When I did an MBA ten years ago, Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline was a set text. It is probably that book, along with Arie de Geus’ The Living Company, that most inspired my interest in why organisations behave the way they do, and the importance of good leadership. Organisations can be designed and managed in a way that makes them vital and energised, or they can be over-managed and over-designed to death.

So, it was a real pleasure to be invited to speak to members of SOL-UK, the UK chapter of the organisation that Senge himself founded in the late 1990s. I was looking forward to meeting a crowd of people who’d been equally excited by the ideas of Senge, de Geus and other champions of what is loosely termed distributed leadership – and who were equally interested in the significance of these ideas in relation to Web 2.0.

Key behaviours

The seminar took place last Wednesday at One Alfred Place and lived up to its promise. The event was sold out, and the conference room packed.  We also had a virtual audience, thanks to the handful of attendees who were tweeting and blogging through the event – special thanks to Stephen Cribbett and David Wilcox for their updates. We even had a tweet from Craig Newmark in San Francisco just seconds after his leadership style was being discussed – and I’d been talking about what a good listener he was!

This being the first time I’d presented ideas from Monkeys with Typewriters, I was feeling my way a bit. I tried to keep the slides as simple as possible, so they were basically an overview of the six key behaviours I’d identified in my 12-18 months of dedicated research. These six behaviours (or attributes) are the ones that seemed most present/ obvious in both people’s approaches to social media and in the organisations which were embracing what we can term a “Web 2.0” ethos, or approach. The six behaviours are: co-creation, passion, learning, openness, listening and generosity.


It was great to be in a room where people seemed to pick up on ideas eagerly and in a critical but constructive way. The audience was diverse in terms of technological knowhow – some people confessed to avoiding social networks like the plague, or simply coming along because they were curious about social media but had never used it at work, others were ICT careerists with backgrounds at companies like IBM and HP.

The chapter entitled “Co-creation” had started out as “Metanoia” (Peter Senge’s term for the heightened state of creativity achieved by a group or team working together in an effective, efficient, intellectually-charged manner). When I mentioned that I eventually ditched that title as it turned out that Senge’s interpretation of metanoia was rather different to the standard definition, which has overly-religious connotations of salvation and repentance, it was good to see few heads nodding sagely.

Social leadership

Not surprisingly, it was the chapter on “Learning” that caused the most contention, with one attendee observing that the organisational adoption of social tools such as wikis, tagging and social bookmarking enabled not so much “learning” as simple communication – surely the term “learning” should be reserved for a deeper kind of understanding, one which involved some kind of significant psychological realisation, acknowledgement and development? Another attendee referred to Otto Scharmer’s work around “presencing” as an illustration of this type of process.

Of course, I firmly believe that social media can help encourage learning on a deep level throughout organisations. However, adoption of these technologies is just one part of the process. It is only when these new digital tools are combined with a distributed approach to leadership, enlightened management and flexible structure that we can really make a breakthrough.

Thanks SOL-UK for inviting me along – I’m enjoying the conversation!

The impact of social media on people, society and culture

Photo: Caro Wallis

Jemima Gibbons

Social media consultant and author of Monkeys with Typewriters (featured by BBC Radio 5 and the London Evening Standard). Get your social marketing up and running with my Social Media Launch Pack!

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