Building the Goodwill of Networks

Networks give people access to more people than ever before. However, they can also create new inconveniences by allowing people to free ride. Networks are fostered when people are encouraged others to making contributions to others first and to consider in their approaches the value created for others in their requests. These actions, like purposeful and generous working out loud, rebuild the goodwill that free riders consume.

The Network Externality of Free Riders

In economics, an externality is a cost imposed on other people who did not choose to incur it. Free riding is where a person consumes more than their share of a common resource. Every network depends on common resource of goodwill in continuing connection. A common barrier to the development of collaboration in networks is the network externality of thoughtlessness and free riding.

Great networks build up goodwill among the members which facilitates collaboration through trust, shared connection and a sense of reciprocal benefits. Free riders are members of those networks who don’t contribute to the general goodwill. 

The Externality of Thoughtlessnesss

Thoughtless activities in networks consume goodwill because they impose costs on others in the network without any return:

  • Noise: It takes time and effort to filter out noise. Creating noise in networks is costly to everyone. Noise can include repetitive posts, broadcast messages, long rambling messages, diversions from purpose, spam and other forms of low value messages.
  • Laziness: Failing to check that the question you ask has not been answered already or that the answer is not readily available. Let me Google That For You is a great example of a solution to this common occurrence.
  • Confusion: Making a unclear request of the network. In many cases questions are far easier to ask than to answer well. Many people do not think through what others need to be able to answer their query. It takes time and effort to clarify what the issue is and what answers or assistance will be helpful.
  • Selfishness: Making request of others for effort without giving anything back. We have all been asked to help others in our networks. The better requests are respectful of the individual and the network. Most of the requests that come through Linkedin have a clear benefit to the other person but much less consideration on how I might be interested in helping. Responding to these requests takes time and effort which lowers the value of the network and the priority of responding at all.
  • Lack of Follow-through: Making requests that are ambit claims, have unnecessary urgency or where you are not prepared to invest in follow through on the responses others will make. A common issue is when people ask for urgent help and then disappear again without responding to even acknowledge the answers given to their query. 
  • Unclear Benefit: Making unclear offers of benefits. If you suggest something offers ‘exposure’, ‘mutual benefit’, ‘rewards’, ‘an opportunity’ or similar it helps to quantify this in your request. Leaving it for others to discover the meaning of your obscurity imposes costs on others and on you.

There are many more examples. While it may be easy to decline all poorly framed requests, some times opportunity lurks under the thoughtlessness.  The challenge is that the time and effort to respond, to clarify, to negotiate mutual benefit and to help can unduly burden network participants. Suddenly people withdraw from helping others in the network because the collective experience is burdensome. 

Sidenote: Recognise Your Own Value In Networks

Under an avalanche of requests for free time, free help, free speaking engagements, free advice, offers of ‘exposure’ and general lack of consideration, it can be tempting to decide that you have to acquiesce because the whole system works this way. This is even more the case when you are told ‘everyone else’ seems to be doing things on this basis. We are still learning how to manage relationships at scales, timeliness and distances that have never been possible before in human history. Remember always you have choices. The best way to make choices is to respect the value you bring, set your own strategy and set your own rules for the value exchange. That way you take and miss the opportunities you choose, not others. Ask people you trust to help you assess the value you create, if you can’t do it yourself. Grace, humble respect for the value you create and a focus on reciprocity can make magic happen.

Replenishing Goodwill with Purpose, Contributions and Serendipity

One of the reasons that I am a advocate of John Stepper’s work in promoting the value of working out loud is that John has made explicit the value of making contributions to others. Making purposeful contributions to people in your network builds goodwill. It is a great way to start a relationship. People are more likely to assist you if they have seen you making contributions to others. Most importantly of all to make a contribution to another person you need to take the time to think of that other person and their needs.

Goodwill erodes if it is not actively restored by reciprocal benefits in a network. Creating goodwill through consistent contributions to others and serendipitous benefits helps the networks deliver net benefits to participants overcoming the costs imposed by the thoughtless and the deliberate free riders. The more people make purposeful contributions to others the more likely the balance will be a net positive one. For this reason many early online forums excluded lurkers in an effort to foster purposeful participation and reciprocity. The champions, change agents and connectors at the heart of your network will be some of the most purposeful, considerate and generous individuals that you know.

Fostering a culture of working out loud that is purposeful and generous will help any network overcome the challenges of occasional free-riding.

The Life-crushing Magic of Hierarchy

Humans are inherently messy creatures. We accumulate history and the entanglements of human relationships and emotions. As a manager this human mess can interfere with the joy of the unrelenting execution of your will. A cluttered organisation shows no respect to a manager’s inherent expertise and power. 

My life as a manager was transformed when I discovered the life-crushing magic of hierarchy. Your life and organisation can be neat and orderly, if you follow these simple organisational principles. 

Touch Everything

Firstly you must understand the principle behind all hierarchical organisation. A manager must constantly touch everything. Dump all your expectations about independent action by your team on the floor. Subject everything to your hands-on micromanagement power. 

You must feel free to touch any activity in the organisation at any time, throw it into a disordered pile and then use your superior management skills to put things back into the places that best suit you. Do this until your organisation shines with respect for your management skill. 

Kill Joy

Look at any activity if it sparks joy in your employees, discard it from your organisation. You have the power to exclude these activities that divert from the joy of experiencing unfettered authority. Crush the activities and discard any employees associated with them. The more meaningless the work the better it will demonstrate your management expertise. If too much meaning arises in work, intervene and make changes or better yet reorganise again.

Process not People

When organising your business it is traditional to be concerned with individual business units, alignment to customer or business outcomes and the people involved. Put aside this nostalgia. 

Focus instead on process. Ask yourself only whether the process brings you joy and crushes the freedom of your people. Make sure your processes are inflexible, opaque, compliance-oriented, end-to-end and untouched by nostalgic human considerations. The more abstract the outcomes that your processes create the better. 

Organise your business one process at a time and follow each process to the end before proceeding on to the next until you have completed your arrangements process by process. This may increase the mess and confusion in the meantime but you will find an organisation that is far easier to control and manage in the end.

If at any time you are not getting joy from this process, reorganise your people to make their arrangement more appealing. Over time your people will begin to appreciate the recognition that they get from being dumped into reorganisation. They will shine around you for the fear that next time you may get them. 

Everything in its place

Everything must be in its place before you go to work. Only you will be best able to determine the sweet spot for an employee. Don’t let them create mess by making career choices. Fold them carefully into their small box alongside their peers in the process. Never let your employees feel that they have a place to which they can go home. 

Arrange your remaining employees in tightly segmented silos and narrow process defined roles. It is essential they are visible and accessible to you at all times. You will need the ability to grab them from their important work at a whim and put them back easily at your pleasure. Measure them continuously to keep them aware of their need to maintain your respect and bring you joy.  

When interacting with your employees discard any that show too much spark. Remember to share your unfettered opinion and discard theirs at every opportunity. Finish every interaction with one of your employees by remarking gently ‘Thanks, I’ll take it from here.’

No Stacking

Stacking can crush employees at the bottom and damage their self-respect. This is an activity which should be reserved to bring joy to you. This is why it is so essential that employees are carefully folded into a place in process. Therefore do away with any unnecessary intermediate managers who may have the time to create fiefdoms to challenge your own. Keep the other managers moving quickly to satisfy your directives so that they have no time for their own thoughts, action or joy. Make everyone subject to your direct instruction and make all the decisions with your unique, shifting and often emotional rationales. 

A category of employee that requires particular attention in removing any other forms of leadership are your change agents. They are an unnecessary source of independence and activity. You will find no spark of joy in your dealings with them. Instead they may even challenge your authority or make unnecessary suggestions. Implement an enterprise social network in your organisation. This will enable you to identify those employees who still hold opinions and may act on their own outside of your chosen process. Gather your change agents. Hug them and thank them for their service. Then bundle them out the door

Follow these principles closely and your hierarchy will be neat, tidy and much smaller. Be sure that it will bring you, and you alone, great joy. Other managers will look on your shiny, svelte & compliant organisation with new respect.

Apologies to Marie Kondo. Thank you to those who gave me encouragement, ideas and suggestions for this post. May it spark some much needed joy in your work. If anyone reading is still in any doubt, don’t do this.

The Reverberating Yes

Say Yes
Yes to the legacy
Yes to the process
Yes to the doubts
Yes to the fears
Yes to the challenges
Yes to the risks
Yes to the passionate fire of the opponents

Say Yes
Yes to the future
Yes to the chaos
Yes to the purpose
Yes to the hopes
Yes to the opportunities
Yes to the strengths
Yes to the occasional efforts of supporters

Say yes to the ongoing grind to bring great things to be

Say yes to reality. Say yes to dreams.

Say yes

Until it echoes

(Even if only in you.)

Change Agents

At the heart of every failed adoption of social collaboration in an organisation is a piece of technology. The technology is only a medium for work.

At the heart of every successful implementation of the value of social collaboration is a change agent. Change agents help humans realise the value of changed ways of working.

Change agents work from purpose. It is not their job or their project. Change is a quest. They lead change because they passionately believe in a better future for everyone. Purpose enables change agents to push on when others would stop. Purpose guides change agents to focus on the shifting needs of value over the demands of the means.

Change agents realise that others must come to the same realisation of the value of change as they have. They know change can’t be mandated, managed or measured into existence. Change agents use influence, experimentation and open agile change activities to create networks of allies experiencing the new changes. They build capabilities and confidence in others through experiences, support and personal motivation. Change agents connect people, encourage the people to engage in two way sharing and solving of issues on the way to new ways of working.

Change agents focus on the system of the human organisation to influence new ways of work. They don’t focus on the technology of the medium.

The Diversity of the Change Agent

Change agents aren’t all alike. Organisations that fail to embrace the diversity of the change agent fail at change.

Change agents are a diverse bunch. 

Organisations tend to lump them together in an ‘outsider’ bucket. When change agents don’t think & act in the way of the majority then it is assumed their different way is shared. Yet change agents often find collaboration challenging when they don’t understand that a common desire for change can be driven from diverse motives and methods. 

Adam Morgan of eatbigfish describes 10 challenger narratives in The Challenger Almanac.  These narratives that give a sense of the diversity of motivations and approaches to change: 

  • People’s Champion – standing up for the exploited or overlooked
  • Missionary – ethical or ideological advocate 
  • Democratiser – challenging elitism and exclusivity 
  • Irreverent Maverick – the provocateur 
  • Enlightened Zagger – the deliberate contrarian 
  • Real & Human – advocating for the human 
  • The Visionary – transcending current ideas 
  • The Next Generation – improving fitness to the future
  • The Game Changer – rewriting the rules
  • The Feisty Underdog – battling the winners 

Few change agents fit cleanly in one narrative. Often many narratives will be woven into a unique personal approach. There are plenty of opportunities for conflict as to the objectives and methods in the diversity of narratives. 

Change agents and the organisations that seek to foster their work need to concentrate on building connection as to what is in common. Ideological debates and fractious debates as to approach can illuminate the diverse paths but they tend to delay action. 

Change agents need to embrace the action of others, learn from diverse perspectives and leverage alignment of narratives. Broadening the toolkit of change benefits both the change agents and their organisations.

Anti panel 3.0: the personal urgency to act #disruptsyd

We have choices in the future we want. To ensure a better future, we need to create it. We can begin now together.

Our annual experiment in disrupting the conference panel format occurred again at the Disrupt Sydney conference last Friday. The anti panel followed an extraordinary morning of inspiring speakers and provocative discussion of the impacts of disruption for good and for evil.

The anti-panel was reinvented again for its third appearance at Disrupt Sydney. This year the panellists set the teams in the room three activities on the theme of disrupting Sydney as a place, community and City:

– create a collage of your inspirations from the morning for the future of Sydney
– develop a newspaper headline on a vision of Sydney in 2050
– build a model in Lego of an intervention to move Sydney to a positive future.

The power of an anti-panel is to leverage the ideas, insights and interactions of the whole room. Using exercises individually and in groups enables people to work in parallel. Challenging people to communicate in other ways and to be hands on changes the nature of ideas. We had an incredibly broad ranging discussion driven by the creative potential in the room.

We experienced a different panel to previous years. The interaction between participants was far greater. The depth of discussion was less due to the physical challenges to be met but the breadth of ideas increased. The panellists learned from the energy in the room that we had one design flaw. The newspaper exercise was too narrow a constraint for the middle of a Friday afternoon. Luckily, we adapted timings to shorten that exercise and moved on to a coffee break and Lego to restore momentum.

The themes of the debrief were clear:
– people enjoyed the opportunity to interact through shared creative tasks
– we need time to reflect and to create new ideas and approaches
– ideas flowed from doing
– one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia
– the power of storytelling and metaphors
– whether we were pessimists or optimists, it was clear we could not sit passively with the range of change, opportunities and threats. The future needs to be created.

That final insight was a wonderfully generative outcome from an afternoon of purposeful play. Let’s create our future. A great place to start is leveraging the creative potential of many people.

The anti-panellists were Kai Riemer, Matt Moore and Simon Terry. Thanks again to the DDRG for the opportunity to deliver the anti-panel.

Building Bridges

The bridge, then, is a symbol both of choice and connection. We determine in which direction we wish to travel. We also work to connect people to people and people to knowledge…Our role is to make the right choices so that we build bridges towards holding spaces where positive connections can be made in the future that will benefit society. – Richard Martin

Bridges go from one side to the other. They connect. Bridges don’t make value judgements about the shore.

In our passion for change it can be easy to dismiss the value of other ways of working. In so doing, we make it harder to bring change about. Before we can encourage people to new ways of working, we need to connect with where they are today.

Change Agents aren’t masters of elegant theory. They connect people to new practice. They help people take up the how. Change Agents are as much marketers, salespeople and evangelists as they are theorists. Effective change connects the new and old domains.

Build a bridge to a different opinion. Walk awhile on both shores. Your influence will be greater for it

The Emperor’s New Clothes


“By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co- exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.” – Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless

What exactly is the power in your company’s hierarchy?

A Culture of Consent

Debates over structure, governance and power dominate management. We want to get the right balance between command and autonomy as if this is a formula that can be designed externally and imposed. The realities of power in organisations are simpler than we perceive.  

An organisation is not a state. Despite their orders, minions, wealth and luxurious surrounds, senior managers are not rulers. There is no army, no police force and no jail. Shareholders are not voters to provide legitimacy to coercion. Security guards have limits on their ability to apply force and is rarely constructive. Coercive power is in organisations is rather like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Senior managers know this well because daily they experience the limits of their ability to order.

Organisations have one form of power – exclusion through exile or ostracism. Senior management have security guards to escort you from the building.  Management can encourage others to turn on you. They can deprive you of this source of income and relationships in a community of peers, but have no other power. Look closely, they probably can’t even deprive you of resources, as these are usually under the day-to-day management of your peers. You already work around that issue daily as you make your organisation’s budgeting work.

All the power of the hierarchical leaders of organisations is given to them by the culture within the organisation. It is social influence, not power backed by force. Like the greengrocer in Vaclav Havel’s example above, you either live within that culture (and sustain its power) or you don’t (and become a dissident or rebel).

If the Emperor of Management has no clothes..

  • Change is closer than you think. Start to create new influence or question the sources and approaches of power and you are already leading change, potentially far more quickly than you realise.
  • Management are not a blocker outside the system preventing change. They are a part of the same system and equally aware of its issues. Encourage them to adapt management practice through conversations about influence, culture and the practices of power.
  • Network with like minded peers discuss and debate what needs to change. How should influence be structured in your organisation?
  • Culture is not a project just for the HR team. The consequences of the real cultural norms are far wider and far more important than a poster of values. Culture will shape what the organisation perceives and how it is able to respond.
  • Living in reality and being more human is harder than you think. First, you must separate reality from the views that you have chosen to believe. Second, you must continue to engage with the reality of the situation without the warm support of culture.
  • The future models of power in your organisation are a discussion for the community. Adopting elaborate models of autonomy and decision making without this discussion is swapping one naked emperor for another. If you adopting a new model, what is it about this model that makes it closer to the reality of influence in your organisation?
  • The ability to survive and restart reduces the threat of management power. That means a sense of personal purpose, savings of six to twelve months of living expenses, marketable capabilities and good external networks. Removing the danger from exile and strengthening purpose against ostracism frees the rebel to lead change.

“For the real question is whether the brighter future is really always so distant. What if it has been here for a long time already and only our own blindness and weakness and has prevented us from seeing it around and within us and prevented us from developing it?” – Vaclav Havel

You need change. Don’t settle for less.

Changing structure is just rearranging deck chairs. You don’t need a new system. You don’t need a new process. More rules won’t fix what your current rules can’t fix. You don’t need more expertise because most of the potential you have goes wasted now. More data will mean more confusion not less. You won’t become more effective by being more efficient.

There are no transactional fixes. If you could flick a switch to create transformational change, everyone would.

There is no proxy for the hard work of change.

To create transformational change in the system that is your organisation you are going to need new conversations and new capabilities. At the start these conversations and capabilities will be uncommon and uncomfortable. You will need change agents to start the conversations, sustain debate and action and help others build the capabilities.

Your unique path to change will emerge guided at first by the few and eventually by the many. Find your change agents. Invest in their development and back their action.

When you need change, back the people who bring it about. Anything else is just a distraction.

PS: if you still think you need new structures, processes, systems, rules, expertise and data to change you will need change agents to be able to make use of them in your organisation