Paradigm Next and the Intersection

Gibran Rivera is Senior Associate of the Interaction Institute for Social Change where he focuses on the development of decentralized organizations and the application of network theory and emergence to the work of social change. He is a Web of Change 10:10 anchor and host. In this reflection, he expands on themes he will discuss during the gathering.

I like the way Clay Shirky is helping to frame the current paradigm shift comparing the advent of social technologies to the introduction of the printing press. The power to print was so disruptive that 200 years of chaos ensued as structures of power were forced to struggle to completely reinvent themselves. Imagine what we can do with the power to connect.

The fact that we have entered such a moment makes itself more and more evident as I go about my work in leadership and organizational development. Last year at Web of Change I was particularly struck by a conversation among tech consultants discussing how often they are called to help with technology needs but end up having to do organizational development work.

Too many organizations are still hoping to use social technology as an overlay, a way to do what they have always done – but better. My observation is that organizations and networks are more likely to thrive when they dissuade themselves of their hope to remain unchanged. Everything is changing and it no longer makes sense to try and play the same game better. Today’s winners change the game.

While it pains me to observe the way well established players – good people with a history of great work – keep trying to stick to their old formula for success, it is a real thrill to meet the people who are striving to define change. Something about this paradigm shift – and the nature of social technologies – seems to be incredibly consonant with the highest values held by those of us who are doing the work of social change. Emergent technologies challenge hierarchy and reward cooperation, they encourage the free flow of information and scoff of “intellectual protection.” This is a world where people thrive by promoting good people, and people are promoted when they become known for making good gifts.   This is all to our benefit. These are the values we have been wanting to observe.

I am noticing a momentous generational transition in the work of social change, and an incredible willingness to invent and experiment with new things that just might work. Much of the new technology has served and will continue to help in the influence of policy.  But what I find most exciting is the way that new ways of working and collaborating are exposing the inherent inefficiencies in the way we currently govern ourselves. I like that more and more of us are forced to notice that the pace of change in our current structures is no longer tenable. 

I like that we have to face this terrifying frustration at the stuckness of our power structures even as we start to sense how much easier it is to build community across boundaries of time and space. Or better yet, people are learning how to build community within their locality with more power to remain connected to people engaged in other such experiments across many localities. We will continue to get better at pushing the existing power structures, but my hope is that we will simultaneously continue to excel at the work of inventing new structures, learning from each other and pushing each other along  I care deeply about finding new ways of being-with.

I find myself privileged to be working at the intersection. I love it when I’m called to support the leadership and organizational development of people who want to do something else, instead of more of the same. I appreciate the way in which younger people of color are stepping into this mix. We find little to protect within the way things have been done. Dominant structures have failed to work for us, and so we are ready to do something new. 

We are connected to communities that have had to survive in the context of struggle, and communities that manage to thrive in the context of such struggle. We'll bring a particular lens to this current paradigm shift.  We are grounded in a front line experience and we are also open to connect with people from different places who are leading a different edge. The echo-chamber is breaking down and a cacophony of voices can be heard – we are often saying different things, and we are doing this different ways, but it’s all part of the same shift.  Hope in this moment is found as more and more intersectional spaces are convened, hosted and upheld – it is these spaces, with the flavors of this mix, that we are cooking up a new world – Web of Change is such a space.

Recommended reading in advance of the gathering:

Theory U by Otto Scharmer

Change by Design by Tom Brown

The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block

Commonwealth by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

Seed to Harvest by Octavia Butler