I was discussing my work with a friend and was asked what were the main themes I talked about when I was on the stage. It made me think about how to present these core ideas in the simplest way. It’s probably too complicated for a series of tweets, but let’s see if these can be encapsulated in a blog post. If not, a major paper will have to be developed. After some ‘object oriented playing around’, here is what I have come up with.
The Network Era Shift
The network era is as significant a societal shift as was the coming of the age of print, or the advent of written language. We are already over 150 years into the electrification of information and the foreshadowing words of Marshall McLuhan — the medium is the message — and others are becoming evident. Our relations with other people will change as our villages become global. Our existing institutions will be inadequate to deal with these changes. Many of us will turn back to our tribal identities, but as long as the world remains networked, the shift to a new economy and a different form of society will continue. Nobody has the answers. Avoid those who say they do.
Cooperation and Soft Power
In networks, and a networked society, cooperation is more important than collaboration. Collaboration is working together for a common objective, usually directed through a hierarchy. It is how most work in organizations has been done for the past several centuries. Cooperation is giving freely with no expectation of direct compensation. It is how networks become more resilient, through shared knowledge. Those who share are seen as valued members of the social network and have better reputations. Reputation becomes the way that individuals can exert influence in a networked society. But reputation can be easily diminished. It is not as solid a form as hierarchical organizational power. This type of ‘soft power’ retrieves what were traditionally seen as more feminine attributes: reasonable, intuitive, communicative, patient, empathetic.
Human Connections for Human Work
In a networked society our connections become key to how we work and learn. In addition, as procedural and rules-based work gets automated, human work gets increasingly complex. Non-routine work becomes the norm, making standard jobs, structures, and tasks obsolete. In turn, the usefulness of standard curriculum in school or training diminishes. We are evolving into an age of continuous learning, not an age of constant education. This increases the need to support social learning, so that people learn with and from other people as they connect at work, life, or play. Everything is connected.
Over the next several decades we will have to build new structures for this networked world. Most of our existing organizational structures are inadequate. But we have to do this cooperatively and use the strength of networks. That means that those with power need to let go of control, which most likely they will not do voluntarily. It also means that individuals have to step up as aggressively engaged citizens of the world. Our tribal connections (family, close friends, affinity groups, religions) may provide some comfort but they are all inadequate for the needs of an interconnected blue marble traveling through space. This is our challenge when work is learning and learning is the work. Cooperation on a global scale, founded on democratic principles so that intelligence and decision-making remain distributed, is the foundation for a collectively better future.
Each of the four paragraphs has been unpacked and discussed on this blog or during my various speaking engagements. It is only in engaging further and implementing new ways of organizing, working, and learning that we will make progress. I have been fortunate to connect with many great thinkers and creators through this digital medium. Let’s keep the glass half-full and find ways to create a better networked society.