It’s December again and there’s the usual stream of forecasts for the new year. I find many of them to be interesting, a few more than others. Goodness knows they seem to be latched onto by many people. Otherwise hide-bound by the stack of work in front of them, the new year is a time for reflection and contemplation for many. But 12-month forecasts are of limited value. What of the underlying drivers of social and economic change over the longer-term? Not so much is heard about them, even though they are so much more powerful. So this posting is my contribution to the longer-term view, and what actions are more likely to be sustaining value over time.
Readers of this blog may well be familiar with the drivers of change that I’ll cover here. Those in businesses and in government who have adopted practices that embrace collaboration and co-creation are already on message. So this posting is intended for others who are looking for a path forward in the networked age. So please share.
The Old Institutional Power Elites Will Adapt or Fade Away
By far the most powerful message is to those who cling on to institutional power. I have some questions for you. Judging by your actions to date, what prospects are there for you to redress climate change and other, pressing environmental degradation? With the loss of confidence in financial markets and the efficient markets hypothesis, what policies do you have to renew economic and social well-being? Do you know the difference between innovation and competition? What faith do you have in resolving religious, cultural, social and economic divides? What do you think your legacy will be to future generations?
I raise those questions because of my concern that too many digital migrants are trapped in institutional mindsets that they find hard to break-away from. The thing is, there are too many divides, too many entrenched views held by people in inward-looking institutions, views that would otherwise be challenged by openness and transparency. For institutional power is being re-balanced with the networked power of the social web. Innovation, creativity and new forms of value now flow from networked publics formed on the social web. Not so much from stand-alone businesses.
The power of the social web is from people connecting to others, expressing themselves and sharing. Compare those things with institutional life, where the dominant features are siloed hierarchies, conformity to rules and to dominant actors, and hoarding information. Institutions tend to fence-off and shut down innovation, creativity and new perspectives.
The Rise of Digital Generations
Evidence of just how different those people born to the digital age are is very obviously in communications. Mobile phones, particularly smartphones with internet connectivity, are the dominant device used by young people for communicating with friends, for self-expression, finding, sharing or generating information, or for organising and managing activities. Digital generations seek out like-minded people and peer-groups to share stuff, to learn, and to create new things. Digital generations do things for themselves. They are far less reliant on institutions than their parents are.
In social networks online, they learn to take responsibility, and to collaborate with others, for economic, environmental and social benefits. They do not seek permission, but give themselves permission to build relationships, reputation and trust between themselves. They can do that because interacting online gives them the experience, the know-how and the power to act. Placing more trust in their own networks than with family or institutions, there is a re-balancing of power relationships in society.
Politicians, the media and brands are all finding it necessary to reach out to digital generations. They compete for their time and for their attention. Governments are finding that there are knowledgeable and informed stakeholders in the public who can and do contribute ideas and options for new policies and programs through interacting online. There is a new dawn for citizen engagement, empowered by the unprecedented ease of participation that the social web affords. That will lead to a re-balancing of power between representative democracy and more direct forms of citizen participation in decision-making.
The core competencies in interacting online are openness, transparency and collaboration. The new competitive advantages are to be found from collaborating across institutional boundaries through trusted relationships. But as I say, the scale of openness, transparency and collaboration online is unprecedented. Change has been so rapid, there are few models to guide people. So the digital generation has developed their own literacy, their own peer relationships and their own networks to operate in the networked age. They do so because of their interactions, and relationships and trust come out of interactions.
What a contrast
Oh, how different is the networked society that from the 20th century, where big business and big government dominated relatively passive consumers and passive citizens. Educated in prescribed syllabus schools, living in disconnected suburban communities, employed in specialised and meaningless work, consuming one-size fits all news and information and standardised government services, with families split by globalisation… baby boomer and Gen X lives have been controlled by others to a large degree. The old power elites controlled the generation and distribution of information; controlled the allocation of scarce resources; oversaw the degradation of ecosystems; and created artificial scarcity (such as in the supply of money and restrictions on the exchange of goods and services). Within their institutions, they ruled the day.
But that time is up.
For the enduring characteristics of social existence are in connections, self-expression and sharing. They also happen to be the underpinning values of the digital generation. Information is no longer scarce. Connectivity is no longer scarce. Bottlenecks have broken down. What was scarce is now abundant. It’s no contest folks.
Solving environmental and economic crises, resolving cultural conflicts and social divides will not be easy. But I have optimism that the networked age will find sustainable solutions. In contrast, the old power elites just continue to show how inept their institutional frameworks are. A re-balancing is coming…are you on board?
If you and/or your organisation are inward-looking, independent and not already networked online, then get started. Experiment by reaching out to others. Learn what others are saying about you. Learn digital media literacy. Learn by doing. It’s OK. You can do it.
Sure, you will make mistakes. No one is perfect. The know-how will come to you. You will get better. You will get rewards.
So, get on to Twitter. Join Facebook, Sign-up to LinkedIn. Experiment with Ning. Create a blog. Subscribe to others’ blogs. Participate with your colleagues on Yammer. See what others are viewing on YouTube. Get on to Google Wave to see what real-time collaboration can do. Reach out. And above all, participate – get yourself engaged online.
Best wishes for 2010