The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.

Teams: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is one in a continuing series of posts on my Circle of Impact Guides.

Impact teams characteristics and strategies

Teams are a primary tool for organizations to get work done. Teams function in a wide variety of ways and for many purposes.

This guide describes my understanding of how a team functions in a more open, collaborative manner.

The guide is divided between a list describing the characteristics of a team member, and how to strategically develop a team.

The guide purpose is to facilitate conversation, not to act as a formula that every team be like. The conversation should be open and responsible. Your discussion advance your team toward greater clarity, alignment and ownership of your teams. The guide is a starting point for understanding what your team should be like. In other words, this guide is not the last word on teams. It is just a tool for establishing a basis for discussion within a team about how their work should be conducted .Common Collaborative Networking Approaches

In some contexts, I refer to these teams as Collaborative Network Groups. These teams can take many forms as way to support members, and creater a higher level of collaboration across organizational boundaries. 

I am part of a few Collaborative Network Groups. One is the Lessons in Leadership corp group.  Another is the Collaborative Solutions Group, a collection of individuals from a wide diversity of companies and disciplines within the financial services industry. Our principal focus is family-held businesses, though not exclusively. (If this interests you, get in touch.)

How To Use This Guide:

Take your team through a discussion of the Member Characteristics.  Have each member evaluate the team based on these criteria. Do this anonymously. Talk about each characteristic and determine how to measure each. As you do so, use the Circle of Impact guide for your discussion. You can ask your questions this way.

Do team members practice personal initiative in sharing ideas, building stronger relationships and improving the functioning of the group?

Does the team have a giving-orientation? Do team members take initiative to help other team members in ways that build a more collaborative group?

Questions like these open up the awareness of members to see how their team is functioning. This takes time, and needs a willingness by members to be open and transparent. If you can overcome resistance to change, your team will become more effective.

The Conversation Continues

The third edition of The Age of Conversation is to be published in the next couple weeks.Age3cover

 Each of these volumes of short, one-page essays is a treasure trove of information, insight and inspiration.

The proceeds from the sale of this volume go to the Make a Wish Foundation.

My contribution is Your Network is Your Brand.

UPDATE: Here are the sections topics.

At the Coalface

There is much to be said for good strategy, but what happens when the strategy is done? What happens when the time for talking is over? This section is about working at the coalface of social media. It’s about the real world lessons that come hard and fast. It’s about case studies and the stories and events that are much better in the re-telling than in the moment.

Conversational Branding

When we talk of brands, we generally understand what it means. But what happens when a brand ventures into online conversation. What does it mean to participate in these conversations? Is this earned media? Is it paid for? Or is there an in-between space?  How important is brand in the social media space?  How does the conversation shape or change the brand?


Much is made of influence, but what does "influence" mean in social media? Who has it, and who creates it? Does influence mean different things to different people?  Is it hype or can it make the cash register ring?  Is influence one of the new currencies?

Getting to work

They say that the best approach to social media is dive in. But getting to work with social media can be harder than it first appears. What have you done to quickly get to work?  Or perhaps this section is about how you use social media to get to work — literally.  Is it a viable tool for networking and job hunting?  Or maybe this section is about how social media is changing the face of work.  Does getting to work now mean sitting at the kitchen table in your bathrobe?

Corporate Conversations

There is plenty of coverage of social media when the focus is on marketing or advertising. But what is happening in other parts of your business? How is social media playing within your business and has it surprised you?  Or...if you’re a consultant or agency, how do you introduce social media to the C-level at your client’s business?  How do you make social media more than a fad or seem relevant to the bottom line?


Can you measure social media? Many claim you can and many claim you can't. But if you can measure social media, should you? And how do you measure it?  And do you measure it in terms of ROI?  Or influence?  Or ability to do good?  What are the metrics that matter and how do you get to them?

In the boardroom

Is social media a fad dreamed up by the marketing department to get the attention of the executives? What are the hard questions and firm answers that get thrown around the boardroom. And who, if anyone, is best placed to answer?  What role should the C-level executives play in a company’s social media strategy?  Do they just green light it?  Should the CEO have a blog?  Or...from a non-profit’s perspective, how does the board of directors play a role in the organization’s SM activities?

Pitching social media

The work has been done and the late nights are weighing heavily on your shoulders. But it's time to buck up - to pull it all together and wow your client. What do you do to impress? Is there a new art to pitching social media? And is it important to eat your own dog food?  Or, if you’re from the PR side of the table, how are you pitching your client’s stories to social media’s influentials?  Or are you using a different tactic?

Innovation and Execution

People make great claims for social media. Is it the long dreamed of silver bullet? Can the tools and techniques be harnessed to drive innovation? How can you take an idea or a strategy and make it work for your brand or your business?  How do you move from idea to actual execution?  What task or tool has social media eliminated or replaced?  What do you predict it will eliminate in the future?

Identities, friends and trusted strangers

Many people are now living much of their lives online.  Who do you call friend?  How do you set boundaries or decide who to let into your circle of influence?  How do you know who to trust when you can’t look them in the eyes?  How do you define your own identity?  What tools, techniques and sites do you find most useful in creating your online brand?  How do offline meetings or conferences influence your online identity?

Here's a link list for all the authors. Check them out. Get to know them. Start a conversation with them. And get ready to get busy.

Adam Joseph

Priyanka Sachar

Mark Earls

Cory Coley-Christakos

Stefan Erschwendner

Paul Hebert

Jeff De Cagna

Thomas Clifford

Phil Gerbyshak

Jon Burg

Toby Bloomberg

Shambhu Neil Vineberg

Joseph Jaffe

Uwe Hook

Steve Roesler

Michael E. Rubin

anibal casso

Steve Woodruff

Steve Sponder

Becky Carroll

Tim Tyler

Chris Wilson

Beth Harte

Tinu Abayomi-Paul

Dan Schawbel

Carol Bodensteiner

Trey Pennington

David Weinfeld

Dan Sitter

Vanessa DiMauro

Ed Brenegar

David Zinger

Brett T. T. Macfarlane

Efrain Mendicuti

Deb Brown

Brian Reich

Gaurav Mishra

Dennis Deery

C.B. Whittemore

Gordon Whitehead

Heather Rast

Cam Beck

Hajj E. Flemings

Joan Endicott

Cathryn Hrudicka

Jeroen Verkroost

Karen D. Swim

Christopher Morris

Joe Pulizzi

Leah Otto

Corentin Monot

Karalee Evans

Leigh Durst

David Berkowitz

Kevin Jessop

Lesley Lambert

Duane Brown

Peter Korchnak

Mark Price

Dustin Jacobsen

Piet Wulleman

Mike Maddaloni

Ernie Mosteller

Scott Townsend

Nick Burcher

Frank Stiefler

Steve Olenski

Rich Nadworny

John Rosen

Tim Jackson

Suzanne Hull

Len Kendall

Amber Naslund

Wayne Buckhanan

Mark McGuinness

Caroline Melberg

Andy Drish

Oleksandr Skorokhod

Claire Grinton

Angela Maiers

Paul Williams

Gary Cohen

Armando Alves

Sam Ismail

Gautam Ramdurai

B.J. Smith

Tamera Kremer

Eaon Pritchard

Brendan Tripp

Adelino de Almeida

Jacob Morgan

Casey Hibbard

Andy Hunter

Julian Cole

Debra Helwig

Anjali Ramachandran

Jye Smith

Drew McLellan

Craig Wilson

Karin Hermans

Emily Reed

David Petherick

Katie Harris

Gavin Heaton

Dennis Price

Mark Levy

George Jenkins

Doug Mitchell

Mark W. Schaefer

Helge Tenno

Douglas Hanna

Marshall Sponder

James Stevens

Ian Lurie

Ryan Hanser

Jenny Meade

Jeff Larche

Sacha Tueni and Katherine Maher

David Svet

Jessica Hagy

Simon Payn

Joanne Austin-Olsen

Mark Avnet

Stanley Johnson

Marilyn Pratt

Mark Hancock

Steve Kellogg

Michelle Beckham-Corbin

Michelle Chmielewski

Amy Mengel

Veronique Rabuteau

Peter Komendowski

Andrea Vascellari

Timothy L Johnson

Phil Osborne

Beth Wampler

Amy Jussel

Rick Liebling

Eric Brody

Arun Rajagopal

Dr Letitia Wright

Hugh de Winton

David Koopmans

Aki Spicer

Jeff Wallace

Don Frederiksen

Charles Sipe

Katie McIntyre

James G Lindberg & Sandra Renshaw

David Reich

Lynae Johnson

Jasmin Tragas

Deborah Chaddock Brown

Mike O'Toole

Jeanne Dininni

Iqbal Mohammed

Morriss M. Partee

Katie Chatfield

Jeff Cutler

Pete Jones

Riku Vassinen

Jeff Garrison

Kevin Dugan

Tiphereth Gloria

Mike Sansone

Lori Magno

Valerie Simon

Nettie Hartsock

Mark Goren


Peter Salvitti

Moving from Talk to Action to Impact

First Posted May 2, 2007.


There is no shortage of great ideas available to leaders.  The problem isn't having ideas, but understanding how to move from an idea to action.

Over the years, I've developed a method for helping a large group of people enter into a conversation about their future. The ideas from that conversation are recorded and compiled into a document that then is analyzed with recommendations for action. 

This conversational planning process is an "activity."  It is not a result. It is a tool. A method. An approach. A way of doing something to achieve a goal.  The question is what is the goal, purpose or impact of such a process?  That's the more important question.

People tend to think fragmentedly. They don't see the direct connections between inspiring ideas and the application of it to their organization. People tend not to see things as something whole. Instead, they see their life and work as a collection of discrete parts. 

For example, a leader thinks that her organization needs more talk, more dialogue, more conversation.  She thinks this because someone has told her this or heard it in a presentation or an article online. She realizes that her team isn't communicating well.  She, then, employs a conversational planning process to achieve the goal of fostering more conversation for better communication.

If increasing open conversation is our purpose, then we are confusing an activity with a result. Ask yourself these questions.

What should be the impact of an enhanced process of conversation and communication in an organization? 

Can you envision what the outcome should be?

What do you want to change? 

What are the problems that drive you to the conclusion that conversation and dialogue are the answer?

As much as my work is built on talk, dialogue and conversation, that is not what my business is about.  Those are activities that I do to achieve a specific impact for my clients.

If you step back from your business and look at it objectively, you'll see lots of activity. It is tempting to think that because you have all this activity going on that you are effective.  The question always remains to what end are we doing these activities?

For people like me, we spend an inordinate amount of time addressing organizational problems. That is chiefly why people come to us. They recognize a problem or deficiency and they want to solve it. That's good. But, problem solving is an activity. To what end do we solve your problems.

If all this seems a bit circular, I can understand.  So, here are some principles that may help you think more clearly and specifically about the relation between ideas, conversation, activities and impact.

1. Activities are what you do.
2. Impact is the change that is brought about by those activities.  It is the difference that your business makes that matters.
3. Mission is the purpose or intention of your business defined in terms of impact.
4. Vision is a picture of the difference that you make when that mission is acted on through activities.
5. Talk, conversation, dialogue are activities that are a context for action.
6. The impact of our conversations should be clarity of thought, higher levels of respect and trust and a shared commitment to action.
7. Ideas organize our thinking to provide a conceptual structure for our activities and an understanding of what our impact is to be.

This leads us back to the realization that our ideas and activities are tools to make a difference.  They are how we move from an idea into action. They are how Impact is achieved, but they are not the impact.

So, next time, you introduce yourself to someone, think about what you are saying to them. Are you simple describing a role or activity that you perform, or are you describing the impact that you create that is the ultimate reason you do what you do?  Think about it.

Cool Conversation Tools from Susan Bird

Conversation is the lubricant of healthy human relationships.  So, what are you doing to foster better, more authentic conversations whether at home or the office.

Susan Bird of wf360 has created a wonderful guide for improving conversation.
Smart Talk: The ABCs of Authentic Conversation.

This is the coolest thing I have seen in a long time. 

Look at this!

It's a book, but not bound like a book.  It bound more like the paint samples at the store.  Very cool.

The book follows the alphabet, with a thought and a conversation hint for each letter.

It a collection of chapters, very short chapters.

For example, here's "C is for Courage," one of my favorite words.

"If you intend to be a leader who always means what you say, there will be occasions when your conversations ruffle feathers, even even elicit harsh rebukes or rejection. But such conversation can be the beginning of transformational change.  It takes guts to ignite the flame that will make things hot, and a willingness to do so is a pre-requisite for leadership.
It's easy to engage people in predictable exchange.  It's another matter entirely when what you say may cause discomfort. Before you speak, consider the literal meaning of the word "encourage."  *Focus less on securing agreement and more on how you can help your listeners take up the challenge your words will throw down.  Together - with courage squared - you're more likely to find a mutually satisfactory resolution.  If this sounds like work.  It is.  But shared courage is what it takes to make a real difference and change the world.
*en-cour-age: to inspire with courage, spirit, confidence; to spur on.

So on top of a very cool design (I've said that three times. Whew!!!), there is real wisdom here. And wisdom at the service of conversation.

Susan is right that conversation takes work.  All things valuable take work.  There are no short cuts in this regard.  Yet, to achieve great things we often need tools that will help accomplish far more than we can ordinarily do.  Here's a tool that will pay dividends.

So, here's what you can do.

Buy a copy for each of your team.  Carve out 10-12 minutes in your next meeting, read one of the chapters, and discuss it.  If your team is not used to talking in this manner, then break them into two and threes and have them come up with one insight to share. 

Encourage them to take their copy home at try at the dinner table.  Try to make a game out of it.  What kind of game?  With each chapter, identify one thing that everyone agrees to do, some action they can take together.

For example, with courage.  Go do something courageous, like climbing a rock wall at a climbing center. Then go get ice cream and talk about the courage it took to step up on the wall.

This is not a book to read. This is a book to read together and discuss.

In this way, conversation becomes a performance art that everyone can become masters at.

And this cool (4 times) is not the only thing Susan Bird has created. She also has a conversation toolLeadingquestions_susan_bird called Leading Questions (what a clever title!).  This is a can of ... well ... questions from a wide variety of leaders that asked for the purpose of stimulating conversation.

Here are a couple examples randomly selected.

"If you could take complete responsibility for one thing in your organization, what would it be and what would you do?" Elizabeth Coppinger - former SVP, Strategic Alliances, Sony Corporation; Board Director, Lightspan.

"If you had the choice to receive either more time or more money, would you select an extra four hours a day or $4,000 a day? What would you do with it, and how would you quality of life be superior to what it is now?"
  Patricia Francy - Board Director, Priceline; Board Director, Siebert Financial.

The can is full of questions that can be use in a wide variety of settings to move people from a more superficial exchange to some really depth of conversation.

Check them out. Use them.  Improve your team's conversation, you'll find your work together improving too.  And it will be fun on top of that. How cool is that?!

Learning through Conversation

You never know who is listening.  And sometimes it feels like no one is.  And then someone makes a contact, and starts a conversation.  That is how I met Susan Bird at WF360.

There is a meme floating around the blogoshere called "collective wisdom."  It is simply the idea that there is a general shared perception that the masses have that individual experts don't have, and more times than not, the masses are right.  Read James Surowiecki's book The Wisdom of Crowds. 

The question that I have is "How are these perceptions that we call collective wisdom formed? How do we learn to know what is right and good?  How do we actually learn?"

I believe that this collective wisdom is the result of our conversations with one another. We may read a book or a magazine article.  We learn something from that, but it remains an abstract idea that is a curiousity in our minds.  However, when we talk about that idea over dinner or on the phone or online, the substance of that idea changes.  All of sudden we see it in different ways, in various dimensions of application. We can begin to see if the idea is junk or really insightful.

My work has been built on conversation.  If there is an event, I want to be the first one there and the last to leave.  Is that just my extraverted social side.  Not really.  It really is my curiosity about people.  The social is a vehicle for learning, and the tool is conversation.

It is also that I found through my planning work that organizations had a very difficult time dealing with change because no one was talking with anyone else.  If there was any conversation, it is not open and exploratory, but rather suspicious and cynical about others.  Not a very good setting for learning and growth.

Susan Bird and I had a conversation yesterday.
  We discovered - a major part of conversational learning - that we are very similar in approach and philosophy, though we work in very different environments.  Go check out what Susan is doing here

One of the topics we discussed yesterday during our conversations was the importance of face-to-face conversation.  This is really an important ingredient in conversational learning.  I enjoy online conversations.  But I also find them limited.  I don't get any of the physical cues that face-to-face interaction provides.  You can pick up more on a phone call, but there really is nothing like sitting across a table.

Learning is not a linear process of information acquisition.  Learning is an evolutionary process.  The conversation takes place in many ways.  There is a conversation with your own knowledge.  There is conversation with the author of the book. - We all annotate books. Don't we?  And most importantly, we learn in conversation with others.  This is how educational pedagogy is changing.  More classroom interaction.  More collaborative exercises.  Less lecture and rote memorization. Conversation is a key tool in learning today.

And that learning is best when done in proximity to other people.  Susan Bird has figured this out.  And she has some pretty cool stuff happening that is worth looking into.

Don't Think Relationships Matter? Read this!

USAToday has a story about research conducted at Duke University that "Americans have a third fewer close friends and confidants than just two decades ago — a sign that people may be living lonelier, more isolated lives than in the past."

This is not surprising to me at all. I have beeen aware of the relational decline of America all my life.  I think the study's numbers are conservative. 


Because our standards have lowered, and as a result what is acceptible today, was not a generation ago. 

Is this dire? Yes. Is it a hopeless situation? No.

Remember when the
The Cluetrain Manifesto came out?  You don't?  Then you better get in touch with one of the conceptual benchmarks of the 21st century.  You can read the entire book online here. The Manifesto  begins with the now familiar statement

  1. Markets are conversations.
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

 Here is one of first statements to reintroduce the human element into discussion about business.  The idea is that relationships matter, and that internet technology makes it easier for relationships to form and function. I agree.

As Ron Burt points out in his book, Brokerage and Closure, our social capability has not caught of with our technological capacity.

Now, the problem the Duke University study describes really isn't technological.  It is easy to blame, as Robert Putnam does, this prevalence of loneliness and isolation on suburbia.  Suburbia can't fix it.  Suburbia is an intellectual construct.  It is an idea, and inanimate idea. It is also a type of technology, a tool that people use to achieve certain goals.  As with any technology, there are assets and liabilities, benefits and problems.  Suburbia is a technology that makes relationships more difficult, but that doesn't mean that they are impossible.

We live, in the words of Christopher Lasch, in a culture of narcissism.  If you have never read Lasch, you should, especially The Culture of Narcissism: Amercian in an Age of Diminishing Expectations.  We live in a culture that rewards people for gratifying their own desires first.  Other people are tools, mechanisms, technology, means toward that gratification.  If the tools fail, there is no introspective reflection that looks within for the cause.  The problem is always external, and the solution is too. This is the thrust of the Arbinger Institute's fine book, Leadership and Self Deception.

Unless the individual has become totally emotionally stunted, the need for close, intimate, caring, mutual relationships grows in magnitude.  The problem, and here is where putnam is correct, is that our institutions are not organized for the support of those kinds of relationships.  As a result, people  journey through the social experiences of their lives in organizational ill-equipped to deal with people's loneliness and isolation.

Just so we don't miss this point.  I am not talking about those socially inept, misfit souls that pass through our lives.  I see this issue in the lives of leaders who have excellent people skills, but are emotionally alone in their role of leader.

Ultimately, the issue gets resolved on a personal basis.  You have to determine in your mind and heart to make the commitment to change.  If you expect others to change for you, then you'll be disappointed. You have to take the initiative. And those who are also taking the personal initiative will find you. 

Capability meets Competence in the Generous Web

The advance of technology and humanity have never been in tandem. They have been in relationship to one another. When a inventor creates a new technology, the affect upon people is not immediate.  We humans have to adapt, catch up, master all its new dimensions.  This is no more true than with the advent of computer technology and the Internet.

All sorts of cool applications have been developed that enable those of us who are woefully inadequate in so many areas to find a way to overcome our limitations.  As a pack rat of information, I think the computer hard drive is a God-send.  And I mean that in all its spiritual implications.

That said, it is true that we have a long way to go to catch up with the opportunities that the ubiquitous web provides us.  Ron Burt in the introduction to his new book, Brokerage and Closure - No, it isn't a sales book for stock brokers - writes,

“Technology has expanded our ability to communicate across geographic and social distance.  Our ability to coordinate across markets has expanded accordingly.  “Global” is the word of the day.  The limited scale of yesterday’s organizations is today inefficient.  We removed layers of bureaucracy and laid in fast, flexible communication systems.

Ask the leader of any large organization about the most difficult barriers he or she has to manage to harvest the coordination potential of our communication capabilities.  They inevitably talk about people issues, culture issues.  People continue to work the way they learned in legacy organizations, in yesterday’s organization silos.  We are capable of coordinating across scattered markets of human endeavor.  We are not yet competent in how to take advantage of the capability.

In this period of competence trying to catch up with capability, authority in the formal chain of command no longer provides the answers it once did.  Matrix structures have people reporting to multiple superiors, which weakens the authority of each reporting relationship.  Efficiencies gained by removing layers of bureaucracy shift control from vertical chains of authority to horizontal peer pressure.  Work once defined by superiors in the formal organization is now negotiated between colleagues who have no authority over one another.  People are more than ever the author of their jobs, not told what to do, so much as expected to figure it out.  Feeling that someone must be at fault, people blame one another for problems created by the capability-competence gap.  … Then as now, technological capability exceeds social competence and we blame one another for failure: “…if only we put in more effort and pulled together as a team.”

I see the Generous Web meme that Bill Kinnon discusses frequently at Achieveable Ends as a step along the path toward narrowing the gap between capability and competence.  The technology of old organizational systems is rapidly being displaced by flatter structures that require more personal initiative and character by members of the organization than in the past. 

This is why I see what I term the Circle of Impact as a helpful guide to understanding the relationship between people, purpose and structure.  In other words, the structure was the relationship in the past. Now relationships are on a more equal footing with organizational structures, and therefore how we conceptualize both relationships and structure becomes important.

Everyone of my clients has a need for better communication.  Is this simply a mechanical problem requiring better newsletters? No, I think it is a human relationship problem masked as a communication problem. To solve that problem requires people to no longer look to the organization to communicate to them, but rather that everyone has the responsibility to take the initiative to communicate with others.

So the dramatic change that most organizations need is not technological, but a human one.  If people do not change, then their organizations will decline. If they do change, like embracing the idea of the Generous Web, then we will see a dramatic improvement in the performance of their organizations.

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A Generous Community

What is community?  What is it particularly in the context of the online world?

It didn't start with the Cluetrain Manifesto, but it was pushed front and center by the author's claim that "markets are conversations."  Conversations are about human interaction.  And the online world has prompted an explosion of human interaction.  It was just a short, brief step before these conversations began to be talked about as online communities.

Frankly, I've always had a bit of difficulty thinking of online interaction as a community.  A little over a year ago, I wrote a posting called "What is Community?" as a comment on a posting by Jennifer Rice where she asks the same question.  I wrote,

The test of community is not what we share, but what we are willing to sacrifice to remain apart of it.  There are many people I enjoy interacting with online and in person.  But there is not shared commitment to one another's welfare that requires my sacrificing my resources to support them.

While I support the emphasis on relationships, my sense is that many of these relationships are ones of convenience.  As long as they touch on issues that are important to me, I'll participate. When that changes, I'm moving on.

Community requires commitment that involves sanctions for violating the core values and trust of the community, as well as benefits for full participation and contribution.  In traditional communities these cultural norms are understood and act as the social bond that holds the community through hard times.

In my work as a leadership development and strategic visioning specialist, I find that there is a value in community held by people, but an unwillingness to establish the social structure that supports it.  Without that structure, these are not relationships so much as acquaintances.

The question of a "successful" community was raised in the comments.  By what criteria do we judge a community?  I used to ask clients after I had developed a comfortable level of communication with them the following question: "If you were to become a total failure in the work that you do, who would stand with you in your humiliation."  More times that I care to admit, they did not have an answer.  They did not know who truly cared for them.  Too often not even their spouse.

Genuine community requires commitment, sacrifice and a level of intimacy that online interaction is virtually unable to provide. That doesn't mean that those relationships lack value or integrity, just that they are not the kind that constitutes community.

This continues to be a very live topic of discussion.  Bill Kinnon sent me a link to a site where the question for a workshop at the CITS Digital Transitions Conference is Sustaining Engagement Online: Is Community in Tension with Collaboration.

Here's how the define the traditional view of community.

Community has traditionally been defined as a geographically bounded group of people who:

• share dense, multiplex, and intimates ties with one another that involve frequent face-to-face interactions

• have relationships that are broadly based (versus being specialized)

• share a common, or “collective” identity, which includes boundaries that define in-group and out-group membership (“us” vs. “them”) and a sense of solidarity, and

• share common cultural understandings (and perhaps even worldviews; see Wellman and Gulia 1999 for a brief discussion of the definition of community).

That is, authentic communities tend to have fixed boundaries, where people either belong or do not. Authentic communities do not rapidly expand or contract, or turn on a dime. They have identities tied to past events, places, and people. They describe common ways of life and cultural understandings.

They proceed on to note that the conception of community is changing. "when many people use the term community today, they are not referring to the classic barn-raising community, but rather looser networks of individuals who may have few, if any, direct ties to one another."

A fluid or more liquid perception of human identity and community are a apart of this testing of the boundaries of the traditional understanding of community.

The question, I suggest, that is important to answer is not whether a traditional or an emerging understanding of community accurately describes the way communiteis are.  But rather, "what is the purpose of community?" 

The reality is that with the advent of online communication technologies, a la Cluetrain, human relationships have the opportunity to take on new dimensions.

Look at the discussion - Markets are Miracles - that Doc Searls has first with Sayo Ajiboye, Executive Director of Mission Africa International. 
Here's a portion of Doc's reflection.

Yet markets, as conversations — and as relationships that depend on conversations — cannot be fully understood in accounting terms, which always need to balance out. Markets grow. They have "positive sum outcomes." Yet "positive sum" is yet another accounting expression. Markets enlarge our knowledge, our expertise, our connoisseurship, our authority, and our humanity in the course of all those changes. You can't fully understand or express those gains in terms of exchange.

We went on to discuss the economics of altruism. Whole markets gain when one company generously gives its time and expertise to build common market infastructure. Yet if all we understand are the economics of accounting, rather than the economics of relationship, we cannot witness the obviously positive effects of generosity. We're too busy looking for the payback, for ways to balance the moral books. We have given generously, we must be compensated. So we miss or discount the effects of generosity, of mercy and forgiveness, whcih are not about accounting or accountability. In fact they have miraculous effects because they release us from the need to hold others accountable, and to hold ourselves in a state of waiting for others to pay us back somehow.

Here we see the emergence of an idea related to community to goes beyond merely the online convenience of sharing stories and information.  Here we find a deepening of relationship to where generosity, of intentional giving to others is recognized and encouraged.

This, I believe, is at the heart of what Bill Kinnon is getting at with his exploration of the Generous Web meme.

Now, look at Dan Wallace's take on Doc's thought.
Then look at the Nat Torkington's posting on his conversation with Doc about Business as Morality.

What is interesting about all this is that a number of important ideas are bumping into one another here.


Each are different concepts, obviously, but each also figure into something very basic.  How we as human being relate to one another.  Let me try to make some distinctions here.

Community is a gathering of people who are in relationship with one another. That gathering may be because of common values, or geographical proximity, or a shared purpose.  But there is something that creates an association with one another that goes beyond mere affiliation.

Conversation is how these relationships function. We talk with one other to sort through questions of boundaries and ethics. We talk to help one another think and imagine, to move forward.  Here the diversity of relationships is helpful because different perspectives provide a way to establish a sense of where we belong in the wider context of beliefs and values that are fundamental to human identity and purpose.

Morality and Ethics are similar.  To speak of a moral world or a moral order is to acknowledge that boundaries of what is appropriate and inappropriate are legitimate considerations for the managing of communal relationships.  Ethics is the more abstract side of morality where human behavior is quanitified into what is advisable, permitted and ill advised and not permitted.

Generosity is a wonderful entry point into a dimension of community that I find has not sufficiently been exposed in most discussions of online community.  Generosity is a description of character.  It is a way of understanding the quality of a person.  If a person is generous, courageous, or kind.  We know something about them.  How can a person exhibit these characteristics online?  It is more difficult because we are physically removed. This is why I come back to what I submitted above. That community is not about what we share in common, but about what we are willing to sacrifice for others. 

Not to over spiritualize this truth of community, but during this week that is holy to Chrisitans worldwide, the image of the person of Jesus sacrificing his life for others is an image that in many respects defines the ultimate personal investment in the lives of others.  Community is not so much what I gain from others, but what I contribute to their lives.  This is the potential of a generous web community. 

How can this generosity be made possible through the relationship formed through the vehicle of the online world?  That my friends is the challenge that those of us who value human conversations and community must continue to strive to identify.  I'm grateful that Bill Kinnon has begun this exploration. 

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A conversation - The wisdom of youth and the youthful optimism of the wise

John Seely Brown, Former chief scientist at Xerox Corporation, now consultant and "chief of confusion" and Shannon O'Brien, Senior at Marin Catholic High School in Greenbrae, California, and gymnastics instructor have a conversation in FastCompany about the place of technology and human relationships.
Here's a snippet.

O'Brien: I am a teenager, so of course the future looks bright. The future is exciting, different, a step in a new direction. I know I have a lot to experience and even more to learn. The future holds freedom, the future holds responsibilty. From a teenager's perspective, the future is a giant leap into the hopeful unknown.
I worry about the future a great deal though. You mentioned that great technological advances have been invented throughout the years.
Amazing technological advances can help bring some fun to your day (X-box, Tivo) but they also tear away from people communicating and bonding like they used to. Many teenagers sit on their computer surfing MySpace or on AIM instead of having actual relationships with their friends. Everyone rushes through the streets jabbing on their cellphone, iPods stuck in their ears. No one has time to be close to....well, anyone. The world is too fast paced. I believe everyone needs to slow down and take a good hard look at the world in front of them; you won't be there forever.

And from Brown:
From where I sit, I have never seen so much cool innovation as is beginning to happen in the world. We are experiencing a "Cambrian Explosion" of innovations that will impact every aspect of how we live, work and play. Computers are now getting powerful enough to do both cool and deep stuff. We can model incredibly complex physical and biological phenomena that in turn enable us to build nano structures, bio-inspired machines and medicines heretofore unthinkable.
These innovations, unlike many during the dotcom bubble, will directly impact our quality of life through more efficient uses of energy, new forms of clean energy, medical devices for non-invasive surgery and designer drugs that minimize adverse side effects, to name just a few. These advances might just provide us tools and methods to reverse or at least abate the damage we have been doing to our environment and global warming, more generally.

Here's the challenge that I see for guys like me over 50. We think we have seen it all. Think we have mastered the nuances of social change and the like. But what we have actually done is reconciled ourselves to the compromises that we make everyday. We do in order to get through the day. Young people on the other hand do that have to make those compromises yet. Their standards in some respects, at least from some young people I know, are higher than my generation's. So, I think this sort of interaction is very healthy. And we "old guys" better listen with respect because my kids' generation do see things quite differently than we do.

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