daily dispatches from the management vanguard
The Five Digital Freedoms
For too long the ruling ideology of too many organizations has been control: controlling people, controlling information, controlling deviations from the norm. The good news is that we already have a potent model of freedom as an organizing principle. It’s called the Internet.
While the Web has its limits, it is a relentlessly productive seedbed for new organizational forms where: coordination happens without centralization, contribution counts for more than credentials, all ideas compete on equal footing, power comes from sharing rather than hoarding, and where intrinsic rewards matter most of all.
We have experienced such an expansion in freedom in our personal lives with the emergence of digital, social and mobile technologies and the principles that undergird them. It’s time for the workplace to catch up.
When it comes to expanding individual autonomy—and reaping the rewards of increased initiative, creativity, and passion—organizations will get the most traction if they focus on experiments and clever designs for enhancing five crucial freedoms:
CONNECTION Social media opens up endless possibilities for connection. The ability to reach others—instantaneously, without friction—is now woven into the fabric of daily life. Twitter opens the door to the famous, the powerful, the iconic—anyone can access their hero’s intimate, minute-to-minute thoughts. Applications from LinkedIn to Instagram, to Pinterest allow individuals to easily share their experiences and passions with friends, colleagues, and the world. Because it’s easier to connect, it’s also much easier for people to organize. Global collaboration was once the sole province of global corporations. Today anyone can connect with anyone else, anywhere else. The natural and ever-more powerful unit of organization is the community of shared passion.
CONTRIBUTION In the digital-powered world, contributions are more important than credentials. All ideas compete on an equal footing. Wikipedia is the most potent example of the power of individual contribution: in just over a decade, the free, user-generated encyclopedia has grown to more than ten million articles in 273 languages edited by hundreds of thousands of passionate contributors from around the world. Sites like Reddit and Fanfiction.net have become vibrant hubs on the basis of user contribution. The voice of the “crowd” is shaping every kind of institution all over the world. In the United States, for example, the White House has created a website that allows any citizen to contribute a petition on any subject important to them.
CREATION Digital technologies promote the possibility that we are all inventors, producers, even artists. There is literally nothing stopping people from sharing their ideas and creations. Anyone can post a blog on WordPress or Tumblr. Anyone with a video camera on their phone can instantly upload a video to YouTube that has the potential to change the course of human history (or at least changes the conversation). Today, an eight-year-old fashion blogger or an 80-year-old first-time novelist can have the sort of impact that was previously impossible without help from the mainstream media.
CHOICE Social media is opt-in by design. When people have a near-infinite number of communities they can join, sites they can pay attention to, “friends” they can follow—they select those that interest them most. Whether contributing micro-loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world via Kiva.org, contributing restaurant reviews to Yelp.com, meeting up with their cohort through Meetup.org, or canvassing online on behalf of a favorite political candidate, individuals express themselves, promote their favorites, and help to determine the fate of brands, businesses, and candidates based on their participation. The menu of affiliation is endless and the freedom to choose offers up new opportunities and challenges to individuals and institutions alike.
CHALLENGE People are opinionated and passionate. With their voices connected and amplified on the social media, they are powerful—and astonishingly quick to mobilize against decisions contrary to the community’s interests. From the citizen activists in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the protesters in Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park to the Pirate Parties across Europe to the disgruntled customers of United, digital technologies ensure that people—especially those with a dissenting opinion—will always find a way to be heard.
What are you or your organization doing to expand the freedom to connect, contribute, choose, create, and challenge? How might digital technologies and the principles behind them help us to dramatically increase individual autonomy at work? Share your stories in the Digital Freedom Challenge.