I was reading parts of the draft of Charles Leadbeater’s new book We-Think. (well worth a good mooch – and you can comment before he publishes.) He’s grappling with a leadership dilemma part of which can be summed up as: if organisations and professionalism are so precious to us, why are modest online structures able to accomplish so much with networked volunteers?.
He cites the Seti project (using pc downtime to search for ET), Wikipedia (the online collaborative encyclopaedia) and Linux, the open source software built by volunteers. He also says that the efforts of millions of amateurs can threaten those of the professionals. Wal Mart’s biggest competitor – he argues – are the legions who sell on eBay. Linux is a threat to Microsoft’s market share:
These new non-organisations pose a huge challenge to the established organisational order and the professions and managers who design, control and lead them. They embody a new ethic of collaborative, shared effort, often not motivated by money.
Recently I met two women who run the Witton Lodge Community Association in Perry Common. It’s a resident run business which has been driving the communal and physical regeneration of this Birmingham neighbourhood. “Being unpaid makes us powerful”, they told me. Why?
For a number of reasons. One is being able to choose to be part of a team, the other is the freedom it creates to do what is right, rather than what a paymaster requires.
But business is about money. Certainly, but it doesn’t follow that success is. Success can grow regardless of money and often it’s nurtured and then shaped by the combined energy of individual enthusiasms.
This is something which Richard Sambrook writes on (aided by David Snowden at Cognitive Edge) at his blog SacredFacts. He is writing on Hubris and how many leaders are blinded by their self importance to a key factor in success:
we over-celebrate the achievements of individuals, and undervalue the work of teams. Teams offer a balance of experience and skills which, at their best, support each other to achieve more than any individual could, and avoid many pitfalls (eg hubris). And in my view team achievements and collaboration are far more satisfying and more productive than working on your own.
Online social networking sites are a prime example of this. The organisers provide the tools, the tone the space and invite people to join. The rest comes from the energy and enthusiaism of those who take part. Without the later – no network, no success. As Charles Leadbeater goes on:
The truth is that most traditional commercial organisations do not want their staff self-organising, they want them to be aligned to the corporate plan. They do not like it when innovation comes from all over. They want ideas to emerge in orderly fashion from their R & D labs so they can control them. Leaders quite like their self-image as lonely, harsh, authoritative figures, cut off from the organisations they drive into corporate battle. The idea that you might be able to lead more effectively in a far more open, transparent and conversational way ruins all the fun.