A Conversation about Constant Change - 8

Q from Ed: It is one thing to embrace the idea of constant change as a compelling one for the future. It is another thing to actually practice constant change. What is the point of constantly change? Why should I change? And if I decide that I want to create change, how do I start.

Excellent question Ed! My book focuses on organizations. People individually know how to deal with unannounced, unexpected, unwanted change: we deal with this all of the time. For organizations dealing with unexpected change is much, much harder and what causes this to be hard are the relationships people have at work.

Most people take their jobs seriously: they don’t want to lose it, don’t want to get fired, don’t want to miss a promotion or pay raise, don’t want to … . As a result they put on their best behavior: they comply with what the organization wants, more specifically they comply with what the people at the top of the hierarchy want. This is why change doesn’t happen in organizations: you have to convince too many people to give up what they have now, and even when a few would be prepared to follow you most won’t.

Even when management runs with your proposals they’ll put it in the context of what is already known: they’ll beat it to death, put managers on top of it, and subsequent changes will be much harder to accomplish. My book doesn’t talk about changing for the sake of it.

The point is to create an environment where constant change is a given so that the relationships people have are based not on the nominal work they’re supposed to do but on the constant change they’re supposed to help achieve. Constant change is a good idea because customers are very, very bored with inflexible corporations that never listen to them. Constant change is required because if you don’t jump on it your competitor will and he will steal most of your customers in a hearth beat.

The idea of constant change is to put people at the center of everything: customers, employees, partners. People are the cause of all change, so the only way anybody will be able to deal with change is to focus on the people that matter to you, all of the time. This might sound like an absurd thing to do but it’s actually not. Barack Obama has understood how to set up such an organization, and many of the ideas in my book come from his campaign. The important things to realize about the Barack Obama campaign organization is this: everybody wanted to win, and nobody felt they were somehow giving up who they were or what they wanted to achieve.

This is probably a paradox for many organizations: people in an organization that doesn’t want to change feel stuck, and people in an organization that constantly changes feel happy. On the other hand, this is not so mysterious either because let’s face it: people like change. They just don’t like change to relationships that are very important to them.

Now, there’s plenty of evidence that switching to this kind of organization is not easy, actually it’s very hard. But then again nobody is claiming it’s easy. The rewards are very important however, and they go to those that take risks. The answer of many organizations will be: we’re not the kind organization that likes to take risks. Which is fine, but one day you’ll wake up and your competitors will have come up with business models that you don’t understand, could never have come up with yourself, and that attracts customers like crazy. This will mean that the revenue of your business will fall off a cliff and that there’s nothing you can do about it. The question then becomes: which company do you want to be in?

What’s special about today - compared to say ten years ago - is that change has been reduced to its core component: people. It’s now possible to get a awful lot done by small groups of people that care enough to figure out how to work together. The age of management is over, the age of leadership has started. It’s a reset, a reboot. And there’s only one change that has made all this possible: your customers don’t have an ounce of patience anymore for organizations that don’t care about them, don’t listen to them and don‘t treat them as human beings.

Question for you Ed:

So if I understood correctly the social context is the environment in which organizations work, and in which relationships happen. I'm assuming the dynamics of this environment is crucial as you've already hinted. How in your experience can the social context be conductive for change, or how can it oppose change? I'm thinking about journalism on the one hand, and the Barack Obama campaign on the other hand since they are for me to two opposites of dealing with change.


A Conversation about Constant Change - 7

This is a question from Steven Devijver, author of the free ebook, A Stategy for Constant Change. We are conducting an online conversation about the ideas in his book. Here is Steven's latest question for me.

Q: You describe an organizational setting as a social context. I see an organization as a network of relationships. I'm still not sure if you believe we're talking about the same thing, or whether we're talking about different levels. Can you elaborate on your internal articulation of the social context? How does it define an organization? And how can personal relationships transcend the social context?Four Questions images - Impact

That's easy. I make a distinction between the social context of a business and the structural context of an organization. Each is a separate, yet interrelated dimension in an organization.

The Organizational Structure consists of all the business processes, the products and services offered by organization, and the operational, governance and finance structures. All the resources of the organization are found here.

The Relationship dimension is where all the human interaction takes place. In this sense, it is not totally separate from the Organizational Structure. It functions within it, but it is not the same. This dimension is the social context of a business.

The Social context is where these relationships take place. It is wherever people are. Whether it is in an office suite, on the shop floor and behind the retail counter, it is a social context. It is where people interact with one another.

It is not the same thing as the organizational structure, nor is it totally disconnected from it.

You ask if these are layers which may imply a hierarchy of priorities.  I don't see it as layered in that sense. Rather I see it as set of parallel dimensions that operate in a dynamic interplay as illustrated in the image above. None of the three dimensions functions on its own. The other two always contribute.

Do relationships transcend the social context? All the time. A network of relationships functions within the social context. They are not the same. So, yes, relationships always transcend the context. How could they not.

For example, recently I went to a Tweetup luncheon here in Asheville. I knew one guy who was going to be there. He had not arrived when I got there. Here I was in a social context and without relationships. How did I feel? Alienated, alone and disoriented. What changed that? I put out my hand and introduced myself to people, and relationships began to be established. Now, will these people become my best friends. Most likely not.  As a result, within a social context, there are degrees or levels of relationship. Some are acquaintancs, others are friends, and then some become soulmates, friends that are closer than a brother or sister.

My perspective is that the social context and the relationship dimension have been ignored by business leaders for generations. Supposedly, this is where the soft skills are. What I've found is that the stronger one's social / interpersonal skills are, the stronger leader they are.

My next question for you.

Q. It is one thing to embrace the idea of constant change as a compelling one for the future. It is another thing to actually practice constant change. What is the point of constantly change? Why should I change? And if I decide that I want to create change, how do I start.

Thanks, Steven. 


A Conversation about Constant Change - 6

This post is from Steve Devijver who is the author of A Strategy of Constant Change, available as a free ebook at endesha.

Q from Ed: From your perspective, what is a social object? How do we identify them? And more importantly, how do we nurture them so that they provide a basis for a sustainable relationship over time?

Ed, thanks for your latest answer, I'm not sure I understood all of it but it certainly made me think. I guess you'll have to elaborate some more on social contexts later on.

Social objects are very dear to me because I believe they hold the key to what it is to be a human being. Examples of social objects are pictures, videos, articles, cameras, cars, ... . Social objects are also elusive, because we don't really understand them all that well. I think the most interesting thing about social objects is that they're young: they've only been "discovered" in 2001, and after that they've been picked up and further developed by people involved in social networks, like Jyri Engeström and Hugh MacLeod.

So social objects are defined by a little bit of academic context and a lot of lore. Social objects are not physical things: they exist in our mind. According to the academic description social objects are internal articulations of real-world objects that make further exploration possible. They are meaning producing and practice generating.

Play comes to mind when I think about social objects. You know, to play with something we need to have an internal articulation of what we're playing with and the play itself is further exploration. Also, social objects are not limited to internal articulations of real-world objects. They can be internal articulations of objects in any world. I'm thinking about the online game World of Warcraft. This is not a real world, but players do need an understanding of the objects in that world in order to function properly as players.

Like with anything related to our brain, everybody in every culture uses social objects all of the time, but that doesn't mean everybody will immediately understand what social objects are. Just as it's not easy to understand what emotions are although we're driven by them all of the time. Social objects are abstract: they're more elusive than the things they describe. This means that social objects are there, but we don't have to understand them to use them. Our brain deals with social objects on auto-pilot, without our cognitive intervention.

But once we understand social objects are there, what they are, and how we can benefit from them an entire new world opens. This started to happen over the last couple of years. The easier part to understand about social objects is the first part of its academic description: we can understand what internal articulations are, and we can understand how they might allow for further exploration. Give a child a tennis ball and a racket and the child will figure things out. That's the easy part.

The social in social object is much more elusive to understand. This refers to social objects as meaning producing and practice generating which is the second part of the academic description. It took me a long time to figure this out, but here it is: memes and social objects are closely related. Memes are ideas or behavior that travel been brains through communication. The meme as a concept is closely related to the gene, where genes travel between living organisms through reproduction.

The gene needs living organisms to reproduce in order for the gene to continue to exist. The meme similarly needs brains to communicate in order for the meme to continue to exist. Just like living organisms are created by genes, social objects inside our individual brains are created by memes. So there's a social object inside our brain for every object we know: every book, every movie, every picture we've ever seen, every car we've ever driven, every dish we've ever eaten, even trail we've ever walked on, every beach town we've ever visited and so on.

Media are special because they allow us to exchange social objects much more effectively than ever before. This explains why science is in so much trouble today. Let me elaborate.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439 it set about a printing spree of ideas, which ultimately led to the creation of the Royal Society in London in 1660. The people gathered in the Royal Society had enough of the wild claims by just about everybody about the universe, human nature, God, ... . They set up a simple rule that you can come before the Royal Society and talk about anything you want as long as you can prove your claims through experiments on stage. This led to development of the scientific method, but not without the help of Immanuel Kant.

Kant claimed - which is now widely accepted - there is no way of knowing whether what we experience through our senses is real or not. We cannot validate the information we perceive. I mean, this is what the movie The Matrix is about, right? Scientist's response to this has been that only empirical information is valid proof for scientific experiments: you boil water, and you notice on the thermometer the boiling starts at 100 degree Celcius. You publish your findings along with your method of doing your experiment. This allows other people to repeat your experiment and verify whether their results are as described or as predicted. What's important here is that this experiment is based on empirical evidence: the reading of the thermometer gauge, the description of the boiling water, the description of setting up the experiment. Everything about scientific experiments is empirical, thought experiments are not accepted as proof.

What's required to maintain this empirical foundation of scientific experiments is constant validation through peer review, and the intention and motivation to keep the scientific movement alive. That went pretty well, until the Gutenberg revolution ended.

In the post-Gutenberg revolution anybody can publish anything, and entire movements that don't agree with the scientific method can just as easily take hold, and for example force the teaching of intelligent design in schools. The reason this is possible is because people own the media today through social networks, and the Internet more generally. They can organize themselves to spread ideas that before could never have spread. And as these ideas spread social objects spread too. I have a social object on intelligent design in my head! How could that have happened? Because we don't control the creation of social objects, reading a critique on intelligent design is enough to create that social object.

The scientific method is a potent and consistent set of rules that are valuable, but social objects are value-free: there's probably no consistent bias for Good social objects or against Bad social objects. So the scientific method today no longer has the upper hand and has to share the social object space with all those ideas scientists have fought against for centuries. What social media have done is open the floodgates, and I can imagine why some people believe this is a bad thing. However, things will not return to how they were before unless somebody shuts down the Internet.

It's fascinating how easily social objects travel, seemingly without constraint. As I've indicated before though, it's not because I have a social object on intelligent design in my head I'm suddenly converted despite my will. That's not how social objects work. They're more subtle. As we do further exploration we're depending on our convictions of how the world works and on our morality to act true to ourselves.

The reason why Internet scams reportedly work so well is because a tiny amount of people is unable to filter out the scams from the genuine offers, and what sets this filter failure in motion is their initial exploration of this social object they found in their mailbox. The failure is in the filters, but if the filters are destined to fail then the point of no return is the initial exploration of the social object behind the scam.

Ever since I've discovered social object theory I've become fascinated to discover a larger mechanistic view of human beings that is actually human-being-friendly. By that I mean, my view on social objects does not diminish human nature to a source of evil. What it does is enrich our view on human nature, without judging.

I can talk much more about this, but I think that's enough for now. As you can imagine social objects can be conductive for building relationships, but they can also obstruct relationships. In the end I believe is all depends how the meeting of our individual filters, morality, and views on human nature work out.

So here's a question for you Ed:

Q: You describe an organizational setting as a social context. I see an organization as a network of relationships. I'm still not sure if you believe we're talking about the same thing, or whether we're talking about different levels. Can you elaborate on your internal articulation of the social context? How does it define an organization? And how can personal relationships transcend the social context?


A Conversation about Constant Change - 5

Here is my response to Steven Devijver's latest question (below) author of the free ebook, The Strategy of Constant Change

Q: You talk about social contexts, I talk about networks of relationships, but I think we're talking about the same thing. In your professional life, how do you look at your commercial relationships (how are they created, maintained; how do they evolve?) And how do you look at economic value in relationships (compared to contracts)?
Relations in Social Context
Here' a simple diagram that illustrates what I see.

I meet people within a social context. It could be through a social organization or a business. Every organizational setting is a social context. If we are merely social, a relationship doesn't really form. We are simply acquaintances. We share a common set of interests, that are called social objects. The existence of the social object doesn't mean a relationship forms. A relationship is established when two or more people decide that their connection transcends the social context. Something personal takes places as a result.

Here's a personal example. On vacation, I met a man name John. We are as different as night and day. He shoes horses for a living. I do organizational consulting. Yet, one day he saw that I was writing in a journal. He had never seen anyone who would write thoughts down on vacation. We began to talk, and found that we had much in common that a surface view would not reveal. He was a wise, insightful guy who understood as well as anyone I know what I do. Our relationship grew and transcended the social context of vacation. A decade later, we are still close friends though we live far a part.

In my work, I meet people and I share my conversation guides. The guides serve as a social object to provide a stronger basis for a relationship to form than simply being physically or virtually present.  I use the guides as way to create a bond of understanding. Once an understanding of their situation reaches a certain point, I'll ask if they would like a proposal. The project proposal is a tool for deepening our commitment to working together. Once the relationship has established a shared purpose, then we can go back into the social context and make a difference.

I don't look at the relationship from an economic perspective. I see the social context as the economic context. I see the relationship as personal. Whether the need is organizational or personal, I am there to provide help as is appropriate and effective to the relationship. I met a fellow at a networking event the other night. We talked about the guides, and he keep seeing people he knew that would benefit from them. So, he offered to gather them together, to create a social context, where relationships between me and his friends and clients could be formed. I offered to him to do my Leading from the Middle presentation for free, for these people. These clients and friends of his then pay me to come in to help them with their business. The context and the project are business and the place where economics takes place. The relationship is personal. I want to establish friendships that last after the project.

Another example, I have a friend, Cary, whose son was in our scout troop. He left his job and moved to a city an hour away to join with two other guys in starting a business. A year or so into this venture, difficulties in the partnership relationship emerged. I came in and worked with them on trying to resolve their situation. Because he is my friend first, I'll meet with him and talk about the business. In fact, I'll talk with him forever if that is what he needs. Then if there is a reason to enter into the social context of his business to do work within their organizational structure, then I'll charge them for that.

My aim is to establish client relationships that last a life time. Not all of them will result in this way, but many do. For example, my planning projects are conducted by a committee. Typically, I work with the chair of the committee more intensely that the rest. A relationship in many cases forms that transcends the project. In the course of doing business, we talk about our families, what's happening to us personally. As a result, I can call upon them years later to renew for a moment a relationship that3dLeadership - Mission-Vision-Values was prominent for us for that moment in time. Many of these people were the ones whom I asked to vote for Say Thanks, Every Day in the Johnny Bunko contest. And the did so, and I'm grateful to them.

This leads to my last observation. Relationships without a social context are difficult to sustain. When you blend relationships with a social context, usually a purpose to your relationship develops. If this purpose is not focused on some impact that you want to achieve, then the friendship will not be sustainable. 

Look at the Circle of Impact diagram. I can have an idea. If I never share it with someone else, it goes nowhere. If it never gets translated into the mechanism of an organizational structure, it never has the opportunity to reach its potential. Values are what connect relationships together. Too often, we think that social context or the organizational structure is what unifies people. I don't think that even an organization's mission unifies people together. No, their values do. This is why I talk a lot about values with my clients. Also, if all we have is an relationship of shared values, and their is no place, no social context,  where those values matter, then it is difficult to sustain the relationship. My issue with most social contexts is that they are either all ideas or all relationships, and no action.

Action takes place in the social context. We, together, in our relationship, work within a social context to do something that achieves impact. We don't just hang out. We don't just project our personalities on to an unsuspecting, unreceptive world. We come together focused what we in relationship with one another can do in this specific context to achieve the impact we desire together.  And I see this as the dynamic that leaders must address every day.

My friendship with Tom Morris, whom I frequently mentioned here, began my second day of college. We were casual friends within a large social circle of friends. After college, we went in different directions. I keep up with him through other people. Then one day 14 years after we last saw each other, I found that I was going to be near where he and his family lived. I arranged to spend a day with him, and we found that our life's path on a spiritual, intellectual, and professional level were remarkably similar.  As a result, we have maintained almost daily contact ever since. Our relationship is strong, not because we move in the same social context, because we don't at all. Instead, the social object that creates the bond between us is our shared interest in the application of ancient wisdom within organizations. We enter our individual social contexts everyday through the world of ideas, and through the world of the relationships we individually have in our unique contexts. Last year, we had the opportunity for the first time to do two events where we worked together in the same context. It was fantastic because we both saw how our differences were complementary to one another. In those two instances, the dynamic of the Circle of Impact came together.

This has been extremely helpful to me. You have helped me articulate what I live everyday. No one has ever asked me the question that you did here. I thank you, Steven, for that gift.  You have affirmed the truth that we discover new aspects of our lives in conversation.

My next question your view of social objects.

Q. From your perspective, what is a social object? How do we identify them? And more importantly, how do we nurture them so that they provide a basis for a sustainable relationship over time?


A Conversation about Constant Change - 4

Q from Ed: Why is it important for human beings to experience discovery? How can we do this on a daily basis? And how do businesses and organizations develop ways to discover?

Delightful question Ed! Exploration, discovery, collaboration and relationships are all closely related. So from that perspective we discover all the time. Exploration is very common, discovery is less common than exploration, collaboration is less common than discovery, and relationships are less common than collaboration. This is how these four are related:

  • Exploration leads to discovery.
  • Discovery makes collaboration possible.
  • Relationships are a specific form of collaboration.

There's a cause-and-effect relationship here: exploration may lead to discovery may lead to collaboration may lead to relationships. All four are innate to human beings and thus part of human nature. That's the basic premise.

Exploration is always active: it's not possible to passively make some discovery. People understand this very well: we automatically question anybody who shares discoveries that are based on experience. "Does that person actually have enough experience relevant to that discovery?" we ask. When Warren Buffet gives advice on how to invest people pay attention because they believe this man has done enough exploration in the domain of investment to be credible. When I would give the same advice people would question my credibility because I obviously don't have any track record.

So to explore you need to take action whose outcome is highly uncertain. That's why exploration is risky: it requires time so that it may be considered wasteful. On the other hand, exploration might lead to discovery which might create new meaning. This is also risky because it may threaten the status quo.

Discovery is the result of exploration. You know this Ed. I loved your recent blog post where you admitted being a member of a geeky IT club in Asheville. You take a chance to go out and explore and this leads to discovery. If you would stay home you would discovery nothing. "Do one thing everyday that scares you" is about exploration and discovery. Discovery also leads to new meaning: your brain changes as you discovery. When you close yourself to any outside influence your brain doesn't change (apart from the normal aging processes). That's why people that love the status quo ridicule anything that's new and that looks like a threat. They believe it's the best way to fend off changes in our brain and our thinking.

Discovery may lead to collaboration. Ask any child (or just watch them). As we make new discoveries we may find new ways to collaborate. Children are being given great freedom to learn all kinds of forms of collaboration, and are actually encouraged to do so. Adults however are assumed to stick to certain forms of collaboration whether they like it or not: wait in the line, pay taxes, meet all kinds of obligations. Once we're assumed to be biologically and cognitively capable of doing the required collaborations for real there seems to be no way back. Fixed ways of collaborating are beneficial because they're the same for everybody, but they're also damaging because the more people buy into them the more resistant they become to change. I've been saying for some time now that there are no more masses (as in mass audience). There are only niches. And this is a great thing, because it increases mobility of people and habits, and it installs a ceiling above which forms of collaboration cannot rise. The moral question then is: "Which one is more important: all subject to the same, or the freedom to be different? And how do you determine importance?"

And finally collaboration may lead to relationships. Relationships emerge when people find value not so much in the collaboration as in the people they collaborate with. This describes institutions really well, but it also describes people falling in love. So in one setting valuing the people more than the collaboration is considered a drawback, and in another setting the same is considered wonderful. Go figure ;-) I believe relationships require continued collaboration in order to be maintained, unless we're in love with someone.

The important thing to realize for businesses and organizations is that discovery may lead to new forms of collaboration. And when new forms of collaboration do emerge this may put existing relationships and networks of relationships under pressure. The existing forms of collaboration define the existing relationships. When new forms of collaboration replace the old ones relationships are automatically re-negotiated. Thus is an unavoidable aspect of human nature, and understanding how these principles affect each organization and the people in them is extremely valuable.

I look at organizations as a network of relationships with continuity. This means the while people may leave the network and others may join the network itself has continuity. In such a network each person has relationships with at least a few other people, and since each person chooses different people the network becomes dense and resilient. If you look at organizations in this respect it becomes obvious that the network cannot be arbitrarily limited to the employees. It also involves customers and partners. Most businesses don't look at their own organization as a network of relationships that also includes their customers, but the human nature of all people involved follow these innate rules.

A very interesting opportunity for discovery is then to go out and explore that network of relationships, discover what people have in common and discover new ways of collaborating and in doing so potentially redefine the network. On a side note: I make a distinction between an organization and an enterprise, but I won't go into that here.

Question for you Ed:

Q: You talk about social contexts, I talk about networks of relationships, but I think we're talking about the same thing. In your professional life, how do you look at your commercial relationships (how are they created, maintained; how do they evolve?) And how do you look at economic value in relationships (compared to contracts)?


A Conversation about Constant Change - 3

Here is my response to Steven Devijver's questions (below) author of the free ebook, The Strategy of Constant Change

Q1: You’re this amazing guy with a really special view on leadership and human relationships. What’s your view then - with all this background - on the three human universals? I ask this because you’ve only just recently written on your blog about The Golden Rule. I would like to understand why you think these tree human universals are novel.

Steven, I'm not sure that these universals are novel. I think your identification of them is insightful. They are what I observe in my dealings with people. They want to be treated with respect, kindness and given the opportunity to grow. Yet, at the same time, as people, we make mistakes.

There are two aspects of this worth identifying. There are mistakes that come from a lack of knowledge or ability. These can be corrected by instruction and training. The other kind of mistakes are ones of character.  These are more serious because they are not so easily subject to being changed by training, but by disciplined action. If what I say sounds like Aristotle, you'd be correct. I believe of all the ancient philosophers, his perspective on how we are to live is the closest to what people raised within an institutional context need today.  The parallel insight is of the management philosophers (Say and Schumpeter, especially) of the past couple hundred years who described entrepreneurialism in similar ways. From Aristotle through to Peter Drucker, the virtuous, happy person is the one who acts and creates new things.

I see in your identification of these human universals an ancient truth that is emerging in discussions about organizations and institutions in our day. I point most specifically to my good friend Tom Morris who has been writing and speaking on the value of ancient wisdom in the context of modern corporate institutions for almost twenty years. His perspective informs much of my own.

To be human is to create, and this comes from action, from taking initiative to transform abstract ideas into concrete realities. I believe that this is why God made us, and is God's most indelible mark upon us.

Q2: You mention the human point-of-view on organizational change. How important are human beings and relationships in organizations according to you, and what else should we pay attention to to help organizations thrive?

What I wrote above is about the individual person. Every person, however, exists within a social context, or, rather, many social contexts. There is our family, our neighborhood, our associations whether they are religous, political, or interest based, and then, of course, our work context. What I find is that social organization leads in one direction without intentional human intervention. I find that most organizations grow towards minimizing ambiguity, resist change, exclude outside influence, and become uniform,closed systems of relationships that squeeze out human initiative in favor of social compliance. One of the unintended consequences of universal education is to remove human initiative in favor of comformity. We treat education as a management exercise where efficiency is valued over effectiveness. This is true in every institution that I have had contact with during my lifetime. I do not think that this is intentional, but rather a logical result of how we think.

We think like managers who do not own the work we do. We simply have organzed our lives around the performance of certain activities. Ask people what their purpose is, and rarely does it have anything to do with the work they perform. We think like managers instead of as leaders because we have been taught to work within an institutional environment. I heard yesterday that a million people have lost their jobs in the United States over the past year. Those businesses that lost those people are now more efficient, but are they more effective. Are they capable of taking advantage of opportunities that still exist? I don't think so. Now, imagine, all those million people starting new businesses. Imagine the creative energy that will be released into world as a result.

From my perspective, I see a need to reconceptualize not only what it means to live an authentic, happy, virtuous human life, but also what this means within a social and insititutional environment. As a result, I'm interested in the nature of human relationships. Let me give one example of what I see.

Over the past decade there has been an explosion in the level of social interaction that takes place on line. You and I met through our involvement in the Triiibes online social network. I see in the growth of social media an expression of the basic human need for companionship.  However, I don't see all this social interaction as necessarily their purpose. Instead, taking my lead from Aristotle, I believe that our human interaction should lead to collaborative human action. Through these social media tools, we should be forming relationships where we work together to achieve some impact. If all they are is a place to talk, they will not be sustainable. They will degenerate into a narrow clique built around a few strong, influential voices, and a circle of people who compliantly go along. It is a picture of all social institutions in microcosim.

What is the solution? I return to Aristotle and entrepreneurism. We must become virtuous people who act to create new ways of meeting needs and opportunities. My personal responsibility is to be a person that others can trust. This trust is built upon not only personal integrity, but openness, honesty, humility and the recognition that we each have a role to play within every social context. Sometimes it is to lead, others times to follow, some moments to give and others to receive.  It is from this philosophical perspective that was born my Johnny Bunko 7th lesson - Say Thanks, Every Day. Giving thanks in this perspective is an act of creative openness that affirms the connection that exists between us.

Q3: What’s your view of change is bad, and should be avoided?

I don't see change as either bad or good. I simply see it as the context of how we live. Every change has within it some good that can be identified. For example, suffering is a kind of change. We can view suffering as something to be avoided or we can see in it the opportunity to gain strength.  We have a choice in how we deal with change. We either see it as an opportunity or as an inconvenience. The choice we make determines whether we will find happiness.

We need to develop our capacity to adapt to change. Returning to Aristotle, I believe that this is what he writes about as becoming habituated to doing virtuous acts.

Okay, my next question for you.

Q. Why is it important for human beings to experience discovery? How can we do this on a daily basis? And how do businesses and organizations develop ways to discover?


A Conversation about Constant Change - 2

Posted by Steven Devijver, author of The Strategy of Constant Change, available for free at Endesha.

Thanks for your absolutely delightful questions Ed, and thanks for having started the conversation.

Q. How does your view of change compare to the general view that change is bad and is something to be avoided.

I have many ways to respond to the view point that change is bad and should be avoided. I especially think of Clay Shirky’s words: “It’s not a revolution if there are not losers.” Another way to look at this quote is to say: if some people get upset it must be a revolution. It depends on your understanding of loosing: in terms of resources/wealth, or can a parent’s loss of control over her child also be considered a loss?

One thing I like to repeat is: people that love the status quo hate heretics. It reflects on the idea that stability creates power, and change coming from many people all at once subverts power. It also reflects on people clinging on to stability, believing that after they’ve left school and got their diploma’s they’re somehow exempt not just from learning and being tested, but also exempt from having to climb up the ladder to maintain their social standing.

And the last thing I add is that I actually believe the opposite: stability is bad. Stability is static, I call it acting like a mountain. People move on all the time - it’s just an unavoidable fact of being human. Our current time has created a heightened awareness of our human nature and one consequence is that people can’t be easily pinned down anymore. They dare to take a peek behind the curtains. What is being revealed I think - especially during our current crisis - is how inferior gatekeepers are in our society. Journalists fail to report on the issues that matter, the financial institutions have failed everyone, educational institutions are changing dramatically, and don’t even get me started on our governments. Basically, everything that was still stable only 10 years ago is now in turbulent flux, creating a future that is highly uncertain.

I look at gatekeepers (I also tend to refer to them as walled gardens) as institutions that do two things:

  1. They establish and maintain classes of professionals that are distinct - in a superior way - to the rest of society (doctors, professors, journalists, engineers, …).
  2. They control the flow of money and other scarce resources and decide who gets in on the action and who doesn’t.

Typically this results in a group of embedded, accredited professionals joining in institutions that give them access to a steady flow of money while excluding everybody else. The people with accreditation are motivated to do two things:

  1. Protect their institutions and the accreditation they hold against outside attacks of all kinds.
  2. Convince society at large - or at least government - that these institutions and the accredited individuals they organize are vital for preventing society's collapse.

This creates strange, opaque cliques that shy outside inspection and institutions that are completely entangled in society's core structures. By protecting the accredited professions institutions and government create a socially unequal class society.

In the end I say stability is bad for two reasons: out of love and awe for human nature, and against unwarranted classes in our society. When I hear somebody say change is bad I will carefully listen, but I will assume that person is either afraid of losing her power or social standing, or afraid of seeing the gatekeepers she depends on disappear.

Q. You write about three human universals. How did you come to gain this insightful perspective? How is this view central to your thesis about change?

First of all, the three human universals I write about are:

  1. We all want to be treated as human beings, all of the time.
  2. We’re all different but we all try to do good.
  3. We all make mistakes, and when these mistakes are corrected gracefully magic happens.

I've combined ideas coming from several sources to form these human universals. The first defining source of inspiration is The Golden Rule: "Do to no one what you dislike yourself." There are many versions of this, but I’m most fascinated by Immanuel Kant and his categorical imperative.

Another important source is closely related to Kant: political philosophy, and how it defines morality. I got fascinated by the history of political philosophy a couple of years ago when I discovered Thomas Hobbes. I find is striking that he published his master piece Leviathan in 1651, three years after the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. This peace treaty created an important moral paradox because it defined what is called Westphalian sovereignty: each state has the right to govern over its own people and territory, and each state has the right to rule independently of foreign control.

Before 1648 Europe had no real states, and everybody got conquered and controlled by invading forces at one time or another. But at the same time, everybody knew what they all had in common: they were all God’s children. Morality was a concern of the church. Since 1648 states were in control not just over its own territory, but also over its own people and this created two moral difficulties: if the state controls the faith of its people, how can it do that in a moral way? And why would God hand over the question of morality from the church to the state?

Basically morality had to be completely reinvented and Thomas Hobbes did exactly this in Leviathan although his views of human nature are very dark and pessimistic. After him many other political philosophers weighed in on the question of what we have in common - including Immanuel Kant - believing that if we have nothing in common we can‘t possibly govern a state together. It’s so fascinating to me that all of the sudden people were confronted with that kind of problem in the 17th century, it blows my mind.

The last important source of inspiration is Terrence McKenna. I have to tell you, he’s a pretty weird guy. He’s a philosopher who based his philosophical investigations on hallucinations from using LSD. Now, I have to tell you I don’t do drugs and I completely condemn any drug usage. However, what’s important for me about Terrence McKenna is not his substance abuse, but his views on humanity. I can’t go into much detail on his thinking here because it’s very complicated and so much out there that it’s just too weird. His main thesis however is simple: that our minds are much more powerful than we believe, that our minds are all interconnected, and that this interconnectedness defines humanity. It is therefore our role he says to learn as much about life and humanity as we can by crossing our boundaries and to make it possible for others do discover what we learn. I think that’s extremely powerful thinking, and I think he succeeds in defining his own morality.

This is not exactly a brief answer, but it’s the briefest I can be I guess while still describing a very important aspect of who I am: my desire to understand humanity, morality and leadership. These three human universals relate to change because they re-affirm the turbulence inherent to being a human (what I call constant change). We’re all different so we’re bound to discover new things all of the time. We all make mistakes in all kinds of brilliantly novel ways, and in dealing with them we discover new things about living together in peace. And we all want to be treated as human beings, all of the time, which prevents humanity from falling into chaos.

I draw at least two ultimate conclusions out of the three human universals:

  1. Change exists in our mind. I would love to elaborate on that but not in this answer ;-)
  2. We’ve come this far over 2,5 billion years, constantly changing and adapting in the process. We’ve made enormous leaps over 10,000 years since we’ve first created civilization. Why would anybody choose to believe we’re going to all of the sudden stop changing?

Q3. The name of your weblog is Endesha. What does this mean? Why this name?

Endesha is Swahili and means to lead. So endesha.com basically means lead.com. I want to bring leaders together under a common understanding of humanity and morality which are the three human universals. By accepting the three human universals as core to being human we’re accepting that we have very strong bonds holding us together, and that we have a lot in common.

I think the ultimate learning any person can do is to learn about herself and her relationship with humanity and morality. The ultimate form of leadership is then to give people a chance to explore and discover humanity and morality. My book is imperfect in so many ways, and that’s actually a great thing. It covers a very tiny portion of what is to be said about humanity, morality and leadership, and I hope endesha.com and the network that we're creating around it can become that place where people interested in leadership and learning can come together.

Here are my questions for you Ed.

Q1: You’re this amazing guy with a really special view on leadership and human relationships. What’s your view then - with all this background - on the three human universals? I ask this because you’ve only just recently written on your blog about The Golden Rule. I would like to understand why you think these tree human universals are novel.

Q2: You mention the human point-of-view on organizational change. How important are human beings and relationships in organizations according to you, and what else should we pay attention to to help organizations thrive?

Q3: What’s your view of change is bad, and should be avoided?


A Conversation about Constant Change - 1

Steven Devijver in Mechelen, Beligium has written an ebook called The Strategy of Constant Change that is worth your time reading. You can download it for free from the Endesha website.

After reading it, I told Steven I wanted to interview and review the book here on my blog. As we talked about this we decide to do something more innovative. We are going to have a discussion about the ideas in the book by an exchange of questions over several days. I've invited Steven to be a guest blogger here. I hope you'll accept the opportunity to also answer our questions by leaving your response in the comments.

Steven has taken the initiative to ask the first question.

Q: Ed, so you've invited me into a public, published conversation between the both of us with my book as our field manual and I eagerly accept. Why is having this conversation so important to you?

There are three reasons why conducting a public conversation is important.

One, the ideas in your book are important, and by addressing in this manner, we may cause some people to take notice. We have such precious little time to engage in important ideas everyday. We have to do something to stop people in their tracks for a couple minutes to think and reflect upon what's important.

Two, my experience with conversation in any setting is that it expands knowledge. You share an idea. I respond. You respond back, and before we know it we have arrived at a new appreciation of our original idea.

Three, you have given us a picture of organizational change from a very human point-of-view. You book is not just another book of tactics about creating change, but a deeply philosophical book about the human dimension in organizations. I want to affirm that perspective and help people grasp the importance of what you are saying about we human beings.

OK. My turn to ask a three questions.

Q1. How does your view of change compare to the general view that change is bad and is something to be avoided.

Q2. You write about three human universals. How did you come to gain this insightful perspective? How is this view central to your thesis about change?

Q3. The name of your weblog is Endesha. What does this mean? Why this name?