Social intelligence

Months ago I promised to run a lunch and learn hour on organisation design capability. I was confident that my future self would have all the time needed to research and prepare a high calibre, thought provoking session. Sadly, my future self let me down morphing into my current self the day before the session having prepared nothing for me. (See a great blog on this phenomenon here).

So I turned to my interesting articles folder which my past self collected and which often proves very handy as it did in this case. It turned up a great article 10 new skills every worker needs, in Rotman Magazine. The lunch and learn went well. We spent a fair bit of time talking about skill 7 in the article 'social intelligence', used by employees able to 'assess the emotions of those around them and adapt words, gestures, and tone accordingly.' This smacks a little bit of neuro linguistic programming but ok.

However, it did get me thinking because on the Sunday after the lunch n learn I spent some time with Sam a four year old and some time with Rosie a 98 year old. Watching them both in action gave me a slightly different interpretation of 'social intelligence'. To me it seemed that Sam was learning social intelligence i.e. how to handle social situations appropriately – it was a hot day and he wanted to take all his clothes off and his mother said it wasn't appropriate in a public place. Rosie was unlearning it. In her years between 4 and 97 or so would never have dreamed of taking her clothes off in a public place, but she now demanded to. She was too hot – why couldn't she strip off?

The two ends of the age spectrum seem to elicit different responses to the same demand – Sam gets an encouraging, teacher response. Rosie gets an irritable 'you should know better' response. They get different responses to their social intelligence. So, social intelligence is clearly contextutal. You have to have the right social intelligence for your context. Think of things that were socially intelligent a while ago like racial segregation or prosecution of homosexuals, etc. These are now socially unintelligent and have given way to a different social intelligence – diversity and inclusion, celebration of gay marriages.

Looking at Sam and Rosie shows that social intelligence is a shifting concept that changes not only by age and learning capacity but also by society and societal changes. Sam will have to get to grips with social media protocols which Rosie has never had to deal with.

The meaning of the phrase 'social intelligence' is also changing. Now, it is also about gleaning insights on social behaviours and patterns, from data gathering on social media.

Applying 'social intelligence' into organisation design suggests that organisational members will have to:
a) learn new behaviours, norms, and social interactions associated with new organisational forms that involve 'collaboration', 'everyone a leader', 'innovation', 'agility', 'autonomy', 'discretion', and so on.
b) consciously (rather than unconsciously) unlearn all the social intelligence we have associated with 'command and control' organisations that have hierarchical leaders and (relatively) obedient followers, both of whom think they are in a relatively stable context.
c) use 'big data' intelligence gathering to get insights on how to handle both of the above.

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