Lessons from the Drowning in Morses Pond

Wellesley

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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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.

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 Slow Birth of Entreprenocracy: Part III

Digital image of the 1326 Oriel College Charter

Image via Wikipedia

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.

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.

The Slow Birth of Entreprenocracy

Tux, the Linux penguin

Image via Wikipedia

In a recent Wall Street Journal article on The End of Management, Alan Murray claims corporate bureaucracy is becoming obsolete and that managers should act like venture capitalists. Maybe so. But management trends do not necessarily mean that the old mores disappear. The two may integrate. Or, the new trend might be just ephemeral. Very often, things regress towards the mean. Is he running the risk of calling a live phenomenon obsolete? Is he slightly overconfident in the venture capitalist attitude? Yes to both. Here is why.

In the case of management as such, or corporate bureaucracy in particular, lots of things have happened since the phenomena first appeared. Well, we might first want to discuss when it actually did appear. Is Murray talking about the practice of management, which is as old as humans have formed groups and civilizations? Or, is he talking about the post-war formulation of management science and case studies of its practice at western business schools? Although Murray mentions that business guru Peter Drucker has called management “the most important innovation of the 20th century”, and Murray continues to say that management, as a perspective, cannot survive the 21st century, the article is unclear.

The article’s author, Alan Murray, is the WSJ Deputy Managing Editor, and is actually pitching his new book, “The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management“. I sympathize. Books need pitching, even for somebody with WSJ as their speaking platform.

Murray is correct in characterizing contemporary corporations as bureaucracies. This is a point often lost on business pundits who criticize government. Somehow, in their opinion, private sector has the solutions whereas public sector needs to reform their bureaucracies by taking private solutions on board. With Murray’s lens an entirely different picture emerges. Both governments and corporations are bureaucracies. They are both outdated. Bold claim. It makes him sound 20 year younger, but not necessarily right.

Where Murray completely loses the grip is when he starts trying to characterize the new phenomenon he uses as a straw man for the current condition of permanent and constant change:

“Complicated enterprises, like maintaining Wikipedia or building a Linux operating system, now can be accomplished with little or no corporate management structure at all.”, he asserts. Has Murray looked into these two very complex organizational ecosystems? Has he ever contributed to any of them? Does he know anybody who does? His kids? Grandchildren?

In the example of Wikipedia, let’s just remind ourselves that the site has gone through several management upheavals and policy changes. There are now much stricter rules on who gets to post what. All authors are logged and can be retraced by any reader or Wikipedia staff at any time. If you look at how even a fairly simple entry is created, you will find that there are numerous layers of bureaucratic structure involved. There is a main, originating author. There are people who just point out a spelling error here and there. There are people who add significant updates over a long period of time. In short, there is a hierarchy, there is an implicit allocation of authority, and there is respect for these things. I will not go into detail, since Wikipedia’s operation is commonly known for all who know anything about the web, but suffice to say that short of the payroll, Wikipedia is like any other corporate system, and only slightly more nimble. That does not mean I am against it, simply that I refuse to take it as an example of anti-corporate evidence, whatever Jimmy Wales may say.

In the example of the Linux Operating system, I would say, its emergence has been hierarchical from day one. Linus Torvalds towered over its development in the beginning. Yes, he did accept help from others. That is the entire point, and not one lost on corporations either. However, here’s the thing. You cannot simply start changing the Linux kernel without permission from the code owners and overseers. It goes through numerous iterations before changes become permanent. In short, the process is quite complicated, even bureaucratic, some would say.

Instead of a completely new phenomenon that must be understood without reference to the past, what we have in Wikipedia and Linux is two different ways of reproducing the organizational phenomenon Weber over a century aptly characterized as a bureaucracy. He did not set a fixed number, but he was pretty clear that the phenomenon arose with increasing complexity and size. In fact, he wrote volumes to prove this fact and describe its emergence. So, it seems that once a process reaches a certain size, complexity increases, compelling its participants to organize themselves in a more meticulous manner, and introduce hierarchical structures, not necessarily compensated monetarily, but through other symbolic means. In the case of Linux, I might add, the corporate component has only increased in the last decade. For instance, it is commonly known that two thirds of the contribution into the Linux kernel is now done by programmers affiliated and paid by traditional corporations like Dell, IBM, HP, Oracle, Novell, and Nokia.

Wikipedia and Linux are not very similar, but for the purposes of tearing down Murray’s logic, they are similar enough. Both are highly managed, although in loosely coupled ties. Both include financial aspects. Yes, collaboration is also done virtually. Yes, these two enterprises are very different from the legal definition of an enterprise. However, there are a lot of commonalities, many more than Murray sees. Not seeing these and not accounting for them in an analysis of change, is a major oversight. Fine. He has a grander scheme in mind, perhaps? Well, where is it?

Little, if anything, can actually be accomplished without management structure, even in the Internet age. In fact, it is not the management part that has changed, it is the speed with which networked interactions complement and extend existing power structures. Occasionally, technologies will also disrupt hierarchies, or at least alter them, but that is actually a more rare occurrence.

TO BE CONTINUED

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