Weinberger’s (2011) states, “Knowledge now is the unshaped web of connections within which expressions of ideas live.” (118) He goes on to explain that, “the world itself is more like a shapeless, intertwingled, unmasterable web than like a well-reasoned argument.” (119) He contemplates the shape of this networked thinking and concludes it has no shape, but is instead uncontrollably divergent. It has become, as Jon Husband defines it, a wirearchy, “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology” (para 8). The power of the wirearchy lies in a flattened organizational structure where people depend on one another …working together through connection and collaboration … taking responsibility individually and collectively rather than relying on traditional hierarchical status. In this uber connected world a leader’s role becomes one of championing ideas and ensuring resources are focused on identifying the possibility for innovation in those ideas. To do this Husband explains that leaders need to stay on top of how and why people are connecting and sharing information and facilitate this connection whenever possible. To foster the collaborative spirit Husband also focuses on a leader’s ability to listen deeply and be transparent. Being able to let go of power and control is critical for the wirearchical leader.
Weinberger in his video looks to the future and suggests we need to constantly anticipate how to stay relevant. And since it is very difficult it is to anticipate what will be meaningful he suggests that we need to keep the possibilities open ended. Thus instead of leaders filtering information out, based on their own priorities, it would be wiser to let the user determine their own priorities after filtering through on their own. And, according to Gartner, acting or thinking independently will become the anomaly. Instead we are likely to experience swarming where groups of people gather instantaneously to solve a problem, solve it then dissipate as quickly. (The work evolution of flash mobs?) Work Sketch Ups, discussed by Gartner, also highlight the impermanent team. This presents some unique leadership challenges in that the team or project may be ephemeral and unpredictable. And a cornerstone to successful leadership in this connected world will also be establishing powerful connections and high levels of trust with others. Exploiting the Weak Links (forming necessary relationships) and Working with the Collective (interacting with groups outside of the organization’s purview) are two such areas necessitating the building of trust. Another component of successful leadership proposed by Gartner is the ability to recognize patterns. Although both Weinberger and Husband seem to warn against the leader doing much filtering, the ability to recognize patterns could prove to be eminently helpful for a leader in influencing vision and direction for her followers.
And how will leaders and their followers be able to obtain these skills? Gartner recommends businesses help make everyone more digitally savvy by launching learning boot camps. I love the boot camp concept because of its “all in” approach so necessary in this network tsunami. And taking a different track on preparing the workforce and leadership for these new skills, Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s chief economist, lists HR transforming itself as Job Trend #1 in FastCompany’s top 5 workplace trends forecast for 2017. Since employee engagement is a top focus in my organization I was fascinated by the HR workforce analytics that can track every stage of an employee’s progression through a company and Sentiment trackers such as Glint and Small Improvements which enable employees to monitor their attitudes, engagement, performance and more at various times throughout the day. As I took a tour through the websites of this Sentiment tracking software I felt it was a bit intrusive. Yet it also struck me as like a natural networked evolution to Teresa Amabile’s research (Progress Principle, 2011) on the positive impact of meeting even very small goals during the work day. Her subjects used daily diaries and recorded thousands of pages. Wow! How much easier her research would have been with using Glint.
Two other predicted changes caught my attention in some additional Gartner studies. In their Top Strategic Predictions they suggest that by 2020, the average person will be engaging in conversation with AI more than humans. The study references current day conversational user interfaces, such as Amazon's Alexa, or Apple’s Siri. I wonder to what extent such conversational interfaces might replace leaders. They are omnipresent and are certainly informed. Another element in the study suggests that the meaning of literacy is changing. We used to associate literacy with being able to read information. Now, simply reading is not enough. The literate individual also knows how and where to search. From an HR and leadership perspective this suggests that changes are coming in what we value in our employees and how we prepare them for success.
Chamberlin points out that tomorrow’s workforce needs to be creative, flexible, have strong soft skills, and good judgment. Weinberger sees employees who are who are well connected and can continue to build connections with both humans and the network. Gartner’s research predicts swarming and temporary relationships which need to form and perform very quickly. Husband sees a flattened, integrated work world of interdependence. Success in the future seems to rely on us being able to tap our deepest human elements of trust and connection with a savvy awareness and integration with the network. We will need to form solid relationships with both humans and AI. It is difficult for me to nail down specifics that leaders will need moving forward but I can say with confidence that we need to help ourselves and those around us learn to live in complete unpredictability. And humor is one great tool for making at least a tiny bit of sense of the ambiguous world. Thanks to Dr. Watwood sharing one of his favorite cartoonists, I was led to https://www.gapingvoid.com/ a site offering to help organizations “address the gaps between your culture and your purpose, so your employees can help your business succeed.” They offer to do this through a combination of art and Culture Science™. The company name and mission made me smile. We surely are experience a gaping void of understanding right now and I think it’s worth considering that maybe part of our solution as leaders is to keep smiling J
Amabile, T. & Kramer, S. (2011). The Progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.