Sunday, June 28, 2009

Citizen Journalism: A Force for Leaders to Welcome and Fear

Iran and Michael Jackson have one thing in common: the power of the Internet to report in warp speed the good with the bad. Citizen journalism is here to stay thanks to the Internet. With such transparency, leaders are faced with a demand for openness and transparency not necessarily within their comfort zones. This is a steep learning curve!

All action is local, so the saying goes. Taken further, all living is local whether in an organization or community. And, that is the hardest nut to crack for many top leadership teams and middle managers. Neat and tidy bureaucracy has reached its end. Messiness and chaos are upon us as we invent new ways to make a better world.

TMZ reported the death of Michael Jackson before any TV station or newspaper had wind of the story. Like CNN’s “i-reporters” TMZ locals had their ears to the ground. As in Iran, cell phone photos, Twitter, texting, blogs and the like combined to turn on a furious reporting force that took down websites and slowed down the entire Internet even the almighty Google as it was trying to discern the nature of the “attack”. What’s interesting is that it took the confirmation of the “long of tooth” L.A. Times to validate the claim. So, there is a partnership role for the new with the old!

The upside of citizen journalism is the opportunity to create new and better ways to communicate, collaborate, learn and improve. The disconnect between consumers and organizations narrows as those who wish a product, service or policy change can input and shape at the front end and every step in-between. In many ways, this new partnership enables organizations of any stripe to serve more accurately and readily the needs and wants of customers and citizens.

The downside is formidable. If you are the leader of an entrenched bureaucracy or dictatorship as is the case for a government, citizen journalism upends how you like and want to do business. It’s hard to untangle the red tape, although most enlightened leaders want to do this. But, if you are into power and control, citizen journalism can be down right scary.

We have no choice though to go down this road. Our more complex, highly interconnected world with big brain issues to tackle requires amplification of dialogue, debate and testing out of new ideas in a distributed not a centralized way. This is the advantage of the Internet and all of its linked peripherals.

Serious scholars of decision science know that the emergence of heightened dialogue enabled by the Internet increases the probability of better decisions and better prevention and management of disasters. Although this era in which we live continually morphs like a galloping wild horse, the ride is and will be exhilarating for any and all open-minded leaders and managers.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Comedian-in-Chief, Fly-Swatter Extraordinaire: Obama Raises the Stakes

I have a cartoon from one of the newspapers showing President Barack Obama responding to a request from Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Well, I’ll cough on you if you insist, but I don’t think charisma is contagious. Now with additional Obama feats such as swatting a fly successfully within the tenth of a second required and charming the press corps with skillfully delivered good jokes, the bar just keeps rising higher. Harper will need to go to improv school to crack the Obama leadership ceiling.

There’s a spontaneity within President Obama not well-developed in Harper. Comedians know how important that quality is to connect with an audience. That’s why they take improv, or responding and creating in the moment, very seriously. Deep down, it’s a control and trust of oneself issue. Loose or tight. Acting into thinking rather than planning into acting. Tough to do if a leader wants to have everything figured out and never look silly.

Yet, we warm to anyone, let alone a leader, who shows he’s just like us. He has to battle some of the ordinary things in life like swatting annoying flies and not taking life too seriously all the time. When we engage in these day-to-day activities, we don’t always win. The fly gets away because we were not fast enough or the joke goes over “like a lead balloon”.

It could have gone either way for Barack Obama. But, would it have really mattered? Negative results would most certainly have given his critics more reason to doubt his abilities. But, those with a gentler, kinder view would have applauded his efforts because he tried. “No guts, no glory”, as the saying goes.

Plato argued that we are “sitting in a chariot drawn by two horses: reason and passion”. Researchers who study how good decisions are made have found, not surprisingly, that we use both horses to do so. Interestingly, emotions usually lead the way as they make a direct unconscious connection with our actions just as our breathing does. Reason takes a little more work. From an evolutionary perspective, as Joseph LeDoux from New York University describes in The Emotional Brain, connections in our brains from the emotional to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive to the emotional systems.

Given the automatic precedence of emotion over reason in our brains, President Obama has a significant advantage over those leaders who muffle their fun and passionate sides. Like many aspects of leadership, much can be learned. If Prime Minister Harper spent some time with our Second City folks, I’ll bet we’d see a slightly more spontaneous and funny side of him. It would be good for his ratings. His rational, highly competitive nature might just buy into that!