The Allegory of Plato’s Cave – a powerful lens with which to view our 21st Century Leaders
2020 has shown us that the challenges of the 21st Century are global ones which we all share. We must learn now how to balance the needs of the ‘me’ with the ‘we’ to collectively change things for the better.
It was just two weeks ago that I was swimming in my favourite pool in North Sydney looking up at the Restaurant above and thinking how incredibly lucky we in Australia have been in 2020, but also having niggling feeling that we are so out of sync with the rest of the world that that luck may well run out. We have had numerous outbreaks of the Covid 19 virus which have been fairly rapidly squashed and the state of Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, has had a pretty torrid time with the harshest lockdown in the world. But our lifestyle had begun to bounce back.
Until last week when we had a reality check with the discovery of two mystery Covid cases found in Avalon, a mere 5 km from where I live, which has now spread sending Governments around the country in to panic mode accompanied by a plethora of conspiracy theories. For those of us living in what is affectionately called the ‘insular Peninsula’ we joined the majority of people on the planet in a locked down Christmas and now New Year.
I don’t envy any of our leaders as they struggle to cope with the rapidly changing situation that the Pandemic presents, not wanting to over-react as the “Festive” season approaches, but as a result creating additional anxiety and frustration with a lack of clear messaging similar to the first few months of 2o2o when the old world disappeared and the new “Covid” normal began to appear.
For Australia and New Zealand much of the strategy has been to aim for “0” as the optimum Covid number, with the only weak links being returning overseas travellers, diplomats and cabin crew. We have been largely successful and our particular response reflects a blend of our Convict Colony roots combined with the Tyranny of Distance. We are good at locking people up down here. But “0” is the most dangerous number and is totally unsustainable.
Governments around the world are now firmly driving the agenda when it comes to responding to the Pandemic, with varying degrees of success. One way of viewing this is to consider our Governments as Social Machines, huge socio-technical systems that bring together the cultural, political and technical characteristics of polities as expressed through policies, rules and regulations.
Years ago we undertook a research project with the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and the Web Science Institute on this very concept (see Government as a Social Machine) exploring the co-evolution of the policy and online communications spaces as Governments embraced digital media. Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Dr Kieron O’Hara have further developed this idea with their Four Internets describing how geopolitics is splintering the once integrated global online infrastructure determined by “Four ideologies … because they have been adopted by state-level actors with the resources to push their visions, fund the science behind them and, crucially, “sell” them to allies.” (Wendy Hall)
To me this is the contemporary demonstration of Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order connecting all political action as a manifestation of long cultural histories and value systems. Now, catapulted by the Pandemic, global Governments are beginning to embrace the next phase of how we govern ourselves with the combination of culture, the polity and technology – the ultimate Social Machine.
Not long ago the mantra in the public sphere was to ‘wind back’ our bloated, bureaucratic and big governments in order to embrace market forces and be more ‘customer focused’. I have always felt that calling citizens ‘customers’ was an insult, together with adopting many of the ideas of managerialism where the bottom line trumped actually serving the public. The pendulum has now swung back to where people are relying on and giving greater trust to their governments to guide us through the Covid-era, and these governments are working feverishly to learn how to utilise the tools of digital information systems to more effectively collect, harvest and analyse data in their fight against the disease. These twin propellers are, as Yuval Noah Harari states
fast-forwarding historical processes (and)… Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments.
As Professor Dame Wendy Hall says we now desperately need to create a new social contract between citizens and our Government Social Machines, but, more than that, we need to reframe how we see our leaders and what leadership in the 21st Century needs to look like as we embrace these global problems.
Up until now the dominant thinking throughout Western societies has been based on “it’s all about Me”, beautifully articulated in the documentary the Century of the Self. This is a mindset that has caused us to exploit each other and our environment for short term gain. As we learn how intimately connected we are and how much we depend on that global connection we desperately need a new type of thinking based on our interdependence and this needs to be reflected in the stories we tell.
The power of truth in storytelling
What is most important is to understand that politics and leadership is all about storytelling and how those we choose to serve in positions of power see the world.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (see also) tells the story of people imprisoned in a cave watching shadows on a wall which they take to be their reality. One of their number manages to escape and ventures outside in to the sunshine of the outside and realises that there are different truths to true what is being presented in the Cave. The escapee returns to the cave but no one of those still trapped inside believes these weird stories about light and sunshine and the natural world. Plato talks about the role of philosophers and politicians as being those to manage to escape to consider alternative realities and dream of different futures, but all too often the philosophers are ridiculed whilst the politicians use the situation to their own advantage. The glaring example of this is the use of political spin and manipulation in how election campaigns are run, the Social Media Caves which now provide most people with their news and daily updates, all of which are being filtered by the algorithmic shadows driven by unfettered and unchecked capitalist objectives.
We humans are story telling animals and our very sense of self comes from the stories we are told and what others tell us. It may well be that the modern day equivalent of huddling around the camp fire is that we now huddle around our computer screens, especially now so many of our interactions are limited to being online.
It is the politicians and philosophers who tell the best stories who have the greatest impact, and now more than ever we need these stories to be about hope for the future.
In this interview with Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Yuval Noah Harari talks about the power of stories and the need for leaders to believe in the stories they tell. Throughout history these stories have been driven by religious beliefs, playing on deeply held concepts of good and evil which have ensured that those in power keep control of the unruly masses, a theory beautifully expanded upon by Rutger Bregman in his book Human Kind and Rebecca Solnit’s Paradise Built in Hell and further developed by Joseph Henrich in his description of the West and our WEIRD way of thinking.
The Covid Pandemic is not a story, it is all too real, but how each and every one of us responds to it is determined by the stories we hear, how we retell those stories, and how each one of us uses our ability to filter fact from the fiction, recognise our inbuilt biases towards the negative and forge a path towards something more positive and hopeful.
As never before our leaders from all walks of life don’t want to deliver bad news, but they need to deliver real news and deliver it responsibly in a way that validates the trust that has been given to them, not just by their own citizens, but by the global collective. Just like Climate Change the Virus doesn’t recognise state borders or festive holidays, and it will seep through even the best quarantine systems.
The rollercoaster of the Covid year has left us all with increased levels of anxiety and frustration as we continue on in to the unknown. For me whilst I am not religious I have found that recognising the difference between what I can and cannot control or change has been what has kept me going. and what I cannot has been a powerful lens with which to cope, articulated in the Serenity Prayer.
‘God’ grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
(The Serenity Prayer)
One of the things we can all control is which stories we listen to and which we don’t, and how we choose to interpret them. A true 21st Century Leader will recognise this and become a master at storytelling, not for personal gain or political expediency, but for engendering hope.
Not long ago I was walking over the entrance to Narrabeen Lakes and I saw this fellow swimming against the tide. I had been talking to my friend about getting an endless pool and all of a sudden here was nature’s version.
As we now face the gravest human challenge in our lifetimes I have been thinking about the words we use to describe how humans solve problems, and what sort of skills, capabilities, mindsets and values we need to focus on to ensure that it is the humans that continue to play a productive role in society, rather than be reduced to either slaves or consumers within the Social Machine.
I have found myself reacting to the current buzzword of innovation and the fact that every man and his cat is seeking to innovate. We have Innovation Labs, Innovation Agendae, Innovation Grants, Innovation Officers, Innovation programmes – you name it, it’s there madly innovating and gobbling up peoples time, mindsets and resources.
But what are we really talking about?
Innovation can be defined as a new idea, device or method, something that is both original and more effective that what was there before.
The second “i” word we often think about is Invention which is a unique or novel device, method, composition or process. It is different because it achieves a completely unique function or result may be a radical breakthrough.
Invention and innovation are different, and should not be confused (see Wired article).
The third “i” word that is often cited is Imagination.
Imagination is about the faculty of imagining, the creative ability to form images, ideas, and sensations in the mind from input of the senses, such as seeing or hearing.
Imagination is perhaps the key “i” word that has led to much of what we now have in the twentieth century, because it has fueled the Science Fiction that is rapidly becoming Science Fact.
All of these rests on three fundamental things – information, insight and intuition. Whilst our technological assistants are becoming increasingly good at the first, at the minute it is only us humans that seem to have the upper hand in the latter two.
I love Wikipedia‘s definition of insight
Insight is the understanding of a specific cause and effect within a specific context.
The term insight is best understood at being something much more than just a piece of information. It is more about
- understanding the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively (called noesis in Greek)
- an introspection
- the power of acute observation and deduction, discernment, and perception, called intellection or noesis
- an dentification of relationships and behaviors within a model, context, or scenario (this links to AI of course)
- and, when it manifests itself suddenly it is called an epiphany.
Insights are crucial to how we read the world around us, and are often based on our sense of intuition, our ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning, proof or evidence, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired.
All of these “i” words are important, however there is another, which, in my mind at least, is equally, if not more, important than innovation.
This word is ingenuity.
Ingenuity is the quality of being clever, original, and inventive, often in the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges. Ingenuity (Ingenium) is the root Latin word for engineering. For example, the process of figuring out how to cross a mountain stream using a fallen log, building an airplane model from a sheet of paper, or starting a new company in a foreign culture all involve the exercising of ingenuity. Human ingenuity has led to various technological developments through applied science, and can also be seen in the development of new social organizations, institutions, and relationships. Ingenuity involves the most complex human thought processes, bringing together our thinking and acting both individually and collectively to take advantage of opportunities and/or overcome problems.
What I saw when I looked at the swimmer in the Narrabeen Lakes was ingenuity – a human being who had observed the natural world, thought about how to harness and utilise the power of nature, and created his own personal endless pool.
Ingenuity is all around us, but it is not celebrated or articulated nearly as much as it should be. Ingenuity is at the heart of man and nature, man and machine, and will be what propels us to the next phase.
Ingenuity is what I believe countries like Australia are good at, taking something and bending it, breaking it, doing new things with it, and then coming up with a novel way of using it.
We can’t all be innovative all the time. Despite the rhetoric and the hype we can’t all start new innovative companies that will one day either turn in to mega-corporations or be gobbled up by one. But we can be ingenius about how we utilise the many technological wonders around us and harness them for our own purposes, rather than sleep-walk in to a future when we are mere consumerist cogs in the wheel.
As we hurtle towards a world where our inventions are increasingly beginning to redefine everything around us it is imperative that we identify what it is to be uniquely human, and fight to keep it as a priority.
In the world of work Shoshana Zuboff was one of the first to explore this in the Age of the Smart Machine and now there are plenty of calls for us to more fully understand what humans do best. In many ways we are superb pattern recognition machines but anything that can be articulated as a pattern can most likely be written as an algorithm (assuming the availability of the data to inform it). Kevin Kelly argued in 2012 that robots will actually be better at many of the jobs that we currently do stating that
The real revolution erupts when everyone has personal workbots, the descendants of Baxter, at their beck and call.
Zuboff predicted this in The Support Economy, a text I still highly recommend that everyone should read, and it is this combination of man and machine, the Social Machine, which is now heralding the next wave.
This is also what the group at Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society are doing in their work around data principles (see https://digitalimpact.io/digital-data/four-principles/).
What that looks like is something that only Science Fiction has thus far predicted, but is coming more quickly that most people realise, and has profound social, economic and political implications.
This is where we need to harness and utilise all of our “i” talents!
As Douglas Rushkoff said at a recent talk I went to in London
When I was young I spent my time educating all of the analogues about digital, now I spend my time educating the digitals about analogue!
As we embrace and imbibe more and more of our technologies both around us and within us we need to celebrate and protect what it is to be human, and to understand what that is.
In July last year, before we had Intersticia UK properly set up, I wrote this post.
We are about to take Brave Conversations to the next level with events in Melbourne, Boston and London.
If we know that alternative futures are possible then we can start thinking about better ones. (Cory Doctorow, What should we do about democracy?)
In my last post I referred to Psychohistory, Isaac Azimov’s fictional science which combines history, sociology and the mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behaviour of very large groups of people – in other words to explore alternative future.
It has been said that the World Wide Web is a portent of precisely such a thing which is why those who invented it created the interdisciplinary field of Web Science.
“Research tries to anticipate time. If you’re reading the Economist it’s interesting facts.” (Luciano Floridi)
Since its public release in to human society the Web has evolved from being a small academically orientated Read Only (push information out) information community to a global publishing Read-Write infrastructure upon which almost 50% of humans interact with each other facilitated by the largest companies of the modern era.
The Web is changing the World, and the World is changing the Web
(see 10th anniversary video).
Not only do we communicate via the Web but increasingly it is becoming an environment where we actually live (Luciano Floridi) and as with all social ecosystems our ability to co-habit as a bunch of evolved apes is dependent on the rules and norms which govern how we act and treat each other.
“Civilization is but a thin veneer stretched across the passions of the human heart. And civilization doesn’t just happen; we have to make it happen.” (Bill Moyers)
In previous eras the relative rates of technical and societal change have been roughly equivalent. In the digital age this is not the case, which is why we created Brave Conversations in 2017.
Brave Conversations is the first non-academic but publicly focused Web Science event to provide people from all walks of life – industry, government, academia, and the community sectors – with the opportunity to sit back, reflect and respectfully explore the socio-technical issues beginning to arise as a result of digital information technologies. It carries on from MetaLounge, our first attempts from 2008 – 2011 to create these types of event, and has now had four iterations around the world; 2017 in Canberra; Dubai as part of the 2018 World Government Summit; London 2018 in partnership with SoapBox Islington, and Kingston, Jamaica in July 2018 hosted by the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission.
At each event I have been humbled and privileged to help facilitate and encourage people to be truly brave in addressing issues which have been both confronting and uncomfortable, but most importantly to feel that at the end of each session they have left slightly more educate and enabled, but most of all empowered, to more proactively navigate and negotiate their digital lives.
Throughout we have continually been asked “what is a ‘brave’ conversation“?
As we were designing the programme it struck us that the most valuable thing we could contribute to the global dialogue would be to intentionally confront people with ideas, concepts and suggestions that they may intuitively be aware of but were unable to explore, understand or articulate in a public space.
Our Canberra event taught us the importance of actively listening to, and integrating the voice of young people. It also demonstrated the benefit of having a diversity of voices in the room, sometimes creating discomfort and tension when language was a barrier, by which I mean those comfortable with technical language and those not. This is why we chose to partner with SoapBox Islington and a huge thanks to James Dellow, Nick Crivello and all the team there for their wonderful hospitality and terrific group of young people who joined us. Thank you also to Tris Lumley, Lydia Hascott and Jo Wolfe for their incredible support and amazing organisational skills in supporting Leanne Fry, Bel Campbell and me throughout.
Brave Conversations London in partnership with SoapBox Islington
“Technology challenges us to assert our human values which means that first of all we have to know what they are.” (Sherry Turkle)
As we were framing Brave Conversations London we reflected on the 2018 Data breach scandals and the calls for ethics to be more proactively integrated in to the development of digital technologies. But which ‘ethics’? Ethics, from my understanding, is relative and is based on how you see the world, what matters and how things fit together. As we explored this we determined that what was more important was to help people focus on and articulate their values as a foundation piece in order to have brave conversations, particularly as the group was quite diverse having a good mix of sexes, around a third under the age of 35, together with a number in their 70s, and one family of three generations.
In understanding the difference I found this to be a very useful overview:
- Values are the basic beliefs that an individual thinks to be true. Every individual has a set of values through which he looks at all things and also at the world.
- Ethics are guidelines or rules that are set for a society or an organization rather than for an individual.
- Values can be said to be the guiding principles in one’s life. ‘Value’ can be defined as a bridge by which an individual makes a decision regarding good and bad, right or wrong, and most important or less important.
- Ethics can be defined as set of rules formulated by a country or a company or some institutions. Ethics is mainly based on the moral values.
We crafted our values framework based on both an interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs combined with Moore and Khagran’s Strategic Triangle for Creating Public Value. Not only did we frame our questions around the questions of ‘what Can we do‘ (logos, the technology) and ‘what Should we do‘ (ethos, culture) but we also highlighted the need to ask ‘what May we do‘ (pathos, authority).
In addition we created a very simple, but quite informative, algorithm to poll the group about their feelings towards technology asking four questions to elicit their confidence that five potential technology innovations would improve their lives.
This graphic shows the results - a score of -0.18, in other words they were not confident at all.
Whilst the exercise was both crude and we did not have a lot of time to explain it in detail, it was indicative in terms of the general feeling in the room over the two days and the flavour of the discussions that were held.
What we learned in London then informed how we framed the conversations for Jamaica.
“We need to ensure that future citizens have the human capacity to operate in the digital world.” (Dr Andrew Wheatley, MP, Jamaica)
I met Cordel Green at the Harvard Kennedy School and our mutual interest in digital literacy and the need to empower people in the digital world resulted in his very kind invitation to travel to Kingston to hold Brave Conversations.
Not only was I welcomed with open arms but I was almost overwhelmed by the hospitality I was given and a huge thanks to Cordel, Karlene Salmon, Don Dobson and all at Broadcom for giving me such a privileged insight in to Jamaica. Thank you also to Kemal Brown and his wonderful team who recorded it all.
Broadcom is the communications regulator in Jamaica, but not only is it doing that it is taking the lead in educating the Jamaican community about the world of information and both their rights and responsibilities in it. We kicked off with an interview on Smile Jamaica, the opening of the Jamaican Teachers’ Federation Conference, and a radio interview, all of which gave me some initial insights in to this wonderful country.
Many of the conversations I heard in Jamaica were similar to those I hear elsewhere, but with their own unique twist. Jamaica’s history, geography, climate and demographics have created an island paradise from which individuals have always shone on the world stage and of course writers such as Ian Fleming have been at their creative best.
Jamaica’s most pressing challenge is its crime rate. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018 the most problematic factors for doing business in the country are Crime and Theft, Taxes and Corruption. But this links to so many other factors, and what resonated deeply for me was the determination to help young people develop the resources and resilience through both education and opportunity to help change this and determine a different future. This was coupled by the high level of religious affiliation which was proudly displayed and acknowledged.
When I was crafting Brave Conversations Jamaica I wondered what impact this would have particularly as one of the key thinkers we reference is Yuval Noah Harari, whose Homo Deus and interviews directly challenge traditional religions comparing them to the “playing of virtual reality games in order to give humans meaning and purpose”.
It proved to be a core part of the conversations, and an opportunity to push both boundaries and ideas.
Fear and love
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” (Nelson Mandela)
We chose the word brave because any discussion around technology forces us as human beings to confront our deepest beliefs, aspirations and above all fears – how we see and make sense of the world and above all the things we are afraid of losing – from the basics of safety and security, to the intimacy of love.
At each of our Brave Conversations a mini-community evolved within which there was a degree of discomfort, people did have to explore and listen to different, and often challenging, viewpoints, but there began to emanate both a sense of trust and the preparedness to be brave.
“The real existential risk is a loss of the ability to make sense of the world around us: what is worth doing, and what the likely effects of things will be.” (Daniel Schmachtenberger)
Having now run Brave Conversations in numerous countries, and with other invitations in the pipeline, we are keen to do whatever we can to help people better understand and appreciate the new digital space within which they are living.
What I have learned is that if we can provide the framework, the information and safe space for people to take a risk, present themselves as truly curious and smart humans, they will be brave and they willingly embrace the opportunity.
The real question of course is that armed with the insights of research, coupled with the power and communication afforded by our technologies, and with Humanity’s future at stake, can we afford not to be brave?
When everyone agrees on where the future is headed – especially when that destination is so far from our current reality – that’s not a sign of inevitability; it’s a sign that people have stopped thinking. A good time, perhaps, to hike out to some awkward, sideways headland where we can look things over from a contrary angle. (Lee Simons, Wired)
Last week I was hugely privileged to attend the Harvard Kennedy School to participate in their Leadership for the 21st Century programme, Chaos, Conflict and Courage.
I have long wanted to attend a Kennedy School course, particularly as ANZSOG (with whom I taught and researched for a number of years) follows the Harvard pedagogy, with the intimate format, case-based analysis, and working groups. The course was facilitated by Dr Tim O’Brien, himself a Harvard Alumni, who very ably crafted a safe learning space within which the 77 of us were able to both get to know each other as individuals, as well as to understand ourselves a little better.
The course builds on the Adaptive Leadership model developed by Professor Ronald Heifetz which articulates the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges, and from there describes a set of strategies, tools and tactics to address each. It also incorporates numerous elements of the Tavistock Institute’s Group Relations to enable individuals to understand their respective roles within the a broader organisational system, both in smaller teams and the plenary.
Four external presenters were brought in, each with their own unique perspectives drawn from the world of experience: Farayi Chipungu described her consulting experience with McKinsey; Dr Donna Hicks shared her work based on leading with dignity; Shannon McAuliffe told the story of her work with Roca Inc, and Hugh O’Doherty took us on a journey through the work he has done in peace negotiations globally.
I went to Harvard to soak up the experience of attending one of the world’s leading academic institutions, but also to learn as much as I could from every source that presented itself – the facilitators and presenters, my fellow classmates (one of who was Negar Tayyar, our first Intersticia Leadership Scholar), and of course, myself.
There was much I found extremely familiar about the course – how it was taught, the framing of exercises, the use of cases, and the exploration of individual as well as broader human issues. What made the Harvard experience special were two things: firstly, the calibre of highly intelligent, self-motivated and senior people from all walks of life and virtually every continent around the world; and, secondly the very safe container that Tim O’Brien created and held for us all to work in over the course of the five days.
As we explored the concept of Adaptive Leadership people gradually disconnected from their daily work roles and began to more reflectively explore themselves as leaders – they began to move from the dance to the balcony – one of my favourite coaching phrases! With this came the ability to unpack and more fully understand both the context and any personal stuck issues.
Each person had their own Aha! moment last week, some more profound than others, but regardless of how far along the personal learning journey each of us were, there were salient lessons for everyone as a 21C Leader.
Most people were from the public sector, but there were a number from the Third Sector, which, as I have written in numerous posts, I believe to crucial in championing the human in the world at the moment. Regardless, everyone was struggling with the complexity of the world around them, and the need for adaptability, agility and improvisation. This is where Adaptive Leadership comes in to its own, and where the skills taught at courses like this will be invaluable to all leaders.
However, as with so much of any education in the leadership space, and particularly for senior people, there was only a passing mention of technology (including data and digital) in its own right, let alone the socio-technical challenges which underpin so much of what is happening in the digital age.
As I found at ANZSOG this seems to stem from two things:
- there seems to be a tendency to regard technology issues as separate from the human and social issues, or at least secondary in some way; and
- many academics who teach leadership (and indeed most of the social-sciences) are ill equipped to address the socio-technical issues because they do not themselves understand them, at least this has been my experience up to date.
This is not a criticism, in fact it is a challenge, but one that needs to be addressed immediately.
Whilst we are focusing on giving the next generation the skills for tomorrow it is just as, if not more important, to help the leaders of today who are too often focusing on industrial age problems, often missing, or neglecting, the techtonic shifts that are happening underneath them. All industries, businesses and enterprises are changing, but we don’t necessarily know what that change will mean, and the more we take time out to sit in some awkward sideways headland and reflect and think, the better equipped we will be to meet what is coming at us.
This is the core of our Web Science challenge and why Web Science, in itself, is crucially important, but also unique. It is precisely because in Web Science we understand that
the Web is changing the World, and the World is changing the Web – we live in the age of the Social Machine where there are no boundaries between humans and our technologies.
As Marshall McLuhan said, way before the days of the ubiquitous internet and the Web,
We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.
Our tools and technologies are extensions of who and what we are, but most importantly
as the boundaries between our physical and digital existence increasingly blur, the need to understand, analyse and address the socio-technical challenges will be at the heart of the work of all leaders.
Therefore I believe that the first step for every 21C Leader – regardless of age or stage – is to much more proactively take it upon themselves to study the technologies which are now all around us, to understand where they have come from, and begin to articulate, or at least, explore, where they might be taking us. I had hoped that Harvard might be a little more advanced in this, but sadly not. They are not on their own however.
The second step for every 21C Leader follows on from what I wrote about in my last blog, and that is to figure out how to lead in new and different ways. Much of this is about standing aside and allowing the Web Generation to take the lead, whilst mentoring, coaching and moderating with the benefit of wisdom and experience, and maintaining the authority that is so important. In this they need to hold the space within which the important work needs to happen.
This is where I believe that Adaptive Leadership is ideally suited precisely because
- it sees leadership as a practice not a position
- it recognises that ongoing nature of the challenge of leading, not the problem
- it differentiates between leadership and authority
- it stresses the need to observe and interpret before any intervention
- it recognises the fluidity and ongoing evolution of the systems within which it exists
- it connects with purpose.
It also links to Robert Greenleaf’s ideas around moral authority and Servant Leadership.
Moral authority is another way to define servant leadership because it represents a reciprocal choice between leader and follower. If the leader is principle centered, he or she will develop moral authority. If the follower is principle centered, he or she will follow the leader. In this sense, both leaders and followers are followers. Why? They follow truth. They follow natural law. They follow principles. They follow a common, agreed-upon vision. They share values. They grow to trust one another.
The Leadership for the 21C programme went a long way towards articulating how this moral authority can flow from the Adaptive Leadership framework, and the course was of great value in many other ways.
I would like to challenge the Harvard Kennedy School to itself take the lead and by stepping in to their own authority recognise and integrate the Social Machine into all of their leadership courses, particularly this one.
In a world where we are continually being forced to assert our human values whilst we are bombarded by our screens the most important thing that any leader can do is to protect them with all of the moral authority they can muster, for all of our sakes.
Web Science is becoming increasingly important.
As JP Rangaswami writes in one of his recent blog posts
We need to get better at studying the impact of change over time. Proper, longitudinal study, collecting and preserving the right data sets, with the relevant discipline and safeguards in place. That’s why I have been fascinated by and supportive of Web Science.
I sat with JP at our recent Web Science Trust Board retreat in Oxford and we discussed how much of what is happening in modern society – from the death of privacy to Fake News to the rise of AI – had been predicted by Web Science over the last decade but we were too far ahead of the market.
The market is catching up, and catching up quickly!
As we look at the world around us despite the fact that on many levels humans have never had it so good many believe that our systems are in crisis and are broken (see Edelman Trust Barometer 2017). Even global leaders at Davos are searching for solutions to the obvious rise in global discontent.
It appears everyone is talking but what is actually being achieved in making change?
Web Science has been asking these questions for the past decade:
Before I discovered Web Science I was involved with a small group of people who held a number of conferences in Australia focusing on the impact of the Web on society. At that time we too were ahead of the market, we didn’t know about Web Science, nor did we realise how crucial what we were doing really was. We called our conferences Metalounge because we had been inspired by the emerging conversations around the world of data, and we couldn’t think of what else to call them.
But now what we have been talking about is of crucial importance and the time has come to both reboot these conversations and formally launch Web Science in Australia.
Our conference focuses on the Social Machine and we quite deliberately want to create a space where
participants need to be brave, to say the things that they know need to be said, and be prepared to apply intellectual rigour to challenging ideas that might take us to uncomfortable places.
We want get people from all ages and stages, working in academia, government, business, the media and the third sector THINKING + TALKING + FEELING together. We want to address some of the profound issues that are arising as human life becomes progressively entwined with the internet and the Web.
We want to wake the humans up! by exploring:
- LIFE IN THE SOCIAL MACHINE Humans & Technology – what is the future for both?
- AUSTRALIA’S PLACE WITHIN THE DIGITAL WORLD How prepared are we?
- CREATIVE-DISRUPTION The future of organisations?
- THE NEW ECONOMY Digital identity, new economic models and the economic value of humans.
- THE PHILOSOPHY OF TECHNOLOGY What should, and shouldn’t, we allow our machines to do for us?
So, what are we actually doing?
Day One is Human Hack Day
There have been sooooo many “Hackathons” … but how about a Human Hack Day?
Pia Waugh will kick things off by asking us to “choose your own adventure, please!” Based on the work that she has been doing for many years Pia wants to encourage the Humans to make ACTIVE versus PASSIVE choices about the future we are all collectively creating.
Following this we are bringing together people from government, business and social enterprise who have real world problems which need to be solved, and adding researchers and students who are researching the Social Machine and may have some insights and solutions.
Day Two – Building Smart Humans
On our second day we bring together a whole bunch of people who are immersed in their fields, many of whom you may not have heard of because they are so busy DOING that they don’t have time to talk about it!
We will explore:
THE WORLD AND THE WEB
- The World Wide Web – what it is and what it is becoming. What is the future for the web?
- The world with the Web – the Social Machine
- The world without the Web – as the machine to machine conversations increase what is the role for the human? How do we keep humans in the loop?
- In a machine driven world what is the economic value of a human? As both a producer and a consumer?
- The Universal Basic Income and the value of data.
- The Surveillance economy and the future of identity.
THE GOOD LIFE
- If we create a world where our lives are mediated by machines, how and who determines what “good” looks like?
- The ethics and philosophy of the World and the Web
- Are we returning to a pre-Descartesian world?
Building emotional resilience
Plus … there may be topics that we’ve missed and that you would like to add …
Please do so by sending us your ideas via #braveconversations
This conference is evolving as we put it together.
It is not an academic conference. There will be no formal presentations – just lots and lots of conversations where no stone will be left unturned due to political correctness or commercial bias.
We will create a safe and open space for people to think, reflect and perhaps have time to consider their own challenges and what they might do about them.
We want to encourage debate, critical thinking, creative design and social awareness.
We want to push the boundaries in terms of thinking about the World and the Web and our focus is on helping to develop “smart humans” for the digital age.
That is our challenge and we in turn challenge you to come along and help us!