Archive for June 2009
I’ve been talking with different folks about a theology of communication—how we’re made to dialogue rather than just politely accept one-way messages delivered from on high. The protests in Iran are a living and vivid demonstration of this very thing. People are finding each other to protest twisted election results and the government doesn’t like it. And yet—shouldn’t anyone in a position of leadership begin to expect this very behavior? The protests demonstrate Clay Shirky’s argument (Here Comes Everybody) that these new social media tools allow people to find each other, not just without the benefit a hierarchy of bosses and managers and leaders, but in direct opposition to the bureaucracy. Just think how this will continue to work its way out when we’re not threatened by government action. Searching and organizing will become the new norm. Maybe they already have.
This one simple function has changed the way I personally create and access information. With a few keystrokes I can locate any particular word on my computer. This is great because often I can remember only one word of something I’ve read or written, and I certainly cannot remember which document it was in. Contrast the power of search with the old ways of keeping information in tight categories so that if I needed something, I followed a trail of folders which would (eventually) lead to the right document. I gave up on tracking actual physical pieces of paper long ago. “Search” not only saves time, it ends up being more precise.
Clay Shirky, In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations makes the case that the power of search is changing the way we organize and access information and the way we organize and access each other. We can come together now as we search out common problems and interests. Shirky contrasts these new ways of organizing by showing how complicated organizations have become: the larger the organization the more complicated the structure required to track work, direct workers’ movements and facilitate clear communication. Shirky offers a fascinating discussion of where org charts came from (they helped railroads establish clear communication so west-bound and east-bound trains could share the same track). There will always be org charts, but will they tell the whole truth? With this new “freedom to find,” large companies are beginning to see lines of authority blur. We will (also) always have bosses, but bosses will not always have the power of superior knowledge. I wonder how those relationships will change over time? One of Shirky’s points is that nimble new organizations are already taking advantage of this non-organizational way of organizing. He points to Flickr (versus Corbis) as an example of an organization that depends on user-generated organization as a successful model for the future. The contrast between Flickr and Corbis is not completely fair because of the differing goals of the two organizations.
Of course, we hear endlessly about how Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the other various social media are changing the way we connect. And we know from personal experience how Google has become our first source for answers to questions. The future of communication—where who we listen to will have less to do with lines of authority or the budget to develop clever messaging and purchase media—and more to do with how we access information. As we search on interests, hobbies, problems, solutions, vocation, avocation and whimsy, we’ll bypass gatekeepers, generate more word of mouth (physical and/or computer-mediated), and quite possibly, more truth.
There’s a flurry of lay-off activity these days over at a large client I’ve worked with for a number of years. I know because I’ve heard about it from a few different folks. I also know because lots of those I’ve not talked to are buffing their LinkedIn profiles and adding contacts like crazy. The rate of contact additions I see tells me these folks are not expecting to make it through the current set of axe swings. One guy told me they were expecting marketing to lose 30% of their people. One never knows how true these things are, but it is reason to take action.
In the medical device community I spend a lot of work time in, you never know if the fresh kid who started last year will be the director of marketing next time you come calling—so it only makes sense to not burn bridges on the way out. Friends—keep your options open as you welcome the next phase of your work-life.