Tag Archives: Kellerman

The Rise of the Informational Democracy

11 Jan

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Knowledge is power.
Collectively, employees have more knowledge than leadership. 
Employees have the power.

Last year I wrote a blog post about 25 growing trends in learning technology and in that post I mentioned “democratization.” I’ve come to believe that the democratization of the workplace is the single most important trend to understand. I am calling this trend the rise of the “informational democracy” and it radically shifts the power away from traditional experts and traditional authority. The trend is building so much steam that you can’t throw a rock anywhere and not hit it, so I’ll just say a few things briefly.

First, employees no longer rely on experts and leaders for information. Employees will include them, but they don’t need them. “Information is power,” and employees’ access to information and communication means that they can organize and adapt outside of a traditional organizational structure. Moreover, modern history has shown us that information lends itself towards democratization (Kellerman, 2012), which is why rigid power structures always seek to control information above all else. I see this trend impacted our work in several immediate ways.

  • Management will become more like an administrative function. Today, we see managers as leaders and admin professionals as lowly support staff. In reality, managers have worked for their employees for a while now, they just didn’t realize it. The informational democracy will force their eyes open. Most of our leadership theory is based on history, but these need to make way for truly modern adaptations. As Gary Hamill (2007) says, despite how the world has changed in the last few decades, there haven’t been any “management innovations” to keep up. Barbara Kellerman (2012) calls this, “the end of leadership.” I agree and I think there are some things that we can do to get ahead of the curve.
  • Relevance will replace status. In a networked democracy, influence will be bestowed upon those with the most relevance. The free market of ideas and opinions means that managers no longer have a monopoly on information. In the free market, influence goes to the person with the most connections (ala Google’s Page Rank, social media analytics, etc.), not the person with the most “expertise” or “authority.” This means that the myth of the individual leader will likely start to break down as it makes way for systems approaches, which treat every individual as nodes in a large system of influence. Given this, we can start helping people “nodify” themselves.
  • The nature of corporate learning is changing. We need to start producing content that serves the employees rather than content that is just convenient to make. We keep making the same courses again and again, when we all know that most of these courses are cobbled together scraps of things some ISD grabbed from the internet. Using mobile technology as a metaphor, we need to think about the user’s consumption. Small. Bite-sized. Easy to access. There will still be a place for formal trainings (see “Consider the Spandrels” in my next post), but it’s not necessarily because of the learning benefits. If more people were to really understand what is going on with the informational democracy (and that it might be over-hyped in the short term….but it is definitely under-hyped in the long term…) we could get ahead of the biggest change in organizations we’ve ever seen.

To be clear, I am not rosy-eyed about distributed leadership as a way to avoid any sense of hierarchy. In fact, my opinion is that we likely need more unilateral decision making and far LESS consensus. But we can distribute that unilateral decision making in a much more appropriate and effective way. This is one of the reasons why I am pursing a certification in Holacracy, which is just a new type of “social technology,” which seems to be working well (it’s been getting more attention lately because Zappos just adopted it). I’m not saying that Holacracy is THE answer; I’m just saying that it represents one way of adapting leadership and learning to the informational democracy.

Hopefully, there will be many others. The informational democracy actually changes so many things about the way we do our work that I struggle to put everything into a linear story. The essence is that we should all be prepared to keep our bourgeois sensibilities in check. When everyone has our information, then it isn’t nearly as valuable. And we can fight the waves of change for only so long. Far better to prepare ourselves to ride the wave as it comes in.

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