How do we thrive in a hyper-connected, complex world?
An afternoon of conversation with David Gurteen
There was a great start to this Zoom meeting. David Gurteen gave some simple guidance to participants so we could all Zoom smoothly. It was great best practice demo. We are all becoming good at Zoom but simple guidance on how to set the visuals, and mute the sound is a wise precaution to make sure we are all competent with the medium. He also set out how the seminar would be scheduled, with breakout groups and plenaries. It was to be just like a NetIKX seminar in the BDA meeting room, even though it was totally different! I felt we were in very safe hands, as David was an eary adopter of Zoom, but still recognizes that new people will benefit by clarity of what works best. Well done David.
The introduction set the scene for the content of our café. We were looking at how we live in a hyper-connected complex rapidly evolving world. David outlined many dimensions to this connectedness, including transport changes, internet, social media, global finances…
In his view; over the last 75 years this increased connectivity has led to massive complexity, and today we can conceive of two worlds – an old world before the Second World War and a new world that has emerged since 1945. Not only are our technological systems complex, but we human beings are immensely complex, non-rational, emotional creatures full of cognitive biases. This socio-technical complexity together with our human complexity has resulted in a world that is highly volatile, unpredictable, confusing, and ambiguous. Compare the world now, with the locally focused world that dominated the pre-war years.
Furthermore, this complexity is accelerating as we enter the fourth industrial revolution in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the way we live and work. Our 20th-century ways of thinking about the world and our old command and control, hierarchical ways of working no longer serve us well in this complex environment.
Is it true that if we wish to thrive, we need to learn to see the world in a new light, think about it differently, and discover better ways in which to interact and work together?
Break out groups
With practiced expertise, David set us up into small break-out groups that discussed the talk so far. Did we agree, or feel continuity was a stronger thread than change. Then we swapped groups to take the conversation on further.
After the break-out groups, David looked at the two linked ideas behind Conversational Leadership. He had some wonderful quotes about leadership. Was the old control and lead model gone? Do leaders have to hold a specific role, or can we all give leadership when the opportunity is there? Of course, David provided examples of this, but perhaps after the seminar a very powerful example stands out – the 22 year old footballer changing the mind of a government with an 80 seat majority! You don’t need to have the expected ‘correct’ label to be a powerful leader.
We also looked at the other element: talking underpins how we work together. Using old TV clips and quotes, David urged us to consider how we communicate with each other, and if there is scope to change the world through talking? Again, there was plenty of food for thought as we consider new ideas such as ‘unconscious bias’, ‘media bubbles’, ‘fake news’ and the global reach of social media.
We then broke into small groups again, to take the conversation further, using David’s talk as a stimulus.
At the end of the break-out groups, we re-joined as a mass of faces smiling out of the screen, ready to share our thoughts. It is a wonderful thing, when you make a point to see heads nodding across the Zoom squares. I recommend this to anyone who has not tried it!!!
Some themes emerged from the many small group chats. One was the question of the fundamental nature of change. Was our world so different when the humans within it remain very much the same? We looked very briefly at what we think human nature is and whether it remains a constant despite the massively different technology we use on a daily basis. Even if humans are the same fallible clay, the many practical ways we can now communicate gives us much more potential to hear and be heard.
We also considered the role of trust. In our workplaces, trust often seems to be in short supply, but it is a key to leaders taking on authority without becoming authoritarian. The emphasis on blame culture and short-term advangabe has to be countered with building genuine trust.
Is there potential for self-governing teams? The idea sounds inviting but would not ensure good leadership or sharing of ideas. The loudest voice might still monopolise attention. And with some justification, as not everyone wants to be pro-active. Some prefer to follow as their choice, and others like to take part but balk at the tedium of talking through every minute decision! This idea may have potential, but we agreed it would not be a panacea.
We did agree that roles and rules could be positive to help give shape to our working lives, but that they need not constrict our options to lead when the time comes. And we can see the leadership role that our professional calling suggests. With so many new information channels, so many closed groups and so many conflicting pressures, as information or knowledge professionals, we can take a leadership role in helping and supporting our chosen groups of very human work colleagues to understand and thrive in this complex and evolving world. Conversational Leadership should be one of the tools we take away to enable our work with colleagues.
The NetIKX team.
NetIKX is a community of interest based around Knowledge and Information Professionals. We run 6 seminars each year and the focus is always on top quality speakers and the opportunity to network with peers. We are delighted that the Lockdown has not stopped our seminars taking place and expect to take Zoom with us when we leave lockdown! You can find details of how to join the lively NetIKX community on our Members page.
David Gurteen is a writer, speaker, and conversational facilitator. The focus of his work is Conversational Leadership – a style of working where we appreciate the power of conversation and take a conversational approach to the way that we connect, relate, learn and work with each other. He is the creator of the Knowledge Café – a conversational process to bring a group of people together to learn from each other, build relationships and make a better sense of a rapidly changing, complex, less predictable world. He has facilitated hundreds of Knowledge Cafés and workshops in over 30 countries around the world over the past 20 years. He is also the founder of the Gurteen Knowledge Community – a global network of over 20,000 people in 160 countries. Currently, he is writing an online book on Conversational Leadership. You can join a Knowledge Café if you consult his website.