Clever is Cute as Sustainable is Wise

If the financial crisis confirmed anything, it is that the majority of humans are followers, not leaders, and that leaders throughout our society have yet to capture the significance of technology to their members and organizations.

One of the primary causal factors cited by thought leaders in studying crises is poor leadership, to include those who accept misaligned or conflicted interests. When we see “skimming off the top” in others we label it corruption, yet few see it in themselves at all, or choose to ignore it, resulting in the same outcome. While balance is obviously needed for survival—indeed managing that balance well is key for modern leaders, when we over-emphasize short-term profits, we then elevate the influence and power of those who are skilled at winning very short-term battles, rather than long-term wars. I have personally experienced that strategy in organizations and observed it in many others; it doesn’t end well.

One problem with the short-term leadership model is that the skills for software programming, instant trading, manipulating markets, or otherwise amassing great wealth quickly, does not necessarily translate to good leadership in a private company, government, or stewardship in philanthropy. Indeed, in my own observations and those of many others, quite the opposite is often true, yet our information institutions instruct society to emulate the clever rather than the wise. Should we be surprised then at the trend line of manipulation, polarization, and ever deeper crises?

Unlike the early days of the industrial revolution, in the second inning of the information revolution we now understand that most of the challenges facing the human species are long-term in nature, so we must realign our thinking and structures accordingly, including financial incentives and leadership development. Alas, since the long-term has been greatly compressed by consistent failure of short-term behavior, our entire species must now learn to act in the short-term on behalf of our mutual long-term interests. Easier said than done in our culture. The good news is that it’s quite possible…tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

The process of identifying, mentoring, and recruiting strong leaders often consists of conflicting advice that tends towards self-propelling cultures, regardless of organizational type. In addition to skill sets and track records sketched from misleading data, leaders are often selected based on ideology, dysfunctional networks, and susceptibility to peer pressure, instead of independent thought, good decision making, and wisdom.

Given the evidence, a rational and intelligent path would be to reconstruct our thinking and behavior surrounding the entire topic of leadership and organizational structures, and then tailor that thinking specifically for the environment we actually face, with tools specifically designed for the actual task. For many cultures, such a path begins by emerging from deep denial and embracing evidence-based decision making. Once emerged from the pit of denial, they soon discover among other truths that resources are not infinite after all, personal accountability is not limited to the inefficiencies of organizations, and that both the problems and solutions we face are inextricable from computing, organizational management, and personal accountability. Only then will the path to sustainability began to take shape in the vision field in sufficient form to differentiate the forest from the trees.

Yet another of the many disciplines related to this topic defines psychosis as a “mental disorder characterized by symptoms, such as delusions that indicate impaired contact with reality”.  An appropriate translation of insanity might be “refusal to adopt tools and models designed to achieve sustainability”, aka survival.

If this sounds familiar in your organization, it could well be traced to your leadership development model and process, for leaders are the decision makers who have budget authority. Perhaps it’s time for your organization to redefine strategic from clever to wise, and synchronize the organizational clock with present-day reality?


Save the Web: vote with currency, not clicks

When the Web was first commercialized, it was relatively easy to support web sites with a mix of paid subscriptions, e-commerce, and advertising. The diverse mix reflected an organic model that essentially required serving the interests of the customer. A rational ecosystem was soon emerging that tempered the more destructive dynamics of the network effect.

Then a trillion dollars flooded the medium from venture firms, investment banks, billionaires, multi-nationals, university endowments, and pension funds. Not to be left out, governments and non-profits joined the stampede and the greatest price war in human history ensued. Within a couple of years, if one didn’t have a Web site competing to give intellectual capital away for free; subsidized entirely by other means, it just wasn’t socially acceptable—knowledge wanted to be free. Well folks, much like freedom, knowledge isn’t free.

By the late 1990s when the then wealthiest person on the planet (Bill) said something like “let’s sling it (capital) against the wall to see what sticks”, all rationality had left the planet. I was embarrassed by and for my society. It was the perfect storm for a new emerging model where content providers by the billions—eventually every organization and human in the world it seemed, would feel compelled to compete in giving away their most valuable intellectual capital for free. And we all took the bait.

Fundamental economics

The small town newspaper model was no accident, rather it evolved over generations into a self-supporting medium that served the interests of the community above all else. With a mix of classifieds, banner advertising, and paid subscriptions, editorial was relatively free from any group of dominant forces. Yes, eventually many became entrenched monopolies that abused power, forced personal ideologies on others, and by extension threatened free speech, particularly when the same owner acquired local radio and TV stations. The model needed competition badly, not from halfway around the world, but rather from the local community. Instead of supporting sustainable competition, and reducing dependency, most people slammed the door on the paper boy/girl. Petty, ignorant greed is at it again, but this time it’s happening on a massive global scale.

Free global web sites supported by any means other than their communities are open to manipulation, predation, extended ideology, and ultimately, as ironic as it sounds—threatens our very freedom as individuals, communities, and nations.  Self-supporting economies are the primary defense of independence, freedom, and liberty, and are almost always more effective at regulating communities than the enforcer of last resort; aka the military.

As consumers of information on the Web, we have all been exploited by the largest price war in human history. For a decade and a half  now we have consumed and then demanded free intellectual capital that required enormous investment to produce, quite often at the expense of our neighbor’s job or business that formerly supported the local community in a myriad of ways that cannot be replicated by a global computer network. It may not be obvious, but one free article, software application, or brain surgery, when performed well, can represent generations of investment, save lives and jobs, and yet we demand it for free.

Predictably, driven by the free model in a global computer network, the highest levels of intellectual capital are increasingly unaffordable by the majority, and moving offshore where billions of others can be exploited. This trend represents a massive transfer of wealth that supports everything meaningful in society, including ultimately I fear; world peace.

The Web isn’t evil, but reliance on a free model always has been—representing a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Support your neighbor by voting with currency, not clicks. The next job, industry, or nation could be yours.