The Cacophany

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Our world has many voices. In the quest for comfort, some argue for simpler more consistent conversations. Only if we embrace the cacophany of conflict and strange uncomfortable conversations will we realise our human potential.

Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy explores a theme that authoritarian disposition is in part a desire for simplicity in a complex and connected world. Whether harking back to great days of the past or promising a new future, the promise of authoritarian and populist movements is to simplify, make things easy again.

Liberal democracies always demanded thing from citizens: participation, argument, effort and struggle. They always required some tolerance for cacophany and chaos, as well as some willingness to push back on cacophany and chaos.

Anne Applebaum

Our Organisational Cacophany

Last week, I saw two closely related stories. One was how Victoria Police were using Yammer to successfully identify criminals from photographs. Another was how Victoria Police were dealing with a backlash from disciplining an officer for comments on Yammer. If you invite contributions from everyone, you get everyone’s contributions, even those you would rather not have. Balancing engagement and tolerance as Applebaum notes above is the work.

Some will argue that this messy cacophany is the weakness of tools like Yammer. Messages should be clear, simple and agreed by those in power before they can be shared. However, removing the cacophany from official channels merely encourages it to spread in unofficial channels via text, Facebook, or Whatsapp. As disappointing and hurtful as public intolerance and conflict may be, intolerance is a lot more dangerous in the dark. The loss of engagement and understanding from purely controlled top down conversation leaves so much organisational knowledge and potential untapped.

From Cacophany to Shared Narrative

Applebaum’s book hints that shared narratives and shared principles have been ways to sustain democratic engagement when the systems of a state have not always lived up to the promise. People will stay engaged in the belief that they will become better together.

Modern organisations working in highly distributed ways in a faced paced economy have real challenges of adaptation and alignment if they do not learn how to manage the cacophany. Command, control and simplicity are not the answers. Instead people need to use community tools like Yammer to build the elements of engagement to a common end:

  • Alignment: Enabling people to understand in two-way conversations what an organisation wants to achieve and what is expected of them. People who don’t align to those goals then have the option to make their own choices as to where they contribute their efforts.
  • Shared Context: We struggle to collaborate when we don’t share context. It is easy for the Other to arise when we don’t share a context with those with different ideas or experiences to ours. Uniting an organisation in a shared context of information and discussion is a critical role of open community platforms.
  • Shared Values in Action: Values don’t live on posters and lanyards. An open community platform is a place where employees can see the organisation values in action or complain if they are being failed. That some of those complaints may reveal conflicts between values or misunderstandings of what the words mean is the point. Values are lived and acted out not discussed.
  • Shared Better Narrative: Incredibly diverse groups of people can come together to contribute their many different capabilities to a goal if they share in the story of that goal. Visions and Missions aren’t speeches they need to be evidenced by tangible actions that employees can understand each day. Sourcing and sharing those proof points through tools like Yammer is the work.

Simplicity of message is a tempting answer to a cacophany of voices in the modern world, but simple messages can be lost or miscontrued when so much is being said. There’s a much richer opportunity to engage everyone in expressing the potential together.

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