Powerless = Systematically Starved of Information.
That's David's formulation. He distinguishes that situation from "lacking the authority to carry out" your responsibilities. The latter, he says, is a consequence of being an employee...work for somebody and you're likely to be neutered.
At TrueTalk, we've described the "I-R-I" organizational model: the organization's Identity, Relationships, Information. In this way of thinking, any enterprise defines itself by what it sets out to accomplish (its Identity), establishes an organizational structure and system of processes by which it will accomplish those objectives (a network of Relationships), and determines what kinds of data, conversations, materials, and so on, need to flow through those relationships to produce the requisite outcomes (what we broadly call, Information).
According to David's formulation, if you experience yourself as "powerless," you've been systematically deprived of the information you need to succeed; intentionally cut out of the loop. All well and good.
But what if you've narrowed the pipe through which that information is intended to flow? What if you've shut down the supply relationships and made it more difficult for others to share information with you?
It's crucial for you to look at your own behavior to appreciate the ways in which you've created your own "powerlessness." If you haven't looked at yourself first, you haven't done all the work you need to do.
Ask yourself this: what have I done to marginalize myself in this system?
Earlier today, an old friend (and boss) of mine told me a story of a mutual friend who's been President of a community hospital in a poor Pennsylvania community for several years. She's a terrific person, smart as they come, and totally dedicated to delivering services to her community. Recently, her boss (these big hospital chains have lots of layers, don't they?) called her into the boss' office for a chat. "You've been doing great things in the community, FRIEND'S NAME, getting lots of outreach centers started, connecting with community groups and generally improving our hospital's image. Great work. But, that's not your job. Your job is running this hospital and you haven't done that very well, so, you're fired."
I looked at my old friend and said, "Whoa, no shit!" and let the story sink in. After a minute, I thought, "Wow, FRIEND'S NAME really screwed this up. She obviously didn't take care of some crucial relationships and they came back to bite her in the ass."
What occured to me was this. This situation hadn't just come up out of thin air. Obviously, she'd been "getting sideways" with the folks at corporate for some time; she just didn't know it. Why? She didn't pay enough attention to those relationships. Why? (Those Japanese really were onto something when they came up with that Five Why thing, weren't they?) Well, turns out she didn't really care too much for those corporate types. Why? Can't tell you, but, (as another good friend of mine often says) I'd bet a house payment that she didn't think they cared for the poor people in her community as much as she did. And, she may be right. But, it might have cost her her job. Needlessly, I say.
Why needlessly? Because she could have worked those relationships differently. She could have been seeking feedback from her corporate connections about how she was doing. She could have done a better job of imagining how they viewed her "successes" in her community from their point of view, instead of only seeing them from hers. She could have been more focused on doing the whole job, instead of just the part of it she wanted to do.
Look, David's right. There are "cruel people" who believe their survival depends on keeping others in the dark, and, therefore, powerless. These bastards are not at all interested in your well being. But it's important for you to also look in the mirror and figure out what role you play in this little drama. Remember, they don't fire everyone. And some people find a way to succeed, even in less than ideal systems (which, by the way, most places are.)
If you're feeling powerless, chances are you're not just along for the ride.
Hugh makes the point that TrueTalk is still highly dangerous in view of today's predominant corporate rule set. That's the work: create environments that allow people to speak the truth while staying within the context of community. Not the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre, but the right to point out the piles of flammable materials sitting in the corners. We can do that, and in some places today, we are.
Scoble's an example of being real, yet smart. Hats off to whoever it is at Microsoft who recognizes the complexities of loyalty and honesty.
If you haven't been reading Chris Anderson's blog, The Long Tail you should start today. In it, he's expanding on an idea that appeared in the October issue of Wired in which he pointed out the enormous opportunities for businesses that can present offerings that go beyond "hits."
Chris' ideas have lots of interesting implications. One is especially interesting for me, as a principal of a small firm. Because we're small, we don't have to "sell hits." That is, we don't have to provide "mainstream consulting services" to fill a pipeline that will provide billable hours for a large group of junior consultants. Instead, we can focus on what we believe are innovative approaches and appeal to the smaller group of prospects who are looking for something different.
So, we appeal to a niche by operating in the tail, which provides us enough business to keep us active and happy. But a little growth wouldn't hurt, either.
Now, if only there were an Amazon.consulting out there to offer the "deep catalogue" in consulting services...
Doc's written a piece in which he proposes using the word, "authorating" to capture the nature of the co-creativity that take place in bloggy conversations. He has a couple of lines of thinking going on in the piece. One I know a little about, the other I don't.
First, I don't know anything about the issues of online "identity" except to know that they're very important to helping us get better at controlling our positions as independent agents in the new connected marketplace. Doc and Dave and lots of other smart people do know a lot about those issues and I'll be following their conversations so I can learn more.
But I do know something about "thinking out loud together." Doc uses this phrase and it's one that I've used for years to capture the kind of dialogue that characterizes highly creative, highly productive groups. It means ideas are put into a collective center when they are less than fully formed for the purpose of having others participate in the process of making those ideas stronger. It is one of the backbones of David Bohm's approach to dialogue.
When a group gets good at dialogue, at thinking aloud together, it moves beyond the kind of ego-focused, point-making, "critical thinking"-oriented conversations that dominate much of our work (and often, sadly, pesonal) lives. It moves into a way of conversation in which people listen to understand rather than to refute; listen for ways to build upon one another's insights rather than to argue them down; respect differences as paths to new insights rather than as challenges to be fought off. This doesn't mean these conversations are "prissy." They're often anything but: emotional commitment to the goal of finding a collective vision that we can agree to is one of the major engines of progress. It just means that the group is committed to co-creating that vision in a way that recognizes the full implications of our collective identity.
This is certainly my experience of what is going on in the blogosphere at its best. Thinking out loud together and through those conversations influencing one another to collectively create new futures. Sounds a little high-falutin', but if that's what we come to by mean "authorating," that's fine with me.
A NY Times op-ed (registration required) by Gary Giddins caught my eye this morning. In it, Giddins briefly chronicles the history of "lip-syncing" in the aftermath of Ashlee Simpson's ill-fated appearance on Saturday Night Live.
Giddins points out that lip-syncing (or even "feet dubbing" in the case of dancing) is nothing new, going back to Al Jolson's "performance" in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer. Bing, Beyonce, Britney, Broadway...even Big Luciano. Happens all the time. No big deal.
But, a question that appears in the print, but not online, version of the article is what really stopped me: "Why should we be scandalized by lip-syncing?"
How come we can accept all that and get peeved with Ashlee on SNL?
Well, one clue is the word, "Live." The show's supposed to be LIVE. It's prided itself on presenting LIVE music to its audience for almost 30 years. Fans like me have seen all manner of extraordinary live performances on the show, from Meat Loaf to Kate Bush. All LIVE.
See, SNL has always presented itself as Real Real. That means, it is what it says it is. If something tries to pass itself off as real but isn't, then it's "fake real." If it's not real, but it doesn't try to make believe it is (like Goofy), then it's a "real fake."
Real fakes are fine...they're fun, they're cool, we like them, we buy them. Want a phony Louis Vuitton bag? How much fun is that?? In fact, let's be even cooler and paint "FAKE" on it!! Fake Rolex? "Hey, look what I got for $10!!"
But try to pass the Vuitton or Rolex off as real, then you've got problems.
And it's the same thing with people. If you say you're something, but you're really not, but you give us a nod and a wink, we get it. But tell us you really are something, and it turns out you're really not, we're not gonna be amused.
See, we're getting hip to this stuff, and it's starting to get more and more clear. And there's a lot more of us out here watching, just makin' sure you're being straight with us.
It really doesn't matter anymore if you're good enough not to have your lips move. So do us a favor, will ya? If you're the ventriloquist, or if you're the dummy, just please let us know, OK?
For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs. John Schwartz in Tuesday, December 28, 2004 NY Times (Registration required.)
OK, so, lots of people gave Scoble tons of grief for his comments about bloggers blogging of the tsunami. But, the fact is, the overwhelming quantity and quality of first-person accounts of this tragedy coming from bloggers speaks to the point in his 2005 predictions last week:
11) There will be a major disaster in 2005 and mainstream media will use citizen journalists in a new way to cover the disaster.
Look. This is new. It's an entirely different way for people to connect and communicate with lots of others about things that are happening in our lives right now. It's not "objective." It's not "professional." It's not "slick." It's real. It's vivid. It's TrueTalk.
And people like Scoble and the rest of us are creating the rule set as we go. Of course it's rough. It's new.