Technology is an enabler. What Web-based technology enables is networks. What networks enable are the broad and free flow of information and the democratization of the ability to freely and easily connect with other people.
By training, I’m a communicator, a writer and a marketer. I came across the Web sometime in 1994 and was immediately struck by how revolutionary it was. I still feel incredibly privileged to be part of something that’s changing the world, generally for the better.
Before the Web, only the rich and powerful were "well connected." The "old boys clubs" were the networks where power and influence flowed. The pre-Web organization was a hierarchy with an "old boy" on top, some more old boys in senior management and so on down. This system has worked very well for the old boys.
But the Web is changing things.
A new leadership paradigm seems to be emerging with an inexorable shift away from one-way, hierarchical, organization-centric communication toward two-way, network-centric, participatory, and collaborative leadership styles,” Grady McGonagill and Tina Doerffer write in The Leadership Implications of the Evolving Web. “Most of all a new mind-set seems necessary, apart from new skills and knowledge. All the tools in the world will not change anything if the mind-set does not allow and support change.”
Digital transformation is cultural transformation first and foremost. Some time ago, I dealt with an organization that had just installed collaborative software. The problem was that the employees saw no benefit in collaborating. Surprise, surprise, collaboration didn’t happen. Collaboration, first and foremost, is a cultural thing, not a technological thing.
As Patrick McGovern (no relation) from MIT Sloan puts it, “Some of the most important innovations of the coming decades will not be new technologies, but new ways of working together that are made possible by these new technologies.” We must create the culture that encourages and rewards collaborative working, that makes best use of all these new technologies.
The world is shifting at a dizzying speed from a hierarchy to a network.
Organizations and those who would exercise leadership have no choice about whether to accept a new world that differs fundamentally from the old,” McGonagill and Doerffer write. “Welcomed or not, it is the inevitable future and is becoming the present in many organizations at a breathtaking pace. At the same time, there is a choice about whether to deny and react to these cultural and economic shifts or instead acknowledge and embrace them. And there is a choice as well -- for both organizations and individuals -- about whether and to what extent to cultivate the culture, mind-sets, skills, and knowledge that make it possible to leverage the enormous potential of the tools of the evolving web to better realize their purposes.”
Hierarchy will not disappear but it will have to share power with the network. It will have to embrace collaborative cultures both with its own employees and with its customers. The borders of where the organization begins and ends will become greyer and greyer in the network. But what is definitely in black and white is that "business as usual" is not a viable business model for the future.