#WorkingOutLoud – Perspectives on #Innovation

Some early stage thinking here around three perspectives on innovation: this is an abstraction really, but a way to look through three different lenses, to consider where, and how, we innovate. In some ways it may also allow us to consider constraint: if we are culturally, or behaviourally, more likely to focus on one of these, to the detriment of the opportunity of the others.

The three sections illustrate the three lenses, broadly as follows:

[1] INNOVATION within system boundaries – this is about optimisation and adaptation within overarching structures. So e.g. looking at systems, processes, hierarchy to achieve known ends, but faster/cheaper/better. This type of innovation typically happens within dominant structures of power, and mechanisms of control: regulatory frameworks, formal leadership structures, controlled finances etc. This type of innovation is perhaps more about optimisation than revolution. And this type of innovation may be constrained by the conception of the challenge: known thinking in known spaces.

[2] The second lens considers the EVOLUTION or importation of system mechanisms – so this is about technologies, methodologies, and imported cultural tropes. For example: adopting AGILE approaches is the adoption of an externally innovated methodology, or buying in a technology solution which is about licensing of external IP. This is the ‘buy your way’ approach to adaptation, often incremental. There are significant advantages to this, in that it requires little internal imagination, and also the ‘procurement’ approach may bypass cultural inhibitions around new ideas – e.g a technology is less likely to provoke immune responses than an idea that i did not have myself. The notion of cultural tropes is that we try to evolve by adopting the furniture, or behaviours, that exist elsewhere (‘we want an Amazon culture’), but without doing the hard and cultural thinking that goes behind it (e.g. power and control do not adapt).

[3] The RE-CONTEXTUALISATION of outputs is a shift to an ‘outside in’ perspective – instead of worrying about what lies within System Boundaries [1], or the mechanisms of effect [2], we instead consider outputs in terms of productivity or effectiveness. Under this approach to innovation, we may be prepared to tolerate messiness: diversity of thinking and action as we move away from consistency and conformity, towards individual agency and localised expertise. Conceptually this is more a view of the Organisation as a startup – output led, rather than the Organisation as an entity that needs to adapt.

This work links back to earlier work on ‘Frames’ and ‘Scripts’: that our understanding is held within a container that we have learned, and that we behave in efficient, yet wilfully constrained, ways, that optimise us within the existing frame.

This is early stage work that will iterate fast, shared as part of #WorkingOutLoud.

Posted in Innovation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early Stage #WorkingOutLoud on Social Movements and Change

I feel like i am chasing around an idea at the moment, and the work i am sharing today is not an end point, but perhaps an iteration: it is a chance for me to revise some language and explore the connection between ideas.

In this rather busy illustration i am imposing a three layer structure: ‘Pre-Cursor Webs’, ‘Social Movements’, and ‘Cultural Narratives’, and exploring the definitions and links between them.

The notion of pre-cursor networks is to explore how legacy social structures, and dormant or failed social movements, may still nonetheless persist in certain connections. So whilst they did not achieve their primary goals, the lines are still visible on the ground, or in the connections.

Essentially some of the social capital is carried forward: bonds of trust, belief, validity, and so on.

Some bright points may remain active – and crucially these may cross social boundaries – potentially hence more interconnected by default.

The other two layers i am playing with: i use the term ‘Social Movement’ to describe emergent, socially generated and moderated narratives of change. The term ‘cultural narrative’ describes established and dominant existing conditions. The two come into contact with each other in various ways: cultural narratives may kill social movements, or ride the wave into a new dominant and evolved narrative.

This illustration is probably not ordered correctly, but the intent is to indicate that precursor networks may have an impact upon that dynamic: they may impact how cultural narratives interact with social movements because they carry legacy connections between communities – they allow cross pollination or cultural transmission.

In some ways this view presents change as a more fluid and connected event: not discrete social movements that succeed or fail, and not simply dominant cultural perspectives that persist or fracture, but rather a whole series of active and dormant social groupings that generate persistent meta-networks of trust and collaboration, through which ideas may proliferate or aggregate.

This may impact our perspective on change: to give greater focus to legacy structures – to consider interconnection – to view the start and end point of cultural interventions in a more permeable way.

Or it may all be wrong: as i say, i am evolving my language and thinking in this space.

I do know that i find the broader work on tipping points useful, insightful, but possibly one dimensional. Understanding change as a social movement indicates that it takes place in multiple layers, and to understand these mechanisms is the challenge.

Posted in Change | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

#WorkingOutLoud on the Social Age Map

Today i am #WorkingOutLoud to share the new map of the Social Age, an illustration for the ‘Social Age Guidebook’ that i am working to complete. I’m still working on this to add in the details.

Strictly speaking this is not a new map, but rather a new illustration of the one from 2019: the ten ‘locations’ are the same, and i have based the structure of the book around these.

The main difference with this map is that i wanted to make it clearer for print, so it’s simplified a little in the details, and has no gradients, which can tend to break down.

Posted in Social Age | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

#WorkingOutLoud on ‘The Social Age Guidebook’

Today i am #WorkingOutLoud and sharing part the closing chapter of ‘The Social Age Guidebook’.

In this book i have shared some of my Expedition Notes, my attempt to understand the emerging context and implications of the Social Age. I started with these words:

“It is not one complete map, but a series of fragments, representing the features and landmarks that have caught my eye”

If leaders do not hold all the answers, and nor do they know the destination with certainty, perhaps this then is the role of a leader: to be uncertain, but to remain curious.

When i share this work with groups, i am sometimes asked for ‘answers’, but how would i know what their answer is?

The best that i can do is to find my own.

And best thing i can do to tomorrow is to lay down my new found certainty and create my understanding again, anew.

In a rapidly evolving context, which is how the notion of the Social Age frames us, and within systems of understanding that are, themselves, at best fragmentary, the best we can do is to remain uncertain, but to explore.

We do not need an answer, but we do need a shared language to describe the landmarks.

We do not need shared understanding, but we do need shared space to explore our different versions of that understanding.

We do not need clarity, so long as we are held with a community that spans a diversity of perspectives.

Organisations tend to shift in company: different interpretations centred around a common theme. An approach that makes them adventurious, but relatively safe, in common delusions.

But our competitive advantage may lie in variance, ignorance, or altered perspectives.

Everyone can see the same things that you and i see, albeit from a different point in the landscape, but not everyone will build the same understanding out of it.

These may be the muscles to flex: the creation of meaning, metacognitive views of the system with an ability to find insight and opportunity, and an ability to slip from here into pragmatic action.

Posted in Leadership, Social Age, Social Leadership | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Role and Responsibilities of Leadership in the Social Age

The role of a leader is not to hold the map.

Nor is it necessarily to guide the way or plan the journey.

In the context of the Social Age it may be that we have to evolve our language away from a role, and into a responsibility: a responsibility with multiple facets.

We hold a responsibility to ourselves: to our family and friends, and into our local community.

We hold a responsibility into our teams, our peers and colleagues, as well as our professional communities.

We hold a responsibility into the Organisation itself, as an idea and entity of belief.

We hold a responsibility into broader society, a global culture, and to future generations.

We hold a responsibility to the world: to the environment, and to the collective good of humanity.

Indeed, it may seem as if we are making this journey carrying a heavy backpack indeed.

These responsibilities may often be conflicted: we cannot hold them all to be concurrently true: our responsibility to the planet may cause us to reduce travel, but our obligations to our colleagues, or the needs of a project, may necessitate flights.

When there is no perfect path to follow, the responsibility of a leader is to chart the best path they can, whilst holding themselves accountable within their many systems.

This may be one of the hardest aspects of contemporary leadership, because it necessitates us standing against systems: sometimes the best path to take is not the easiest one, and most paths come at a cost.

Which will leave us asking a fundamental question of a Social Leader: what kind of leader will i be? To whom will i be accountable, and what price am i willing to pay?

The very notion that there is a price to pay, to do what is ostensibly the right thing to do, is one that should concern us, but which should also indicate both our core challenge, and central responsibility.

If there is one single role for a leader, it is to help the system to do better: from themselves within it, to the Organisation itself.

Many Organisations profess a desire to do better, to be better, and yet many of them fail in the detail, or succeed up to the point of discomfort.

This is the journey we are on, and this is our challenge, our responsibility, and our task: to understand (and help others to understand) the broad context of change, to change ourselves (and to help others to do so), and to change the system (with ourselves as part of the system).

Accountability means a willingness to pay the price, but also to share the cost, and to ensure that nobody pays too much.

Where there is a cost, to openly explore it, and to collectively share it.

Posted in Leadership, Social Leadership | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Social Age | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Authenticity of Action

I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to learn how to be a good parent. Overall, i think it’s gone ok. Small people are reasonably pliable if you figure out the reward mechanisms. Although sometimes entirely unfathomable.

As my son has moved from crying and wriggling to walking and talking, i find that my focus shifts: away from the simple aspects of life, like eating and drinking, comforting and cleaning, to the question of how you create a person. Or how you enable a person to create themselves.

In service of this thought, we try to be mindful of giving him a broad diversity of inputs: try to avoid stereotypes, try to show him different role models and people living their lives in different ways. Which i realise sounds terribly new age, but honestly, if you don’t do these things in a deliberate way, how do you know it will be done at all?

When he stares at a wheelchair, trying to figure it out, i try to draw him a picture of a person in a wheelchair so we can make it part of our stories.

To be fair, at two years old his main concern is steam trains, but i feel a responsibility to give him a foundation.

In that spirit, i was pleased to find a new Usborne book on ‘Diversity’, which explores how our differences are rich and beautiful. It’s an explosion of names, colours and different shaped and sized people, which is exactly what i wanted. Indeed, i felt good about the book until i saw that it was printed in the United Arab Emirates, a country with a poor record on human rights and diversity.

It feels crazy, but it’s robbed the authenticity out of the book for me: instead of a celebration of diversity, it now feels like an exploitation of it. Just a commercial offering in the moment.

It’s not logical – i know how publishing works – i know about the international markets of printing, binding, and distribution – but it feels wrong.

And that’s how authenticity works: our roots, it’s a perception, a belief. I don’t know what i expected (printed by a socially responsible collective maybe?) but in this case, i’m left feeling that the medium definitely is at odds with the message.

Authenticity is a central theme of Social Leadership: the roots you put down, the stories that people tell about you. And it’s not just for individuals: Organisations themselves need an authenticity of action in a broader reputation economy.

My reaction, and analysis, may not be logical, but that is almost the point: authenticity of action is judged in the perception, not the intent.

Posted in Authority | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Future of Work is Uncertain

Much of the narrative around the ‘future of work’ is naive. It speaks of systems that we understand, modes of power that are established, and the promises of feature rich technology.

Many narratives we hear in the media, oft repeated, are either protecting property, power and pride of a world gone by, or idealistically embracing the promises of utopian technology and dreams.

Not that there is anything wrong with dreams, but glassy eyed realism tells us to follow the money, and look for who is exploiting whom.

The future of work is most likely to be messy and divergent, with some Organisations paying the price of early investment, and yet more paying the price of inertia.

A price paid in gradual sub optimisation, fragmenting value chains, disruption from asymmetric competition, and loss of talent.

Whatever the ‘future’ is, it is unlikely to be held within frameworks of organisation that we already fully utilise or even understand: our legacy structures are ones of physical resource, face to face collaboration, data held in spaces, and distribution through physical networks. In many industries, non of this is still the foundation.

I suspect that the emergent competitors will be operating not with adaptations of the legacy model, but within new frameworks entirely, which will typically be lighter weight, more permeable to talent and expertise, and trade in both monetary and social currencies. In all likelihood this means that not only with they conflict with legacy ones, they won’t even share a language of purpose and effectiveness.

There is nothing wrong with uncertainty, provided we do not mistake it for weakness, or stamp ti out with delusion.

Posted in Future | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Tides of Culture

Walking along the beach is a balance: the golden sand above all the but the highest of tides is soft and hard to walk on, but dry and warm. The lowest sand is damp and much firmer, easier to traverse, but occasionally washed by the waves as the tide rises and falls. Navigating this space is a journey of rapid progress, interspersed with a familiar sideways jumping and hop as you try to keep your feet dry (unless you have shed your shoes in favour of sandy toes).

We talk about the tide being ‘in’ or ‘out’, but it is rarely entirely either, being constantly in motion is always has some zone, the liminal, that is neither ‘in nor out’, sometimes washed, sometimes dry, sometimes safe, an other times sodden.

There is something in this to help us understand culture: the broad movement, and the erratic waves.

The notion of culture is complex, partly because we struggle to describe ‘the thing’, and party because the ‘thing’ is contextual (depending where you stand on the beach) and dynamic (what was safe a minute ago is no longer safe right now.

Any surfer will tell you that waves roll on a rhythm, and the seventh one is the one to catch. Until it isn’t. And in any case, it varies by beach and time.

Organisational culture in an impossibly dynamic an occluded system: each of us as grains of sand that could lie in any of a billion aspects, and change aspect again in the next minute. Our individual perspectives shaped by personal meaning, context, and desire. Indeed: it’s a wonder we are able to be together at all.

And yet we are.

Our social selves operate at a level of abstraction: able to differentiate my immediate feelings in the moment – getting caught out by a wave and leaving with waterlogged shoes – from the broader sense of the beautiful view of the beach, and the feeling of being at the seaside.

In that sense, the culture that we inhabit is more of a story, a dream, than a thing itself.

We will not understand the experience of the seaside by mapping every grain of sand and action of the waves – although for purposes of understanding coastal erosion dynamics and the movement of large bodies of sand over time, we may need to do just that.

There is something about how our approach to culture must be both pragmatic, macro, and granular.

In broad terms, we need to focus on the ‘here and now’: culture does not change through theory alone.

At a macro level, we need to know if the tide is in or out, if erosion is stealing the sand or creating new dunes. If we need spare shoes or are happy with sandy toes.

Granular because culture is only, and ever, about you and me: whatever grand narrative we subscribe to, whatever the aspiration of our leaders, and hopes of our colleagues, culture is only ever you and me and how you are to me and i am to you!

Culture as experience, in the moment (that moment being this one) is the granular lived reality – and one level of change (as i explore in Quiet Leadership) is the change in the steps that you take today.

There is something comforting in some ways to consider the tides of culture, and the perspectives that range from the entire coastline, down to the footprints that you and i leave in the sand, washed away in the next minute.

The system is unknowable – cannot be modelled – and yet we ‘feel’ it all around us, and in a very real sense are both enabled and constrained by it every day.

Perhaps our Organisational challenge is to be comfortable with this dynamic view, and our individual one is to learn where to place each step, and to look at the actions of each wave around our feet.

Posted in Culture, Learning Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Journey – a Step or a Space?

We sometimes present learning as a narrative: a journey with a starting point (here, in our ignorance) and an end point (over there, basking in enlightenment). We measure ‘progress’ and seek insight by staring into the distance.

Perhaps our own development is a journey, but equally it may be the destination that we already stand upon.

I love to talk about learning journeys, exploration, and the idea of landscapes that we inhabit, but i also recognise the potential weakness of this language: the sense that learning carries us forward, out of yesterday, into tomorrow. Maybe sometimes it does, but maybe sometimes it simply lets us look at the view we already have, through different eyes.

In my broader work on Social Leadership, i start with ‘curation’: to choose your space. The notion here is that we are ‘given’ one type of space, but we can choose another. Your formal power gives you one version of ‘self’, and your Social Authority and Reputation earn you another.

I represent Social Leadership as a circle to counter the idea of it being a discrete development: we do not learn to ‘become’ a Social Leader, so much as learn how to be a Social Leader today, and to relearn it tomorrow.

Because our Social Authority is so contextual, and indeed because the context of leadership itself is shifting so fast in our dynamic and interconnected reality of the Social Age, our specific skill is not so much staring ahead as looking into the right here and now.

Posted in Leadership, Social Leadership | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment