“Hold on loosely, but don’t let go..” .38 Special and technology-enabled leadership?

     Clearly, the natural order of the workplace has changed dramatically with the proliferation of information technology, especially in the past 20 years. The previous parameters of Moore’s law on the evolution of technological innovations has shrunk from centuries and decades to at most years and in some cases months and weeks with the ubiquitous “app” development and fielding cycle. 20 years ago, I had one computer on my desk, no email, and a PSTN phone. Today I have 4 stand alone computers, two of which operate on different networks (total of 6); 3 phones, 2 of which are VOIP enabled; and 3 different video chat/VTC systems. That’s just at work, add the personal devices some of which also connect to work networks as well thus blurring the lines and it’s no secret to see the influence of technology.


     Both Husband (2013) and the Gartner (2010) analysis were useful in describing the nature of these circumstances and providing helpful insight on how workers and leaders ought to think about this phenomenon and actions to consider taking to better use the technology to further individual and organizational progress. I agree with the “wirearchy” description as it applies to effective workplace action and the relationships it builds and sustains. I think Husband’s working definition of wirearchy as“…a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority, based on knowledge, trust, credibility and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected people and technology”…is right, except I would change “two-way” to multi-directional/dimensional. I would posit that most of us in our professions and vocations see this happening daily and like any organism is quickly adapting to changes in the environment and growing stronger. This seems to be what the Gartner analysis is describing in the “swarming” descriptor. Swarming is to Gartner what “teaming” is to Google and other innovative technology organizations. This concept is proliferating rapidly into other sectors, and threatens to make traditional command and control institutions (like mine) an anachronism.


     So, back to the question of the day, how do leaders contribute to this process; retaining the responsibility of leaders without inhibiting the flow of information, collaboration, networking, and rapid innovation/adaptation? A couple of thoughts. First is the establishment of clear expectations on what the organization is trying to accomplish (mission), a solid description of the broad view of how it ought to get there (vision), some specificity of the way points along the voyage that are definitive enough for all to understand without being too prescriptive or inflexible (goals), and clear delineation of what the team embraces as defining (or not) them as individuals and the larger organization (values). Second and directly related to the first, is empowerment of the workforce to take action and the statement/building/reinforcing trust between and among leaders and workers at every level. Trust is key in this rapid and dynamic world as actions that before might have taken days or weeks now might happen in hours down to milliseconds. Trust also acknowledges that people are able to make decisions, and sometimes make mistakes that leaders need to underwrite. Honest mistakes happen- provide an environment for using a mistake as a means to educate and grow all without retribution and watch how effective the team becomes. Third, there has to be an open and as flat as possible flow of communication that is transparent to all. Chains of authority are not the same as conduits of information. This is where the wirearchy concept is useful.  Lastly, leaders must clearly outline the levels of decision authority, reserving only a very few at the highest level and pushing the remainder down the organization as low as possible. This obviously reinforces the other points but I believe is key to effective execution in the flat and wired environment.


     Another point in this whole discussion, and one that should be assisted by technology but too often has been inhibited. Leaders need to clearly identify what success means in themselves and their organization. Too often it seems, the addition of more and better information technology is stifling decision-making rather than enabling it-leader wait for more and more information to take action just because it’s available, regardless of whether it’s useful or not. In the military, it’s the difference between information and intelligence (the latter being information that is analyzed, and the useful parts provided to help fill in the answers to critical questions). I read an interesting article about a book written by a professor at Swarthmore that seems to have some insights that might be useful in this regard. The book is titled The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less-How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction (Barry Schwartz. Harper Perennial, 2005), and the basic premise is that our culture of so many choices in every aspect of life is not producing a feeling of abundance and satisfaction but is further exhausting us. Schwartz says that “Clinging tenaciously to all the choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety, stress and dissatisfaction-even to clinical depression.” He divides people into two broad categories: Maximizers and Satisfiers. While Maximizer seems like a good descriptor, in this case the Maximizer is one who is seeking only the best; the elusive quest for perfection. The Satisfier on the other hand, seeks a “good-enough” solution without unduly sacrificing standards, understanding that nothing will be perfect. Seems to me, that a Satisfier Leader who can implement effectively the points outlined above will not only be better at using technology to their advantage but will also have an exceptional organization with a motivated team and therefore by extension a superb outcome.


10 thoughts on ““Hold on loosely, but don’t let go..” .38 Special and technology-enabled leadership?

  1. As a 38 Special fan, I just had to read your post, especially since I was just listening to them as I worked on my pool. Nice way to draw me in!

    Your descriptions of the four things that a leader needs to do really struck a cord with me. Since I am in a Military organization we have the obligatory Mission and Vision which really do not provide much help to those of us in the unit. To be the best and first choice are really just platitudes.

    This year the Dean decided to create a series of school goals and try to bring the school closer to the mission and vision. Most of these goals were created by an executive committee of the leaders with little to no faculty input. While some of the goals are reasonable, most are really silly and in the long run useless in my opinion. There have been sub teams managing work on goals but there has been little to no information being passed on to the worker bees. This highlights
    your fourth area — trust. We are not getting the level of trust needed to make the decisions or efforts to help make the goals or meet them.

    Finally, i like the discussion on Maximizers and Satisfiers. I live in a growing world of Maximizers where absolute perfect information is needed to make decisions. My boss loves that I am a Satisfier, where I can accept the 80% solution and implement it and then improve it as data comes in to show where the weaknesses are located.

    We need to look at growing more Satisfiers in my world or we will become completely useless as an organization in a paralysis by analysis condition.

    • Couldn’t agree more, especially as a military guy also. We claim to pride ourselves on operating within intent and trust, without having to have perfect knowledge, but my experience is that too many at every level are more afraid of making a mistake by taking action without that perfect knowledge than they are of just acting…We need Satisfiers as leaders and followers-no way to grow the effective next generation of leaders unless we do…thanks for posting..

      • I like the term Satisfiers and yes they need to be the leaders but we also need to stop beating them down every time they try to “Satisfy” which makes them join the old boy network of Maximizers.

        I have seen that happen way too many times which is probably why I never got any further in rank because I refuse to back down.

  2. Excellent post…and I too am a .38 Special fan. My Pandora cardio workout involves music from that era! 🙂

    You are spot on with your observation – “…except I would change “two-way” to multi-directional/dimensional.” George Siemens and Dave Cormier have blogged extensively about rhizomatic learning, and I think the idea of a rhizone network fits your point of mulit-directional/dimentional. For example, see http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=329

    Your conversation with Marc reminds me of two philosophies of leadership. In laying out a mission and vision, you have the choice to either state what you desire or you can state the rules of what you cannot do. Rules tend to restrict adaptability. Your point about clearly identifying success certainly fits the first situation.

    • The bigger issue I deal with is that we get both philosophies at the same time from the same leader.

      I prefer to give a general goal and basic guidelines and boundaries and let my people create and innovate. It really torques off some my leadership but my folks like it.

  3. Will
    Your post is outstanding as it is forcing me to think critically about the direction of my current organization. First, your thoughts on defining success is critical. As school districts around the nation continue to pump millions of dollars into technology devices does that mean we are being successful? I believe that many one-to-one initiatives are implemented simply because a neighboring district has chosen to do so. Keeping up with the “Jones” is often viewed as being successful, however, as the true potential of the deployed technology is rarely fully utilized, success is a distant hope.

    Your thoughts on abundance are also resonating with me. Is the goal to make sure every kids has a device or is the goal to make sure that every device the district has is used to its fullest potential. Too often I think we get caught up with the idea that in order to maximize student learning using technology, every student has to have a device. The lack of devices then becomes a perceived barrier and therefore technology is rarely integrated into the classroom. I shared in another reply to a classmate the SAMR model (https://sites.google.com/a/msad60.org/technology-is-learning/samr-model). Using this model the goal is to attain redefinition. No where in the model is the goal of reaching a one-to-one student device ratio. If organization were able to reach redefinition with the technology they already posses, true success would certainly follow.

    Thanks for a great post!


  4. To: Will
    From: NotSocrates

    I enjoyed your post and found it to be thought provoking. I must admit, until I saw your post I had been thinking of power in terms of a two-way flow, not really a multi-directional/dimensional flow. I think you are right, in this new age, each and every worker sends power in every different direction by sharing knowledge and exercising influence. This is particularly important when we think about the impact of culture. A culture is made up of the collective being. In a knowledge based economy the way we interact, share knowledge and use technology will not only empower, but change the way culture itself is formed. This then posits an important question – what is a leader’s role in developing the desired culture in the new era of technology.

    I also thought your insights into maxizers vs. satisfiers was right on. The world is now too complex and fast moving to take a “maximizing approach”. If we wait until we have everything perfect, the time has often passed. As leaders it is important for us to realize this, and without unduly sacrificing standards, accept that everything will not be perfect and that we still have to continue our progression forward. The future leader who will have the most success will not be the one who is maximizes, but rather, they will be the one who is nimble and can change and alter their approach depending on the situation. If we get too caught up in perfection, this pursuit of success will be made that much more difficult.

  5. Will –
    Probably everyone’s top-3 .38 special songs…it’s the order we can argue!
    1. Caught up in You
    2. Rockin’ Into the Night
    3. Hold On Loosely

    Ok…on to your post…

    Everything reverts back to trust and credibility. Whether its “swarming,” “teaming” or simply working one-on-one offline, trust is key. It’s key in a dynamic world and it was key before the old-fashioned dial-up days. Their has to be an element of trust to work effectively as a team – regardless of how large or small the project, or project team.

    • Couldn’t agree more..trust is a 3 way proposition-up, down, laterally…
      I’ve seen .38 Special several times in concert and always good. Like your top 3 choices in order!

  6. Pingback: Rethinking Fundamentals « Learning In a Flat World

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