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...

Image via Wikipedia

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 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.

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.


Bottom-up lessons from European CEO magazine

President George W. Bush, left center, joins f...

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European CEO magazine is currently running a story called: What’s missing from this picture? Oliver Mack, head of learning at Common Purpose writes:

“MBAs…left managers in a bubble…eventually we all need to step outside of our team or department where our position makes us the boss”.

The reason is that the problems we need to solve typically take place outside of our formal sphere of influence.  Mack continues to argue for education based on challenging leaders in “real life situations that shake them up” rather than relying on tutorials, leadership models, and Powerpoints from MBA professors.

Despite the obvious need to somehow involve professors, one could wonder what puts MBA programmes at such a disadvantage in terms of providing case study experience.   Also, Mack’s alternative to an MBA is a two day workshop, hardly a substitute, I would say.   However, Mack is essentially spot on: leadership from below is a significant source of power in the network society and knowledge handled top down won’t cut it.

So how can we all learn more self awareness?  Based on recent experience, I suggest keeping a job, having kids, remaining happily married, and living to tell the tale.   None of those situations really involve top down authority of any sort.  Only that there are very few hours to sleep should you choose to pursue that multi-tasking approach.  I would gladly take an MBA instead, if I thought it would help.  Mack’s two day workshop seems to be an easy way out, even if he will shake me up.

Cultivating Leadership

ASCII to Binary encoding of the word "Wik...

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– The leadership I want to explore here has nothing to do with position or authority; it is about influence and responsibility, it’s about leadership from below or from within, writes Patrick Bridgeman, in a new article on Cultivating Leadership in this Fall’s Positive Life.  Bridgeman is Editor of Positive Life, an Irish publication which aim to deliver uplifting, informative articles and information designed to enhance the quality of readers’ lives.  He continues:

I want to equate leadership not with being in charge but rather with the ability to inspire initiative and new thinking in those around us. At the core of this approach is the capacity to navigate new paths, build teams and broker between different points of view…

Sounds good to me! Although, I would not say that there is a contradiction between being in charge and being perceived to be in charge, nor between inspiring and actually being responsible for inspiring others.

The important thing is to maintain one’s grounding and facilitate other people’s growth, whilst still being able to focus your activity on the targets you have set for yourself and others.

So, what we need is a fusion between position based and place based authority, which is very different from believing the world is now unleashing an unbound process of wiki leadership as advocated by MacroWikinomics.  More about that later.

Can President Obama Exhibit Leadership From Below?

So Obama won, McCain lost. Republicans are out. Democrats are in.  What now? Obama has campaigned on change, on being the challenger, on being different. He has deployed a web savvy campaign strategy focused on micro contributions from hoards in addition to, not instead of, large donations. All of this is very trendy, very smart and very well known by now. See, for instance, Eric Legale’s blog on Obama as the President of the Internet Generation.

What few have pointed out is that Candidate Obama preached and practiced Leadership From Below. For a quick tutorial, check my post on What my Daughter Taught me about Leadership. But how can a President Obama exhibit Leadership From Below? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? After all, it is arguably the most powerful position in the world. Why would the President need Leadership From Below?

In fact, there are five reasons why Obama still needs the bottom-up perspective:

1. Formal power if fine, but not enough

Leadership from below does not mean that you cannot have formal power. It does not mean that you need to be the underdog. It does not mean begging to lead or begging people to support you. Rather, it simply says: to enact change, I need to inspire followership. The recent book Followership: How Followers Are Creating Change and Changing Leaders by Harvard Kennedy School‘s Barbara Kellerman is right on. You can only lead when you are allowing people around you to voice their concerns. Leadership From Below means never assuming you are the only voice in the room, even if you always have the last word.

2.Macchiavelli is out of date

Macchiavelli, who has been the elite’s unchallenged management guru since the 15th century said it is better to be feared than to be loved. The reason is that when you are loved, you can still be fooled, but when you are feared any challenger is a fool. The trouble with fear is that it is very unpredictable. It was ok to be a feared dictator in the Italian Renaissance, it is not ok to be a feared President in 2009. Public perception is volatile. When markets operate in fear, they collapse. When people are afraid, they turn to terror. When co-workers fear you, they simply change employer. In short, Machiavelli is out of date. Leaders should recognize that centuries have passed and complexity has increased. Not by much, I would say, but enough that it is safer to be loved than feared.

3. The US has a complex constituency

Being President does not only mean being the President of a country. You are also a global actor. The case could be made that there are more Obama supporters who did not have the right to vote than did, if you count 2/3 of citizens in Europe, and many, many across the world. Seldom has a campaign invigorated so many non voting parties, people, and pundits. While the US President does have formal power over the US mainland, his powers over the world are severely limited. Well, his powers are limited unless he plays his cards well. I believe the George W. Bush era slogan was “if you are not with us you are against us”. It didn’t play so well. Leadership from below is the way to go when you are building partnerships, trying to enlist opponents, working through intermediaries, in short, when engaging in diplomacy.

4. To enact change, a leader must be consistent

Leaders without formal authority need tech savvy, listening skills, social antennas, and a good pitch. With these you can master any situation. Many Presidents have had at least the latter two, but have let all of these skills go when they took office. But Obama will need to maintain them. The credibility of his message depends on staying open, approachable, and diplomatic. The formal authority of a Presidential office might stay largely the same when a new President takes office, but what he or she makes of it does not.

5. Military and financial crises demand buy-in

It would be easy to think that the military and the financial sector are best governed top-down. After all, employees in both sectors are well used to taking orders from above. However, it seems clear to most people that this approach has not worked and will not work, at least not now. The US is slowly coming to terms with a world where followership is more important than leadership. In his new book Tribes, marketing guru Seth Godin talks about the renewed importance of the tribal type of leadership in contemporary society. We want a leader, but we want a stake in where we are being led and why. When the military spends most of its time winning hearts and minds instead of firing bullets, and the largest banks suddenly are state owned, the model is about to change. Stakeholder leadership is suddenly in fashion. As citizens we have bought ourselves a share in the the financial meltdown. As citizens of the world, we have a stake in reducing terror and unrest. A President that does not see it as his first priority to win buy in for his views, will fail. Unilateralism is out. Multilateralism is in. Buyout is out. Buyin is in.

May Obama and his advisers read this blog and have a great day. Enjoy the first day as President elect. Best wishes, and, my advice is, stay the underdog!

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