“The task now is to discover how far they can take us.”

Where are you heading?

Where are you heading?

We were sitting across the table at a cafe, talking about our current projects, when she asked me one of those easy-to-ask, hard-to-answer questions:

“What’s your mission?”

I talked about making work more effective and fulfilling at my firm and yet, even as I was saying the words, I realized they weren’t enough. They might describe my current work, but is that it? Is that all there is?

This I Believe

Among people who are trying to change their companies, there’s usually a feeling that runs deeper. They’re not just trying to improve a bank or a pharmaceutical company, they’re trying to improve people’s lives. Seeking to restore fairness, diversity, and equality. Hoping to make the world a better place.

If that sounds idealistic, it’s because it is. It’s why collaboration conferences can feel more like religious revivals (or what I imagine those to be like) than groups talking about corporate initiatives, change management, and technology. There’s this collective sense of “We’re on a mission.”

But what mission exactly? In my first post, “This I Believe”, I included ideas about fulfillment and humanizing work, but I’ve struggled to describe the broader sense of purpose that I’ve been feeling.

“I’m a Peer Progressive”

I found the words I was looking for in “Future Perfect”, a book by Steven Johnson (who also wrote “Where Good Ideas Come From” among others). He uses the phrase “peer progressive” to describe people using the power of networks – “webs of human collaboration and exchange” – to drive positive change, including social change. Progress is created by the combination of people networks and by the Internet, which continually “lowers the costs for creating and sharing information.”

“To be a peer progressive, then, is to believe that the key to continued progress lies in building peer networks in as many regions of modern life as possible: in education, health care, city neighborhoods, private corporations, and government agencies.

What peer progressives want to see is fundamental change in the social architecture of those institutions, not just a Web strategy.”

He describes a wide range of current examples and future possibilities – from finding and fixing problems to funding innovation; from reducing traffic to reinventing elections. And he purposefully chose such a broad array of examples to show just how many areas of our lives could be rethought and reworked.

“And that is ultimately what being a peer progressive is all about: the belief that new institutions and new social architectures are now available to us in a way that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, and that our continued progress as a society will come from adopting those institutions in as many facets of modern life as possible.”

First Things First

Last week’s post about the difficulties of changing any emergent system was “sobering” and even “depressing” to several people. But, I’m actually more optimistic than ever. While each individual’s attempts may be daunting, even quixotic, I am buoyed by the overall power and potential of peer progressives as a group.

“This is why it is such an interesting and encouraging time to build on these values. We have a theory of peer networks. We have the practice of building them. And we have results. We know that peer networks can work in the real world. The task now is to discover how far they can take us.”

And so, that’s my mission: to apply the theory and practice of peer networks to make the world better.

My particular starting point is inside one large corporation trying to make work there more effective and fulfilling. Then, I hope to do more, to build on that learning – the successes and the failures – to develop other peer networks and “discover how far they can take us”.


About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
This entry was posted in Management, Self awareness and improvement, Social Business, Social Entrepreneurship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “The task now is to discover how far they can take us.”

  1. gamblesam says:

    John this is great. Technology has done much to erode community and equality. We now have the opportunity to recapture and even improve the situation.
    Also I am hopeful that we’ll ultimately find better ways than money to “keep score”.

  2. Rob says:

    John, I also recently finished reading Future Perfect and also attended a talk by the author. I came to the same conclusion as you. I think the book perfectly sums up what I’m looking to do. Doing this work inside a corporation is only the beginning. Ultimately, there is a greater purpose to this with the possible end states so well described in the book….as idealistic as that may sound.

  3. workdayweb says:

    You’re ever humble John. You’re already doing much more than one company and have been for a long time now.

    Agree about the conference feeling too. Those who “believe” need that “revival” because of your last post. Odd that (I expect) many of us are quite scientific folk yet our chosen pursuit is very belief and faith based – faith in the fundamental good will of others and the belief that if we help everyone harness that, everyone will benefit.

    Or, now that the digital collaboration industry has matured enough that there is good research and metrics around, faith that this more scientific approach will win over the hardest sceptics and belief that we’re the ones to help or coordinate that shift.

    Here’s to knowing that we’re making positive progress in the lives of our peers by making simple, effective and lasting changes to aspects of their work day within our sphere of influence. That keeps me going each day despite the oppressive size of the task. Knowing others are doing the same definitely helps.

    Thanks again for all that you share here John.

    • John Stepper says:

      I love this comment, Dave.

      Such writing!

      “faith in the fundamental good will of others and the belief that if we help everyone harness that, everyone will benefit”

      I hope you find the time to write more. I’d love to read it and share it. (And thank you for your kind words. I’m trying. :-))

      • Irene says:

        I have to say thank you too. I’m not in a big corporation, but I am in a company where things are changing at lightning speed, where there are some very set ideas about management and employee relationships, and personnally, where I’m searching for a mission of my own. Your blog has helped me stay in the game. I learn, I pass on, I come back for more. I feel relief to know that I’m not alone in my struggles at work (and at home!). I find words that encourage those me, and those around me. I find perspective when so many “trees” are crowding around my eyes that I can’t see my path through the proverbial forest. You are making a difference.

  4. “Changing the world… one cube at a time.” First blog post in the 2.0 Adoption Council, 6/2009. xoxo, S.

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