Small people loosely joined

Apologies to David Weinberger for mangling his “Small pieces loosely joined” description of the internet but I have been meaning to post for a while about the “people power” aspects of the web.

Lots of things have come together to trigger this post so bear with me as I go through them: 

  • People’s inclination to describe the business use of social tools as “bottom up”. I always resist these attempts, preferring to argue that they are of as much interest to middle and senior people as those lower down the organisational ladder. Everyone has a need to communicate more effectively and everyone is a node in the network whatever their hierarchical status.
  • The use of the word social in social media is always problematic and makes people jumpy especially when it is used in conjunction with business. Americans seem particularly sensitive to this assuming some vague association with socialism or even worse communism!
  • Dave Snowden has over the years chided me for being anti organised religion while at the same time being evangelical for my own particular world vew. I counter this by saying that I don’t care what people think. I don’t want them to think what I think. I just want them think and to talk to each other about what they are thinking more than they do now on the assumption that if we all do that we will get somewhere better than where we are now.
  • Someone once described me as an organisational anarchist and while I was quietly chuffed at this, and while anarchism originally meant the ultimate in democracy, it still carries negative connotations for most.
  • Yesterday Sheryl Breuker wrote about the risks of those who she calls social media moguls getting too big for their boots (my phrase) and while I might not agree with all of her choices of examples I certainly agree with the risk.
  • Also yesterday at a conference I was speaking at Jonathan MacDonald coined the phrase involvisim and while I appreciate where he is coming from I don’t warm to the word. 

In fact I don’t warm to any of the “ism” words. Neither communism, socialism, anarchism nor libertarianism are right. There is something else going on here that is to early for an ism but that is really interesting. It is not grandiose enough to support an ism. It is about small people loosely joined. It is small and personal in essence but powerful in combination. It is not about people being insignificant but about being unassuming.It is not about being individualistic but about being loosely joined.

It is probably worth an ism but not just yet!


15 thoughts on “Small people loosely joined”

  1. George Siemens is an academic in the field of formal and informal learning who has been writing about a school of thought engendered by a term he coined several years back … connectivism (I’m guessing you may have tripped across it here or there ?)I like "small people loosely joined". I think it’s a clever and warm-hearted juxtaposition.I take it as written that we are all so small as to be essentially insignificant .. and yet we have so many ‘systems’ of behaviour that have encouraged us to want to acquire more or better self-esteem (or attention as an expert, etc.)


  2. Interesting take Jon. In fact I meant the opposite! Smallness is more a positive than a negative, more about humility than a sign of insignificance. It is our aspiration to be big, and sense of failure at not achieving that, that blinds us to our real power.


  3. Coining new isms always reminds me of John Cleese and his Miss Anne Elk – "my theory that belongs to me""Small people loosely joined" – that is the essence of organising dynamics and always was. Social and collaboration tools make visible connections that were previously hidden. I think these thechnologies reveal but do not change positional power hierachies.I need to think more about smallness being a positive. At the moment I don’t agree. It is still the ‘big’ people with presence who dominate conversations and get given credit for ideas, some of which may have been picked up from thoughtful ‘small people’. It is not usual to hear those ideas accredited.Andrew Keen recently commented that Twitter Lists would reveal a Pareto distribution of influence. I agree with that view. But I am open to changing my mind.


  4. I think that revealing positional power inevitably changes it.Part of Andrew Keen’s predicted manifestation of the Pareto principle will be down to the 80%’s inclination to lionise the 20% because we have trained them to respond to celebrity. Particularly ironic that it is Mr. Keen predicting it! 😉


  5. A beautiful post, Euan.I would suggest that while you rightfully reject ‘isms’ the forces you’re describing here match closest to anarchism which has always resisted being a clearly defined ism.I totally agree with your notion small being a positive but recognise (as do some of the above comments) that – sadly – there’s a distinct drive to use ‘social media’ to recreate the drive for popularity and mass reach which is so central to capitalism.How do we change this? I’m not entirely sure, but one thing I’m certain about is that by driving organisational change to shift the expectations and assumptions of people will be central.But will this happen through choice? Or will it take a bigger pressure? The recent collapse of the global financial industry which revealed the emptiness at the centre of our market-driven economy/society failed to change much (in fact, it had the opposite effect with the US’ SEC clamping down on social lending schemes operating in the US, such as Kiva or Zopa.Could climate change be the driver? Will be interesting to watch and wait. 🙂


  6. Re The irony of Mr Keen predicting Pareto – the irony did not escape me :-))I would love to think that revealing positional power changes it but I am still looking for evidence of that. What I see online instead is a reinforcing dynamic – someone influential picks up and comments on what another influential person has said and so it goes …


  7. Smallness is more a positive than a negative, more about humility than a sign of insignificance. It is our aspiration to be big, and sense of failure at not achieving that, that blinds us to our real power.I understand the distinction you make, but I do not see (or did not see) my use of the sense of "small" as negative or pejorative .. for me the qualifier of "essentially" in front of insignificant was straying into the realm of metaphysics. One person’s insignificance in the larger scheme of things whilst recognizing and forestalling desire for "bigness" is another person’s humility, I guess.


  8. This will be goofy, but then again I am often goofy."Experts to the left of us, experts to the right of us, and rarely shall they deign to greet .. the rest of us"


  9. Not sure is too early as exponential growth has created new methods of communication with far reaching implications for individuals and organisations. I really like "connectivism" although has been used used by George Siemens and Stephen Downes to describe interaction between technology and people.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s