Leadership at the end of the age of information

I’m at LeWeb in Paris, taking notes on some of the talks.

Dave Weinberger gave one of his trademark inspirational speeches, all about leadership in a a changing world. I’ve taken live notes, not a strict verbatim copy, but got most of what he says. I fully recommend watching this one when it’s available

Are we at the end of the age of information? It does not mean the end of information…we will always have it. but the way it has effected our view of the world has changed…

In the last few generations..we have been driving down a stack..we are good at managing bits,….you reduce what you know to make it manageable, so machines can process it. We know more about people than the machine does…that stuff that make a person our friend.  In an information system a person is boring, all the interest gets stripped out. We do it so we can process the information.  In the information age, we are required by the systems to throw outtmost of the info as we can only manage so much.

In the age of the web, there’s a lot more info on a person’s Social Network page. and there are links all over the place, everything is connected.  Each of the links carries rich information. they each add to what we know. it is a much richer view than the age of information.  Hyperlinks are the opposite of information, links join things, connect things, in rich ambiguous ways, they are uncontrolled., they are the opposite of info, which is why the age of info is coming to a close

Now we are going up the stack, to increasing socialisation., it’s an abundance of good stuff AND an abundance of crap. we are good at dealing with crap, it is the abundance of good that is throwing things for a loop. we are just not ready for that, we do not know how to deal with that, the amount of good content is overturning the structure.

Leadership has been based on scarcity. Jack Welsh is taken as the avatar, the paragon of leadership. He’s a great leader, great business leader…leadership itself is scare, most people are followers. In an organisation, a leader has access to all the info, they lead by restricting access for the rest of us, there is an imposed artificial scarcity of info, that is how it worked. 

Humans make decision in the different way to computers, we have all these inputs and we decide which inputs are going to count, diff to a computer. we make judgements, the process of making a decision is the opposite of the model, of computers.

In leadership, there is a scarcity of people…it’s lonely at the top. we treat leaderships as thought  it is a type of heroism leader at the top, alone, with the weight of leadership on their shoulders. 

Leaders are realists…they would not have built wikipedia, Linux, realism is not ambitious enough.  Leadership in a networked world is a property of the networks….we need networks with the properties of a single heroic leader.

In the US, we have strong leader now (or will do in Jan). We have s strong, traditional leader who understands the network.  You can see this in his campaign, they had a social networking site, they connected. One of the first things they did was put up change.gov at the start. It was not a great site but they are getting it better. They understand the web, which is to put something up, get feedback and then fix it.

Let’s talk hypothetically. Say Obama set up a social network for citizens, let’s say it has to face 100m people talking to each other.    Conversation and intimacy don’t scale, but this has been solved before.   Let’s say they combine properties of Daily Kos, plus Facebook,  MySpace etc.  So here you would have millions of little conversations, then a mechanism by which the important ones would move up.   There would be filters using a reputations system, things will rise up and then the government can start to participate in areas.  The people who are in the conversations will emerge from the  reputational system.  It’s reputational democracy (Simon Willis).   A new structure of democracy, it did not exist before and now it does, it has come out of the software implementation of a reputation system, based on small choices form a a developer.  But let’s say one day the developers change from a 5 star to a thumbs up and down syst, this has huge implications on the dynamics, the entire system can be changed in important ways from small decisions…They change a level of democracy. In this situations, leadership is a property of the network itself.

We will still have leaders but it impossible to predict what the new leaders will be and how they are found. There are lots of contending interests, there is no way of predicting what the outcome will be.   On a local and national level, with politics, with the nature of leadership.   There is no clear way through, we just have to struggle on when we cannot predict what will happen.    I hope the old style leadership will be toppled…that the old hero that knows it all , that idea will tumble. There are great leaders, but they are no longer the only thing we need, they are too scare, we need abundant leaders. It has to be about the connected needs, the network. A leader has to embrace abundance….we need fewer leaders and more love.

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