Some fundamental changes

But neither the flat organization nor empowered employees have been fully realized. The reason is that most of us have been working over the years to solve problems by creating new and improved companies, rather than by equipping individuals with their own empowering tools. What we still need are tools that make individuals both independent of companies and better able to engage with companies (or with organizations of any kind). Social tools alone won’t do it — especially ones that are still corporate silos. (And, forgive me, even Quora is an example of that.) – Doc Searls: Answering “Why has the empowered employee predicted in the Cluetrain Manifesto not emerged?” in Quora

You cannot read the rest of Doc’s answer unless you log into Quora, which is a pretty good example that most social media companies are just as control-oriented as any industrial organization was. If you have not read The Cluetrain, you should at least peruse some of its 95 theses. The initial thesis of The Cluetrain Manifesto is that markets are conversations, but I think that theses 10 through 12 describe the big potential change in relationships brought on by the Internet.

#10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

#11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.

#12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

As Doc mentions, the big challenge is equipping individuals with their own empowering tools. These tools are hardware, software, and most importantly, skills and attitudes. Taking control of our learning is a challenge for individuals used to working inside hierarchies that demand conformity and compliance. Note that without compliance training there would be almost no e-learning industry. The deck is still stacked against networked individuals.

So if you read the Cluetrain back in 1999, or have since quoted it, then it’s time to think about how to implement it. I have written about hierarchies and connected organizations for the past few weeks here. I have no doubt that major systemic change is necessary to deal with the wicked problems that face society today. Critical components that need to change are how we work and how we learn in organizations. That change has to start with people. Individuals need to build their own interdependent learning networks.

wicked-problems-joachim-strohThis is not a leadership or a management responsibility. This is a people issue. Each one of us should start seeking knowledge, building upon it, and sharing it, all in public. In this way we can develop an aggressively intelligent and engaged citizenry.

For the first time in history we have the means to learn together without any institutional or organizational intermediaries. We don’t need schools, or even corporate MOOC’s. It is not easy, but it is possible to create a global group of co-learners around almost any problem or subject. What’s holding us back? I think we are holding ourselves back.

If participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally, then it’s time to make some fundamental changes. Here is an example of re-thinking market relationships. Doc Searls is working with the Vendor Relationship Management project, which is “based on the belief that free customers are more valuable than captive ones — to themselves, to vendors, and to the larger economy. To be free —”

  1. Customers must enter relationships with vendors as independent actors.
  2. Customers must be the points of integration for their own data.
  3. Customers must have control of data they generate and gather. This means they must be able to share data selectively and voluntarily.
  4. Customers must be able to assert their own terms of engagement.
  5. Customers must be free to express their demands and intentions outside of any one company’s control.

Similar changes can be made in education and employment.

  • Free learners are more valuable than captive ones.
  • Free employees are more valuable than captive ones.

Thanks to Jon Husband for inspiring this little manifesto.

2 Responses to “Some fundamental changes”

  1. Thabo Mophiring

    I have a certain hesitancy with the market/customer framework.
    The very notion of customer implies consumption versus value creation..

    In my mind, ancient markets worked as exchanges between different suppliers of goods/services.
    Each actor was both customer and producer and thus free.

    • Harold

      Agree. This is why the open source software development model is so powerful. Anyone can fork the code and create a new product.


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