Invisible hordes

Traded my daylight
for a career
But I need you to disprove
My theory of the crows
— The National, Theory of the Crows

So how do we add value, us knowledge workers? By developing personal knowledge mastery – to first embrace and sift that available data – then curating that data in a meaningful way for others, and by doing so becoming a connector node in our network.
— Jonathan Anthony, Fiendish Child: Knowledge, So What?!

Leadership in networks does not come from above, as there is no top. To know the culture of the workplace, one must be the culture. Marinate in it and understand it. This cannot be done while trying to control the culture. Organizational resilience is strengthened when those in leadership roles let go of control.
— Harold Jarche, Build Trust, Embrace Networks, Manage Complexity

But real change doesn’t happen until you do it. Until YOU do it. Until you think differently, speak differently, act differently. Until you have different conversations with your colleagues, with your boss, with your clients, with your customers.
— Euan Semple, Be the change

In the third instalment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, there is a sequence in which Aragorn and his companions persuade the Dead Men of Dunharrow to unite with them. By supporting Aragorn in his battle against Sauron’s allies, the Army of the Dead will have fulfilled a pledge of allegiance they made in the past, and by so doing free themselves from a curse placed on them by Aragorn’s ancestor when they broke that pledge. I was reminded of this fragment of useless knowledge recently when chatting with a friend about job-hunting and value propositions, first touching on the idea in my post about the detective and their role as sense-makers and connectors.

Each of us builds our own multi-faceted networks over time, tapping into existing hubs, making connections between these different nodes that reflect our interests, our experiences and our expertise. The network is our personal United Nations of communities. It maps to us and our lives. My own network will be slightly different to yours, although there are likely to be many overlaps, with us connected at more than one node because of shared interests, friendships or the fact that we studied or worked together in the past.

Technological advances have made our understanding of networks and our ability to map them more overt, from the postal service, to the era of the telegraph, the early telephony systems, and right up to the current age of social media platforms and mobile applications. Our networks reflect our need for human connection, interaction, communication and support. Networks are where we learn, where we accumulate data and information, sense-make and share. They are where we test out ideas, and have them validated, challenged or refined. They are where we store the knowledge that we cannot fit into our own heads

In a Forbes article on the knowledgeable networker, Ken Perlman argues that organisations are evolving into a network of networks. The workers are themselves hubs, serving as connectors between those organisations they service, as employees, contractors or consultants, and their own extended networks. This is the modern value proposition for a worker. It is not simply a case of what value their knowledge, skills and expertise will add to the organisation seeking to employee their services. Also in play are the invisible hordes who stand behind them; their network of connections, their knowledge, skills and expertise. These now lie in the network rather than with any one individual. The value the potential employee offers to the organisation is their ability to harness the services of the network, to know who to turn to in a given context. It is who they know as much as what they know that matters now. By this I do not mean to imply old-school-tie nepotism, but rather the recognition of opportunities to collaborate, cooperate and enter into partnership. Such people also have a role in the networks of others, willingly sharing their own knowledge and expertise, assisting with sense-making, fulfilling a role in learning communities.

Too often organisations recruit for now. They live in both the past and the present, thinking of the skills and competencies they have required traditionally or need urgently to address problems today. Uniformity and groupthink therefore prevail. There is a tendency to seek out people who fit into pre-cut holes. As mindsets shift towards the notion of a network of networks, or David Weinberger’s concept of small pieces loosely joined, there is an opportunity to introduce diversity of perspective in organisations, mining knowledge resident both within and without the building, encouraging creative friction. Through their own workforce, organisations can derive benefit from the knowledge, leadership capability, technical proficiency and subject matter expertise that flows through the network. They can begin thinking beyond the present, embracing the future too, building for tomorrow, addressing the big issues that confront us relating to the environment, health, agriculture, technology and social divisions.

I have argued in my series on peloton formations, and in a recent interview with Stowe Boyd, that in a responsive, networked organisation leadership responsibilities are in a constant state of flux. Context and circumstance governs where leadership is required at a given moment in time, and from whom. Everyone has leadership potential in the network, with connectors to multiple hubs proving vital to organisations. These are the people who can help bridge different communities, enabling access to new ideas that can challenge preconceptions, inspire creativity and prompt innovation. Such people do not seek permission to develop relationships, to invest time in other people, or to further their own learning. They just act. They are doers, the ones who catalyse change, who build alliances with invisible hordes, helping establish partnerships from which everyone derives benefit.

So next time you are drawn into the recruitment process, think beyond the person sat on the chair in front of you. Think of the invisible hordes standing behind them and the potential for building the future. Think too of the people who will form part of tomorrow’s network.

Religion and mythology teach us that the prophets do not get to enjoy the promised land. We are sowing the seeds and cultivating the landscape. Future generations are the ones who will reap the harvest.
— Richard Martin, Shoring Fragments

Our ability to empathise through time remains rudimentary, stuck in the earliest stages of psychological evolution. This may be one of humankind’s greatest moral failings. The empathic challenge we face, therefore, is to close this distance as much as possible so that those who are far away from us across space, time and social background are drawn into our circle of caring, enabling us to touch them more easily with our imaginations.
— Roman Krznaric, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution

Let us bring to life in our imaginations this joyful spectacle. Let us stop a moment to read these lines and put clearly before our eyes the white cathedrals against the blue or gray background of the sky. We must get that image into our hearts. And then we shall be able to continue our reflections […] Eyes that see, persons with knowledge, they must be allowed to construct the new world. When the first white cathedrals of the new world are standing, it will be seen and known that they are something true, that something has really begun. With what enthusiasm, what fervor, what relief, the about-face will be made! The proof will be there. Fearful, the world first wants proof.
— Le Corbusier, When the Cathedrals Were White

6 thoughts on “Invisible hordes

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