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Tag: emergence

Complexity theory – “getting it” through literature

Algal-falls by neurmadic aesthetic via FlickrComplexity theory, emergence and you

Boids, emergence, there being no plan to the universe – it’s all very hard to grasp.

Here is a line from Robin Yassin-Kassab’s novel the road from DAMASCUS that explains it all.

“No cell in your body is the same cell as when you were a boy. “

“You aren’t matter, you organize it.  You are an organizing principle.  The flesh and blood is produced by you , a temporary pattern you’ve made.  It isn’t you.”

(p. 197)

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Crowd-sourcing develops wisdom. It doesn’t find answers

I dream of sunrise by Indy Kethdy via Flickr
I dream of sunrise by Indy Kethdy via Flickr

Zeitgeist of our age

As I dillied-dallied this morning, putting off the moment when I bury myself in an Excel spreadsheet, I pondered the bizarre experience of academics, like myself, teaching management in a classroom, and checked out the twitter chatter on the new crowd sourcing website being offered by government.

Crowd-sourcing is here

People seem willing to consult the populace online but don’t know what to make of the responses they get back.  There was even a spirited interchanged between a Gen Y blogger, whom I follow, and a Gen X geek, whom I also follow.  The Gen Yer was telling the Gen X to take down all his comments and get behind her drum. Hmm . . .

Someone even challenged Nick Clegg on the workability of crowd-sourced consultation. Hat-tip to @DT for this audioboo from Mark Hilary.

We want answers so that we don’t have to engage

I couldn’t quite hear Nick Clegg’s answer but the dilemma seems clear.

People are looking for answers so they can say that’s done – don’t have to talk (to you) any more.

Engagement is ongoing, messy and never ending

Engagement is ongoing – more people, more complexity, rising understanding, defined initiatives in context of a conversation.

Social psychologist, Karl E Weick provides the basic framework for understanding engagement & leadership

I don’t want to turn this into an advert for my own work but by chance, or rather because, I tried to write a plain English a few days ago, I can point you to what Weick wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 – what constitutes leadership when the world shifts abruptly beneath our feet?

What does it take to lead a community when the issues are so widespread that we must get everyone involved to be able to move forward together?

Karl E Weick is a a notoriously difficult read and I am not sure that I simplified his work sufficiently.  So let me have another go here.

  • Basically, the country has moved from the flight-fight reaction to the financial crisis, the initial startle and anger response.
  • We can give this coalition government its due in that they have moved us through the bargaining stage and to a thinking-it out stage (hopefully by-passing depression).

We are in the over-complicating stage of collectively re-thinking our world views

Weick points out that in this stage, our discussion becomes more complicated.  Indeed it becomes overly-complicated.

Over-complication is a process of looking at a problem from many perspectives

But this process of over-complication helps us understand the social context in which we frame initiatives and make small experiments in our own lives.

We gain a deep and wide appreciation of the context, or in other words, the issues as the appear from the perspectives of many people who are different to us.

Wide consultation provides the backdrop for wisdom and judgment

The context provides the backdrop for wisdom and judgment.

With this backdrop, we can take tentative steps in our own lives and in areas of our own responsibility to move forward.

The principle of self-organization and emergence apply

The leaders won’t decide for us.  We will decide just as a flock of birds decides.

  • We fly in roughly the same direction as everyone else.
  • We fly at roughly the same speed as everyone else.
  • We keep a respectable “stopping distance” so we don’t bash into each other.
  • And when the bird “on point” (the leader in human-speak), gets tired, it falls back and someone else flies point.

And note, to know where to go, the bird on point is using an exquisite sense of where the birds behind it are going.  Like all good leaders, it finds out where its followers are going so it can follow them.

So how will crowd-sourcing online help us?

  • We will not get behind one leader and follow them through predefined cause.
  • It will be messy.
  • We will use some technology to vote issues up and down and to cluster through tags.
  • some of us with an academic/journalistic bent will trawl through the data and look for themese.

But it will be messy and the gains go to anyone who is bothered to listen.

The Special Advisors are going to earn their keep reading all the threads and summarizing them. That is their traditional role isn’t it?  That’s what they are taught at uni, isn’t it?

To discern the common threads and brief their principals.

People who have rallied behind one particular cause, like the legitimate marijuana crowd in the States, will be noted.  They will stand out.  But that is not what this is about. This is a listening exercise. This is a develop nuances exercise.  This is involve people who normally would stay quiet exercise.

The essence of crowd-sourcing

This is a an exercise in developing a common appreciation of where we are going together, so we can fly like a flock of birds to where we need to go without bashing into each other, and without assuming any one of us has super-human powers to understand where we are going.

Leaders get people involved.  Leaders get people to listen.  Our common sense of who and what we are will emerge from that process – special interests and all.

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Work in the next 10 years and emergence


I am tidying up and I glanced through a notebook from 2 years ago. I was utterly fascinated by ‘emergence’, the phenomenon where a flock of birds, for example, emerges from simple behaviour of birds.   With three very simple rules – join the flock, keep up and keep a respectable “stopping distance” – birds individually, and probably without thought, create a flock that looks as if someone did think it up.

Emergence, business & management

We are fascinated with “emergence” in a business context because a naturally-forming flock undermines the idea of the all knowing and ominiscent leader.  The planning, leading, organizing & controlling management theory of Fayol goes ‘for a loop’.

At first, I was puzzled that university departments hadn’t taken up this idea more vigorouosly, and more practically.

Including emergence in the theory of management

Two years on, I’ve found my thinking has drifted.  Yes, it is certainly true that the role of managers is probably exaggerated (with their pay).  But the project of changing management is unnecessary.  Overmanaged firms will self-destruct, possibly at great cost to themselves and others, simply because managers have to be paid for and management that is not necessary simply makes a firm unweildy, inefficient and unprofitable.

The real issue is where our better understanding of organization is emerging in business.  The best example that is written up is the motorcycle industry of China. The best example where an industry is trying to use similar processes is the aerospace industry in UK and the production of the Boeing 787.

Moving along to understanding emergence in business

The challenge now is to understand the variations of self-organizing networks.

I think, perhaps, the basic principle is that emergence, by definition, is not willed.

  • We can prevent it happening.
  • We can illustrate the principle.

But in real life, the probably the best we can do is create conditions for it to happen.  What are those conditions?

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Beautiful New Year Resolutions: Follow the beauty you discovered in 2009?

New goals to focus the new year

2010 is upon us.  2009 has gone fast.  I began the year overloaded.  I was stressed out in January and was working hard to limit my goals.  That’s the purpose of goal setting, right?  To reduce the number of things claiming our attention.

Do you achieve your goals?  I sincerely hope not!

In the end, I over-achieved some of my goals and under-achieved others.  Why?  Why can’t we arrive spot-on?

Because that is not our job.  Really it is not.

Events, dear boy, events!

Our job is to respond to events.  Events, dear boy, events, as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once said.  Or as the military say, no plan survives meeting the enemy.

Our job is not to press on regardless.  Or job is to be aware of what is happening around us, to understand what is valuable, and look after that.  We’ve had a good year when we’ve attended to who and what is important.

To be ready for unfolding events, it is a good idea to plan.  Plans mean we have information at our finger-tips and we find it easier to read evolving situations and understand what we need and want to do.

A good year is when our goals unpack themselves and we discover what is ‘good and true, better and possible”

But our job is to learn.  A good year is a year in which our goals unfold.   A good year is when our goals unpack themselves.  We come to understand the richness of the world and gaze upon it with respect and more curiosity bordering on reverence, not to forgive its wrongdoings but alive to what is ‘good and true, better and possible.”

So as we open our diaries for 2010, what has changed for us during 2009?  Putting aside the farce of bailing out banks to the tune of more than half out annual GDP and politicians who rifle the petty cash, for farce is what that is, what changed for us during 2009?

Looking around the world, what do we see that we never used to see?  What poetry & song did we hear this year, yet never heard before?   Whom do we know whose style and approach to life we truly admire?

What brings us alive and takes us bubbling with enthusiasm towards 2010?

Take your first small step that may be the giant step needed by mankind

Often what brings the light to our eyes is deeply personal. We don’t want to expose what we love to the harsh glare of spotlights and public scrutiny.  What we share is not for the sake of sharing.  It is for the sake of nurturing what we feel is beautiful and it is for the sake of encouraging what we would like to see more of.

Of the many beautiful things we have discovered, which are we able to move towards?  Which are we able to do more?  Where and how can we take part and in the process make them more beautiful?

We may have the smallest role to play in their beauty.  But it may be our role in creating a beautiful world.  That small step on the edges of our existence may be a large step for mankind ~ if only we would take it.

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My customers come to me to interact with other customers. Yes they do!

The Dummies’ Guide to Social Interaction Design (SxD)

A few months ago, Adrian Chan of Gravity 7 explain Social Interaction Design in simple terms.  Here it is again. But even simpler.  Gen X and Baby Boomers like to begin with an overview. Once we have got the outline, we can drill down to the finer technical details.  This is for view.

Hopefully, Adrian will correct what I have got wrong.  When you have an outline, head over to Adrian for details.

1.  Who is the user?

Basic Idea: Don’t think about your product or your website, your mission or your purpose: simply describe your user.

Basic Technique: It’s tough to write a persona. You want to say what the user looks like, where they’ve come from, and most importantly, what they are looking for when the arrive with you. Think socially. Who were they hoping to talk to and why?

Advanced Techniques: Each user arrives with skills, social competencies and understandings about the way things will be done (variously called scripts and frames). What are people able to do easily when they first arrive? What do they expect?

We want to be predictable and make it easy for them to find their place on our territory

More Stuff You’ll Add After You Have Answered The Other Questions: Personas for other users: rich descriptions of various users in they many shapes and forms.

2.Who are the other users?

Basic Idea: Your visitor didn’t arrive to be lonely. Or to talk to you! Who else will they meet here? And what will they do together? And what about the reverse -who are they trying to get away from?

Basic Techniques: More personas, concentrating on how different everyone is not how much the same they are. Forget averages and typical. Think diversity and difference.

Advanced Techniques: Now describe how the users interact with each other. What do they say? How do they respond to each other? How do they encourage each other? How do they learn from each other? What scenarios are taken for granted by the locals that are not at all obvious to an outsider? When we are locals describing our own space, it is hard to describe what we take for granted. Ask what annoys people? What makes them contemptuous of other people? That’s a sure-fire indication of a norm being broken.

More Stuff You’ll Add After You Have Answered The Last Question: What is the difference between a gathering of users that is successful and one that is a flop? What is the feeling that people have when they say a gathering is fabulous?

3.   What social outcomes happen because the users are interacting with each other?

Basic Idea: Our actions come together to create something over and above our own wishes and desires, intentions and actions.

Basic Technique: What happens that cannot happen by one person alone? For example, we can sit at home and talk to ourselves about Coca-cola. That’s interesting. It probably prompts us to put Coca-cola on the shopping list. But so too is it interesting when one user talks to another user about Coca-cola. The conversation about a brand, and any downstream effects, becomes possible because of the interaction. If you get stuck, list all the interactions that people fear and turn these on their head.

Advanced Techniques: What are memes, tropes, fashions, fads, myths, and beliefs that seems to prevail among your users when they are together? How do they pick up on these norms? How quickly do the norms change and how do they change?

More Stuff That You Will Add After You Have Answered The Last Question: How many interactions happen before this new sense emerges? How can we prompt people to ask questions and to listen to each other? How can we prompt them to reflect their outside world in our world? How can we encourage an attention to positive processes? How can we learn to interpret the less positive interactions in the positive sense of seasons?

How do we add value to businesses, communities and organizations?

~ Trust, belonging & confidence are the foundation of action & initiative

4.  Beginning with Question 3, we have some understanding of the social outcomes that emerge from interaction. These are phenomena like belonging, trust and confidence. Hard-headed business men and women might scoff at these but the scoffing, the negativity, demonstrates the point. There is something they are looking for in the interaction must happen before the abandon their skepticism and react with trust and enthusiasm. What is it the business people need so badly before they will trust other people? When we can put our finger on that bruise, we may have identified the essence of our business.

~ We love our differences and riff them like mad

5. Question 2. We have some understanding of how people interact with each other in our community, in related communities, and in whichever context is our specialty. We learn fast about interaction because we pay attention to interaction. We are never ‘foreigners’ for long and even if we are marked out as different by our physical characteristics, accent or professional qualifications, we understand how people expect to behave and how they expect others to behave. We mix and match those expectations to help them ‘mod’ and ‘riff’ and have fun with each other.

~ We love our guests and find it easy to be kind

6. Question 1. We understand the diversity of people who arrive and the range of their social competence. What do they find easy to do? How can we help them find their feet in a gathering? How can we help them settle down, yet meet more people, and expand their horizons. How quickly do our wall flowers and the rambling roses become a magical bouquet?

Ready now for more details? Head over to Adrian Chan at Gravity 7. He’s the expert!

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5 ways to tell a winning organization from an organization on a losing track

Select your organization well!  Your well being depends upon it.

We all want to see ahead.  I am going to tell you that we cannot.

Yet we as surely as we court disaster when we get behind the wheel of the car when we have been drinking, we can run our organizations recklessly. You will get out of a car that is driven by a drunk, and you should aim to stay away from badly run organizations or at least to replace its management!

Let’s assume for a moment that you are one step back and you are choosing an organization.  Yes, choose. Even in a wicked recession, we choose. We choose which jobs we look at.  We choose which companies we research and approach.

Even as outsiders, there are 5 things to look out for to check the health of the organization.

These ideas are based on “systems theory”.  I hope any systems theorists reading this will comment.

One: We are continuously mindful of how well we are doing as a team and what it takes for the whole team to win

In plain language: Do people say “we” and do they talk about real things.  Do they say things like “In December, the market is slow for us.”

Do they talk in terms of taking everyone with them?  Do they make sure all the stragglers keep up and do they all cross the finishing line together?

Two: Everything matters, everything is connected to everything and connections get stronger with use!

In plain language: When you first approached the organization, did they start to “dance” with you?  Or were they stiff and rigid?  At the other extreme, were they hopelessly muddled?

Do they treat you like “white water”?  Do they work with the river and paddle gently or do they, at one extreme, fight the river [you] or at the other, not guide their canoe efficiently [be too relaxed and out-of-it]?

Is there feeling “give and take” or is the a feeling of force and rigidity or the opposite, no order at all?

Three: History happens once.  Nothing will ever happen again

In plain language: Do people in the organization tell a story of where the company came from and where they are going to?  Or is the company a skeleton of procedures without any flesh?

When they  talk to you about your story, do they attend to relevant parts or are they distracted by inconsequential details?

When something surprises them, do they ask questions or do they dismiss what they don’t understand?

Do they ask you how you would do things out of curiosity (and not as a test of right and wrong)?

Four: Birds fly in a flock without anyone giving orders!

In plain language: Are there 2 or 3 principles that govern this organization and are those sufficient to coordinate team work?  Do people point to the team work with evident pleasure?  Do they marvel that so much gets done with so little bossing around?

If you ask them what it would take to succeed on the job or fail on the job, can they give you 1 or 2 points or do they point you to manual that they haven’t read?

Five: Has the organization made unusual discoveries about what is good, true, better and possible?

In plain language: Do people talk about times when they were working as usual and then they stumbled over a new solution that was much better than they had done before?

Are they slightly mystified about how that happened?  That’s a good sign.  Mutation is healthy and it is only mutation when it is a surprise!

Qualify the organization

In sales, we only spend a lot of time on customers who need our products and services, who have the money to buy, and who intend to buy.  We “qualify” our customers.

We also have to qualify our organizations and move towards those who are healthy!

Rating an organization

When you talk to someone about a job, rate the organization on each of the five points.  How do they stack up on a scale of  0 to 25?  Try it and rate organizations that are right under your nose.  See if you haven’t got far healthier organizations right under your nose where you live!

Join up with people who will last the recession!

An inflexible organization will not last the recession.  And nor will one who is not organized at all.

Look for a healthy firm.  They will have the internal flexibility and mindfulness to adapt to the chaos in the environment. They will organize their affairs so you can grow. They will enjoy what they do and you will too.

Happy hunting and happy choosing!

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Events Managers teaching us the central concept of management

I had an interesting exchange today with Events Impresario, Julius Solaris.  Well, I had two, but I will tell you about this one.

Julius tweetedd about the lack of creativity in events.

  • I asked whether lack of creativity mattered and whether we would rather have events where creativity happened.
  • Quick off the mark, Julius tweeted: “@jobucks but providing a creative environment is key to foster creativity IN the event”

Yes!  Which the boundary conditions does the Event Manager create, so that you and I can be creative when we meet at the party?

These days, people do Masters degrees in Event Management.  So, somebody must know.

How do students learn this double-layered approach to management?

Which conditions do we manage to raise the likelihood of creative activity by the guests?


Learning about leadership from bankers :)

How do you greet a banker?

I did the two-step shuffle down the aisle of the aircraft, muttering apologies here and there, bobbed and weaved like Muhammed Ali  determined to get to my seat quickly, without being run over by bags-on-wheels, or clouted over the head with duty free wine as someone swings it into an overhead locker.

Blessed relief.  My seat!  Unfold the seat belt.  Move the blanket and pillow.  Plop myself down.  Greet my neighor.  Start chatting civilly.

It turn’s out my neighbor is an ex-banker.  I catch my breath for a moment, feel my pupils dilate slightly, and I burst out laughing.  A test of social skills, perhaps?

How do you greet a banker who helped design the Titanic of the UK economy – the ship that would never sink?

He’s a idiot, he’s a fool, he’s knave  .  .  . do I greet him with contempt, anger or curiosity?  Sell him something perhaps. He’s gullible after all.

Behind my impulse to laugh is a mix of embarrassment (for him) and traces of British irony – can’t fix it so you may as well live with it.

The natural born salesman, on the other hand, approaches life differently.  He understands that everyone should take initiative – all the time, every day, where ever we find ourselves.

These three attitudes correspond to three prominent ways of we talk about leadership.


In the heroic idea of leadership, which we often associate with American movies, an individual leader rises to the fore, points to the horizon, and carries us off to our salvation.  It’s deemed hard to do.  That, of course, is just a belief to justify rewarding some people a lot more than others.

We have this idea in British culture too.  In the biography of Winston Churchill, Gathering Storm, it is clear that Winston had strong ideas about saving his country, long before there was any call to do so.

The trouble with heroism is that outside the moment of heroism, we look more than a little batty.


The ironic story line of leadership runs a little differently.  It goes like this.  I tried.  It didn’t work out.  What a plonker I turned out to be.  So I will go back to the status quo.  It is not so bad after all.

We come together at the end of the story in a ‘group hug’, where no one wins or loses, and there is no challenge at all to distribution of rewards.  We celebrate the status quo.  Very British, of course.

Irony is funny when it is done well, and often awesome in its execution.   But it is a form of narcissism.  We do so love preening ourselves in the mirror.  It is such a good excuse to do nothing!


Personal leadership is a new label for understanding leadership in the networked world.  The salesman who promptly sells something to the ex-banker (a new job or a new Caribbean island, perhaps), sees the world as a network where everyone is influencing everyone else in their small way.  Tacky when I talk about a salesman, but very important as the world becomes more networked.

The Hero’s Journey

This genre, with its understated label, is a version of the heroic – where we are each our own hero traveling our own hero’s journey. It’s inspired by author Joseph Campbell, who believed that all good stories have a heroic structure.  We set off on a quest, meet a number of challenges on the way, overcome them, and return home in triumph to a new challenge – how to integrate our new life with the old.

In the cloud

Though this genre is a simple heroic form, and individualistic to boot, it fits neatly into our every increasingly networked world, where each person really does influence the world, and can influence the world.

I imagine Earth from outer space with a blanket of mist around it, cocooned in a mohair mesh of internet messages.  Anyone with an internet has free access to the cloud.  They need skills, but little is stopping them entering, and influencing, that space.

Swirling with others

But, of course, others are doing that too.  At the same time.  So, it is an ever evolving space and requires a new way of thinking.

Life becomes less a matter of right and wrong.  To predict an outcome requires the world to change slowly.  At the minute you believe you are doing the right thing, someone, maybe a ten year old in a rural village in India, does his own thing, and changes conditions and renderes your calculations incorrect.

To play in the new connected world, we have to play.  We have to be ever present. This bothers people who are not used to taking into account what a ten year old is doing in rural India.  It scares the pants off the old guard.

Learning about personal leadership in the cloud

Well, I might be squirming on behalf of the banker sitting next to me.  And maybe he is a fool or knave. But just maybe, he also understands banking sufficiently to see where banking is going.

Maybe, he will straighten out the mess and be our new hero of tomorrow?

Let me ask.

So where is banking going?  Where do you see banks in the future?

[And if he is heading towards his Caribbean island, maybe I can cadge a invitation for a holiday.  Have I lived in England too long?  Well, this will be an interesting flight, anyway.  I always talk to people on planes.]

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The first steps together?

Ideas whose time has come

I had an email today from someone I worked with a long time ago.  It was interesting.  Though we have barely been in touch, many of us who worked together ten years’ ago have pursued similar interests in different corners of the globe.

Great minds think alike?

The loneliness of the corporation executive

I don’t think my old friend reads my blog, but we were thinking alike yesterday too.

Yesterday, I wrote:

What do we trust each other absolutely and entirely to do?

His brief note on Facebook said that he feels optimistic about the future of the world economy but depressed by the ‘ostriches’ around him

Are we agreed?

There is plenty of opportunity.  Our task is to find the ‘sweet spots’ where people feel they can take the first step together?


5 questions to ask when we initiate an online community

A woman reading SMS messages on her mobile phone while standing on a bike in traffic.

Image via Wikipedia

Wise Web Developers from High Wycombe

I am delighted again by the wisdom that flows from High Wycombe. Paul Imre commented on my post about SwarmTeams and the exercise we did comparing soccer and work.

An online community as a rope

This time Paul used the analogy of a rope to think about a “social media community”. The rope becomes stronger the more we add strands. The rope has a past (so easy to forget) and the rope has a future when it begins to “think” for itself.

I think the first two points are useful to remind clients.

  • Ties with a community require constant participation – social media is a “hands-on” business.
  • A community has come from somewhere and is going somewhere.

How does the rope think? In two ways.

  • In a swarm – which for people not from UK is a social media community built up around an SMS system similar to Twitter – we communicate peer-to-peer – this is not unlike birds flying in a flock. P2P messaging allows us to follow the general direction of the flock, keep up, and not bash in to each other.
    • So we “think” by keeping in position by bouncing messages off the people immediately around us.
    • We also think, when gradual changes in what we do make the flock sweep and swoop across the sky.
    • This is what the pundits call low-level emergence. The flock looks as if it is intelligently following a leader. They are just following each other! And they are doing it without bashing into each other.
    • This kind of coordination would be particularly useful in a fleet of taxis for example, who could communicate where passengers are during rush hour.
  • The message board on an SMS system, that we can see by logging on to a computer, gives us the second level of thinking. The message board allows us to scan the overall pattern of the messages and make higher level changes – and any member of the swarm can do that. It is the equivalent of one of the birds in the flock saying “guys we passed that church half an hour ago – can we check our bearings”. My fleet of taxi drivers might scan the message board at the end of the day and observe, say, that it could be worthwhile having one person in a location to alert other taxis. For so many purposes, we don’t need a specialist to do this – we just need the message board and some motivated people.

Using Swarms at Conference

I also thought Paul’s question about when the “rope starts to think” takes us to something I commented about on the NLabNetworks blog – why didn’t we use social media more at the conference? It struck me that DMU had brought together a wide range of people from Leicester and wasn’t energetically linking the strands or developing a group that was “thinking”. After Bucks08, Paul came up with the analogy of a “dam” which stores potential. Toby Moores of Sleepy Dog wasn’t so taken with the image of “blocking”. But a “dam” is what we made when we put 150 people in a university building for a day. It is a pity that at the end of the day, we just let the water out. We should have at least used the water to turn a turbine or two.

The Swarm technology can be used to that effect. By capturing the tweeting for that group, we might be able to move up to another level of emergence where we see patterns, generate other contacts, etc.

So what are the five questions?

1. What will we do to add more “strands to the rope”?

2. Where did the community come from and where is it going?

3. What peer-to-peer decisions is the group making to “stay in position”and how are we going to join in?

4. How can we form an overall picture of the conversation and reflect it to the community so everyone can contribute to the group thinking?

5. How have we enhanced our future by joining and supporting the conversation (or did we just let the water run out – changing the metaphor, I know!)

Thanks Paul. Great heuristic.

Added this a few days later: What voices do you hear?

Social Media, HR and Member-driven Communities

Social Media is dominated in a fair degree by marketing. I am particularly interested in HR and communities like universities where customers and suppliers are the same people. If you would like to collaborate with me, or work with me commercially, please drop me comment. It would be good to expand the network of people interested in HR and social media in the UK.

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