Blurred Lines

Posted: September 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

I know we hear it a lot but to some people the VUCA world (Volatile etc.) is still news.  That’s fine, it’s only a term.  And there is a lot of hype out there about the most profound changes etc.  Lots of it over-excited, consultant-fuelled nonsense.  I’ve been known to get carried away by it all too.

We are though, seeing something really different popping up everyday.  

Just take a look at the Game Changers 500 at the companies who have something about them to qualify as a “game changer”.  Again, some will roll their eyes at the hipster label but there are companies like Patagonia, Mind Valley, Just Giving, Toms, – who stand for something different.

I’ve also waxed lyrical about the WorldBlu certified companies like Podio, WD-40, Menlo Innovations, Votenet, Dreamhost, NRI Distribution and Geonetric.

I’ve also extolled the virtues of Buurtzorg, FAVI and ESBZ featured in Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations book/work.

I see new models, ways and hope in the creation of a better working proposition for us all.  I admire people who stand out and do things that differently, humanely.

I also see this coming together of artistic qualities in people; and the science of the way we behave; do our best and deliver with great impact.

I’m reading Salim Ismail’s “Exponential Organisations” book and like Laloux’s work, it’s got me buzzing.  Buzzing about this blurring of the previously hard-drawn lines of work and systems at work.

I get a rush of eagerness every time I explore the wirearchy concept of Jon Husband and the discovery of need in conversation with Tom Nixon.  I get a surge of positivity when I connect with Amanda Sterling, Richard Westney and Megan Borrie over in New Zealand about the pioneering thinking going on down under.  I get a ding in my mind when I read Dustin Moskovitz’s blogs about work and life and his great take on people/technology interplay through his Asana product.

Because very little is straight, linear, predictable and governable any more.  Maybe it never was and we were under an illusion that control was to be had.  Surfing analogies aplenty, we’re just making the most out of the waves of change that are coming our way,

Lines are blurred.  The road ahead is foggy.  Not so much here’s the light at the end of the tunnel but look at the constellation of stars lighting up our night sky of possibilities.


Lines are blurred, blurring and may not even be lines anymore.  Just a mass of fibre-optic interconnectedness.

Let’s take one aspect of corporate life: learning at work.  This was discussed yesterday at a CIPD Leaders in Learning event where we were debating and reviewing the digital future of learning.

So we all use digital technology to do a lot of what we consider normal life.  Banking; booking holidays; buying goods and services; connecting with people; sharing information; getting the news; entertainment and research.

When we say digital to some people that means a platform and a device.  Well yes. but this “being digital” thing is kicked around and talked about like big data, like employee engagement, like productivity, like generational stereotypes and like motivation techniques.

Digital learning is (IMHO) about the (quite literal) rewiring of a previously very analogue, organic practice.  

Instead of reading a book made from pulped trees and ink bound in plastic coating, we consume the same content on a device from a stored repository somewhere we don’t need to physically go.  We watch great speeches not in person in the room, but via a recorded, wrapped and edited file made up of 1s and 0s.  We find something out using an information technology programme based on word related look-ups and acquired patterns to retrieve information from anywhere in the world.

As we get more digital in our learning habits, we also see no distinction between reading something previously labelled “internal communications” and something labelled “learning and development material”.  That’s not a bad thing.  If we learn from it, then that’s a great outcome when applied to something we do, say or believe in.

Blurred lines.

So we have made digital learning “a thing” and I think that’s to distinguish it from its analogue practices.  And that may help or hinder us in the pursuit of helping people use what’s around them for their better and everyone else’s better.

Digital learning is now about learner experience; contextualisation; relevance; at the right time; shareable; emergent; iterative; live; dynamic; random; massive; micro; pacey; reflective.

Blurred lines.

Digital learning; internal comms; PR; film; art; theatre; improvisation; design; facilitation; innovation – these are all interconnected.  Distinct but related.

Blurred lines.

In our need to codify we run the risk of attaching labels which confuse, scare, detract and also excite, invigorate and inspire people.

Blurred lines.

People being recruited to a job profile.  A performance management agreement is set up.  Person does loads of amazing work – just happens to look very little like the bland job role they were recruited to and the performance objectives all changed as work shifted and new clients came in etc.  Lines drawn, became blurred.  It happens.  They blur.  Deal with it.

We might as well just face it: it’s a multi-disciplinary world we’re in.  Maybe always have been.  We were content with our lines and our order and our boxes.

Now we seem malcontent with them and are eager for the fuzziness, the imperfect, the adaptive.

I think I’m resplendent in there being less strict categorisation and more ambiguity in the world.  Oops I slipped in a VUCA-ism.  Sorry.

I think my major point here is we ought to spend less time on over-categorisation and more on “what do I need that’s going to work for me, here, with these things, to do something better”?

If I need a reflective and calm facilitator for an event I might find someone who’s more a coach than a stage jockey.  They are categorised as a coach yet I’d need them to coach a group of people so won’t go for the category “facilitator”.

Blurred lines

An adjacent point is that when things are categorised, it can cause people to dislike it.  Fine.  You don’t like the category – and that’s your choice: so you can let the friction / grate of the categorisation put you off something that may or may not be fab or ignore the categorisation and let the thing into your world.  You may not make the category up, and may dislike the thing because it’s in a category but that doesn’t mean you have to cast it aside simply because it’s categorised by someone, somewhere.

Take disruption.  Some people hate it.  I actually like it.  In my world, it means being different; displacing something tired and less useful with something fresh and more useful.  It’s a categorised word.  Hipster, trendy, overused and so on.  My take on it, my use of it and my distinction of it works for me.  Yes it’s blurred by (even tainted by) others but I know what it means to me and I’m undeterred by others’ categorisation of disruption as a “fad”.

The only category I do like being in, is the one marked learner.  I’m a forever learner.  No lines or blurring required.  

The one skill to rule them all.  

Because everyone deserves better learning.


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