Captain's Log Issue #80 - Deconstruction

Julian Stodd, July 2019

My friends Rachel and Terry are working on a book about Learning Technology, and asked me to contribute a few words, which got me thinking about the enabling role of technology, and the scale of impact we are feeling. Not simply in what technology optimises or enables, but in what it deconstructs and erodes.

When talking of the Social Age, I normally refer to two key aspects that relate to technology, indeed, they are the two features that separate the ‘Social Age’ from the ‘Digital’ one. The first is radical connectivity, outside or beyond any formal system of moderation, or control, and the second is democratisation, which negates the older benefits of structured Organisations. Broadly, we can now collectivise, outside of any formal Organisation, to create, and produce, at scale, be that ideas, or new products and services, or to tackle life’s big questions. We are held, as I said in the Social Leadership 100 Days book, in the arms of our community.

Modern learning technologies deconstruct the formality of knowledge, in a very practical sense: they erode the idea of a ‘centre of excellence’, unless we balance it with a ‘centre of pragmatic practice’. And by deconstructing the historic mechanisms of the codification and centralisation of knowledge, they also rebalance the power that sat behind that system. Whilst knowledge may still, to an extent, be power, that power may also be held by those who simply have the technology to access knowledge, and the community to support the sense making.

This demonstrates another aspect of the Social Age, that collective capability is liberated again at scale. It’s easy to say that ‘knowledge’ is not the same as mastery, but as our Social Learning communities, and more semi-formal and established Communities of Practice, gain real, tangible, capability, as they learn to be ever more effective, they will find real power within an Organisation. And not just subject matter power, but broader political power too.

This is the heart of the Dynamic Tension between the Formal, and Social, Organisation: you cannot just unlock the capability, innovation, and engagement, of the Social side, without also recognising that you are enabling and growing a parallel, and potentially opposed, structure of power.

In my own work around the Socially Dynamic Organisation, I like to think that the future state will be a balance: formal leaders with the humility to engage in the social space, and currencies of recognition and reward that are meaningful and fair for those individuals and communities that support them.


My Writing

My main piece of writing this week was a longer article about the future of work: in this piece, I expand on two core concepts that have grown out of my work in the last year or so.

The first is the notion of the Organisation as a system of belief (which I’ve found very useful when exploring storytelling, and also change - see also the writing about Dominant Narratives), and the second is the idea of the multi-currency Organisation.

Both of these represent imperfect work, but I feel they progress my own understanding of the mechanisms and structure of the Social Organisation.

The second piece I completed was just two new illustrations for the book on Apollo, built around Leadership Reflections. I have written three sections of this now, and hope to make good progress with it next week.

I had hoped to do the illustrations in a new, mixed media style, but time is against me, and I also rather like the idea that this can tie in stylistically with the ‘New York Dereliction Walk’ that I published last year.


In The News

Message in a Bottle

Fifty years ago, 13 year old Paul Gilmore threw a bottle into the sea, containing a message. Last week, another 13 year old retrieved it from the beach where it had washed up, and the two are now connected. It’s a nice story, mainly because it speaks to how we are, at heart, storytelling creatures. Paul describes how he felt compelled to write and throw these things, and there is something liberating about sharing a story that really has almost no chance of arriving, but in the hope that it does.

If you enjoyed this piece, you may also like the piece I wrote last year about the St Kilda’s Mailboats:

Mind Machine

Elon Musk is in the news again, but this time with Neuralink, his company that is pioneering work in neural nets that place micrometer thick filaments into the brain, linked wirelessly to a receiver. This work promises to give back function, for example, to people who are paralysed. His ultimate aim is to find ways to interface with AI: this is a long and visionary journey, which I find fascinating. A real illustration of the New Victorians, who seem to wield limitless ambition, no matter what your view on their tax status.


#WorkingOutLoud On The Certifications

The third cohort are embarking on their journey through the Landscape of Stories this week, and we are pulling together a fourth cohort, to kick off in October. I have also actively started design for the ‘Modern Learning Capabilities Programme’, which I think will suck up 20% of my time through the rest of this year.

I am hoping to publish a series of Social Age Guidebooks, which will run parallel to the modules as I complete them, to share the current state of my own thinking, and I hope, help others to find their course.


What I'm Thinking About

I find myself in an odd space, between my father and my son. One, through debilitating vascular dementia, is losing himself, the other, through the magic of cognitive development, is emerging. It’s an emotionally exhausting time, but having the chance to be with them both is incredibly important to me. My father will come alive with River in his arms. And River thrives through contact and play.

Inevitably this is a transient part of our lives, which leaves me simply with the thought of legacy. I wrote a letter to my father this week, to thank him, and to express my desire to carry forward the best of those things that he gave me. I hope that I can raise my son to be brave, to be kind, to fight for fairness.

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Copyright © 2019 Julian Stodd, All rights reserved.

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