Sitting in my hotel room after a day of mad Twittering, I’ve been reflecting on Day One of The Global Summit on Social Responsibility. Today was a very engaging experience, and yet for me it raised many more questions than it answered. On some level, of course, I believe that was our purpose.
Today’s focus was discovery, and I think we found out quite a bit about where at least some leaders in the association community stand on the question of social responsibility. There is clearly enormous enthusiasm for some form of collective action and, from the very beginning of the day, collaboration was a key theme. Just about every group report that was made, either in DC or from the connected sites elsewhere, touched on the necessity of collaboration to tackle SR issues. There was also a special emphasis on how associations facilitate connection-building and can foster cooperation among stakeholders with divergent interests. Naturally, I am in basic agreement with all of these observations.
The unresolved question in my mind is how well our 20th century organizational capabilities will stand up to the rigors of supporting connectedness, cooperation and collaboration at 21st century speed and scale. Lasting human connection–the source of goodwill that is foundation of cooperation–requires more than directory listings, stack-a-ribbons and cocktail parties. Now more than ever, relationships are not fungible commodities, but irreplaceable resources demanding our on-going attention. Each and every relationship is unique and each requires high levels of trust and empathy to create and sustain, especially when that kind of care involves a blend of high tech and high touch.
Cooperation entails a willingness to set aside some measure of personal or organizational interest in favor of embracing a common good. Ideally, it is in this mode that our boards of directors should be operating, and yet we know from experience that parochial interests too often take precedence over shared concerns. When we are talking about “change at the scale of the whole,” as David Cooperrider describes it, the challenge of nurturing cooperation grows considerably more complex and the work of collaboration becomes more difficult. It may not be enough, therefore, to be satisfied with a fragile consensus. There must be deep and enduring agreement around a course of action, accompanied by a willingness to act boldly in pursuit of it even when the going gets tough.
Finally, collaboration in the Web-enabled world has an entirely different look and feel than what happens in agenda-driven committee and task force meetings. As we discovered today, collaboration in a new world of distributed and (hopefully) distributive engagement is messy, unpredictable and often frustrating. And yet it is precisely this kind of emergent collaborative effort we need to harness to tackle the huge problems facing our country and our world.
In each of these areas–connectedness, cooperation and collaboration–I’m wondering aloud whether we grasp the full dimensions of the task at hand and whether we’re as prepared as we will need to be to act. So right now, as I think about going to sleep, I’ll be nodding off with some big questions bouncing around my head. This doesn’t diminish my enthusiasm one bit…actually, it increases it! I think we’re on to something big here, and I hope that in the days ahead we’ll take our collective thinking to the next level to begin process of creating something truly remarkable together.