Why Amazon Awards Success Without Permission

Question: How has business leadership changed because of the \r\nInternet?  

Clay Shirky: the question of leadership is really \r\ninteresting, because for most businesses, really, at this point, the \r\nloss of control they fear is already in the past. Right? There was a \r\nmedia environment in which almost any message about IBM that was in the \r\npublic was created by IBM and then circulated via press release, or \r\nreported by a newspaper, or what have you. 
\r\n And then of course, there was, you know, word-of-mouth, chatter on the \r\nstreet kinds of stuff, but that all operated at a level so much smaller \r\nthan anything a large company could produce.  The biggest change in \r\nleadership, I think, is that those days are over and there’s... the \r\nrange of choices leaders have about the perception of their company has \r\nbeen quite, quite restricted because the counter-story we’ll always get \r\nat as well, and it’s just much more of a dialogue of the public. 
So\r\n the two great visions of leadership we have, like, the "grand \r\nvisionary" or the "micro-manager" now seem to me not to work as well.  \r\nThe Internet has kind of compressed the range.  And leadership has \r\nbecome instead a combination of infusing a company with whatever the \r\ncore imperatives are and making sure that the company doesn’t \r\noverbalance to far in one direction or another. 
So, Amazon, \r\nto take just one example—Amazon has my favorite corporate award ever in \r\nthe history of corporate awards.  They have an award that you can only \r\nwin as an employee, if you do something great and you didn’t ask \r\npermission first.  Right?  Other awards you can get if you asked \r\npermission, if you cleared things with your bosses, but if you do \r\nsomething really good and you just saw that it was a possibility and you\r\n did it, you get a special award for not having ask permission.  And \r\nthat’s an example of something that, to your earlier point about your \r\nfriend, lowers the amount of internal communication required, and also \r\nsets a cultural norm for the business that no amount of memos and \r\nmission statements could possibly say.  And that kind of leadership, \r\nwhat Bezos does, I think, in terms of creating a cultural climate where \r\ngood ideas are rewarded matters so much more than, you know, either \r\n"grand visionary" or "micro-manager" in this environment.

Recorded on May 26, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

Our two great visions of leadership -- the grand visionary and the micro-manager -- no longer make sense.

'Ghost forests' visible from space spread along the coast as sea levels rise

Seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida.

Photo by Anqi Lu on Unsplash
Surprising Science
Trekking out to my research sites near North Carolina's Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, I slog through knee-deep water on a section of trail that is completely submerged.
Keep reading Show less

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less

A historian identifies the worst year in human history

A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.

Credit: Pieter Bruegel the Elder. (Museo del Prado).
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
  • The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
  • 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
Keep reading Show less

Changing a brain to save a life: how far should rehabilitation go?

What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?

Credit: Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
  • There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
  • Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Keep reading Show less