June 22, 2004
The nature of leadership
For weeks and possibly months I pestered my former colleague Paul Miller for a copy of Network Logic, the recent Demos collection on networks and policy. Finally, perhaps spurred on by attending a Demos event last night (of which more below) I tucked into the essays.
Some are so-so, largely reflecting on previous contributions to the topic, and I am yet to complete the book, but I have been particularly struck by the ever excellent Paul Skidmore's 'Leading between': a stimulating examination of the nature of leadership in the network paradigm.
Skidmore argues that:
Leadership is often seen to be synonymous with decisive action: defining a vision and pursuing it. Network leaders understand that decisive action may be of little use in an unpredictable world, particularly when the knowledge about how best to improve performance often resides in the tacit and explicit knowledge of front-line staff.
He goes on:
Network leaders understand that different actors will not always agree on the appropriate course ofaction, not least because in a complex world the correct path will rarely be clear, and stumbling upon it may require processes of trial and error, and learning by doing.
Skidmore sums this up with an example:
The day before the Eden Centre in Cornwall opened to the public, managing director Tim Smit called the staff together and said, ‘Tomorrow, people will ask you for things, or to do things, we haven’t thought of. If you respond in a way which goes wrong, no one will blame you. If you do nothing, I’ll sack you.’ ‘True authority’, as [Fritjof] Capra puts it, ‘consists in empowering others to act.’
In the discussion following the presentations a leit motif was the place of democracy. Leadership was not mentioned, however. I think now that it ought to have been. If leadership on thorny science and society topics is expressed as Skidmore describes then there is considerably more scope to break away from the knee-jerk political tendency to have to express certainty.
To give some examples: John Gummer infamously giving his daughter a beef burger at the height of the BSE controversy; various UK ministers confidently expressing the conviction that the spread of foot and mouth had been curtailed; the UK Government's approach to GM. In each, the received political wisdom is that a politician must sound certain and take decisive action. In each the result is a lack of trust and little sense of leadership.
Until the political discourse is able to cope with uncertainty (a different matter from risk), it will continue to blunder into complex issues, particularly in the scientific sphere, pre-empting the kind of public discussion around the development of technologies discussed last night. When the issues are as complex and the actors as diverse, Skidmore's call to 'lead between' is timely and needs to be heeded. As he concludes:
It is much more convenient to think that leaders will be saviours – and that we have someone to blame when things do not go our way. But if it wakes us up to the potential within each of us to solve our own problems, then so much the better.
April 16, 2004
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
'The footprint for the total human population is 2.1 hectares (5.2).' Edmund O. Wilson, The Future of Life
Well, by doing this at work, it wasn't going to be something from early Romantic Danish fiction, or even Gravity's Rainbow more's the pity...
April 07, 2004
Networks, LSD & the death of Jerry Garcia
Apparently barely no-one now uses LSD in the US, according to Slate. Why? Massive drug busts are thought to be the main reason, but another culprit has been suggested: the death of the Grateful Dead's frontman back in 1995.
For 30 years, Dead tours were essential in keeping many LSD users and dealers connected, a correlation confirmed by the DEA in a divisional field assessment from the mid-'90s. The spring following Garcia's death (the season the MTF surveys are administered), annual LSD use among 12th-graders peaked at 8.8 percent and began their slide. Phish picked up part of the Dead's fan base—and presumably vestiges of the LSD delivery system. At the end of 2000, Phish stopped touring as well, and perhaps not coincidentally, the MTF numbers for LSD began to plummet.
Via BoingBoing - whilst you're there see the George W Bush photomosiac made from the portraits of dead US servicemen and the story of E-Girl...
April 06, 2004
The rise of network campaigning
Prior to publication on their forthcoming collection on networks, my former colleague Paul Miller has posted his chapter 'The rise of network campaigning' on the Demos blog. I note that Will at The Work Foundation has posted a few thoughts here.
Paul's work with Jubilee2000 gave him a privileged position from which to see what he describes in action.
Moreover I agree with Paul that 'politics has much to understand and learn about network campaigning' but I do wonder at how new this really is and how far it could be taken.
Surely the campaign to abolish slavery in the UK also took the form of a network campaign: a powerful mix of religious, social and political groups losely associated and backed by a growing (grassroots?) movement that had simple a direct action such as refusing to buy sugar from slave plantations?
In fact I think the way politics worked until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in the UK was much closer to the network campaigning seen in a few instances of late: with familial groups, reservoirs of social capital in the clubs of Pall Mall and coffee shops shifting and developing according to specific issues.
Arguably this changed with the emergence of a more rigorously enforced, top-down party-led approach by the middle of the nineteenth century. This more 'command and control' approach was surely in part a response to the need to get beyond the instability of the single-issue politics produced by the less rigid, more network-like system. Ruling an empire in several continents is considerably easier when there is stability at home.
Which brings me back to network campaigning today. Paul writes,
'[t]he question [is] of whether network campaigns can become a constructive force for change in their own right, or whether they will remain essentially parasitic on existing institutional structures, policy tools and power bases. Can they learn to deliver solutions to problems, rather than just hoping that by shouting loud enough and long enough they will get solved by someone else?'
Network campaigns may look like complexity in action but they are in many ways anti-complexity: perfect for campaigning against, perfect for a single goal, and prehaps the best way to meet people with shared aims, but real politics is about delivering complex agendas and I can't think of a successful network campaign as defined by Paul that can do that. That is why, as he explains,
' Just at the moment that success in terms of profile has been achieved (a prerequisite for largescale networks) secretariats can grow very rapidly and demands for the secretariat to become run like a ‘normal’ organisation grow.