On many blogs, and some websites, you might notice a segment off to the side with many different words displayed varying in type size and boldness. These are word clouds that give an indication of the prominence of certain words or tags on that site.
I have been building my own mental word cloud from speaker presentations at my executive peer group meetings and from continually scanning the Internet. My mental radar tends to pick up words that indicate changes in societal norms that affect organizations and how they operate internally, or interact with their external environment.
For example, about seven years ago I attended a small conference of early pioneers in what was then being called video blogging during a blizzard in New York City. Some of the founders of the Vimeo.com video sharing system where there and just starting to patch together an early version of the system. Interacting with the people involved in that conference and the related e-mail discussions made me aware of the emergence of the word authentic. It was very important for these video bloggers that their work be authentic to contrast with the corporate videos that were then the norm.
Use of that word has spread tremendously, and it has been used to contrast with official “propaganda” from businesses or government or the shallowness of political statements. Authentic and open often come together, or are expressed as transparency.
Growth, an always worshiped concept, is being questioned by the word sustainable. Now we might be more likely to hear discussion about sustainable growth, or growth may be put aside entirely and the question may be purely “is it sustainable?”
The question of growth is sometimes addressed in another form by asking is it scalable? Usually this applies to software and Internet services in terms of the number of users or the amount of data, or both. The scale of systems, and the number of people that can be accommodated, is stretching far beyond our previous limits. As an example, a recent experiment at Stanford University offered open access to an artificial intelligence course, which eventually had an enrollment of 140,000 people.
The concept of collaborative activities seems to have a steady and continuing impact on our expressions of how we should work together. The students of the Stanford course very quickly self-organized into many study groups using existing Internet services like Meetup.com and Facebook. Collaboration involves sharing information and expertise, which sometimes clashes with how we were molded in school. We could not share our answers or our homework because that was “cheating”.
Engagement is looking to replace the old process of buy-in. Engagement comes before the decisions are made, while buy-in is the process of selling a decision that has already been made, usually by an elite and relatively small group. And engagement is usually a collaborative activity that involves systems that must be scalable to accommodate larger groups of people than has been the industrial age norm. To have trust in such interactions there must be transparency and authenticity.
These changes threaten industrial age hierarchies. There is more need, and available systems to support, broad group conversation. This is particularly difficult for organizational hierarchies that look to have official positions and pronouncements. Using Facebook to have conversations with customers, while being authentic and not simply repeating the company position, can be very challenging and risky.
The Occupy Wall Street movement illustrated how some of these concepts have come together to affect societal expectations and norms.
Occupy Wall Street participants were questioned by traditional media to determine their positions and demands so that the media could test them to see if the public would buy-in, but there was no spokesperson and no position paper. There was a mismatch of expectations about industrial age processes versus emerging information age processes. Engagement via conversation was the norm, and not just locally, but on a global scale. This USA action is part of a global conversation that Time Magazine recognized this year with its “person of the year” cover story.
So, do any of these words appear in your personal word cloud? Do you think they have any lasting significance? Have you noticed any other words slipping into our global dialogue that indicate shifts in our thinking?
One word that I am watching is the concept of a curator as it is now being applied far beyond its normal usage in the art world. Let’s see if it becomes more prominent this year.