This week i have launched a new Social Leadership Daily publication on SubStack as my first subscription service. It’s an exploration of new modes of publishing and tentatively forms a sequel to my book on ‘Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days’, in that it is based upon 60 seconds of activity, around a question, provocation, or activity, every day.

My work is based upon principles of #WorkingOutLoud, and this daily blog sits at the heart of it: my work is, and always will be, open, evolutionary, and free in this space. When i established Sea Salt Learning, in 2014, i also set up Sea Salt Publishing, to explore creative ways of sharing my collected work in open ways.

To that end, all of my books are available free, as eBooks, or in paperback or hardback on Amazon and through other booksellers. Running a publishing business is a complex venture, but it gives me a flexibility that i could not achieve with a traditional publisher: to give you a sense of it i have had almost 2,000 downloads of the Community Builder Guidebook in the last few months.

I normally also write a weekly ‘Captain’s Log’ newsletter (currently on sabbatical for 12 months) and run regular Open Sessions on my current research and work.

The Quiet Leadership Programme is open to anyone, freely, although i do ask people to pay that learning forward into their own communities.

There are some exceptions: two of my existing books are only available in physical form: ‘The Trust Sketchbook’ (obviously enough, because it is a book that you draw in), and ‘Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days’, which again is a question based book that you write in as you go.

Later this year i will be publishing a beautiful little hardback book, ‘The Humble Leader’, which will similarly only be available as a physical book, because it’s intended as a text used by two people, in conversation together.

My Certification programmes are also paid: these are lengthy programmes, 12-20 weeks, 24-40 hours of facilitation in each.

Normally i find it easy to position the line between free and paid for resources: all my #WorkingOutLoud work is free, and to the extent possible, all my published work too. Offerings that are most likely to form part of Organisational Development (like the Certifications) tend to be charged for.

This Social Leadership Daily work is my first subscription offering, and will still include some free posts. I’m open minded as to where this experiment goes.

I am fortunate in that Publishing is only a very small part of the revenue of Sea Salt Learning: over 95% of revenue comes from Organisational engagements and consulting, which gives me great latitude to explore. Ultimately, my works is for, and held within, my communities, so i am open to ideas and feedback as i continue to grow both the body of work, and i hope creative and open ways to share it.

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I’m guiding another Open Cohort through the Quiet Leadership work tonight: in the second session we consider ‘Kindness’ and the ways that we spend this social currency.

Kindness is interesting: most people believe that it is important to be kind, and most people believe that a leader who is kind can be more effective. But we are not universally clear on ‘how’ to be kind, nor exactly what the benefits are of those who manage it.

In the research work that accompanies the Quiet Leadership journey, we see that when people respond to the free text answers, they typically use language to describe kindness that is quite anxious or uncertain: a feature that is typical when we feel unsure as to whether everyone shares our exact view and understanding of a thing.

One aspect that i try to break out in the dialogue of these sessions is to consider ‘where’ we are kindest: to those people who we know and like, or even need, or whether we are equally kind to strangers. Most people identify that we are more likely to be kind to those people we know, which does rather beg a question of whether kindness is equally available to everyone, or indeed whether kindness forms the scaffolding of bias and exclusion that we wish to avoid: not the issue in and of itself, but rather surrounding the cracks through which people fall.

We may also ask ourselves about our duty to be kind: is that duty to each other, to a community as a whole, or to an organisation that pays us?

Left untouched, we all tend to be kind, and yet our experiences of kindness tend to cluster and clump – in some situations and spaces we inherently feel that people are likely to be kind, whilst in others it would come as a surprise if they were.

Maybe this would even scale up to an Organisational view: do we want cultures that are kind and, if so, how are the social currencies traded within the walls of the Organisation. And do we need to regulate a market, or subsidise the trades?

You can sign up to join at future cohort exploring Quiet Leadership here.

If you enjoy my work around Leadership, i am experimenting with new publishing formats, including a subscription daily newsletter, which you can find here.

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My son loves to draw: predominantly tractors and steam trains, but at two years old i’m allowing a limited repertoire. On holiday i few weeks ago i found myself rummaging around in a cupboard for some paper for him to draw upon, digging out a stack of computer paper to use.

Not the type of paper you feed into your printer today: neatly packaged reams of A4, but rather the older style: watermarked with strips of colour to delimit rows of text, concertinas of paper with sprocket holes down the sides, perforated to allow you to tear off the sides once the printer had disgorged them.

This is the paper i grew up with: an early form of recycling, my father would return from his College teaching with endless stacks of it for us to use.

As we drew trains, i looked down at the sheet in front of me: it carried a date, from when i was four years old, and streams of numbers and statistical analysis. I realise it was paper my father had used in his research, probably for his own PhD, back in the seventies.

Since my father died, i have found his shadows to be comforting: reflections through old books or cards. I found this to be the case here: a comfort that in some way the shadows of his research, the pinnacles of his academic work, acting still as the foundations for my son. There could hardly be a greater contrast than our scribbled red tractors and the outputs of an ancient stats package.

Half way down one sheet, almost obscured by our new train lines, i realised there was a word: written in black fountain pen, unmistakably my fathers handwriting, but strong and clearer than in his later years. A single word written against a set of numbers. ‘Transpose?’.

To transpose, to swap places. My father to me, me to my son.

When someone dies we are limited to the words that they wrote in their lives: this one word, written in haste, yet reaching out to me across those years.

I have it now, tucked between two books on the shelf in my new library: the words of my father, the drawings of my son. Each holding the other safe.

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Capability: Plug and Play or Plant and Grow?

It’s easy to think of an Organisation as a structure that we must plug people into – domains and hierarchy trick us into this view.

This will give us one type of capability: a known one, a predictable one. A fragile one.

But what if we reimagine the organisation with a more fluid view of capability: one that grows out of people?

In this view, structure fades into the background.

Primacy is given to enabling leadership: nurturing, connecting, believing.

An Organisation that is less rigid, more fluid, highly interconnected. Socially Dynamic as opposed to Structurally Dynamic.

Many of our decisions, in strategy or operation, rest on our mindset: do we want the strength of yesterday, or to grow the strength for tomorrow?

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Learning: Goldrush

Sooner or later, someone will strike gold: our Organisational relationship with learning is being mined from many different directions, and one assumes that at some point we will hit the paydirt.

What are these directions?

We are evolving the TYPE of learning we do: with a general shift away from the CODIFIED, OWNED, and CONTROLLED, towards the CO-CREATED, DISTRIBUTED and EVOLUTIONARY model. This brings with it questions of VALIDITY, OWNERSHIP, and UNIVERSALITY. Also ACCESSIBILITY and EQUITY of access. That’s a lot of bold type already, and we’ve barely started.

We are evolving the LOCATION and TIMING of the learning we do: in general to be DISTRIBUTED, ON DEMAND, AUGMENTED or OVERLAID, CONTEXTUAL to time, space, and application, and even GEOFENCED or GEOCONTEXTUAL according to where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with.

We are shifting to a model of INSIGHT that is partly learner generated, and partly AI or MACHINE led: SIFTING, PRIORITISING, CONTEXTUALISING and SHARING increasingly moderated by, or indeed initiated by the TECHNOLOGY. This shift not only alters the mechanisms of INSIGHT, but also (potentially) ACCELERATES both LEARNING and CHANGE – an understanding of how we learn indicates that learning is not a smooth and linear process, but perhaps one more of FRACTURE and REVELATION at times. There are also significant impacts of this human – computer relationship with regards to RESILIENCE, DECISION MAKING and the moderation of FAILURE, possibly through PHASED COLLAPSE or moderated comms.

We are supposedly moving to a model of EVIDENCE BASED design, and DATA INFORMED response, although quality, application, and capability in this emergent space are themselves variable.

At best, these (and other) shifts are evolving (or torturing) or maps of the landscape of learning so far that we may be forced, before long, to reclassify or categorise it.

Perhaps Learning shifts into a more dynamic and cultural space, more so than an abstract and disaggregated one?

Or arguably learning becomes more an output of PERFORMANCE, or an inherently bonded aspect of it.

Certainly much of our vocabulary of learning is outdated, many of our structures of Organisational learning are outdated, and indeed perhaps our capabilities in the design and delivery, support and measurement of learning are, themselves, outdated.

That would make sense: in my own work i would consider that we are at an evolutionary stage of significant change: some systems will be repurposed, whilst others will remain vestigial. Redundant but still present. What matter most at this stage is not success, but motion: experimentation and a comfort with our own uncertainty as we learn.

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#WorkingOutLoud on the Context, Practice, and Evolution of Organisational Learning

I’m starting to finalise some of the structure around my reworking/graffiti of my core work on learning: on the plus side, i feel that i am finding the edges of this work, but on the downside, i am unsure it will result in a traditional book. I’m quite excited to consider potential non linear or more dynamic publishing structures: anything from a wiki to a mosaic of videos. I have a sense that this is more a collection of images or essays than it is a ‘coherent’ body of work – or to put it another way, if i were to try to write it as a book i feel it would be huge, but what i want is something digestible, shorter, and very practical indeed.

I have a sense that this work will be better shared incomplete and fragmented, than complete but outdated or unwieldy.

From here i will probably move into writing some sections – to figure out ideas on format and practical application. For example: will this be a publication (i almost said ‘book’…) based around 100 questions, or tips, or ideas, or a reading list, or a series of experiments etc. Or some of all of the above.

Anyone familiar with my legacy work on Learning will recognise elements, but also quite easily identify the more recent images: i’ve been increasingly interested in economic models (currencies and marketplaces of learning), social and organisational contexts (hence structures of power, consequence, responsibility and control) as well as the familiar questions of evidence base and e.g. reward mechanisms. In terms of technology i am most interested in aggregating, consolidating, analytic, connective, sentiment and sense making, etc, less interested in infrastructure per se, which is a problem largely solved.

With this iteration of structure i’ve moved away from iThoughtsHD and back into illustrations, as i feel this discipline helps me to capture the idea on a page.

I should stress that this is very early stage work still: for the nerds, this is the fifth iteration of this structure in the last six months. I could continue to play with it forever, but with a non linear or more adaptable structure, i have given myself three months to actually ‘publish’ something. Whether it is a foundation, or a complete body of work, i do not yet know.

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A Sketch on Learning Leadership

Coming back from two weeks holiday, i wanted to jump back into writing with a perfectly formed idea: instead, i have only this. A sketch so imperfect that i am loathe to share it. It’s a sketch of a learning leader, which tries, unfairly or not, to draw out some of the tensions that may exist within us (personally), or culturally/organisationally (ecosystem). I’ve focussed on four aspects: knowledge, capability, curiosity, and adaptability.

Knowledge is about the things we already know: essentially is means us, up to this point in time. All our learning, experience, imperfections and all. It may go without saying that today i generally believe that i am the best ‘me’ i can be, but when i look back in five years time, i will see naivety and laughable ignorance. Knowledge is both my current state and prison, until curiosity, need or pain breaks me free.

Capability sits alongside this: dependent upon what i know, i frame a perspective on what i need to do: i either learn that myself or, in an organisational context, established partner or vendor relationships to gain access to it. These first two components take place in a rather static space: what i know that i need to do, and my direct or rented capability to do it.

Curiosity is a catch all phrase for the space i explore beyond the edges of my own ignorance: so even in our spaces of certain knowledge we tend to see curiosity at the edges. Although it’s worth noting that curiosity per se is not an answer, but rather an expression of the limits of our current context. E.g just because i can see an aeroplane in the sky does not mean i can fly.

Adaptability is another byword, in this case for change, or the things we need to change, electively or by imposition. Also, our actual ability to change.

These bottom two factors – curiosity and adaptability are both limited – by our imagination and context, culture and insight. As well as a host of other factors. These things are easy to talk about, harder to actually achieve.

The sketched internal frame indicates that we may find comfort, risk, pain or reassurance in different sectors, which may drive our behaviours. Perhaps this sketch is different for each of us.

Anyway: as i say, an imperfect sketch. You may note that in my work around learning over the last six months i have slipped between spidergrams, illustrations, and flowcharts, all as part of an overriding rework or rephrasing of some of my core ideas and work on learning theory and design in a modern applied context. Unfortunately (for me, from a pride perspective, and any readers, from an experience one) this work is still fragmentary. Next up i will aim to draw in some of the newer disciplines and areas of focus: aspects such as data and analytics, organisational design in a more fluid world, measurement, complexity, and further questions around social collaboration and the new nature of knowledge. Hold on tight as it may get more untidy before i find a path.

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#WorkingOutLoud on Learning Science

I stumbled back across my illustrations for the Learning Science Guidebook today, and experienced two feelings in rapid succession.

Firstly, i thought that some of the work actually looked quite good, and felt a renewed urge to get it out there. Then the second thought hit me: a reminder of why i have not published it yet: because the thread that holds it together still eludes me.

I abandoned this work around a year ago, overtaken by excitement with Quiet Leadership (which, by contrast, was easy to write): time has given me a better perspective. Last year i felt overwhelmed that i was not bright enough to ‘think’ my way out of the challenge, this year i feel confident i can read my way out of it: it’s not that the book is bad, it’s just that i have more to learn before i can tell the story.

And that’s ok: part of #WorkingOutLoud, or indeed our broader leadership and practice, is to always ask whether we will use our own uncertainty, failure, doubt, or ignorance, as a shield, or a sword.

To use my own ignorance as a shield would be comforting, but ultimately i will just be hiding behind it. To use it as a sword is to use the sharp edge of my ignorance to cut into the dark. To be unafraid to use it to learn.

There is no shame in that: i would rather never publish this work, but feel that i am gaining better understanding myself, than publish it as an act of pride. Perhaps that is a feature of age.

I already have fifteen books, and i am reasonably comfortable that some are better than others. If you ask me which, i will be ok to tell you. I’ve built my raft, but it’s a long way from a boat.

Some things just take time, and even though this work is incomplete as a body, it still helps me in my practice: the thinking that we do stays with us and sometimes pops up in other and unexpected places or ways.

For me it is a reminder to welcome and even celebrate our own ignorance, especially if we use it as a sword.

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The Steps You Take Today

If Organisations describe their cultural transformation as a journey of 10,000 steps, then Quiet Leadership is the first three of those, but the ones that you take today. Quiet Leadership is a model of leadership through the smallest of actions, but the actions that impact on those people closest to you, or deepest in the shadows.

This body of work describes nothing large, dramatic, or revolutionary: instead it is a gentle reflection on those forces that act upon us hour by hour, day by day.

The humility with which we act, the shadows that we each cast, the kindness we experience, the fairness that surrounds us, and our individual ability to reflect and correct our course or actions as we go.

But it is about how, through our individual action, we create space and connection for those around us to lead quietly too: to create culture at scale through small acts of reflection.

Starting today.

You can join a Quiet Leadership Journey here.

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Radial Concepts

Some things are concrete, whilst others are wisps of ideas: confusion may arise when we confuse the two. One reason for this confusion is the elasticity of the language that we use to describe things. Some words mean a thing, whilst others mean a space that a thing may exist within!

Take the word ‘Chair’: most of us would agree that it is a thing that you sit on. Mostly they have four legs, although three will suffice. Or occasionally two. But you definitely sit upon it. There is a core concept of a ‘chair’ that we can probably all agree on, and hence the word suffices in day to day use. But what about the table: if i sit on it, does that make it a chair? Some people may say yes, others would say no. And probably no amount of logic will change either of our minds.

A table is at least a piece of furniture: what about a grassy forest knoll: if i sit on that, is it a chair? Or is the ground simply something that chairs (or tables) may sit upon? You can carry pretty much any concept to absurdity.

Closer to our Organisational homes, the notion of a radial concept may help us to understand forces like fairness, trust, or power. They are used often as if they are a ‘thing’ (like a chair), and yet in practice, they are often more like tables or grassy knolls: subsets of a shared reality that make perfect sense to me (because i’m sat upon it).

The elasticity of understanding may sound like a bad thing, and yet in many ways it’s a feature of language and meaning that allows us to operate efficiently (or indeed, operate at all). Yes: chairs may be covered in velvet or crocodile skin, have three legs or six and may indeed be made out of logs on the forest floor, but for all practical purposes, if i offer you a chair, you do at least expect to be able to sit on it.

The trick may be for us to understand, to diagnose, when we are operating within a shared conceptual understanding, or when we are operating within the outer layers, where our shared view may be incomplete.

Radial understanding may be why, within Organisations that articulate a common language of culture, in reality we see widely divergent expression: they are all ‘describing their chair’, and yet in different, regionalised, divergent versions of the truth. All of which are elastically connected to the broadcast central concept.

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