No Straight Lines has 6 principles that framework how we can all be part of constructing a better world – one of those principles is based upon participatory cultures and the tools those cultures use. This piece introduces the concept of participatory cultures and why they are so important WHAT NEXT looks like.
The cultures the non-linear society seeks to nurture and the tools it uses to do so must be participatory
If we start to think about how our world is being redefined and the socialness of our world today, we should begin a critical enquiry into participatory cultures. Not only is there is a body of scholarship that suggests potential benefits of participatory culture, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude towards intellectual property, the diversification of cultural expression, the development of skills valued in the modern workplace and a more empowered conception of citizenship, there is also enough real life practical evidence to supporting that scholarship. The way people are getting what they want and need from each other demonstrates new organisational capabilities, and economic models all built around collaborative effort. Our literacy must start with being able to properly discuss and understand human motivation in participatory cultures, and the tools that they use, and then how these can be used to make organisations more lightweight, more effective and deliver accelerated innovation, plus greater social cohesion at a variety of societal levels. From politicians to CEOs, leadership must be properly understood within the context of the Gestalt switch of participatory culture.
Highly successful participatory systems are also by default social, and much of what drives the communications revolution as we have identified is the need for meaningful connection. I would argue therefore from a designer’s perspective we need to embed sociability into everything, from the buildings we design to the software code we write, the processes we create, the business and organisational models we conceive, the governmental institutions we create and the means by which those institutions operate. The multidimensionality of humanity needs to be coded into the fabric of all those things. Embedded sociability must be something that we all sign up to and be conscious of. We need to migrate the silos in organisations, where people feel they are just component parts in a machine, and provide them with opportunities to express themselves and feel they’re part of a bigger whole. We need to provide a sense of an open learning environment, where people can learn the things that are important to them, to enable people to find joy in what they do. We need to evolve how we work, and in so doing evolve the institutions and organisations that we commit to every day of our lives.
Carl Jung made the observation that ‘I’ needs ‘We’ to truly be ‘I’, by which he meant that it is through our connectedness, and the meaning that we make through each other, that we find a sustainable model for humanity. Human identity is created through co-created narrative, the bonds created through deep connections we make when we act collectively as meaningful members of a wider group. This mechanism is a vital component part for the construction of identity and healthy societies. Without it we become like dead leaves falling from autumnal trees. This is our DNA, the fundamental needs of our nature; our bodies, minds and souls are designed to work collectively
For too long our world has operated on a high level of ‘I’ and not of ‘We’ – cohesion is lost both within the commercial and civic spaces we inhabit as a consequence. Understanding participation means understanding that economic and commercial life can be and must be richer than a series of purely financial transactions, where we are all co-actors and co-creators in knowledge and information exchange, commercial exchange. A moral economy is defined largely in part by our social connections and our broader humanity. We seek joyful communities, why can’t we, you and I get up on a Monday morning to do the work we ‘want to do’ as opposed to the work we must?
Participatory cultures are built upon trust; cultures, networks and organisations built on trust are more resilient. Trust also demands transparency. One of the defining features of a world defined by participatory cultures is its demand for transparency; without transparency there can be no trust. In this world we must acknowledge and accommodate communities of practice, interest and passion in a variety of ways. Therefore, we must ask ourselves how do we attract and engage people into communities and create positive outcomes for all?
Understanding participatory cultures requires us to think about creative leadership: bottom-up or top-down? Can a leader inspire people to give their creative best, cooperatively? The question then arises how do we become realistic leaders of people who are; able to take responsibility and authorship to lead people into the future, as it emerges; capable of designing conversations and situations that foster effective stewardship of teams and organisations; able to prepare people and environments to absorb the dynamics of non-routinely changing situations; use an appreciative focus on lessons learned from unexpected drawbacks, while focusing on opportunities to make a difference, rather than targets? And that creative leadership is defined by creating narrative leadership rather than operating in broadcast mode – one could equally ask the same question of any part of an organisation, commercial or otherwise.
Quicker, leaner, better, sustainable
Participatory cultures enable us to get stuff done faster, in understanding how high levels of participation inspired by the high motivation of many people, sometimes dispersed, but also connected to each other, can rapidly foreshorten the time in delivering desired goals. We have an alternate process available to us which can additionally significantly reduce costs. Harnessing the power of participatory cultures can do some wonderful things. And participatory culture can unleash the collective wisdom, and from large bodies of people; as the old adage goes, sharing information is power. A better world is shaped by what I + We share.
Alan Moore, Cambridge 2011
Alan Moore is the author of No Straight Lines: Making Sense of Our Non-linear World and founder of SMLXL, a strategy consultancy advicing some of the worlds larges organizations in how to improve their culture, such as HP, Sony, CocaCola, Walt Disney & H&M. He is an expert in turning complex situations into actionable guidelines – and is a rare contributor at both Cambridge & Oxford University. In 5 tailored blog posts to Innovation Lab – Alan advices on how to strive in complexity.
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