Knitting a Community SCARF for the 4th Industrial Revolution #35 #cong19


The 4th Industrial Revolution promises to change how we work and live. The very act of transformation can threaten our sense of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness (SCARF). Being part of a great community can increase our sense of SCARF to help us deal with this changing world.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1.   David Rock’s SCARF model shows how our perceptions of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness can impede rational thought.
  2. Digital Transformations often fail because of gaps in skills and capabilities and people not ready for change.
  3. Individuals perceiving threats to their SCARF will be less successful in learning and transitioning to new ways of work.
  4. Great communities  can increase our sense of SCARF to help us deal with change.

About Clare Dillon:

Clare is an independent Technical Evangelist helping organisations capitalise on emerging tech and related business trends. She also help organisations spread their ideas.

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can contact Clare by email or connect with her on LinkedIn.


By Clare Dillon

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about communities, and how they can be leveraged to address some of today’s work challenges. Communities popped into my head again when I was recently reminded of David Rock’s SCARF model – which looks at five domains of human social experiences and how they impact collaboration:

  1. Status – our relative importance to others.
  2. Certainty – our ability to predict the future.
  3. Autonomy – our sense of control over events.
  4. Relatedness – how safe we feel with others, are they friend or foe?
  5. Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be.

David Rock’s paper on the topic describes how we, as social beings, respond to threats and rewards in these areas as much as we do to threats and rewards to our physical safety or survival. Threats in these areas trigger our “lizard brain” and “flight, fight or freeze” response and literally make us incapable of rational thought. Looking at how the 4th Industrial Revolution is leading to many changes in how we work and live, it seems particularly relevant at present.

Today, almost every organisation is examining how they are going to digitally transform. Those that don’t risk becoming irrelevant. However, McKinsey says 70% of digital transformations fail, and common pitfalls often list a gap in skills and capabilities as the reason for failure. Gartner reports that “in about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers”. Most analysts are expecting organisations to invest significant efforts in retraining and/or replacing staff to ready themselves for the future.

Let’s now think now about these trends frame digital transformation projects in organisations. Significant changes to individuals’ roles, activities being automated, previous expertise becoming irrelevant, and potential project failure are now the norm. These trends can easily be perceived as threats to existing status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and feelings of fairness. Digital transformation seems almost designed to be a SCARF threat trigger for individuals within organisations. Is it any wonder there is a rise in workplace anxiety and stress? We need more tools in our toolbox to deal with these challenges. With this amount of change on the horizon – I believe communities can play a role in increasing our sense of SCARF.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many great technical community and user groups throughout my life. It’s always amazing to me what groups of passionate volunteers can achieve when they come together with a common cause. Members of these communities are often inspired by the kind of intrinsic motivation corporate leaders dream about after reading Daniel Pink.

The best communities positively influence their members sense of SCARF:

  1. Status – rewarding and celebrating achievements that perhaps only other community members can recognise.
  2. Certainty – helping level set status of technical trends, learn best practices and how to avoid pitfalls.
  3. Autonomy – members can shape conversations and agendas by investing their time, effort and passion.
  4. Relatedness – communities are places where deep friendships are formed that persist through different roles and organisations.
  5. Fairness – the best communities are safe spaces where informal or (more recently) formal codes of conduct ensure every member is treated with fairness and respect.

I have also been extremely lucky to have worked in some amazing teams throughout my life. I used to say the best of them felt like family, in terms of the supportive environment they provided. But the more I think about it, we were probably more like a great little community than a family. After all, we weren’t related by blood and didn’t spend Christmas together – but we did share certain values, attributes, interests and identity as well as a sense of a common place (whether physical or virtual). That sense of community has lasted long after I left those jobs, and I have learned to associate it with some of the best work experiences of my life.

So as we face the challenge of transitioning through the 4th Industrial Revolution, I think we need to start thinking about how communities can help us thrive: treating our teams as little communities of their own, building communities of practice across silos in organisations and joining communities outside our organisations to provide additional support. There is nothing like a big cosy scarf to make me feel warm and happy, safe from the wind and rain – now is the time to start knitting together a community SCARF to help us feel exactly the same way as we are buffeted by the winds of change.



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