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Weaving our own Webs.

According to my dictionary, tensile strength measures the maximum load that can be supported without fracture when being stretched. I’m not sure how the metaphor arose this morning, but as I listened to the news, there it was.

I noted the Westminster cabinet fracturing and reforming to give us the same people in a different order in an insular village to which few of us seem connected. Survey after survey reiterating that people do not want the office to be the centre of their work-life. Global supply chains unravelling as political and commercial relationships come under pressure. It led me to reflect on what the lowest common denominator of these straws in the wind might be, and the answer is, I think, as straightforward as it is complex. 


When our world was under more “normal” loads, we could stretch things. We had big organisations, extended supply chains, and remote connections controlled by technocratic managers to levels of efficiency measured to sigma levels of variability. We delegated relationships to HR and warm fuzzy statements in annual reports, along with other complex secondary topics like equality and climate change. Then we had covid, and the final element of incremental pressure that triggered a landslide of change that has brought relationships centre stage.

When this happens, I wonder about the smallest unit of relationship that can withstand this degree of change.? It seems unlikely to be the business workplace team, as these change too frequently for the sort of relationships that withstand severe pressure to form effectively. Indeed, business, in general, seems an unlikely place for cohesive teams when the greater purpose is something as fickle and relocatable as profit.

The public sector is different, as the goal is not profit, but service and money is a tool more than an end, as we have seen demonstrated everywhere from ambulances to volunteering.

Under pressure, the smallest unit is our personal network. The five people we are closest to, the fifteen we trust, and maybe another fifty to whom we can confidently reach out. 

I think the pandemic may have changed the composition of this group. Fewer people from work, more locally, and I suspect more virtual in what is a significant, long term change that reflects my own experience.

Over the last eighteen months, technology in general, and Zoom in particular, has enabled me to connect with people I would otherwise not have met and build strong relationships with them around values, purpose and ideas. They are the critical building blocks of new ventures and ways of working and do not rely on structure, management, or even leadership. They are like those little Lego bricks left lying around by our children that we encounter in the dark suddenly and unexpectedly. We can create new structures from them, and they integrate easily into my local connections. Shared values do that.

Villages 3.0

I think they are the basic building blocks from which we might create Villages 3.0. Small, robust, resilient groups, loosely linked to each other attracted by shared values and purpose, can quickly build delivery entities. But, significantly, we can dismantle them equally quickly when their goal is achieved without losing the relationships that held them together. 

Perhaps a greater chance of creating resilient local economies, strong connections and relationships, and less chance of the zombie organisations that stalk our High Streets trying to feed their debt.

As power moves from the top of hierarchies to the centre of networks, it is there that we need to pay attention. To build our relationships and connections with those who share our values, who have complementary skills, and whose own networks offer us the possibility of serendipitous connection.

It is, after all, how nature works and evolves. 

Spider silk has a greater tensile strength than steel. We can weave our own webs.

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Radical Hybrid Working

Yesterday, I shared some thoughts on “Village 3.0″, loved some of the comments and ideas I got back, and thought I’d extend the thinking a little more.

How far, I wonder, could we stretch the idea of hybrid working to become a radical new concept more than a watered-down version of industrial age practice?

Could we create a hybrid model that combines the best of digital connection with the power of physical community to create “Village 3.0”?

Some deliberately radical thoughts in the spirit of “if you can dream it…”

What if…

  • We could create small, supportive communities of practice that promote continuous individual development in whatever we do?
  • We could re-balance the “master/servant” relationship of the industrial era by creating modern-day “guilds’?
  • Combine the vertical specialisms of guilds with the horizontal strength of diversity to move the locus of innovation and creativity from corporate centre to community networks?
  • Put social relationships, responsibility, reciprocity and redistribution ahead of remote corporate accumulation?
  • Promote the virtues of artisanal work – the creation and distribution of beauty and sustainability in place of the mindless pursuit of the mediocrity of more?
  • Create channels from school to work that freed the community from reliance on dominant but nomadic businesses located elsewhere?
  • Energize local innovation supported by remote expertise who felt part of what was happening to create community?
  • Shorten product and expertise supply chains to accelerate idea conversion?
  • Create truly agile expertise through linked multi-disciplined groups that enable genuinely innovative “pop up” teams?
  • Remove the need to commute?
  • Create community-based centres of excellence?
  • Transform family relationships and mental health?
  • We could forge holistic communities where those who eat the food have a relationship with those who grow it and prepare it – wherever they are – through a “provenance chain”?

There are many more – what might yours be?

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Village 3.0?

We have had an ambivalent relationship with villages over the last hundred years or so. They have gone from communities to either city commuter havens unaffordable to locals or otherwise left as husks in abandoned industrial regions. Along the way, most have suffered a diminishing of the health that good communities afford; facilities, interdependence, knowledge and continuity. It takes a village to raise a child. And we have not replaced those communities. Workplaces are fragmented monocultures, and social media promotes conflict more than consensus (conflict attracts more eyeballs).

The thought occurred as I read in the FT Magazine over the weekend that younger generations rely on email and messaging to talk about problems more than face to face conversations with friends. It was compounded listening to Farming Today commentators on the pressures of industrial-scale farming as supply chain fragility bites. At one level, reliance on crop monocultures (large scale potato farming being rendered unviable by potato nematode cyst disease) and at the other vast volumes of milk are being poured to waste due to lack of lorry drivers.

At the same time, we have an epidemic of mental health issues in the workplace, as the workplace itself undergoes a transition as the uncertainty of the direction coronavirus makes any hope of full trains and offices a forlorn hope, and climate change dictates far less travel by car and plane.
I cannot help feeling that we are being pulled back into indigenous values – relationships, responsibility, reciprocity and redistribution. Perhaps the lowest common denominator of that is a reincarnation of the village. Not necessarily of the picture-postcard variety – although there may be some of that – but more the return of small, close-knit, semi-autonomous groups.

My own “digital village” has around a hundred people in it, from all over the world. We communicate often through various media, even though we have never, and may never, meet in person. We have got around that, and the connection is close, relationships genuine and responsibility accepted. We reciprocate and redistribute business and ideas we cannot use or do not want. We do it because we can, not for money.

None of us works for the same organisation, so the stultifying fear of office politics and internecine competition is absent, as is the frequent myopia accompanying hierarchies. When I combine my local physical community with my digital one, there is a richness that brings fulfilment and even joy.

The creation of this village has not been deliberate. Instead, it has arisen from people with similar values and broadly shared purpose finding each other through online serendipity.
It feels like a way forward as power moves from the top of hierarchies to the centre of networks, and I think it behoves us all to become part of the communities we want, rather than those served up to us by those who have different values. Village 3.0.

It seems like a place to start as we fumble our way into a post pandemic, trans climate crisis world.