Fear is a waste of imagination

Some of the biggest shifts we are seeing in the way our world operates is being enabled by interoperable systems. Ensuring that my data can work with your data, and that my systems can work with your systems.

This capability is creating fertile conditions for everything from mashups to radical innovation and insight. The “price” we pay for this is not putting fortresses around what we have created. It offers a mindset that recognises that the speed of change makes protection much less effective than collaboration.

Then we get to people, and we seem to slip back a century or so. Non disclosure agreements, non compete clauses, “gardening leave”. All designed to prevent what is known by one from fertilising an idea in another.

There will always of course be areas where this is necessary, but not many. We seem to take it as a default. However, if I “let you go” it means I no longer need or value your potential, so why would you stop me using what I know to work with another to create something new – other than fear?

Driven by fear of missing out, we actively prevent the creation of the new by constraining the people who may bring it about. If we believe the figures for employee disengagement, it seems clear that most businesses only use a fraction of their employees potential, but are driven to prevent anyone else using it for as long as they can.

There is of course a mirror side to this. Why, as employees would we put up with this – other than the fear that our unused potential will not be recognised by another?

The system will eventually sort this out, but in the meantime, at a time when we desperately need every ounce of available creativity to address the huge challenges we face, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice.

If you’re afraid of missing out on an opportunity you have not seen, compare that to the threat of the collapse of the systems we depend on to exist.

If you’re afraid of taking a step into the unknown and uncertain, consider how that will make you feel when you look back on it and recognise you could have.

Everything is connected to everything in one form or another. Increasing human, as well as systems interoperability seem like a good idea really.

Being afraid is a waste of imagination.

Transition

“To live in the midst of an era is to be oblivious to its style.”

Spring Snow. Yukio Mishima

We are undoubtedly somewhere in a period of significant transition, though it is difficult to know how far in – The Begining? The Middle? It has been said that we don’t know we’re in the middle of a revolution until it’s over.

Wherever we are in it, it’s not like we couldn’t have seen it coming in some form. If we weren’t so busy trying to understand each piece as it makes itself felt – political rumbles here, business failures there, the social failures that lead to food banks in some of the wealthiest countries in the world – and we had stood still for a moment to join the dots of these changes, we wouldn’t be so surprised. We may not have been able to be precise as to the detail of change, but the trend would have come as less of a surprise.

What if we’re only just getting started? Whilst the change we’ve been seeing can be disorienting, I suspect it’s nothing compared to what is approaching us. The compound effect of artificial intelligence and concentrated wealth together with declining natural resources and increased population makes for a heady mix.

“When hierarchy is the order of the day, you are only as powerful as your rung on the organisational ladder of a state, corporation or similar vertically ordered institution. When networks gain an advantage, you can be as powerful as your position in one or more horizontally structured social groups”

The Square and the Tower. Niall Ferguson.

We are well into an age of networks, but only just beginning to see their power – not the populist stuff of social media, but of radical ideas and shared purpose.

This pattern has occured throughout history – periods of relative stability based on a currency of the time (from animals, to people, to land, to capital) interspersed by periods of rapid change as we transitioned from one to another.

In an age of networks, the power of a business sits at the front line, where the company meets the customer – in person, on line, or by reputation. Trying to operate the traditional hierarchy system most of us have been taught at business school, and in established companies is increasingly futile, and it changes everything.

Concepts like leadership and engagement become not desirable, but critical to survival. Awareness of the wider environment crucial, and the ability to think systemically, about second order effects, vital.

And the timing is now.

Waiting for best practice is likely to be fatal. By the time best practice is established, we are likely to be the history that is part of its evidence base.

Permission to Speak Sir?

There are interesting fault lines beginning to appear as we move from an industrialised economy to one founded on connections.

Businesses used to be able. to a very large degree to control the nature and flow of information, through marketing and PR, and because most people were connected only locally,

That no longer holds true. Everybody is connected. The business or organisation can longer mediate those connections – whatever frantic efforts lawyers make,

Listening to the slightly comical conversation on Radio 4 this morning regarding footballers having to clear their tweets through PR, it struck me just how much in denial many organisations are.

Our organisations are the people in them. As individuals, we are responsible for what we say and do,and the quality of organisations is a function of who they choose, and who chooses them.

Culture is different to marketing. It cannot be shaped, or controlled by budget. Jim Rohn said that we become the average of those we associate with.

That is now true of organisations. It makes a huge difference.