The Social Path Beyond the Clockwork Universe

“It is now very clear to me, that the world of L&D [Learning and Development] is splitting in two.

“There are those who think that the old ways of training are still valid and sufficient for today’s workforce, and there are those who realise that the world has moved on and a new approach to supporting workplace learning is essential.”

— L&D global leader Jane Heart, The L&D world is splitting in two

How many fields could that be said about these days?

Today in banking, Brett King, one of the very most influential people in the world on bank technology, retweeted a blog post by consultant Duena Blomstrom titled Why Blockchain Doesn’t Matter.

In fact, Blockchain doesn’t matter. Neither does Hadoop, Watson, AI or robot advisory or any other of the buzz words depicting technology that investors swoon over these days. They all have the *potential* to be transformative (if Blockchain more than others as it represents a shift in understanding of the model of repository and opens up minds).

Technology in itself does not matter. We need cultural transformation for any of the bank’s problems to start to dissipate, to shake their famed inertia…

Don’t get me wrong. I knew in my heart of heart it’s cultural. Who doesn’t? We all do. Startups. Vendors. Pundits and bankers alike. We all know that a handful of banks have real heroes, most banks have pockets of amazing individuals and all banks have old, inert, paralyzed and often ignorant boards desperate to keep their jobs in the name of preserving banking as it was.

What is the cultural change?  Heart says it’s in large part about social content, platforms and learning. Blomstrom says it’s about recognizing your role as a relationship enabler between people.  Otherwise you become a dumb pipe, a low-value commoditized provider of infrastructure in the most boring sense.

“Coming from an environment where we thought of nothing but of hard metrics and the ROI of a very core piece of a bank’s digital strategy and seeing even that even with those numbers in hand it’s an uphill road [makes it all feel Quixotic],” writes Blomstrom.

But this is the way things appear to be moving.  Technology and people are coming together and make new things possible for one another that were never possible before.  From Facebook M’s human assisted Artificial Intelligence to the role of humans in training and judging output in the super-hot field of Deep Learning: Tyler Cowan says that the future will belong to humble humans who work well with intelligent machines.

John Stepper says it’s about Working Out Loud.

“Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

Stepper and others emphasize how good this is for humans, but it’s good for machines too.  When you work out loud, you help train the machines that are learning from our published work.  Hopefully, so that they can assist us more effectively in the future.

In Naomi Klein’s new book about climate change (which I must confess I just read on the shelf and haven’t bought yet), she quotes an indigenous woman who says that systems can be either extractive or generative of more life.

I think it’s about creating and participating full-heartedly in generative systems that affirm humanity and create abundance for people.  And using technology sure can help.

Harold Jarche talks about personal knowledge mastery.

All of this is touched by the social web.  For many of us, it has a deeply democratizing, generative, affirming, abundance-creating capacity in the connections it facilitates.  Each of us are at the center of our own section of it, too.  The “selfie” can be a grinning cell phone self-portrait – but maybe it can be a blog post about how you see the world too.

And all of that is very different from the Newtonian view of the Clockwork Universe, the tidy, planned, and predictable world that the Industrial era was probably the pinnacle of.  Of course there were costly externalities, both environmentally and for the experience of being human.

Now we’re moving to a networked, social world. (Would it be irresponsible to say a more Quantum understanding of the world?) The solution to every problem contains the seeds of the next problem, of course, and the next problems are likely information overload, shallow thinking and maybe surveillance.

But the world is changing and many parts of it are splitting in two.  I know which side I want to be on.  If you’re still reading this, I bet you’ve got an opinion on that question, too.


  • dougcoleman

    Great post, Marshall. It reminds me of working for a large software co. and trying to show a ROI on what we were trying to do with social media. How do you put an ROI on relationships? Yes, it is possible over time. Convincing some companies that having a budget for social media is important, and financially beneficial, can still be a tough sell..