Fear, Power, Beauty #2

Fear of the unknown and peer pressure were mentioned in Fear, Power and Beauty #1 as potential obstacles to the adoption of social technologies and a more collaborative workplace.

Power is certainly another “Fear-factor”. Hierarchies and the pyramidal org charts are a heavy legacy of the industrial era. To give a chance for Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) to mature and thrive we need to understand what Power means in the new Social era and see how to transform our fears. Let’s not deny the risks nor pretend all can change overnight with some disruptive technologies. If something must change it’s our mindset and our attitudes. Maybe a few dancing steps could also help along that rocky path ?

I watched two movies during the Christmas break. 1) Mary Poppins: full of beautiful dancing steps ! 2)  Animal Farm : a good allegory of the main traditional forces at stake with Power. On one side Snowball creates meaning and then tries to influence others to follow  – read work for – him. On the other side there is Napoleon who prefers conspiracy and violence – that’s when the pigs start behaving like humans.

What the animated adaptation from Orwell’s “Fairy Story” also underlines is that having the other – who is preferably under you – is a necessary condition for Power to exist. What do you think will happen to the rest of the farm when the Equines will have completed their own counter-revolution?

The world itself is the will to power – and nothing else! (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Towards Social Leadership

A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend one of Julian Stodd’s presentations where he talked about the shift from a “Knowledge Economy” to a “Reputation Economy”. Authority is not about knowing anymore he said, but having access to knowledge, sharing and storytelling.

In Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs), leadership and trust must become a more transparent and incremental process, rather than a transactional and positional one, where power is based most of all on privileges, politics, status (quo) and who has the loudest voice.

In the new “Social Age” it’s all about conversations. Therefore Social Leadership should rely on elaborated content curation, open collaboration and co-creation.

Powerful conversations to beat oppression

In Knowing Knowledge, G. Siemens identifies the “new oppressed” in the digital age as :

– those without access to tools for global conversation
– those without skills to contribute to global conversation

John Stepper describes 5 mindsets that help build up healthy relationships in networks:

Generosity: thinking first of what you have to offer instead of what you need
Empathy: thinking of how the other person will think and react to what you say or do
Authenticity: being your true self
Intimacy: getting beyond small talk to things that matter
Vulnerability: offering up your own imperfections and need for help

Acquiring and developing skills in these areas could certainly help generate more powerful conversations in ESNs, while reducing the risk of “oppression” (and its best ally “defensiveness”).

These specific skills are still rarely listed among the essentials in most traditional job descriptions though.

The Power of Moderation

“Let’s not be naive” says Gordon Ross in his article Intranet Strategy : Understanding the Impacts of Networks, Power and Politics : “Social softwares and digitalised workplace will remain a place of power over the other. As being against power is like being against gravity or air.”

Or put in Orwellian terms: in Enterprise Social Networks all nodes are equal, but some are more equal than others…

By default most organisations are places of different interests and possible conflicts,  where we need to learn how to read social patterns. If power and politics are the mal nécessaire, we need to learn “how power flows through the networks inside the organisation” says Gordon Ross.

One dynamic to avoid is to let ESNs turn into an echo chamber, where everyone shares/follows/likes the same ideas (usually the ones originally posted by more senior people). There might be already enough “Push-communications” channels in most organisations anyway. As mentioned above, conversations can be powerful if participants can demonstrate listening skills, are comfortable with ambiguities and engage in an open and co-creative process. It means accepting the “Perpetual Beta” and learning/practising “what to share, when and how” as Harold Jarche underlines regularly on his blog and in webinars.

“Where insights become the new currency” (@stephentwalsh), another risk is to see participants in ESNs doing (vs. being) social only to enhance their own personal brand (other networks are more appropriate for this i.e. LinkedIn). ESNs should not become a self-promotion fair, where individuals only tend to selfishly serve their own interests (or even worse, use their positional authority for that purpose): requesting help for a project but not taking time to contribute to other conversations, using the platform only to prepare a next career move, etc…

Skilful moderation seems to be key for a healthy development of ESNs, especially in organisations with poor collaborative culture and lack of bottom-up communications. To help create that “safe container”, moderators (or facilitators & community managers) could help in different ways :
– re-frame the debate (i.e. clarify goals),
– re-share ideas (i.e. involve subject matter experts in a specific discussion)
– balance the discussion (i.e. suggest creation of subgroups or closed groups)
– galvanise the conversation when needed (i.e. provide adequate curation, humor is also often welcome!).
Most of all, they certainly need to be able to sense how power flows through the network, as mentioned above.

Creating the space

Moderation in ESNs reminds me of the role of “Assistant” in 5Rhythms dance classes and workshops. Assistants are not there to control, push or try to manipulate anything. In 5R dance, assisting means helping to create the space, ground the energy, fill in the gaps and facilitate the movement where needed. It’s NOT about rehearsing or improving a specific choreography (or showing off). These experienced dancers should have some good understanding of “the Map” and show the ability to read a sort of “co-created partition”. From there they offer their simple presence and movements, knowing that this partition can not exist without the whole group of dancers within the room.

Soft Staccato

Staccato is the second rhythm in 5R dance. After the first rhythm of Flow, Staccato gives place to a more masculine energy (not to be confused with macho energy). That’s where the curves gradually change into lines; where Power and the emotion of Anger can be found and moved through. Not the rigid, painful, forced and patriarchal form of Power – although if you want to, you can dance it… but it’s an exhausting one trust me! While keeping the fluidity of the Flow, the Staccato dance allows a transition into clearer and defined movements.

I personally like what I call a “soft staccato”; a playful place where I feel enough confidence, power and embodiment to experiment and share with others my passions and creativity, but also my frustrations and vulnerability. It’s a place to open, look up in front of us and start a fresh and open “conversation” with other dancers. It’s an experience with our own boundaries and a search for the right dose of firmness and rigour. Through that part of the meditation may come the realisation that Power is not necessarily bad and that the emotion of Anger can become a source of courage rather than a destructive force.

shard_strata Strata (left) & Shard (right) – a dance in curves and lines in the London sky

“It takes two baby… you and me”

Enterprise Social Networks could offer a virtual space to practice the same sort of embodiment, in its professional meaning of course. That may require new skills and mindsets indeed. And once again it’s not about denying our fears, but how to transform them into courage and more authentic and generous sharing. As we look at how to build up a strong presence and more confidence, we need to stay fluid and flexible. From there we can use our passions, expertise and power not to influence and impose on others (like Snowball and Napoleon respectively), but to engage, co-create and learn from each other. And for the Beauty to really happen, that “empowering journey” should also include the right dose of humility and the acceptance that knowing is not all… Sometimes things can be more complex than they look like. Especially in our VUCA world today (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous).

“Unpredictability” is a leitmotif for the third rhythm in 5R dance. But before moving into that third rhythm of “Chaos”, there are some other teachings from Staccato I would like to explore further in a next post.

“Ignorance is an enemy, even to its owner.
Knowledge is a friend, even to its hater.
Ignorance hates knowledge because it is too pure.
Knowledge fears ignorance because it is too sure.”
~ Sri Chinmoy

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One Response to Fear, Power, Beauty #2

  1. Pingback: #Socialleadership : curation, reputation and social capital |

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