Lessons from the Drowning in Morses Pond


Wellesley (Photo credit: be11boy)

On 1 June 2013, my kids, wife and I were on the beach during the drowning of a 10 year old boy. This happened at Morses Pond in Wellesley, Massachusetts, the first drowning there in 38 years. The kid was found after 1.5 hours by a Fire Dept diver in waist high water, 30 feet from the beach. He was taken to the hospital but was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Everyone’s question is: could this have been prevented? My answer is maybe, if leadership from below had been allowed.

I do not blame the lifeguards. The eight lifeguards I saw conducting water rescue were professional. I do not blame the first responders, police, firemen or AMR. I do not blame the Wellesley Town recreation department or indeed anybody else. I do not blame parents or the drowning victim’s caretakers. This was a tough situation, but nevertheless one we need to learn from.

I want to start a debate about the risks of letting our kids and youngsters swim and play at Morses pond. I also propose to change the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and missing person protocol at Morses pond to allow for volunteer efforts, in and out of water. Furthermore, I think that authorities, large and small, should listen to good ideas, regardless where they are coming from, even in a stressed situation.  This is simply good practice.

Resident rescue idea rebuffed

When we all heard on the loudspeaker that they were looking for a kid, I ran to the head of the lifeguards and said that we should get together all able adults, form a human chain and walk systematically out from the beach until we reached our waist. This is common sense. It is a good idea. It has been tried in many, many rescue operations. It usually works, too. And, it is not dangerous. That would enable lifeguards to conduct a search in deep, less accessible waters.

Chain of Command 

Unfortunately, my request was denied. The Wellesley recreation department staff in charge said it was against their Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and missing person protocol: “Everyone out of the water. Pull back.” As it was immediately apparent to most of us on the beach that this protocol was not working, I pleaded him to break protocol, but to no avail. I then turned to the Wellesley police who had arrived at the scene and asked if he could authorize this maneuver. He was at least willing to listen to me, but then turned me down. Perhaps he felt that the matter was being handled by the handful or so lifeguards in the water already. Besides, from what I understand, the day before a kid had been missing, too, and he was found playing nearby, so false alarm. Also, perhaps the fact that there has not been a drowning at Morses Pond in nearly 40 years played a role.  I now have to live with the knowledge that my idea might have led to getting the 10-year old boy out of the water within 15 minutes as opposed to 1.5 hours and that I did not carry it through.

I am emotionally distraught just thinking about the fact that a life potentially could have been saved and also that I did not get a chance to help. We were dozens of adults who stood on the beach helpless, without being empowered to or allowed to have any role in the rescue. I am sure those of you who read this and who have kids will understand: this was a terrible experience. I ran around the beach searching for a while, but gave it up; the instinct said the kid was in the water. Then, I took my kids home to save them from what was to come.

Situational expertise

My experience from rescue situations, on water, snow or in forests is that manpower intensive, systematic search is the quickest and best. The last time I saved someone from an emergency was when I helped 20 people out of a burning bus I myself was on in a Sicilian tunnel in Southern Italy. Again, we formed a chain of hands and got people out through a 1-mile long tunnel.  From the media, I have read that a similar thing happened during a near drowning incident on a New Zealand beach a while back. A human chain stretched out to the reef in high waves, think about that for a second.

I grew up in a place surrounded by (cold) water and where water safety was paramount. All know how to swim from an early age, safety equipment is abundant and water safety is a mantra. Yet, even there, accidents happen regularly. I have practiced all kinds of rescue scenarios as part of army drills on water, ice, and land. Moreover, I am an intuitive thinker under any circumstance. I also teach strategic management. I am not sure how many on that beach had similar experience, possibly a few, but I do know that most adults know how to swim and 100% of them can march into water until their waistline. Walking in water does not put any additional lives in danger.

Experience from rescue situations in water, as well as common sense, shows that time is of the essence. For kids under 12 in 70 degrees Fahrenheit water temperature, most experts  estimate one has 2-3 minutes before full loss of consciousness,  5-10 minutes before brain damage, and 15 minutes before irrecoverable death. However, if the body goes into Mammalian diving reflex and shuts down to conserve resources, which mostly happens in cold water and with smaller kids, in rare cases, one has 30 minutes or even more.

Beyond lifeguards

Placing three 16-year old lifeguards at the beach is good for directing general beach behavior. However, as a life saving device, it perhaps also creates a false sense of security which in itself is no service to parents. Nor is it a service to the teenagers themselves since it places too much responsibility on young shoulders. This is no swimming pool. The water is not clear. There is very little chance that any lifeguard, however experienced, would be able to guard all swimmers, much less find one missing child, especially if there are more than 100 people in the water on the first real beach day of the season, which was the case that day. Parents and the Wellesley Recreation Department should realize that having lifeguards on the beach is good but not enough.

Managing the Unexpected

In Managing the Unexpected (2007), Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Suthcliffe explain that high reliability organizations, such as ERs or firefighting units (and, generally, trained lifeguards), do not defer to experts but to situational expertise, including common sense, and always allow ideas to flow to the top, even under duress. When life is at risk, qualitative, subjective input is more efficient than the chain of command. Such organizational units are flexible in crisis, not rigid.

In management theory, there is now a growing acceptance that making good use of networked relationships matters. Leadership from below, where ideas and contribution comes from people who may be outside the formal chain of command, can be a fruitful addition to the insistence on hierarchical authority and narrowly interpreted protocols. When such leadership initiative is put into a system, tapping into the flow of ideas that exist and building core capability from the ground up, the organization can be said to have a strategy from below, and becomes highly advanced, agile, and resilient. Only such organizational designs, obviously empowered by generally sound emergency procedures, should be trusted in emergencies.

Principles for parents

Every year, nearly 1100 US children between 1 and 19 years drown. Male, younger, epileptic, and unsupervised children are considered at greater risk for drowning. However, the much quoted SAFE KIDS study examined data from 496 child-drowning deaths from 2000 and 2001 from 17 states and found that 88 percent of the drowning victims were under “supervision”. Moreover, a recent article by Morrongiello (2013) in the journal for Accident Analysis & Prevention claims parents overestimate the effect of swim lessons on lessening their child’s drowning risk. Parents erroneously believed that children could save themselves from drowning by the age of 6.21 years. Considering this statistic, the recent article, and the Morses pond drowning, I would like to offer up for discussion some principles for parents.

  1. First off, if you bring kids to the beach you are their lifeguard: this means you keep two eyes on them at all times and ideally come in the water with them and stay on the deep end. There is no sense in outsourcing the primary responsibility of taking care of your kids.  Ideally, you bring your own flotation device into the water with you.
  2. Secondly, do not let kids who cannot swim play in the water if there are many people around. You cannot control the environment. You could create a situation where they get scared of water and will never learn to swim.
  3. Thirdly, do not let your kids play alone. Regardless of age, instill in them the need to always swim with a companion.
  4. Fourthly, if there ever is another incident where a kid is missing; please let us join forces, ensure all other kids are safe and then, with the authorities’ blessing of course, let us proceed with massive manpower to comb the beach in a human chain. Let us walk out together with as small of a space between each person as possible, not to miss an inch of beach. Let us walk towards those authorities hand in hand and open their mindset. No fear of legal repercussions should stop the community from trying to save a kid.

Any set of rules, even emergency protocols need to be applied with common sense. An emergency protocol which was created to deal with a swimming pool like scenario where the lifeguards would have some degree of probability of protecting their swimmers cannot be applied pre-season when the protective rails which usually are in place are not there. Nor is a “missing person protocol” the same as a a “near drowning scenario”.  What complicates the matter is that, at a beach, we almost always have to assume that a missing person means a near drowning person.  Making the distinction between a missing person and a drowning person is crucial.

The area in and around Morses pond beach is simply too vast for a few lifeguards to cover in such an emergency as we saw on Saturday. Strategy from below, which is an efficient way to think about management, means to take a good look at the total resources available to you before making a decision and running blind with procedural delight. Lifeguards alone cannot make a difference. But, again, hindsight is 20-20. What matters now is the future.

Needed upgrades

My suggestion to the town of Wellesley Recreation department and to those responsible for the safety of residents and visitors to Morses pond beach, including lifeguards, is simple: let Wellesley residents be part of systematic emergency drills at the beach. Train all adults present on the beach, every day, in the practice of forming a human chain to quickly comb the beach. The existing Emergency Action Plan (EAP) must be thoroughly examined including by outside, neutral parties with operational pond safety experience from near drowning searches.

Beyond that, here are some further recommendations:

  • Beach management should raise awareness of pond safety by handing out safety flyers to each entrant and pay particular attention to making non-residents aware of the conditions and regulations.
  • Establish a pond safety committee where residents are included.
  • Require consent forms where swimming ability is included.
  • Do not open the beach pre-season. All equipment and procedures need to be practiced and ready each season.
  • Improve the fencing outside the beach zone and better delineate the safe area where lifeguards are in charge and specify the hours they are on duty.
  • Update the emergency equipment on site also seems necessary: warning signs, buoys with 20 ft ropes, 12ft poles with sweeping hook, life jackets and flotation devices every 50 feet along the beach, rescue boat, emergency sonar and water binoculars, to name the basics. I am sure Wellesley residents who use Morses pond would help pay for these expenses, if necessary.

I would not reopen the beach until these things are in place.

When the minutes matter, we cannot rely on a few lifeguards who have to look through a vast area of murky water. We also cannot wait for a diver who needs to be alerted by a 911 dispatch, needs to get his equipment together, drive to the scene and get his bearings. We need to act, then and there, with all the equipment and manpower we have then and there.


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Strategy is nothing more–and nothing less–than a succinct expression of where an organization is already going.

For more, see Searching for Strategy


10 Reasons Why Obama Should Appoint Romney as Secretary of Business

In a surprising move, President Obama has appointed Governor Romney as Secretary of Business, in charge of new business creation and with the mandate to drastically simplify the regulations for small businesses.

Fantasy, you say? Yes, for now, but this would be a brilliant move. Here’s why.

Obama needs to demonstrate what he means by change. Obama’s second term is, among many things, about fixing Washington’s gridlock, putting America back to work, and delivering on the American people’s wish for change. A defeated Republican Presidential candidate as a key Cabinet member would definitely be a good way to state that Obama is serious about fixing the gridlock.

Business is Romney’s specialty. Business is also arguably the area where Obama’s first term achieved the weakest results. This was Romney’s claim, but the American people likely agree for the most part. In fact, there is a widespread belief that if the 2012 Presidential election had indeed been simply a verdict on the economy, Obama would have lost.

Fixing the gridlock in Washington demands grand gestures. Both Obama and Romney have talked about the importance of reaching across the aisle. True bipartisanship must be concrete. You must have something to show for. It also demands great symbolic acts of faith. Romney as Secretary of Business would definitely be an act of faith.

Obama has succeeded with surprising appointments before. When Obama defeated Hillary, he realized two things: he needed to heal the divisions in the party and he needed support from the Clinton camp. What did he do? He appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. This was a surprising, smart move which rapidly healed the wounds the defeat had made, at least in the eyes of the public.

Obama would rub in Romney’s flip flopping nature. President Obama would in one move show the contradictions of Mitt Romney (during his campaign, Romney said there was no point in having both a Secretary of Commerce and a Secretary of Business)

Obama would show there is opportunity for all. Paradoxically, by putting Romney on the job, Obama would also demonstrate that he is prepared to put the best people in the top jobs in his second term, regardless of background. This would be change. This would be the new, emerging America, one where all ethnicities and social demographics should be electable for office—even rich white men with track record from Wall Street and Bain Capital. There were times during the recession and during the campaign where it seemed Obama disliked the “fat cats” so much he was unable to listen to any of their advice.

Romney would reach across the aisle. Being the Secretary of Business is likely a real vantage point from which it would be possible to demonstrate real leadership that matters to jobless, entrepreneurial, hardworking Americans. These were issues he campaigned on. Spending 800 million dollars on a campaign would then have been a worthwhile investment. His legacy, almost regardless of whether he himself would generate true improvements, would be that of a pragmatic business person with real intention to make politics work for business. Paradoxically, with Romney, the Secretary of Business might actually become important. Without him, the role might be unclear at best. It would get lost among other Cabinet roles and would add little value.

Republicans would get an ideal platform to renew the GOP. Republicans would get a chance to make contributions to their favorite agenda: favoring business. They would get a chance to show that this also means helping small business. Romney would need to make his ideas concrete: he would help bring about tax reform, regulatory simplification etc. If Romney succeeded, Republicans would have a real card to show for the 2016 Presidential elections: their bipartisan efforts enabled tax reform, made entrepreneurship and business creation the competitive advantage of America again. The alternative; four more years of gridlock, would certainly not help the GOP.

Obama would get credit for trying to fix his relationship to business. He would have put the person near half of America’s electorate believes is the best for the top job in charge of one of the key priorities of the nation: helping business to ensure economic recovery across the board. Obama would also take a step closer to Wall Street again, after a few missteps and mistrust.

Obama and Romney working together would be leadership from below. Appointing Romney as Secretary of Business, both Obama and Romney would embody true leadership from below. They would demonstrate a willingness to contribute wherever their skills are needed, regardless of prior formal position. Leadership from below is a question of attitude, not position.

In reality, of course, Americans wish that Washington would realize that America—its demographics, ambitions, methods, even its identity—has already changed. What America has changed into, is going to be the central question of Obama’s second term. It will demand even more of Obama than appointing Mitt Romney as Secretary of Business, but it is a start.

10 Ways To Gain Energy From A Long-Haul Flight

In-flight safety demonstration on board a Luft...

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Flying used to drain my energy. Whether on a short or long flight, I could not sleep. I could not rest. I felt crammed. I got stressed. I was inconvenienced by airport security. All of this went on for many years. Then, I decided not to wait to be comfortable until I was in a position of control, could travel business class or could avoid flying altogether. Rather, I decided it was a question of attitude and technique. In short, I started applying my very own principles of leadership from below to air travel. Overnight, I started looking at a flight as a relief. I actually gained energy from it. In fact, even on long-haul flights, I rarely get to all my planned pursuits. How did I do it? Let me explain.


1. Pick an airline

With fear of sounding like a marketing agent for frequent flyer programmes, pick an airline and stick to it. Not only will you have a quicker check-in, get lounge access, board early, and get your luggage early, you will also know more about what do do if anything about your travel situation changes. You will be aware what generally happens if the flight is delayed or cancelled. You will know the layout of the aircraft for each particular route so you can pick the best seat. You may even get to know the call center, cabin crews or check-in staff, which can come in very handy.


Many would instinctively pick a window seat to be undisturbed and to look at the sky. Fine. However, I recommend picking an aisle seat to give you the most flexibility. You do risk having to get up several times for people who need to use the toilet or want to move around, but being blocked is not an option for me.


2. Mentally prepare for the flight

Preparation is everything. You need to start this the moment you have bought the ticket. First the mental change: start imagining you are on the flight, completely at ease, think of the things you would like to do, how you would want to relax, what you want to spend this time on. Do you mainly want to sleep, relax, study, read leisurely, watch a movie, talk to a stranger, watch people or something else? This is not only a mental exercise, it has consequences. Think of all the obstacles that are likely to occur along the way. Try to remember specifically what frustrated you on the last flight and think of remedies. Write down any major conclusions and pack it with your bag for later reference and act on it if anything is required.


3. Strategize and choose your approach

After the mental charge, you pick your main approach to the journey and ensure you are properly equipped to do or experience whatever you have decided. I am not going to assume you are exactly like me, but here is what I generally do:


Improvise, zone out, fix what you can, ignore the rest, take charge of what you can, control your environment, become a leader where you can, enjoy not having responsibility in those instances you cannot lead. Perception is reality.


4. Supercharge your carry-on

Think of your carry-on as a survival kit. Always bring two carry-ons, a personal item and a bag.


As regard your personal item, make it look like a computer bag, but make sure you can survive for a day or two on its contents.

Sound and light proofing: earplugs to block aircraft noise, an eye mask to block unwanted light.

Nutrition: pack energy bars, mints, raisins, and gum.

Edutainment: pack a fully charged laptop, pad, PDA, several of your favorite magazines and a paperback.

Work: Bring some work documents and a pen and notepad to jot down ideas.

Identification and money: passport, credit cards, a small reserve of cash in Dollar, Euro and local currency.

Emergency equipment: bring a miniature flash light and first-aid kit.

Clothing: pack a cashmere sweater, scarf, and a change of underwear.

Toiletries: weigh the pros and cons of putting toiletries in your personal item allowed onboard. I always do since I never check luggage and because if I am forced to gate-check my bag, I am not left without means.

Information: bring phone numbers to all major airlines, your doctor, your emergency contact, and a few friends in a large radius between your departure and your destination.


As regards your carry-on bag as such, this is where you pack everything you need for a week. Pack a maximum of 5 sets of underwear. Bring dry washing powder sheet and plan to wash or dry clean your clothes every 3 days. Roll all your clothes. Use packing cubes for ease. On business trips, I regularly manage for several weeks on a small bag.


5. Launch your own pre-boarding prep

Sixty minutes before boarding, you should take a shower. Yes, it is possible if you have lounge access, and it is very much worth it. Thirty minutes before boarding, buy and/or consume a bottle of water, take a melatonin tablet (I use SleepMD), and eat so you are all set, if need be for the whole journey. Make sure you have time to use the bathroom before you board. Prepare for the flight, think about what you will do with the time on the plane, prepare for the inevitable stresses of boarding. Visualize what will happen. Remember that you have done it many times before. Make sure you are relaxed.


6. Find your own boarding routine

Boarding is not something the airline does to you. It is your chance to influence the crew. Actually, starting with check-in staff (who may turn out to be crew members for what you know), make sure you make a good impression. Be polite, ask questions about the flight, make yourself known, compliment their behavior or actions if at all possible. Generally, it is good to board as soon as you can, so you can fill the overhead compartments with your stuff directly above your seat. Frequent flyer status is great for this purpose, so make sure you always stick to the same airline.


7. Scan and screen fellow passengers

Most people approach fellow air passengers as if they were a random crowd. Doing so, they ignore most of the social dynamics in place and miss opportunities to exploit the characteristics of their particular sample of humankind. In fact, initial screening can be done while still in the terminal.


When you board the flight, make sure you make eye contact with each flight attendant you pass on your way. Smile. You are stuck with these people for hours. On the positive side, they are the only authority you will have to deal with for a while, or at least it may seem so. In reality, on board an airplane there is plenty of hierarchy to reckon with. Keeping this in mind, keep an observant eye and nod politely as you pass through the cabin with the first-class and business passengers. Also, make sure you are friendly with the people with aisle seats who can get up whenever they please and control other people’s exit options.


Then, make sure you are aware of the seat assignments of every parent traveling with kids. The reason is, they command unique attention from flight attendants and could also be a source (and extinguisher) of excess noise. As you pass through the aircraft, note various categories of people, the overweight who might impose themselves on the nearby seats or contribute to congestion, the new couples or teenagers who might talk all the way.


In fact, make sure you do a sweep of everybody in eyesight. Who might they be? Will they pose a threat to your relaxation? Are there any networking opportunities? A potential match? If any of those apply, try to move seats so you are closer to your target(s) or further from perceived problem spots. Finally, for your own safety, keep a watchful eye on suspicious or violent behavior. You would want to be part of the solution, or alternatively sit far away if you so please, should intervention be needed.


8. Scan a good radius around your own seat

Once you have found your seat, immediately put in your earplugs. I have found you can still hear what flight attendants tell you. The only thing to remember is to talk very loudly, as your own perception of the way your voice carries changes when you wear earplugs. After all, you only need to deploy a few expressions: “yes/no”, “orange juice/water, please”, and “thank you”. I cannot think of many other expressions that are useful if you want to conserve energy on a flight. In place of speech, use mimicry, body language, and facial expressions.


Think very carefully before you start a dialogue with the person(s) seated next to you. In all likelihood, you have made a choice that affects the whole flight. If you must talk to people, it is actually wiser to choose the people you meet in the hallway or in the bathroom queue, since you can always retreat to your seat. In short, think of your seat as your kingdom’s walled garden. It is nobody’s but your own. Develop a mental protective perimeter and let nobody disturb you.


Once you have your seat, it is time to domesticate the nearby environment. Check overhead compartments for extra pillows and blankets. Once boarding is completed, go on a scavenge hunt for whatever pillows and blankets remain. They will cushion and warm you and might mean the difference between a few hours sleep and angry restlessness. Make yourself comfortable, put on your seatbelt, put on your eye mask and relax. Now, even before the flight has departed, is the time to get some rest.


9. Divide the time into tasks during the flight

People say flying is boring. I find I seldom get done all of the things I wanted to do. Depending on how tired I am, I divide my time into five tasks: rest, work, thinking, eating and sleeping. Five is quite a lot. Just think about it, in 20-minute increments you can only get five slots. In hourly increments you can only get 1 slot for each. I try to set goals for each activity and I always bring pen and paper. A computer is of course useful, but not essential. Airplane time is quite unique. I never have this much time away from the web, the phone, the kids, or meetings.


10. Activate immediately after the flight

Some people would say you should rest after you fly. I do the opposite. I find that after such a concentrated time in one seat, I need to move around. Usually, the best option is working intensely for a few hours, working out for an hour, then getting a massage or hitting the sauna. After that, a dinner with friends is usually a great option or simply crash at an early bedtime, local time. I used to be horrible with jet lag, and the basic operation of my biological clock have not changed. However, I have learned to manipulate my natural tendency to stop functioning even after a few hours of jet lag, using leadership from below.


Beyond Leadership From Below

I recently spoke to a group of Product Marketing students at KU Leuven, the famous and ancient university in Belgium. Despite my warnings that they were taller, smarter, and funnier than me and that there was no reason to think that I should give them advice, rather the reverse, they actually listened to me for almost an hour.

The Leader Who Had No Title

Cover of "The Leader Who Had No Title: A ...

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Since I wrote Leadership From Below in 2008, there has been a steady flow of management books about bottom-up leadership. In The Leader Who Had No Title (2010), speaker Robin Sharma has put together a modern fable on success in business and in life. There are no revolutionary insights in this book, but its speaks to the frustrated, overworked American, which seems to be in the majority. Sharma also avoids being too patronizing. Instead of the traditional format he chooses a narrative form, which incidentally, means that instead of offering any kind of evidence, we are asked to trust the experience of the author indirectly.

We follow Blake, an uninspired worker who is presented with the chance to meet four somewhat unlikely leadership teachers in one day, a maid who is deeply passionate about her job, a surfer and skier who says to lean in on the steep slopes, seek out and face danger head on,  a former CEO now passionate about gardening who explains that business is all about relationships, and a shoe shiner who says you need to be a great person to be a great leader. All are lessons that ring true in the postmodern leadership scene where results only come if you balance your pursuits so that life and work mesh together.

The message might still be a bit radical for most people, although those who have thought about life and death more than once might agree at times:

All those things we believed were so important, things like titles, net worth and social position turn out to be so very unimportant.

As I predicted several years ago, it seems like the Zen of everyday life is becoming key to the western man and woman’s quest to reinvent reality.

But does that mean that hierarchies are going away? Or, does it mean that making a contribution as a team leader, a manager, a VP or a CEO does not matter anymore? Far from it, in my opinion.  The Forbes book reviewer and himself a leadership expert, SangeethVarghese, has it wrong, though, in dismissing the book in Everyone must be a leader. So What?:

Sharma seems to confuse leadership with mere exemplary work. He depicts leadership as a matter not of heading a team or directing change but simply of focusing on excellence in the work you do.

Rather, leadership from below, which is more an attitude to life regardless of your various roles, becomes important even as hierarchies matter. So, both Sangeeth and Robin are right: whatever you do, only take the lead if you mean it.

The Slow Birth of Entreprenocracy: Part III

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Taking forward the debate on Murray’s End of Management foray in WSJ recently, the new model is, in my view, not exactly Murray’s model.  Instead, it is simply a hybrid of bureaucracy and entrepreneurship. Let’s call it entreprenocracy.

A few weeks ago, I went to a wedding at Oriel College in Oxford, UK. We had a wonderful time and as in all weddings, I eventually had to explain what I do for a living. It was late, so I resorted to the explanation that I was a “persuader”. Needless to say, this prompted more questions. I ended up having to take them through the reality of strategy and public policy as it intersects with many fields but always has as its end game to enact some sort of conceptual change in your constituency and doing so as silently as possible.

In earlier days, when writing my Ph.D on What the Net Can’t do, I described the the process that underlies my own model of society’s work relevant knowledge flow as some type of “convincing” work. The fact that you constantly have to convince someone, your co-workers, your boss, your wife, your kids, your investors, your tax man, your police officer, in order to move on to the next thing in life, improve your lot, and avoid negative consequences of your actions, is actually the most salient characteristic of modern work. In enterprise terms, the new model that is emerging in the 21st century is precisely that, but occurring at all levels of action simultaneously. Even computer systems have to convince each other these days and the best one, the most flexible, wins.

Entrepreneurship is indeed fully dependent on having a persuasive founder, team, board, investor, and first customer. Bureaucracy is dependent on having a rational structure that makes sense to most of its participants, and one capable of organizing actions beyond the whims of individuals. Without sounding too much like the sociologist I once was, I simply put the two terms together and describe it as a new form of organizational governance.

What does entreprenocracy look and feel like? First of all, it is not currently the true and complete description of any organization I know of. All enterprises that survive the 21st century, however, will have entrepenocracy as its dominant logic.

In 1996, my old mentor, Manuel Castells, wrote a trilogy about the Network society. I was at first very fascinated with the concept. In fact, I still am. However, I quickly grew a scepticism towards the Castellsian notions that the network logic had somehow overtaken the former hierarchical and place based logic over a period of a small generation, because of the advances in microelectronics and software in Silicon Valley since the 1970s. The network, while powerful and capable of underpinning numerous innovations in the next decades as well, alone it is not. Rather, it complements and in some cases extends the reach of traditional bases of power, authority. Revenge of the Titans, so to speak. The giants on whose shoulders we stand, refuse to put us down. They start interfering in our affairs.

Leadership from below, the notion that attitude is more important than position in a hierarchy when you try to enact change, is my conceptual contribution to this debate. In my eponymous 2008 book on the subject, I explain how attitude, not position in a hierarchy, will determine whether you get something done or not. What I saw was similar to what Murray sees now. Change. Networks. Failure of top leadership across society. Inefficiencies in large organizations. Now, two years later, I am ready to admit the following: leadership from below is not enough. Leadership from the top is also needed. How? Why? What does that mean? And how is it related to WSJ’s Murray?

First, some formative experiences in my life include working for one of the largest and most complex public bureaucracies on the planet, the European Commission. As part of a 30K workforce from 27 member states, I was able to part take in the grand experiment of power sharing, project based identity and diplomacy that is the EU. Second, I now work for Oracle Corporation, with 105K, among the largest corporations on the planet, and also in its own way a complex bureaucracy. I have also started numerous non-profits, organized myself in action networks and earning absolutely nothing on the pursuit. Finally, early in my career, I ran my own start-up and gave advice to other start-up. In other words, I have experienced the entire value chain of organizational enterprises. What I have learned from this thoroughly multi sector life is the following: while no one size fits all, there are common approaches that work across context. A while back I published best practice advice on e-government in an article called Best practices in eGovernment: – on a knife-edge between success and failure. As I wrote back then, generic success factors exist, and lessons learned for practitioners include:

  • Achieve leadership buy-in
  • Keep technology as simple as possible
  • Get early stakeholder and user involvement
  • Gain momentum
  • Plan for sustainability

The lessons for today’s discussion on the supposed “End of Management” are similar, but there is the need to sharpen the organizational context of innovation:

  • Getting something done is always difficult
  • You cannot do it alone
  • Recruiting believers in what you are trying to do is essential. You cannot skip it regardless how good your idea is, what existing power base you may believe you possess
  • Initially, all initiatives appear to be without structure, but inevitably a structure forms

The theory of organizational ecosystems has tried to explain things like “emergence” in organic terms (see the work of the Society for Organizational Learning, SOL). However, in reality, change in social systems has nothing to do with ecosystems, because humans are infinitely more complex in their motivations than nature as such, although ecosystem could be as useful metaphor a metaphor as anything else, for lack of better ones.

Once entreprenocracy, the fusion of entrepreneurship and bureaucracy has been properly understood….these things will start to happen;

  • folks will be more realistic about organizational change
  • change makers will redouble their efforts to innovate within existing frameworks
  • the value and esteem of incremental innovation will increase
  • energy will be freed up to concentrate on innovation, wherever needed.

How can I say this with certainty? Hasn’t history proven that change is unpredictable? True, but some processes remain the same. The birth of entreprenocracy might be slow, but it is coming.

Beyond MacroWikinomics

World map of the Queen's Dominions at the end ...

Image via Wikipedia

MacroWikinomics, the sequel to the bestselling book Wikinomics is out this week. Should we rejoice? Sadly, no. Sure, the book has raving pre-publication commentary. The topic is cool: the prospect that each and every one of us is changing the world. But unlike the more methodical vision of Bill Drayton’s Ashoka, where “everyone a changemaker” actually refers to taking real actions towards becoming social entrepreneurs in your everyday interactions with your local community, the Tapscott/Williams vision is mostly hyperbole, echoing the cliché that “we need to come together as global citizens”. Just listen to the sound of this phrase at the beginning of the book, taken from the BusinessWeek excerpt of MacroWikinomics:

there is now a historic opportunity to marshal human skill, ingenuity, and intelligence on a mass scale to reevaluate and reposition many of our institutions for the coming decades and for future generations. After all, the potential for new models of collaboration does not end with the production of software, media, entertainment, and culture. Why not open-source government, education, science, the production of energy, and even health care.

what follows is a populist criticism of virtually every institutional framework in existence:

…[M]any of our institutions are stalled, lacking vitality, leadership, and dynamism. It’s like every last ounce of oxygen has been squeezed out, leaving a mess of deflated expectations and chronically underutilized resources.

As FT reviewer Richard Waters writes in his book review of MacroWikinomics, entitled “How the web will save the world”:

The difficulty with books such as MacroWikinomics is that they take interesting phenomena like these, then apply a heavy dose of messianic fervour to produce an absolutist view of the future.

The problem, however, does not lie in messianic fervour. Fervour is exciting, and sometimes warranted, depending on the cause. The issue is the lack of a deeper analysis. You cannot just dismiss all current governments, companies, industries and individuals and say open source collective collaboration through the web will change the world for the better. Where is the evidence? How do you know? What is the better world you are looking for? The problem with most “collective” problems is that each and every one of us has a different view of what the problem is not to mention what the solution would be. This is only one reason why collective innovation runs into problems.

Every decade or so, the visionary discourse of how globalization and technology will change the world seems to gain intensity. Unfortunately, in this case, the visionary talk is cyclical and repetitive. In 1999-2000, the vision every trend watcher was talking about was the “nomadic worker” who would be able to work anywhere, anytime. In my Ph.D, What the Net Can’t Do (2002), I showed through fieldwork that even in such a conspicuous place such as Silicon Valley, nobody really, really believed their own hype or had any plans of acting on it. Venture capitalists told me they would never invest in a company that was further away than a short car ride before lunch. Marketeers and engineers alike admitted they did not themselves use the Internet and its applications the way their advertisements said people would.

In reality, only workers who are willing to accept a rapidly descending status and relevance in the workplace, and who previously have worked up quite a reputation in some relevant sphere, can afford to go off the grid. Even for them, every minute counts. Every minute away from bosses, customers, markets, cities and inspiration, or from friends and family for that matter, takes away from your presence, relevance, and engagement with those who do tend to stay in one place or at least meet up face-to-face on a regular basis. In short, quantity time is still more valuable than quality time. Presence is still more valuable than virtualized co-presence.

In 2010, the visions are even grander. Now, the web will save the world, apparently. Fine, maybe it will, after a while and together with a bunch of interrelated and non related phenomena. However, and regardless, one cannot just assume that most institutional frameworks, indeed anything that is not related to individual expression, lacks legitimacy. The age-old visions of direct democracy share the deficiency that hampers any such vision of change: the lack of awareness of how human motivation works. I do not discount that the web has facilitated and indeed spurred many ongoing experiments in mass collaboration. It is not unlikely that a few of them will change the world as we know it, or at least alter important aspects of our world. However, social change is complex.

First of all, in all honesty, many institutions, governments, and collective actors are alive and well. Sure, there are many things wrong with any given healthcare plan, school or public agency, but the alternative is not so clear. Individualism is great, for sure, but will, arguably, never completely outgrow community. The two seem to build on each other, even complement each other. Society will always fight back.

Or, maybe we should start with something a bit more basic: society exists. When will the visionary, absolutist, determinist, technocrats realize this? Their arguments are quite stunning, really. All in the name of progress. Progress from what? To what? This reminds me about a long standing discussion I have with a dear friend about whether progress actually exists. He claims all of civilization, all advances in societies and markets and capital show progress. On what grounds do people tend to claim progress? What is the measure? For him, of course, with the frame of reference being the “great civilizations” of Greece, Rome, and the British Empire, it is simple. Wealth, art, industry was created and some of it is timeless and important. Well. Yes. However, every time we claim to progress, the counterargument can be made, some (other) people are worse off. So, for instance, the surplus of the colonies created palaces and industry in Europe. Conversely, it set Africa on a path of perennial decline for centuries. Or, as Richard Waters writes:

It would be nice to believe that Tapscott and Williams have history on their side, and that projects such as Linux foretell a world where anyone with an internet connection and an hour to kill will give generously of their cognitive surplus.

The problem is, most people’s cognitive surplus is quite limited, measured and must be applied sparingly to only the most important projects at hand. So, I might get involved in my kids’ school, a charity or two, a local political debate, or in global debates in my field of expertise. But, I will not get involved in everyone’s schools, all charities, all political debates and in global debates across the globe. We are all situated actors with our own bounded, focused frame of mind. We cannot focus everywhere. We cannot spend all of our energies on all good things. We must choose and we do. Daily. Ruthlessly. Most of us do it based on an analysis of what means the most to us. What we care the most about. Most of all, we make the decision based on where we are. Place making is difficult. Only with labour do we make the world our own. And when we do, we celebrate that, try to enjoy it, rather than look elsewhere. Psychologically, that is also the sane attitude. If you walk around trying to engage in anything, anywhere, you are delusional, and most likely, ineffective.

Empowering citizens is a great aim. I believe it can happen. I believe it does happen. It just does not happen all the time, and the web is not the cause of it. And, we need institutions to organize ourselves. Every time a problem is complex, recurring, or demands fair solutions, an institutional arrangement seems a quite fruitful way to go. Also, there is nothing morally wrong with organizing human societies in representative arrangements, governments, bureaucracies, and corporations. This is not to say that checks and balances are not needed and that the web is not useful in this regard.

In 2008, I wrote the book Leadership From Below. I argued that leadership is more about attitude than position. My intention was not to say that formal leadership will disappear or has disappeared. Rather, what I was pointing out is that influencing others demands that you acquire followers, or even better, that you simply channel the energies that are latent in the group you are working with. For instance, you will be more successful at innovation if you work with other people’s ideas, shaping them together rather than always asking people to work on your ideas. This applies almost always, and even if your idea is better. Psychoanalysis has brought forward this insight, although it must have been known to man (and especially women) for centuries. My grandmother knew. My mom, my wife, and my daughter all know this. I merely write about their insight and sometimes discover their plot as an afterthought.

MacroWikinomics is a nice phrase and will likely sell quite well. Its ideas, however, are shallow. There is nothing wrong with collaborative innovation but it is not at all new or completely web related. It would be nice to believe that every problem requires a given amount of resources, say 1, 10, 100 or 1000 man months. But this is not true in practice. A problem can get solved just like that, if an innovative idea comes forward. A team might be astonishingly inefficient or very efficient, depending on what happens in their group process. A huge problem might actually require an enormous amount of energy to resolve, but the exact quantity needed can seldom be determined beforehand.

Arguing against the limitless opportunities of the web sometimes feels like being against fighting climate change, aids, or corruption. In short, it is perceived as being against progress, against the politically correct, against reason itself. However, my cause is not to try to stop positive change. But naïve faith in the impossible: namely the belief that everyone we will change the world for the better simply by taking part in online collaboration surely is also damaging to the intellect, and possibly to society.

Information technology is good for many things. However, whereas IT excels at underpinning efficiency and effectiveness of relatively well framed challenges, its track record in underpinning boundless innovation in any given area is shorter, and less distinguished. We simply do not know enough. Could the web be essential to solving the world’s most pressing problems? Possibly. Could it at least help. Sure, but saying that is so trivial that one does not need to write a book about it.

Instead, what we need is a cognitive framework for what each of us can do where we are, and an awareness about what has been done by those we are surrounded by. The old phrase “on the shoulders of giants” used to mean that we all build on our ancestors. The new phrase might become “on each other’s shoulders”, but I just would not bet on it yet. It is absurd to purport an absolute faith in the wisdom of contemporaries. History shows that societies that do so, only do so at their own peril. Look at the latter parts of the Greek, Roman, British Soviet or US empires. They all became completely paralysed by the obsession with running themselves. They stopped caring about anything outside themselves. Obsessing over their own inventions, they thought themselves invincible. From this perspective, the web might be the last innovation of the West? Who knows?

Mass collaboration by individuals, whether or not they are connected, co-located, know each other or not, has obvious limits related to the inefficiency and psychological complexity of masses. The old crowd psychologists, from Gustave LeBon onwards, were sceptical of the masses. Tapscott and Williams seem overly optimistic. The truth is somewhere in between. The web is a platform, a very efficient platform for innovation. However, it is not a panacea. In itself, it does not solve anything. Only humans do. Sometimes.

The Slow Birth of Entreprenocracy: Part II

Pročitano u 2005. godini

Continuing the debate on Murray’s End of Management foray in WSJ recently, I would say that the true changes brought about by openness have been here all along. Whether we have put them to use depends on the culture. In Norway, an egalitarian country, health informatics is not just something the IT industry tries to push on doctors. The Oslo Innovation Clinic Offers Treatment for Ideas, writes Gaurav Bhalla in a Harvard Business Review guest blog:

The first-of-its-kind Clinic of Innovation at Oslo University Hospital works a lot like an outpatient health clinic, but treats ideas rather than patients. Ideas walk in, are diagnosed, and are treated or referred; some are sent home with a prescription for further development, and an appointment for a follow-up visit.

The underlying solution, developed by the up-and-coming Norwegian IT company Induct, is brilliantly simple. Anybody can submit an idea or a challenge which goes onto their service-based platform that allows companies to easily practice true “open innovation” through the creation of corporate Innovation Communities.

Creating structures that motivate and inspire workers is correctly pointed out by Murray as a contemporary challenge for any corporation. However, knowing how to inspire is a challenge equally huge in the cases of Wikipedia or Linux. When it comes to motivating the next generations of volunteer programmers to contribute to Linux or individual hobbyist online lexicographers to contribute to Wikipedia, this is not easy. A very slim percentage of the online population is actually an online participant or creator in a significant way, the largely self-serving web 2.0 crowd included.

Where Murray excels is in providing a summary of the elements of the “new model” that he feels has to emerge. Truthfully, though, the new model is emerging as we speak even without him. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: he has described some valid trends. These are things like fostering entrepreneurial spirit in all work, delegating authority, culling ideas from outside the company, increasing the importance of team work and peer relationships, and making investments in the welfare of workers in their workplace. So far, such initiatives have often boiled down to providing services like food, cleaning, or massage for free or subsidized as part of the work day.

However, clearly, all organizations will constantly need to get more creative in trying to retain their skilled labor force, whether or not they are for profit, not for profit, or part of the new phenomenon Ashoka‘s Bill Drayton has coined, that is, hybrid value chains where profit and non profit is intermeshed.

Murray’s thoughts are interesting but not as carefully worded as they should have been, perhaps. For instance, he ends on the observation that “ The old methods won’t last much longer”. However, calling management a “method” is fine when referring to Peter Drucker‘s version of management science. It is not fine when it applies, as it does, to the practice of managing people as such. I would be willing to bet that need will never go away.

Management is, perhaps, becoming less important, or it at least appears so. Certainly, leadership is becoming more important, that is, if we define management as handling tasks and leadership as handling people. Management, in that view, is purely the aspect of efficient resource allocation, whereas leadership is related to motivating individuals to actually carry out the tasks needed. However, even this simplistic definition of these two terms leaves Murray with conceptual problems. It is actually better to say that management lives on, and leadership challenges increase at the same time.

However, leadership has its own limitations as a concept. The new model Murray talks about would will have to reinvent leadership, too. For instance, the thought that there would be a particular group of people who could provide vision and others who would follow or get inspired by that vision is profoundly shaken and stirred.

In the age of web 2.0., inspiration comes from many places. Yet, the very process of inspiring somebody follows the model aptly described by Seth Godin as “recruiting your tribe”. Whether you work in a corporation, in government, for a non profit, or simply act on something from your own living room as a consumer, a parent, or some other type of social role, you do need to do the very same thing. You need to let your voice be heard, enlist allies, and build some kind of consensus in a relevant social group.

You might need to build momentum with new people on ad hoc basis, or you may need to take into account existing groups and navigate their interests. However, you cannot change anything alone. Not even the internet provides you with that opportunity.

Toddlers become Leaders

A PlantSim toddler.

Image via Wikipedia

There is a growing trend to use toddlers as a model for positive (and negative) leadership traits.  This is not lost on FT’s Lucy Kellaway who in the FT Business Life On Work column on 13 September 2010 describes Nicholas Brann’s theory of leadership:

● Toddlers are full of energy and enthusiasm. You can’t beat a toddler who is really into something and going for it 100 per cent.

● Toddlers are natural risk-takers. They throw themselves into climbing down the banisters in the boldest, bravest fashion.

● Toddlers are persistent. When told not to smear jam on a DVD, they will wait a couple of minutes and then do it again.

● Toddlers are inquisitive. They will not be fobbed off with a stock reply but go on asking “why? why? why?”

● Toddlers are creative. Their felt-tip drawings on walls and sofas betray the liveliest imagination.

● Toddlers have great interpersonal skills. They are good at thawing the hardest heart with hugs and sloppy kisses.

Leadership from below takes some getting used to.  Toddler leaders can be exhausting, demanding, and unreasonable. But they are effective. The interesting thing to start paying more attention to, is what happens in a group of toddlers. Think a toddler birthday party. There will be plenty material for new theories, books, and challenges to the initial theorem.

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