Leadership 2.0

Eyes wide shut

As Lloyd Davis, Janet Parkinson, Maria Sipka and any number of my friends might tell you, I’ve a bit of a problem with my eyesight.

Now this isn’t down to rubbish opticians and/or glasses that should have been changed ten years ago, nor is it down to the fact I’ve downed too many double vodkas before lunch-time, it’s simply a legacy of no-one actually realising I was shortsighted until I was seven (well, why would I have said anything? I thought the world was meant to be hazy and full of sudden collisions), plus another four years or so of my being too vain to actually put the glasses on.

As a result, not only was I inevitably left until last in any kind of sports team selection at school (possibly this happened once a week but in my pained childhood memory, the process seemed to come round more frequently – life became easier once I discovered bunking off to shop in High Street Ken), I also developed a way of ignoring or not fully believing what I actually did see.

Now in adult life I frequently fail to register blindingly obvious physical entities (like balls coming at me – ask any of my previous team captains).

Anyway, this all comes to mind while I’m sitting in the Royal Thames Yacht Club Knightsbridge with Arie de Geus. We’re eating Dover Sole, polished off with some nice Viognier, and looking out over a sunny Hyde Park, where people are riding horses, sedately, along Rotten Row, and frost still sparkles on the grass.

Arie is telling me about Francisco Varela’s research into ‘cognitive objects’. Varela (1946-2001) was a Chilean biologist and neuroscientist who argued that we need to ‘recognise’ something neurologically before we can process it properly; if we have no previous experience of an object (or idea), then we don’t tend to pick it up.

Leading on from this, Arie argues that the main problems in business stem from the fact that we either (i) fail to see something because we don’t understand it or (ii) reject something we do see because the object triggers a recollection of something painful or unpleasant which we would rather forget.

These ideas tie in nicely with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan Theory (thanks again to Benjamin Ellis for mentioning that) – we’re so busy analysing stuff that’s familiar, we fail to prepare ourselves for perceived (and unperceived) impossibilities.

Arie is keen for neurologists and management experts to work more closely together to explore the links between neuroscience and the way people behave at work. From what I understand, the Tavistock Institute and MIT have already done some research into this area, but it’s still relatively unexplored.

I hope we see this research happen. Neuroscience could go a long way to explaining why, despite years of expounding the case for enabling, enlightened leadership, we humans still tend to revert to primitive, command and control-type methods when it suits us.

Leadership 2.0

The time for heroes is past

One of the most memorable characters in the 1970s smash BBC sitcom, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was Perrin’s boss, CJ, whose grandiose catchphrase, brought out at every meeting, was “I didn’t get where I am today by…”.

CJ’s arrogance is highlighted when, half way through series two, his company, Sunshine Desserts is dissolved and he’s forced to apply for a job with Reginald Perrin, his former employee. He then corrects himself slightly, and starts his remarks with “I didn’t get where you are today…”.

The joke is, of course, that CJ can’t cope with his loss of power and authority, has stoically failed to move on, and continues to behave pretty much as he did when he was in the top dog position, to the despair of those around him.

It is this sort of one-dimensional leader that we are keen to get away from. The heroic leader’s potential inability to adapt to change, or listen to others, or to learn new ways of doing things is a significant factor in the failure of businesses.

But we ourselves are responsible for helping to shape these monsters. The heroic leaders’ egotism is in no small part a reaction to the adulation and sycophancy of those around him/her.

The classic heroic leader initially refuses to take on the leadership role, but is cajoled and persuaded to do so by the group. After a period of time, initial reticence is replaced by acceptance. This in turn, can be subsumed by arrogance. Especially if there are no checking mechanisms in place.

But business continues to promote the heroic leader.

Professor David Sims, Head of Management at Cass Business School, says that clients are increasingly asking for courses and seminars which are looking beyond the charismatic hero to more holistic ways of leadership.

He’s been asking himself why the heroic model of leadership has survived for so long.

“A colleague came back from a top international business school recently and said they were talking about heroic management – straight from the 1980s – but then you’ve got to realise that [those academics] are speaking to a self-selected audience that wants to be told it’s special. That’s why you get this rubbish trotted out…again and again!”

Part of this long-standing belief in heroic leadership is down to work carried out by Warren Bennis’ studies of leadership in the 1980s:

“Bennis popularised visionary leadership as the way to go. He went around interviewing leaders of the top 500 companies. They told him that they were in their position because they had vision. And he published that. But he shouldn’t have stopped there. He should have gone on and spoken to the friends of those CEOs – or their employees.

“If all you have is vision, you get locked up, because you’re mad. Things are only going to get done if you have other people around you to make sure the photocopiers are working.”

“A lot of people get to the top of organisations by surf-riding, actually avoiding leadership. Leadership has nothing to do with wearing the t-shirt that says ‘leader’ on it.”

So why does the myth perpetuate itself?

“One of the problems lies with journalists. Why do they constantly publish interviews with ‘leaders’? Well, when did you last read a good novel about a group? The thing is, we need heroes. If we don’t have them, we create them. We need them because once we’ve assigned responsibility, then we can relax. We don’t have to worry any more, because the ‘leader’ will sort it out.”

One way of dealing with this is to accept full responsibility for your position.

“There’s a great quote from Jack Welch: ‘as soon as you’re a leader, it’s not about you, it’s about them’. If you’ve got Neutron Jack saying stuff like that, you know it makes sense. Write yourself out of that hero role!”

Leadership 2.0

How do you manage Enterprise 2.0?

It’s 8pm on a balmy Thursday evening and area around St.Paul’s is deserted. Forty minutes ago, the Standard Chartered Great City Race went by but the crowds have now vanished, and the roads are still closed. I fight off any nagging doubts about what I’m doing here.

At the door of the BT Centre on Newgate Street, the security guard informs me, deadpan, that registration is closed.

Then, bizarrely, he hands me three boxes of name badges and asks me to identify mine. Within seconds, I’m Jane Henry from SpinVox (sorry, Jane). I’m allowed to step down the stairs deep into the basement, where it’s a relief to find a party going on.

Today I had to drive a sick friend down to Devon and back (11 hour round trip), so I’ve missed the main event, a Mashup panel debate on the current thinking around Enterprise 2.0, but I get the lowdown from Cimex director, Denise Turner, and event organiser, Emma Jell, who tells me I can watch the whole thing back online. Yay!

Enterprise 2.0 is, basically, social media for intranets. I’m interested because it looks at the hard technologies that support the softer skillset (‘Leadership 2.0’) I’m exploring for my book. Having said that, Enterprise 2.0 is, itself, just another concept, rather than a definitive set of tools.

Here’s a summary of interesting points from the event:

Jonathan Robinson (COO, NetBenefit): A few years ago, Phones 4U CEO, John Caudwell decided to ban all internal email in the workplace. There are also concerns about social networking (Facebook, Bebo etc) at work. A recent paper in The Architects’ Journal spoke about users freeing themselves from constraints of IT and the bar to knowledge management being lowered etc. Essentially, managers are worried about three things:

  • Time-wasting
  • Confidentiality
  • Control

Nigel Green (Executive Enterprise Architect, Capgemini UK): My job is to look at how we can apply web 2.0 technologies to the enterprise. I’m mentioning RFID first and not wikis and blogs. There’s a lot of stuff out there which, from a CIO’s point of view, is mind-boggling. We need to make sense of those typically web 2.0 terms which get thrown up all the time: the ‘long tail’, prosumerism, mashups, unbundled everything. We need to simplify the language we use.

JP Rangaswami (Managing Director, Service Design for BT Design): ‘Enterprise 1.0’ is sitting in a meeting surreptiously looking at your Blackberry under the table; ‘Enterprise 2.0’ is sitting in a cafe where everyone is on their laptops and everyone is chatting. The central epithet of 2.0 is its ‘write-ability’. We are social beings. There are three key things to consider in the uptake of Enterprise 2.0:

  • Generation ‘M’ [what JP calls the ‘Millennial’ generation – also known as Generation ‘Y’] are already adopting this stuff.
  • To grow as a company, you’re going to have to learn to share confidential information (otherwise you’re simply going round in circles).
  • The nature of expertise has changed: the cost of ‘cleaning up’ is lessened; many of us can correct mistakes more easily (Linus’s Law).

Enterprise 2.0 is not about a technology, it’s about a culture. People like sharing; it’s only enterprises that screw it up. We’ve had social networks in enterprises for a very long time (Bloomberg has had one for 15 years).

Ajit Jaokar – Founder, Futuretext: Blogging is not about talking ‘at’ somebody, you’re trying to create a conversation. So you don’t have to come out with something that is ‘perfect’, you release it – imperfect – into the discussion. [This ties in very much with what Russell Davies was saying at 2gether08].

Jonathan Robinson: Enterprise 2.0 is not tied up in a technology, it’s a way of working.

Simon Wardley (consultant): IT is shifting from a product-focus to a service-focus. The commodatisation of lots of services is leading to acceleration of innovation. When you bring web 2.0 into the enterprise, that’s what it’s all about – accelerating innovation. We’re seeing far more participation and collaboration and network effects in the workplace.

Jonathan Robinson: I’m seeing a lot of dictonomies here, eg: management versus emergent.

There were questions, but unfortunately the sound quality of the video was so bad, I’m not even going to try and interpret them – lots of food for thought from the speakers, though. This is helping to form my ideas around Leadership 2.0 – Enterprise 2.0 is all very well, but how do you actually manage it, and how do you make it happen?

Leadership 2.0

Save the cheerleader…

Amidst all the problem-solving talk around world poverty, hunger and global warming, there is a recurrent (though admittedly smaller) theme of the role of business and the changing nature of business organisations.

There’s a sense that business – private business – is a key part of the solution. That this is where the change will come.

Like a pattern of fractals opening out, there’s the idea that if private business can re-define itself, the greater world, the bigger picture, will also benefit (how’s that for an incentive)?!

If business just focused on the small detail of getting its own house in order, of creating effective internal communications, of treating employees like people, of generally ‘doing things right’, then maybe greater change can occur.

So how do we go about creating this positive ripple-effect?

I’ve been a fan of Umair Haque ever since I heard him at a Chinwag event earlier this year. Umair has a book out soon which I presume will be around his current theme of ‘Constructive Capitalism’ (all to do with ‘hacking’ the industrial economy and changing our ‘business DNA’).

Umair believes we’re at the beginning of an economic enlightenment. Here are some of his key points:

  • We didn’t have much creative destruction until about 1800 and the start of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, there’s been incremental growth until today, where we’re seeing an explosion.
  • The costs of this trade-off aren’t sustainable. Poverty levels in Africa are rising, shanty towns in Brazil are growing, obesity in western countries is at an all-time high.
  • Social capital – the percentage of people who trust each other and then go onto spread this goodwill to others in the community – has gone down.
  • These are all costs of creative destruction.
  • Do the benefits of creation really outweigh the costs of destruction?
  • Industrial era economic thinking has reached a stalemate because what we gain in one area (eg, financial, intellectual), we lose in another (eg, human, natural resources).
  • The only sustainable value is authentic value. If we build firms around that kind of ideal, then they will compete to minimize the costs of production.
  • The four forces of constructive capitalism are co-production, co-creation, co-value (sharing the benefits – generousity!) and co-management (co-ordination). (I’m hoping to chat more to Umair about co-management and explore this whole topic more fully).
  • The original point behind the setting up of institutions (circa 1800) was that we’d be insulated from the outside world. This is no longer the solution. It’s time to re-think, re-design and reconnect.
  • Markets, networks and communities can organize resources more efficiently than firms.
  • These models are popping up in ‘weird spaces’ – eg, in Open Source and also in large multinationals like Walmart, Starbucks and Google.
  • Google is a cross between a network and a market. It’s not beholden to its shareholders. Google has been set up to insulate itself against its public shareholders (but not necessarily the public at large).
  • People can’t be co-erced any more. The only thing that can motivate people is ideals.
  • Managing the world’s energy, hunger, thirst, health, education, finance and freedom – these will be the growth industries of the next ten years.
  • He’s not anti-capitalist: capitalism is the greatest poverty reduction method we have – but the way that capitalism operates is changing.
  • The problem is that, from the charity point of view, we don’t like to think we can make money out of these things; from the business point of view, we don’t tend to think that these things are profitable. But capitalism will solve this thing on its own.
  • Umair spent a lot of time working at the World Bank, but the World Bank is not flexible or fast enough to make the right sort of difference.
  • The change will come from private companies – although the institutions themselves have to change. We will need a very different type of firm, a very different kind of governance – and that’s the change that’s starting to happen.

There are arguments against this kind of gentle ‘renaissance’ – a voice at the back of Umair’s session argues that we need something ‘massively disruptive’ for the capitalist model to change at all.

Nico Macdonald (Spy) feels that Umair is jumping on a fashionable bandwagon of not believing in progress any more, and that there is a disconnect with the historical body of work critique-ing capitalism (from Marx onwards).

In fact Umair and Nico are locked in deep discussion for some time after the session has officially ended. Shame there wasn’t a live feed!