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.

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