Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The New Norm

Around half the world’s people will imminently be connected via the Internet and the pace of connectivity is rising exponentially. If Michel Foucault is right that knowledge equals power, then the Internet is the ultimate power distributor. This is the new norm.

I have written a new paper to explore some of the key facets of our new norm within which our economies and society exist.

The paper presents a set of emerging leadership techniques critical to embrace the new norm, and 5 new questions to help re-frame organisational strategy and take new action.

I hope you find it an interesting read, and as ever, comments are highly valued.

The New Norm.pdf

A word of acknowledgement - the paper brings together a number of aspects of work which have been on-going for some time, and with that the influences of many collaborators, for which I remain grateful. In addition, I am grateful for the input of David Flint and Huub Stiekema to the paper.


  1. Interesting article. Some thoughts on the small and large organization, human systems, which are prompted by your article. Also how the small and large are manifest within a paradigm shift.

    There are significant tensions in undertaking events, such as managing, communicating, planning, supporting, and lots of other doing and infrastructural things, for large groups. There is the tension of the new and the old ways of doing things. Trust in the certainty of the old predictable measurable quantifiable ways, insecurity (mistrust) in the new.

    One of the biggest tensions is that between standardization, on which the internet infrastructure depends, and adaptation, modification, creativity, change which lead to paradigm shifts. So just as the new communication medium of the internet has produced a new mechanism for human system development it also will inevitably move toward the standardization of human endeavor. Therefore as the agricultural revolution replaced hunter gathering, so the industrial revolution replaced agriculture and the information revolution replaces industry.

    As we struggle toward finding ways, and allowing ways, of doing things, with this new mechanism for human system development it is inevitable the information paradigm shift will be replaced by yet another human system revolution. These human system revolutions appear to be accelerating in their speed of development. Hunter gathering was around for millions of years, agriculture for thousands of years, industry hundreds of years, information systems and the internet tens of years. All also are dependent and upon the ones that preceded it. The next human system revolution? Clearly genetic manipulation of the ecosystem is a major contender. Energy production could be another revolution in human system development i.e. portable personal fusion or some other unthought-of mechanism dependent on a genetic revolution capability that precede it.

    An interesting aspect of all these revolutions is that human systems that depend on them also depend on ever increasing specialization. All have freed individual humans toward increasing individual freedom while at the same time increased our dependency on one another and our particular specialization niche within the newly revolutionized human ecosystem. All also lead to increased complexity and fragility in the human systems that rely on each particular level of human system revolution. Each also provides ever increasing challenges to the management of the global ecosystem within which they function and upon which all are dependent.

    All also tend toward a movement from the individual small and bespoke, boutique, independent, diverse to the group large, standardized, interdependent, generic, as the revolution moves forward and gains hold in the fabric of the current human system paradigm. For as lessons are learnt in and ways of doing things in the new human system state so these are collected together and used to produce organizations (humans systems) which are no longer able to operate in the small. Also interesting too that the move toward the large always contains within it the precursor environment for the development of the next human system revolutionary paradigm shift, furthermore which breaks the ability of previous behemoth human systems to function in the newly revolutionized human system ecosystem paradigm.

    Examples of movement of small to large might for agriculture be, garden plot to small holding to farm to mono agriculture.

    Examples of movement of small to large might for industry be, garage/garden shed to workshop to small factory to corporate multinational.

    Question. Will the information revolution move in this direction? I suspect so.

    Interesting too that as the revolution proceeds the state of the art does also. So much so that what was once possible with a garden plot or garage as the state of the art improves is no longer. See Thomas Malthus and feeding the world for agriculture, Henry Ford and Toyota for industrialization, and Google for the information age.

  2. Some further thoughts on paradigm shifts and new norms.

    The nature of human system paradigm shift through revolution in knowledge conceptualization and subsequent application seems to move from the small bespoke independent ‘cottage industry’ to the large generic interdependent global multinational. This appears to have happened with each past human system revolutionary change, agricultural, industrial. Will this also hold true for information, genetic, energy, revolutions. Each subsequent revolution having a dependency upon those that have preceded it and in turn changing the way of doing things in the preceding steps capabilities in a continuous feedback loop.

    The nature of technological advancement that each revolution brings appears to provide new unexpected and unplanned avenues for human system development particularly in relation to human system interaction, including communication, information interchange and trade. The new ways of doing things and, interacting, being supported by the technological advancement of the paradigm shift produces the new norm.

    So the new norm appears to be both the infrastructure provided by the new technological revolution, resting upon past revolutionary human system changes, and the new ways of interacting between human systems that new technology provides. Past precedent would seem to indicate that with each new norm individual freedoms increase at the expense of interdependency between individuals and increased fragility and complexity in the extended encapsulating ecosystem. Each individual being a human system (holon) unto itself and part of other human systems (holons) (holon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holon_(philosophy) ).

    Furthermore with the creation of a new norm (human system revolution/technology paradigm shift) there is a destruction of some of the holons (human systems) that flourished in the norm it superseded but are not fit (Darwinian natural selection) of coping/competing in the new norm. A transition period where there is an adapt to fit into new norm by existing human systems and a growth surge of newly formed human system that develop specifically because the new norm environment exists.

    Are we currently in the start, middle, end of such a transitionary period. How long to existing human system have to adapt to the new norm before they are outcompeted by the human systems tailored for this new environment?

    As the state of the art changes what proportion of those first new human system entities are hamstrung by being the first at the bleeding edge and now find themselves with obsolete technology and processes? They don’t for example have the depth of resources to fall back on during strains/shocks/readjustments to the new norm older human systems, from the superseded norm having successfully adapted to the new norm, might have.

    Those human systems, new and successful adoptees’, that thrive in the new information norm will have found the balance between the small adaptive v large standardized organizational new norm adoption pattern. Will it be the case that as we near the end of the trasitionary period into the new norm, whenever that might be, that large human systems will again start to dominate as the new norm becomes standardized and power is centralized into those human systems (holons) that have a competitive advantage in the ecosystem/environment of the new norm.

  3. Will the competitive advantage be those new, and older successfully adapted, human systems that inhabit the new norm be those that have the capability to transform the content made available by the information revolution? Those human systems providing value, to their and other holons value and extended value chains, by transforming the information of the information revolution into knowledge, potentially also, elusively, wisdom. Offering these through, course and fine grained, business and technology, services through the established distribution channels of the superseded norm and those distribution channels made available via the new norm.

    Some further thoughts regarding changes in the nature of the human system value chain, extended value chain and the long tail to follow.

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  5. The new norm. It's all gone global. A brief, and incomplete, list of global interconnectivity and interdependency.

    Environment - Global warming, water security, desertification,

    Banking and financial services - credit crunch, Dotcom bubble burst,

    Multinational Industries (mergers & aquisitions) - Cadbury/Kraft, Mittal Steel,

    Health - Swine flu, Aids, global donor market (legal and otherwise)

    Food security - the 'free market' trading of basic food commodities (rice, wheat, soya) bringing real shortages in once self sufficient communities.

    Music - WWOZ, world music (mashup music) ,

    Travel - porous borders, package holidays, migration.

    Social mashups - London, New York, Sydney, from porous borders and migration. Economic, war, educational.

    Education - University braded franchises oversees (Harvard, Cambridge, ), overseas students , international education standards (baccalaureate, ‘O’ Level)

    Global brands – Kellog’s, Coke, Nestle, The Beatles, …

    Human Reproduction- global genetic mashup see London, New York, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, Cape Town, Hong Kong, . Italian and Spanish fertility clinics servicing English women, international adoption (market) of children, international surrogacy,

    Genetics (Science) - global food security,

    Energy - Oil (see war history of middle east and western involvement)

    Global Elite Culture - Prada, Vogue, Ferrari, Economist (weekly newspaper),

    Global Common Culture - Football (soccer), Cricket, Xtreme sports, Olimpics,

    Multiple communication channels – Terrestrial analog tv , terrestrial digital tv, satellite tv, digital radio, analog radio, online radio, online television, online media, mobile telephony, twitter, social networking, internet portals (hotmail, google, yahoo), online ‘free’ email, …

    Global celebrity – Mohammed Ali, Pele, John Lennon, Yusuf Olatunji, Bob Marley, Madona, Brangelina, David and Victoria Beckham, Satchmo, …

    Others ...

    Global Media – BBC, WWOZ, Murdock Media,

    24 hour news – driving local and global political agenda. BBC world news television, BBC world service radio, FOX news, CNS, Al Arabia, Al Jazeera,

    Global institutions – UN, World Bank, EEC, Merco Sur, NATO, WTO, EAEC, ASEAN, OPEC …

    Global politics and politicians - see list above for policy requirements and Al Gore, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Fidel Castro, Aung San Suu Kyi,

    All this interconnectivity, interdependence, interrelationships – internationalism – would seem to point to a need for a coordinated approach across dissolving national, social, political, economic, educational, …, borders.

  6. For a view of how the European Union is starting to deal with some of the issues (outlined above) of globalization and interdependency in the information age new norm please see the Malmo declaration.

    2000 http://www.unep.org/malmo/malmo_ministerial.htm

    2009 http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/egovernment/conferences/malmo_2009/index_en.htm

  7. Please also see this report - A Green Knowledge Society: An ICT policy agenda to 2015 for Europe’s future knowledge society - which can be found here; http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/eeurope/i2010/greenknowledgesociety.pdf

  8. Interesting reassessment of Google approach to China policy over internet content and implications of trust in global cyber piracy and values in freedom of speech between US/China in hacking event by China.


  9. Please see the following paper which considers management systems in relation to increasing complexity and interactions and interdependencies between human systems (organisations).