Le Web ’08 – leadership at the end of the age of information

David Weinberger suggests that the age of informations, as we are used to know it, has come to an end.
The end of information doesn’t mean that there will not be information. It’s the contrary: we will always have it. But the viewof the world will change.
Today the process of informations follows this path:

  • sociality
  • understanding
  • meaning
  • information
  • bits

The process starts with lot of informations and tends to reduce it. When information is reduces is more manageable.

Bur reducing information so that it can be standardize means that, when applied to a person, the person becomes “boring”. That’s because we’ve been required by information to throw out most of information in order to be able to manage it.

That is changing. Nowadays (Facebook for example) there is a lot of information, but also a lot of links, created without control. There is alot more of information than during the age of information. While the age of information reduces hyperlinks, this new age of information connect and emphasize

What about leadership? Leadership as we know it is based on scarcity. Consider for example Jack Welch. It was a great leader and the CIO of General Eletric. In this context leadership is tied to scarcity. Leadeship itself is scarce.

The leader is the only one that has access to all of the information in the firm. And for him to succeed he keeps the information scarced for the rest of us. But the leader is overwhelmed with information. it makes decisions like a computer, garbage in, garbage out. This id the information-based model of leadership. In thi way there is also a scarcety of people, just one isolated figure that decides, communicates, coordinates, has vision, strategy, is accountable.

It’s not natural that one person can do it, and it fact’s he doesn’t do it very well.

Compare this with crowdsourcing leadership. In this context the job of the leader gets ditributed over the network. In an environment like that decision making is a failure of leadership: if you put decision on the top that is a sign of failure of the network.

That’s why solo-leaders would have not built the web

Leadership is a property of the network, not of the individual.

Weinberger introduces also the meaning of “adundant governance” with examples taken from the recent US elections. Change.gov, the site released shortly after the election, is not perfect but they are changing and improving it every day.

This leads to the “reputational democracy”, a new level od democracy that did not exist before. This democracy is very dependent on very little tiny choices: small change can have huge repercussions.

So what will leadership be in the future? It’s very difficult to know, because there are so many forces into play (myth, power,ego,collaboration, money, generational change, tradition, realism, institutions).  We cannot predict it. Weinberger hopes that the notion of the leader will go away.

There are great leaders, but they are too scarce. leadership embraces abundance of connections.

David Weinberger – Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University