Thursday, March 26, 2020

Stodd – The Social Age…

Julian Stodd is the ‘Captain’ and Founder of Sea Salt Learning and a relentless researcher and practitioner in social structures and learning. His empirical studies of social dynamics in large organisations, combined with analysis of social phenomena, has led to recommendations on how to use social dynamics to improve leadership and learning.
He has written 14 books, all illustrated in his own hand and his talks are often prefaced with the statement that they are working out loud or work in progress. Often calling upon landscapes and journeys through landscapes as a metaphor, he is never afraid to call his work half-complete or unfinished. His writing is light but serious, not academic in style, with a focus on his personal journeys.

Social Age

He grounds his work in the concept of the Social Age, a view that as our social context changes, so too must the design of our Organisations, and approaches to learning, leadership, and work. Stodd sees us as living in The Social Age and wants to create a social age movement that puts our social relationships, communities first. What he tries to represent in his work is the best of the old, and the best of the new, the best (evidence based) things of the past, but also to explore and learn new ways of thinking and practice that suit our new, more interconnected, ecosystem. He sees societies, communities, tribes and other social structures as the key to understanding and improving organisational development. He works inside large, global organisations, almost like the archaeologist and curator he once was, to excavate truths about social phenomenon.

Social leadership

The Social Age demands social leadership. But how do you become a social leader? Here he sets out a model based on principles of Social Capital and Equality where social leaders exhibit humility, kindness and fairness. Although his work is at times highly abstract and theoretical, he turns this into concrete and practical activities in ‘Guidebooks’ that turn theory into practice. 
There are nine elements to his NET theory, which he insist are not finished; curate, stories, share, authority, reputation, communities, co-create, social capital and collaborate.


For Stodd the glue that holds social structures together is ‘trust’ with ‘humility’ the qualities (by no means exhaustive) that he recommends for management and leadership.  The humility to listen, he sees as all too often lacking in leadership and learning. Calling upon landscapes and journeys through landscapes, he maps the landscape of trust across organisations, researches both its perceived nature and its presence (or absence). In his global Landscape of Trust research he identified 12 aspects of trust; technology, creativity, failure, ethnicity, taxonomy, currency, neurology, visibility, organisational, group, culture and gender. These he uses his mapping as a way to encourage others to explore new and different forms of organisational design to encourage trust.

Social learning 

To transform learning you must recognise that social spaces have changed. We no longer operate in two worlds – work and life. Formal and social divides are collapsing through cultural changes and technology. It is the social nature of learning that needs to be recognised and encouraged. Even in learning design, we need to be collaborative and co-creative. 
Careful not to be over prescriptive he prefers the word ‘mindset’ to model or method. He lays out his six steps for learning design and delivery: 
  1. the CONTEXT for learning, 
  2. how we DEMONSTRATE key principles, 
  3. provide space for EXPLORATION to play with the learning,
  4. create spaces for REFLECTION
  5. have tools for ASSESSMENT 
  6. provide FOOTSTEPS for ongoing performance support

To The Moon And Back

In a typical Stodd style, his book To The Moon And Back explores the Apollo mission the astonishing project that put astronauts on the moon, and extracts eight stories picking up on themes such as complexity, failure, control, ambition and failure. Here, he tells stories to illustrate serious lessons on systems theory and real projects and leadership.


His talks are captivating, books idiosyncratic but engaging, part of his own sense-making. Above all his approach is full of humility and honesty. The total commitment to ‘social’ phenomenon can be seen as overwhelming, failing to capture other dimension of organisational structure and learning, yet he sees this as a more honest and humble approach more suited to our Social Age. 


Stodd, J., 2012. A Mindset for Mobile Learning: a Journey Through Theory and Practice 
Stodd, J., 2013. Learning, Knowledge, and Meaning: The Singapore Diary
Stodd, J., 2013. Julian Stodd’s Learning Methodology: a Practical Tool for Learning Design
Stodd, J., 2012. The Amsterdam Diary: An Exploration of Learning Culture
Stodd, J., 2014. Exploring the social age and the new culture of learning. UK, 
Stodd, J., 2014. Exploring the World of Social Learning: a Book from the Blog (2012)
Stodd, J., 2014. New York: Community, Spaces, and Performance
Stodd, J., 2016. The Social Leadership Handbook (2nd Edition)
Stodd, J., 2019. Community Builder Guidebook (Second Edition)
Stodd, J., 2018. The Trust Sketchbook (2018)
Stodd, J., 2018. The Trust Guidebook: 72 Questions About TrustStodd, J., 2017. Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days
Stodd, J., 2019. The Social Learning Guidebook
Stodd, J., 2018. The New York Dereliction Walk
Stodd, J., 2019. To the Moon and Back: Leadership Reflections from Apollo

No comments: