‘We need a new language for the collaborative age’

Just realized that I never shared with you an article that was commissioned for, and published in the March 2013 issue of Wired (physical) magazine.

Wired Magazine Article PictureLanguage encodes our thinking. To write a new future, we need to use a new language. Let’s stop focusing on the overly narrow term “social media”. Let’s simply be social.

Instead of capturing value, let’s find new ways of creating value, together.

Think of collaborators as those you work with. Let’s have co-creators design what to build. Let’s ask communities to create scale. And, when we embed this new social language — words such as collaboration and purpose and community — into our discussions, value creation will flow. Relationships are to the social era, what efficiency was to the industrial era. And we all remember what relationships are built on, don’t we? Trust. After decades of building business on capital, oil, land and silicon, trust will be our foundation for what we create next.


Get the full article by going here: http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2013/03/ideas-bank/we-need-a-new-language-for-the-collaborative-age

9 Replies

  1. Hi Nilofer, I love how you think. 🙂 It’s absolutely true that language encodes our thinking and mutual trust is a key ingredient (along with mutual respect) in effective collaborations.

    So how is language shifted and trust created? It’s NOT from exhorting others to trust and collaborate (“C’mon people. If we could all just trust and collaborate, all of our problems would be solved!” Snort.).

    It’s also NOT from creating a new language alone* (Buckminster Fuller did an awesome job of defining “synergy” for the world but how many institutions do you know that talk about “winning through synergy” while actually flailing through incompetence? Quite a number.)

    Instead, trust and collaboration need to be thought of as a byproduct of the system itself. That is, if the system is designed and reinforced in the right way, then trust and collaboration will naturally happen.

    There are four core elements that need to be in place for any system to support high collaboration. Here’s what each of the four are and how language, as you point out, plays a critical role in each: (You can learn more about each of these elements in “The Physics of Executing Fast” http://organizationalphysics.com/2011/12/13/the-physics-of-executing-fast/)

    Vision and Values. If there’s a true conflict of vision (where we want to go) and values (how we agree to behave) then no trust and collaboration is possible. The role of language here is to define the current reality, inspire a future vision, and articulate what’s acceptable and desired behavior and what is not. BTW, this is where Nilofer really shines — using language as a change agent is in articulating what’s possible — new paradigms — to innovators and early adopters who pick up the call and galvanize support. Which is exactly what she’s doing. 🙂

    Structure. Structure is about where the authority within the system resides. And yes, even in the most laissez-faire, flat hierarchy, authority still exists. Good systems have good structures that support the strategy. Language here is about defining what that structure is and why it’s important to have such a structure (much as the founders of the US designed a structure that separates the three branches of government)

    Process. Process is about how decisions get made and implemented within the system. Language here is about understanding terms and definitions. If there’s a breakdown in mutual understanding of the language, then little to no progress can be made. For example, in 2012, the most common terms searched for at Merriam Webster dictionary were “captialism” and “socialism.” Go figure.

    People. People are simultaneously the most and least important element in the system. They are the most important (especially leaders) because it is they who design and reinforce the system. People are the least important because no one operates independently from his or her environment. If the system is well designed, then people are going to evolve and operate at their full potential. The corollary is that if the system is poorly designed, then even the most high-potential people are going to show up as poor performers/bad apples/etc.. Language here is ultimately about the unfettered expression of ideas, cultural stories about where we came from and our innate nature, and the exploration of what’s possible.

    I’m sorry that this response is longer than the post itself 🙂 and I offer it up in the spirit of mutual understanding and future collaboration on our small blue planet. Peace.

    1. Lex –
      What a fabulous commentary. Off to a meeting so will write more but wanted to make it public right away and hope others build on your thoughts also.

    2. Hi Lex,

      I’d like to build on your observation.

      In archetypal (depth psychology) language, the 4 systems you mentioned are: Air (vision – learning), fire (processes – achievement), water (people – belonging) and earth (structure – stability)

      Any organizational dynamic can be explained directly or by the interaction of any of these 4 elements + ether (the meaning)

      Isn’t it ironic that our ancestors were much more systems thinkers than we are? Also, there language was much deeper than ours.

      1. Hi Soydanbay, That’s awesome. I wasn’t aware of that. In my work at Organizational Physics I use “modern” terms that are eerily similar to what you describe as archetypal language.

        To deepen the discussion even a bit further, here’s how the language of systems thinking seems to tie into the language of depth psychology.

        There’s a simple truth about behavior and language. Every system (i.e., a person, family, company, country, etc.) must do four things: It must shape and respond to its environment and it must do so as a whole organism including the parts and sub-parts.

        These parameters explain four primary forces that operate within every system and how these forces give rise to individual and collective behavior. These are called the Producing, Stabilizing, Innovating, and Unifying forces and they tie into the Four Elements like this: The Producing Force (Fire, transformation, achievement). The Stabilizing Force (Earth, structure, control, stability). The Innovating Force (Air, vision, entrepreneurship). The Unifying Force (Water, harmony, coalescence).

        Here’s where the Four Forces get really interesting when it comes to language itself. Each of us has a “style” or a collection of choices and tendencies that flow through our life. This style is some unique combination of the Producing, Stabilizing, Innovating, and Unifying forces. Here are some examples:

        When a person exhibits a high Producing force their perspective and language is about WHAT to do now.

        When a person exhibits a high Stabilizing force their perspective and language is about HOW to do it right.

        When a person exhibits a high Innovating force, their perspective and language is about WHY NOT? doing it a new and creative/better way.

        When a person exhibits a high Unifying force, their perspective and language s about WHO is involved and the dynamics of the group.

        Each of these styles moves at a different pace, focus, time-frame and has different strengths and weaknesses.

        I’m realizing that if I try to expand upon this more right now that I’ll end up writing a book about it (which I’ve done already.) But here’s the short course: If anyone is interested, here’s the “World’s Fastest Personality Test” that will give some rich insights into how a person thinks, acts, and speaks because of their dominant style: http://www.organizationalphysics.com/blog


        1. Lex –
          Fantastic way of looking at the forces and what complimentary ones are needed on any team to innovate.
          Curious… which one are you?

        2. Excellent Lex!

          Your ideas are perfectly aligned with the archetypal POV, which should be read only metaphorically.

          To be complete, the archetypal fifth element, ether, is the original one. It is the void. The space. The gravity. The invisible. Out of ether comes the four elements. In our case ether is the “why” question. It is the purpose and meaning.

    1. When the power concept shifts from “power over” to “power with” two key changes are happening that affects the individual.

      – Who you know / work with really matters. Not their title but the ability to create value together.
      – When power was assigned from the outside world (based on others’ opinions or on status), then it is power that can also be taken away by that world. That means that individuals have to be able to grant themselves agency — learning and naming the onlyness factors — in doing so, you give yourselves a power that cannot be taken back.

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