action Days’, around half way through the journey, when i talk about saying ‘thanks’. Part of Social Leadership is not having the answers, but creating the space, and respecting those who do.

Most recently, i’ve been using really cheap plastic coins with groups, and calling them ‘coins of gratitude’: the group claim a coin by sharing a vulnerability, and can then spend it to someone in the room, or someone outside of it. It’s often a very emotional exercise, with tears and hugs. But the coins are worthless, at least if we measure worth in monetary terms. In fact, they are insultingly cheap and plasticky. It’s the value we imbue in them that counts: we create the value of the currency.

Gratitude is cheap, yet priceless. See where you can spend yours.

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Guide to the Social Age 2019: Authenticity

I’m writing a series of longer pieces, exploring my new Map of the Social Age for 2019: ‘Authenticity’ is a key location in this new landscape, representing, for many, a foundation of Social Leadership, and a central mechanism of engagement. We ‘believe’ in authentic leaders in a way that goes beyond pure contractual bonds. Authenticity forms the roots of that that engagement, spreading deep into our reputation networks. To understand the importance of Authenticity in Social Leadership is to understand that not all power is claimed: much is imbued.

Guide to the Social Age 2019 - Authenticity

Authenticity is an imposed property: you can cut someone in half and it won’t say ‘authentic’ in the middle. It’s not measurable like height, or weight, and you cannot wear it like a coat. In some ways, it’s like beauty: others can perceive it in you, and no matter how much you aspire to it, you cannot buy it in a bottle.

The easiest type of authenticity to understand is that which is based in experience: if we are talking about mountaineering, and you have climbed Everest, then your perspective, your viewpoint, is more authentic than mine. I may have watched a movie, and read books, but i have not lived it. I may even know more facts than you: i could tell you what the rocks are made of, i could give you the height in inches, and i could tell you how many steps it takes, on average, to climb it, but unless i have actually put my feet on the ground that ten thousand times, my story is not authentic.

Authenticity is therefore imbued, experiential, and discretionary: you may have climbed Everest, but if i do not ‘believe’ in you in some way, i still may not count your viewpoint as authentic.

It’s not just individuals who can be deemed to be Authentic though: it’s a quality that we place onto Organisations as well. But in the same spirit, it’s something imbued, not bought, or demanded. And if we have it, it really counts.

In the context of Social Leadership, it’s easy to see why Authenticity is important: when we move beyond our formal bonds, when we move outside of the hierarchy, then all that is left is trust, reputation, pride, and the other social forces of connection, and Authenticity may act as something of a catalyst for all of these.

Authenticity is often a story of simplicity: an ‘authentic’ meal would often be a simple one, not heavily processed. A craftsman making a chair by hand may be seen as ‘authentic’ in their labouring, whilst a factory in Cambodia manufacturing clothes at international scales may not be. At least, may not be from a context of the consumer in the UK. Indeed, if the trendy brand that designs those clothes is discovered to be utilising child labour, any authenticity they have bought may be squandered. So it’s a currency, certainly, but not one that is easily traded beyond grounded experience.

We could view Authenticity is an element of resilience, in the sense that, when we have it, we can weather a storm more easily: we can be authentic, and fail, and yet be carried to safety by an engaged community. We may be forgiven if we are authentic, even if we make poor decisions. But if we are inauthentic, we may be judged harshly.

From a practical perspective, there are two things to consider: how we, as individual Social Leaders, can be authentic, even when Organisational pollution gets in the way, and secondly, how we can ensure that our Organisations themselves act with Authenticity, internally to their employees, and outwardly, into the community they exist within.

Landscape of Trust - Triangle of Trust

The term ‘Organisational Pollution’ is one that i first used to describe the factors that inveigle their way between ‘intention’ and ‘action’, e.g. i ‘intend’ to act fairly, but in the execution, in the action that i take, directed in part by the Organisation, i act in ways that are less than fair (e.g. i don’t give you a 0.5% pay rise because my total budget for pay rises is capped, and so i award it elsewhere: i may have intended to, but action beyond my control prevented me, so my action is unfair as measured against my intention).

Of course, much of this is contextual: i may believe that i am acting with Authenticity towards you, and you may believe that i am not. And hence your view of my leadership is that it’s not authentic. Indeed, i suspect that in almost every case, this is true. The world is not full of people who try to act without authenticity, and yet not everyone is deemed to be authentic.

Authenticity is also contextual in another, more traditional, sense, in that our experience based Authenticity only counts in context: e.g. if we are discussing the gender pay gap, your experience climbing Everest is not really that relevant. So contextually, you are inauthentic.

From an Organisational perspective, we must create opportunities of authentic engagement: this may include things such as facing our own failure, sharing weakness and uncertainty, as well as conviction and strength, listening more than talking, and engaging with honesty in issues that are most significant into our work, and local, communities.

One of the reasons that i’ve included Authenticity as one of the key aspects for this year is because of the more recent work i’ve been doing on Dominant Narratives, and the amplification of failure. If we are deemed to be inauthentic, the consequence may not simply be local: it may be aggregated, and amplified, to be global. For that reason alone, understanding the importance and mechanisms of Authenticity, it’s roots in experience and action, and an active approach to building and maintaining it, for both individual Social Leaders, and engaged Organisations, is important.

What you need to know:

  • ‘Authenticity’ is valuable, intangible, contextual, and imbued upon us by others.
  • We cannot demand it, nor insulate against it’s loss.
  • Consequence of losing it may be aggregated and amplified at scale.

What you need to do:

  • Consider the roots of your own Authenticity: what action do you take that grows it, and what erodes it?
  • Consider if you can create conditions, circumstances, for people to engage in ways that permit them to engage with Authenticity?
  • Look specifically at the action of your Organisation into it’s local (and globally local) community: ground yourself in the communities that you serve
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Guide to the Social Age 2019: Power

The Social Age is a time of rebalanced power: in this, the ninth in a series of articles exploring my Map of the Social Age for 2019, i want to consider ‘power’. The structures it’s held within, and the dynamic tension between formal and social spaces.

Types of Power

A central context of the Social Age is a rebalancing of power: the historic structures that power is held within are significantly eroded, whilst in parallel the mechanisms by which it flows are diversified. For example your employer used to hold significant power over you, but in a time of fragmented and portfolio careers, they no longer do. The consequence of losing your job is diminished in a time when Organisations regularly make people redundant: even loyal and ‘good’ people. And a social movement you start that gains 100k followers hold significant power outside any formal system. So power is held differently, and moves differently. Indeed, in one interpretation, power itself has fragmented, away from one dominant formal type, to multiple different flavours, triangulated between charismatic forms, hierarchical ones, and reputation based ones.

The Dereliction Walk - New York

Whilst my own understanding is imperfect, i’ve certainly come to view most of the functioning and coherence of social structures in terms of understanding power: particularly the gradients through which it flows, and the ways that the movement of power impacts on the evolution of Dominant Narratives.

The idea of a Dominant Narrative is simply ‘the way that things are’. A simple example would be this: in Victorian England, the role of women was domestic, and to be seen, but not heard. Today, that is no longer the case. Indeed, the Victorian notion is largely comical in how distanced it is from our everyday reality. And yet both were equally true in their own time: for Victorian men and women, the Dominant Narrative was simply ‘how things are’. And today, that version of the truth is precisely ‘how things are not any more’.

As we stand today, approaching what we can only hope is the crest of the #MeToo movement, we can look back at this shift in terms of a gradient of power: historically working in systems controlled primarily by men, and increasingly (although by no means exclusively) by both men and women, equally. Whilst the journey is not complete, the power gradient has shifted, and done so in two significant ways.

Initial evolutions of power may be by consensus, where an established, or dominant, form ‘permits’ certain freedoms. But transformation may come through fracture, where a minority group simply claims the power: it’s this claimed power that we see in the #MeToo movement, which is why it’s so fascinating to observe as a social movement, and has the potential to shift the Dominant Narrative.

But only the potential to do so.

Shifts in power are governed by two key factors: cohesion, and response. The #MeToo movement is united in opposition to oppression and harassment, but disunited in terms of what outcomes may look like. And the dominant patriarchal model of power is pragmatic enough to ‘permit’ (i use the word carefully, but deliberately) change, but possibly not a full evolution of the Dominant Narrative.

In other words, we may end up in a world that is more balanced, but still fundamentally patriarchal, just dressed up to be more equal. Dominant power will typically relinquish just enough power to ensure that it remains in control. Some types of power can be directly opposed and diminished, whilst others, if you oppose them, are strengthened. For example: Julian Assange is legally pursued by the US government, but that very legal jeopardy makes him a social hero in some quarters. Almost all Islamic Extremism falls into this category: our very efforts to prosecute it through force reinforces the self validation and belief that spawned it in the first place. In a very real sense, our opposition validates it and makes it stronger.

So you can use direct force, hierarchical power, to bulldoze a village, but you cannot use it to remove the horror and outrage of the displaced villagers. Similarly, you can use formal power to restructure an Organisation, buy you cannot remove the betrayal and frustration of the employees.

A New Lens

#MeToo represents claimed power, in that any woman, anywhere in the world, can take action, and tag it #MeToo. So the structural basis of that power is not hierarchical: nobody ‘permits’ you to claim #MeToo. There is no membership card. It’s a reputation based network of power, that can jump across barriers. But this type of power is open to pollution: it can be gamed, influenced, subverted, although it’s remarkably hard to counter it. If a group of white, male, middle aged, record company executives put out an impassioned plea to ‘stop the movement’, i doubt they would do more than stoke the fire. This movement is driven by an impassioned group who have just discovered that their power is very real, and almost unanswerable.

In the Social Age, the emergence of a broad category of aggregating and amplifying technologies have hastened this shift: we are radically connected and aggregate around common views or themes, partly determined by what is amplified into our network in the first place. If you look at the emergence of new technologies, or the adoption of new games, the cycles of adoption (and collapse) happen ever faster: just look at the adoption and growth of Pokemon Go. Can you imagine trying to ‘push’ that type of effect through a system? No: it was amplified, and traversed as a compelling story between spaces, gaining power as it went.

And once it had power, some of that power (held in engaged community) was translated into a different type of power (money, held within financial systems). Power does not exist in isolation: it can convert into different forms, but they are not all compatible.

For example: if i have a lot of money, and give much of it away to good causes, i may lose money, but gain reputation for philanthropy. But if i spend that money trying to bribe you to like me and tell others that you do, i will still lose money, but will likely gain a reputation for duplicity. The very act of me trying to influence the reputation economy with financial currency destroys the currency.

When we consider storytelling, we can consider power as well: what type of power ‘pushes’ your story, and what type of power ‘opposes’ it? Do you tell it with a ‘formal’ voice, or is it pulled through the system because of your authenticity? Or both? People typically say that ‘authentic storytelling’ is one of the top things they look for in a Social Leader, so we could consider that Authenticity is itself a real type of power.

Over the last seven years i’ve written various research pieces exploring power, and especially the limitations of formal structures to cope with reputation based authority: it tends to fracture or shatter them, when it hits from the side. One reason it does this is because formal power is often undermined by ambiguity: a lack of certainty or definitive action at speed is deemed a weakness, whilst in fact it’s often rapid, but incorrectly framed, action, taken too fast, that leads to failure.

When we look at a system, we can view it through different lenses: imagine that you are in a helicopter above a town, looking down. You an understand the place as a network of buildings, and roadways that connect them. Or you can look at supply versus consumption: you could understand the city by seeing places where consumables are stored and distributed, and restaurants and bars where they are consumed. This latter view would be superimposed upon the former, but it’s a whole different way of looking at the town. You could view it through political power: highlighting in red the buildings where conservative voters lived, and blue for the liberals. You could see if the Town Hall was red, or blue, and hence understand who is empowered or disenfranchised by the dominant view. All three views of the town, all three ways of understanding, would be concurrently valid. And a hundred more besides.

Guide to the Social Age 2019

That’s how social systems work: we can understand them in terms of multiple concurrent structures of power, some of which are clearly connected, either in amplification or opposition, and others of which are almost entirely hidden or subversive.

Understanding structural power, and specifically the ways that different types of power interact, is a valuable lens for understanding the true context of the Social Age: understanding how these structural power relationships are evolving is a differentiating one.

What you need to know:

  • There are many different types of power: some amplify each other, whilst others deny or fracture each other.
  • Social systems are radically complex, and can carry power in unexpected ways.
  • Power does not always flow in a linear way: some types of power can leapfrog, or transmute.

What you need to do:

  • Clearly understand the limits of your formal power, and strive to understand the basis of your Social Authority.
  • Develop the capability to view the complex social system through the lens of power: sometimes the way to achieve greatest effect is to switch the type of power you utilise.
  • Consider how using ‘oppositional’ power may be greater than ‘consensus’ in certain contexts
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Guide to the Social Age 2019: Interconnectivity

This is the eighth in a series of articles exploring the new Map of the Social Age for 2019. Today, i’m considering ‘Interconnectivity’, something that has emerged as a new, and powerful, notion within my own work over the last 12 months.

Guide to the Social Age - Interconnectivity

When i talk about a more Socially Dynamic Organisation, i use the term to describe a future state: the Domain based Organisations of the past carry a phenomenal codified strength, but struggle to change, whilst a Socially Dynamic one will carry a different type of DNA within it. It will thrive in constant change, because it is engineered to be lightweight, scaffolded, and reconfigurable to need. And part of that scaffolding will lie in the ways that it is interconnected, at scale.


The formal structure of our Organisations are clear: teams, divisions, domains, all regulated by formal power, consequence, and communication, but the social structure differs in key ways. The predominant level of social organisation is tribal: smaller collections of people, bonded by trust, pride, respect, often local to each other, or able to claim private space to engage in those rituals of sharing, gifting, exchanging, that help the social structure to bond. A global Organisation is made up of many different, overlapping, tribal layers.


When we shape our views, share our stories, reach out to influence, we do that within our known tribes and communities, as well as crossing over into unknown ones, but the way that those stories land will differ according to the space. Within communities of consensus, it may be welcomed, whilst in communities of dissent, it will be opposed.

One dimension of this is well understood: echo chambers, a confirmation bias effect whereby views are self referentially reinforced, although generally it’s used in a derogatory term for a view or community that we wish to diminish. The reality is that virtually all of our knowledge and understanding of the world is held in self referential constructs, piled one on top of the other. There is a reason we do this: because unity of the group is important. Because we fear being outcast. Because a moderated view, where we silence dissent in favour of conformity and membership, is the way that we keep our social structures together. We can differ in some ways, but not in every way. Pragmatism is both a toxic force (when we tolerate toxic behaviour) and a binding one (when we silence minor differences, in service of greater unity).

Membership of a group requires conformity, and the silencing of vocal dissent.

Stories, knowledge, influence, all flow most easily within established tribes, coherent communities, but as Social Leaders, we have a responsibility to hear weak voices within the system, to connect up between spaces. To interconnect.

The context of the Social Age facilitates connection at scale, but possibly through the radical scaling of existing bias and imbalance. The role of Social Leaders is to connect diagonally, across the fault lines.

To do so requires connection, to find the voice, and humility, to truly listen.

Interconnection is not about stronger connections between known structures, but rather it’s about diversified connections between often poorly understood or even hidden ones.

And it’s not just within Organisations: a key feature of interconnectivity in our understanding of the context of the Social Age, is to understand how people may become interconnected outside of any formal Organisation at all. It’s easier than ever to find like minded people around the world, and to create new communities, hidden from any formal power.

Guide to the Social Age 2019

The Social Age is a time or radical connectivity, in terms of volume, but our challenge is to interconnect, to made meaningful connections in terms of depth. Not just how many, but how good.

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A Time of Answers?

We are relocating from a space of certainty, to a place of doubt: our domain based Organisations, with the systems of education that feed them, and the markets that sustain them, all evolving. This is not a time for answers, but rather a time for questions, and to consider the mechanisms of sense making that will help us to ask the right ones.

What Can You Leave Behind?

At heart, a curiosity, a willingness to ask not simply what we can carry forwards, but what we can leave behind: systems, processes, beliefs, and power. It takes a certain humility to ask these questions.

When we are conditioned to frame situations, and find the meaning fast, to maintain ambiguity, uncertainty, and doubt, for protracted periods, can be hard. But remember: the winners will not necessarily be the ones that find an answer fast. They will be the ones that find the right questions.

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