Clay Shirky is a writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He is an adjunct professor at New York University's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). His courses address, among other things, the interrelated effects of the topology of social networks and technological networks, how our networks shape culture and vice-versa. He has written and been interviewed extensively about the Internet since 1996. His columns and writings have appeared in Business 2.0, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review and Wired.
Question: How has business leadership changed because of the
Clay Shirky: the question of leadership is really
interesting, because for most businesses, really, at this point, the
loss of control they fear is already in the past. Right? There was a
media environment in which almost any message about IBM that was in the
public was created by IBM and then circulated via press release, or
reported by a newspaper, or what have you.
And then of course, there was, you know, word-of-mouth, chatter on the
street kinds of stuff, but that all operated at a level so much smaller
than anything a large company could produce. The biggest change in
leadership, I think, is that those days are over and there’s... the
range of choices leaders have about the perception of their company has
been quite, quite restricted because the counter-story we’ll always get
at as well, and it’s just much more of a dialogue of the public.
the two great visions of leadership we have, like, the "grand
visionary" or the "micro-manager" now seem to me not to work as well.
The Internet has kind of compressed the range. And leadership has
become instead a combination of infusing a company with whatever the
core imperatives are and making sure that the company doesn’t
overbalance to far in one direction or another.
to take just one example—Amazon has my favorite corporate award ever in
the history of corporate awards. They have an award that you can only
win as an employee, if you do something great and you didn’t ask
permission first. Right? Other awards you can get if you asked
permission, if you cleared things with your bosses, but if you do
something really good and you just saw that it was a possibility and you
did it, you get a special award for not having ask permission. And
that’s an example of something that, to your earlier point about your
friend, lowers the amount of internal communication required, and also
sets a cultural norm for the business that no amount of memos and
mission statements could possibly say. And that kind of leadership,
what Bezos does, I think, in terms of creating a cultural climate where
good ideas are rewarded matters so much more than, you know, either
"grand visionary" or "micro-manager" in this environment. Recorded on May 26, 2010 Interviewed by Victoria Brown
Clay Shirky: If we end up forestalling or shutting down one way or another the open Internet in the name of you keeping Hollywood safe, or fighting off viruses, I think it will be a huge loss for humankind.