The Adventures of Leadership at the “Edge of Chaos”


In 2000, William Fulmer authored a book exploring the themes of leadership, organizations, and complex adaptive systems.  His introductory remarks, which referenced the Mark Twain quote included above, both captured my attention and directed my thinking and reflection.  Fulmer suggested that we were never really good at predicting the future, though he seemingly left this point open for some debate (and we might choose to invoke Kevin Kelly’s distinction of “surprising but inevitable”).  However, the new layers of complexities to be introduced by our collective future all but guarantee that the task of prediction will become increasingly more difficult.  This premise—and the Twain quote—seemed informative to the ongoing conversation on technology and leadership hosted here (though admittedly, I base this on a very quick skim of Fulmer’s text).

Does the promise of constant and rapid change born by advancing technologies and a networked workforce demand something other than a mechanistic view of and approach to leadership?  It seems reasonable to think so.  Fulmer’s response to an “increasingly chaotic world” posits that being near to “edge of chaos” is ideal.  It is there that one (leader and/or organization) encounters “a place that is orderly enough to ensure stability yet full of flexibility and surprise” (p. 62-63).  Weinberger (2011) reminded us that it is not only the technology itself that is evolving, but also our very concept of knowledge.  In Too Big To Know, he suggested, “Released into the wildness of connected human difference, ideas foliate endlessly.  There are no isolated ideas…only [messy] webs of ideas” (p. 118-119).  Embracing this chaos (in various forms) may be akin to the metaphor Weinberger later invoked, of a skilled jujitsu competitor moving into the punch (p. 183), exploiting a threat for both offensive and defensive gains.

While there is definite benefit to the leader who can predict advances (even with modest success), perhaps a better goal and measure of leadership that seeks the “edge of chaos” is adaptability.  Fulmer suggested, “Only those agents that can adapt to the new reality will survive and prosper.  What is needed in this kind of environment is an organization staffed by people who can respond to the uncertainty in a positive way rather than being frightened by what may lie ahead” (p. 152).  In addition to hiring the right (ideally smart) people, leaders must also create a culture that encourages and leverages individual and organizational learning.

There are various antecedents associated with this type of learning culture that a leader should consider.  Flores, Zheng, and Thomas (2012) correlated (to varying degrees) participative decision making, organizational openness (openness, sharing, exposure to and acceptance of competing ideas and conflict, intellectual honesty, consultation with others), learning orientation (commitment to learning as a necessity for survival), and transformational leadership to organizational learning.  Garvin (1993) interestingly noted this commitment to learning as a key difference-maker between failed and successful organizational learning cultures.  He advocated that leaders: use the wealth of data available to solve problems systematically; experiment; leverage knowledge gained by past experiences (I am reminded of a mentor who would always emphasize that only evaluated experience is a teacher); leverage others to gain new perspectives (insert your preferred reference to the “network”); and transfer knowledge throughout the organization.  Husband and Gartner also seem to offer a compatible message of flexibility, dialogue, cross-functionality, collective mindset, relationship building (see my post from a few weeks back).

Gino and Staats (2015) used research data to identify four groups of biases (and related challenges, respectively) that limit organizational learning, including: bias toward success, bias toward action, bias toward fitting in, and bias toward experts.  The authors noted:

It may be cheaper and easier in the short run to ignore failures schedule work so that there’s no time for reflection, require compliance with organizational norms, and turn to experts for quick solutions.  But these short-term approaches will limit the organization’s ability to learn.  If leaders institute ways to counter the four biases we have identified, they will unleash the power of learning throughout their operations.  Only then will their companies truly improve continuously.

What is clear to me as this eight weeks of exploration comes to an end, is that: (1) the art of prophecy is very difficult indeed, leaving us with more questions than answers, but there is an inherent beauty and power in that; (2) this is not really the end of this journey…but only the beginning; and (3) the journey of leadership at the “edge of chaos” is not for the weak of heart!  To return to where I began this journey many weeks ago, consider Chris Lowney’s (2003) appeal to the Jesuits’ “one foot raised” posture:

Good leaders share this restless, eternally questioning posture.  It keeps them a little ahead of the curve.  It’s what keeps them pointed toward the future, towards solutions and opportunities that others might overlook or be too timid to try or lack the energy to pursue. (p. 208)

Mark Twain put it this way: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear” (Fulmer, 2000, p. 199).  Leadership—today and tomorrow—requires one’s courage to face the unknown, one’s willingness to view a rugged and ever-changing landscape as one of adaptive opportunity, and one’s commitment to leverage current and future assets to their fullest potential…

towards the greater good…

and for the greater glory of God!

Courage in the face of the unknown and courage enough to learn and to change, always…are requisite for the leader who wants to survive…and much more so for the one who desires to set the world on fire.



A Leader’s Symphony: 1st Movement

As a much younger graduate student, I visited the Library of Congress, a trusted bastion of institutional knowledge.  Admittedly—and sadly—I lacked the maturity necessary to fully appreciate the opportunity before me then.  However, the highlight of encountering and engaging an original Beethoven piano sonata manuscript was not lost on me…


…and yet there was still a palpable sense of let-down.  You see, solo performance settings (like this composition) offer a wonderful showcase of individual musical mastery.  And while as a musician and music lover, I definitely appreciate those with virtuosic talent (full disclosure—I am NOT among them), for me there is something inherently more appealing in the symphony of sounds (vocal and/or instrumental) available only through the cooperation of an ensemble.  Interestingly, as I reflect on the leadership implications of what Weinberger (2011) described as a “crisis of knowledge” and his question as to whether or not emerging technologies and the networking of knowledge is to our benefit or disadvantage—in his language, whether it “is making us smarter or stupider” (p. 173)—this preference for cooperative collaboration remains a prominent thought and goal.

Kevin Kelly’s (2016) TED Talk provided the impetus for my thinking here.  His urging to view and to understand intelligence as “a symphony of notes played on various different instruments” proved insightful.  Given the “surprising but inevitable” trends that await, our ability to facilitate smarter upon smarter technologies will be crucial.  Engaging this vast and rapidly changing field of emerging technologies seems positively impacted by a willingness to explore and to leverage opportunities for such partnerships and collaboration.  Of course, this means that we are (per Kelly’s directive) “to work with rather than against” the new tools of our 2nd industrial revolution.  Yet does this same principle warrant consideration at a much broader level?  To this end, Jayson DeMers (2016) noted that one of the greatest challenges limiting the roll-out of hyper-connected smart home technologies is “too much competition, with not enough collaboration”.  Here, he seems to be referring not to a lack of willingness to cooperate with the tools themselves, but to a lack of collaboration between disparate (maybe even competitive) stakeholders, thus seemingly limiting the full-potential of a more comprehensive and seamless application.  Of course, I understand the role of market share and profit as key business drivers, but I am increasingly captivated by the notion of open-source models that align well with some of Kelly’s trends, including: Becoming, Cognifying, Sharing, Remixing, Questioning, and Beginning.

In my cursory review of relevant materials, there are some particular technologies that captured my attention:

  • Precision Medicine. As a leader in the healthcare research enterprise, efforts toward untitledprecision medicine represent a profoundly-important dynamic and the direction medicine seems to be going.  With advancements in genome sequencing, greater understanding of disease and treatment options at the molecular level offer great promise for personally-tailored medical care.  This has already impacted my leadership in terms of my efforts to align our organization within a consortium where our collective efforts toward this end provide greater feasibility than any of our respective individual efforts (see Wikipedia’s List of Emerging Technologies).


  • Transparent Immersion. Louis Columbus (2016) noted the prospect of smarter, more contextually aware, and thus more productive engagements through technologies that enable and leverage transparent immersive experiences.  His short list included such concepts as: Brain-Computer Interface, Human Augmentation, Volumetric Displays, Affective Computing, Connected Home, Nanotube Electronics, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Gesture Control Devices.

Mary Meeker (2016) offered a very interesting perspective here.  She noted that accuracy and latency remain two key metrics relevant to the diffusion and use of these technologies (at this point, she was addressing specifically speech recognition technologies).  When technological advances take us from the current 95% accuracy to 99%, Meeker believes “all of us in the room will go from barely using it today to using it all the time”.  We may not understand—or rather we underestimate—the significant gap that separates 95% and 99% accuracy.  She contends, “99% is a game changer”.  We will get better, and remain as Kelly (2016) proffered, only at the beginning.


  • Digital Twins. David Cearley (2016) suggested that we are three to five years away from a world in which “billions of things will be represented by digital twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system.”  The ability for this technology to facilitate analysis and simulation of real-world conditions, to inform changes, and to contribute to improved operational outcomes would seem a welcomed application in any number of diverse arenas.


  • Data. Many contributors, including Meeker (2016), noted the increased value of data to operations.  Meeker suggested data as a staple for the new knowledge worker.  emerging-technologiesLeadership too, it seems, might benefit from the application of an ever-growing data field to inform evidence-based practices (not in place of, but in support of the leader’s intuition).



The applications are seemingly endless.  Perhaps the only limiting factor is our ability to think and to dream of these endless possibilities.  Though as we move further in this direction, it is not that we will ever fully arrive, but witness new levels of innovation and unique applications.  DeMers (2016) cautioned that any efforts to predict emerging technologies represents an “exercise in futility”.  While one might concede this point, efforts to plan and to project—as limited and imperfect as they may be—could offer valuable insights, learning opportunity, and enjoyment (I mean, who doesn’t love to dream?)!

Is it fair to suggest that no individual leader holds all the answers?  I can certainly speak with confidence for myself here!  And the leaders that will be successful in this emerging environment will be those that are flexible, networked, and not afraid to stretch their comfort zone and to think outside of the box.  Operating from a “business as usual” mindset is not forward-looking in the ways that we need to be as leaders.  Weinberger (2011) suggested, “perhaps our hyperlinked infrastructure will give us a self-understanding that makes it easier for our curiosity and compassion to overcome our self-centered fears” (p. 193).  I will drink to that!


If the network is to blame for our current crisis of knowledge, it also seems our only hope.  Knowledge here is “not a library but a playlist…subject matter good enough for our current task.  It is not a realm but a path that gets us where we’re going” (Weinberger, 2011, p. 176)…which is “closer to the truth” (p. 196).  For leaders of today and tomorrow, I recommend more symphonies than solo sonatas.  The good news too, is that the first movement is just beginning…though as tradition dictates, the pace is fast!


Volcanoes and Cyberbullying…


Yesterday, I had the occasion (and the thrill) to view the “firehose” lava flow at Kilauea volcano’s Kamokuna ocean entry, from a boat positioned an eerily-short distance away.  Viewing the world’s most active volcano—with its massive neighbor, Maunaloa, in the background—was an amazing experience and site.  I was reminded both of the power of the volcanos in forging this literal paradise over the course of millions of years, but also its vast destructive force.  In this case, the lava is flowing beneath the surface and spilling into the ocean, but there are tangible reminders all around (i.e., remnants of villages) of the reality that once unleashed, there is little that will stand in the lava’s way.    

We might apply a similar dichotomy in our ongoing exploration of leadership in the networked world.  As Terrell Bynum (2015) noted, advances in information and communication technologies have fostered both good and bad effects.  We might debate our ability to manage this reasonably well.  However, the real problem is one that Gerd Leonhard (2014) identified, that tech’s advances are moving with such power and at such great speed that our technical capabilities have usurped the scope of our ethics (however we choose to define them).  If left unchecked, will they—like Kilauea’s furry—stop for nothing?  Now is the time for leaders to consider the social and ethical impacts of these burgeoning technological forces.  For my part, this week I am exploring the phenomenon of cyberbullying. 



While bullying is not an entirely new concern, the reality of cyberbullying has come into greater focus as technologies (and really our uses—and misuses—of them) expand exponentially.  With all of the advantages that have been realized through these technological advances, bullies have also been provided a host of new mediums through which they can target their victims (Snyman and Loh, 2014).  Much attention has been applied to combating cyberbullying among children and adolescents (I think justifiably so), but there remains a need to explore this phenomenon in the workplace, an effort which has been much slower to commence (Privitera and Campbell, 2009).  Fairly-recent studies demonstrate a prevalence of cyberbullying in the workplace (Northeastern University, 2013).  It seems Paige Arnof-Fenn (2012) was correct in noting that “bullying is not just a kids’ issue.” 

Aggressive and harmful behaviors come in many forms (including but not limited to):

·        Malicious or threatening communications

·        Communications including jokes about ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other topic that would make an individual uncomfortable

·        Public shaming

·        Sharing embarrassing, offensive, or manipulated images or videos of an individual

·        Spreading lies or gossip

(List from Northeastern University, 2013)

However, the traditional definition of bullying includes three specific criteria: intentionality, power imbalance, and repetition.  The most straightforward approach to cyberbullying posits that it is traditional workplace bullying or harassment perpetrated through technology and online communications (Northeastern University, 2013).  However, the traditional definition may not suffice in the digital world, and Snyman and Loh (2014) noted much scholarly debate to this end.  They suggested three additional characteristics inherent to cyberbullying:

·       Anonymity

Anonymity offers perpetrators freedom from traditional social constraints and moral responsibilities.

 Anonymity removes the traditional qualifier of size, making cyberbullying a possibility for anyone—even those who are physically smaller and weaker than their victims.   

·        Publicity

Harmful messages can reach vast audiences at very fast speeds, invoking maximum damage rather quickly.

·        Access

Our increasingly-networked presence gives cyberbullies unrestricted access to victims, any time and any place—even when the victim is away from the workplace.  To escape this abuse is seemingly tantamount to abandoning one’s devices and connectedness altogether. 

As a result, I think Snyman and Loh (2014) were correct in noting that these unique characteristics may justify even single acts—that is, events that have not met the threshold of repetition—to warrant labeling as cyberbullying.


It seems few would question the view of cyberbullying as an obstacle to learning, productivity, and employee well-being…yet it is possible that many leaders and organizations lack an understanding on how best to respond or otherwise fail to appreciate their role in combatting this trend (see Clive Boddy’s informative TED talk on cyberbullying and corporate psychopaths).  Northeaster University (2013) offered some practical action steps for organizations to consider: 

·        Promote a zero-tolerance culture towards cyberbullying

·        Establish clear policies regarding cyberbullying and the appropriate use of technologies

·        Provide training on detrimental impact of bullying and also on ways to respond to it

·        Recommend the practice of pausing and reviewing all communications prior to sending (also see Trisha Prabhu’s impassioned 2014 TEDxTEEN in which she introduced the notion of the “Rethink” alert prompting a user to pause and reflect prior to submitting or sending a potentially hurtful message)

·        Encourage connections (in person, or via other mechanisms as available) that remove some of the emotional ambiguities that exist in some digital communications

Whatever the appropriate response in one’s organizational context—for mine it will approach all of the above—an important message must be that tolerating cyberbullying is not just another part of doing business (Arnof-Fenn, 2012). 

This last point is a crucial one.  While there has been research linking dark triad traits to bullying behaviors, it is also important to remember (and this seems especially important when considering child and adolescent bullying) that these behaviors don’t develop in a vacuum (see Alix Lambert’s 2014 TED in which she identified horrific breakdowns in entire community/school/parenting system that proved a breeding ground for bullying with tragic outcomes. 

Therefore as leaders we must never excuse or normalize cyberbullying.  And yet one of my fears is this is the unfortunate direction things are going.  Not only are we not in a vacuum, but we are in an era where the network is churning on all cylinders and one of its most vocal participants is none other than the one some have dubbed, the “Cyberbully in Chief”.   



Perhaps the best way we can protect our workforce and student bodies, our children and our colleagues, it to set a high standard and to offer the very best example we can as adults, in our homes and in the workplace.  Embracing the principle of justice as Bynum (2015) did—to require “a good will between man and man that knows no limits short of those of humanity itself”–seems a must.  Operating with an appreciation of Ignatian values seemingly leaves little room for a different standard.

 Now, we need to set this tone and stop this trend before it takes on a greater likeness to Kilauea…only cyberbullying is all destruction and utterly lacking in beauty.  This seems like a no-brainer and yet it remains pervasive.  How disappointing is that?


Networked Workforce: Promise or Peril?


ALOHA!  My contribution this week and next comes to you by way of Hawaii’s Big Island (my first time here…and what a special place this is!).  As you might imagine, sunglasses are a must…and I was just reflecting on how the pair I choose to wear impacts not only my sense of style, but also my view of everything I encounter.  Our lenses really do matter—and for our purposes here—in ways that extend well beyond shielding one’s eyes (or making one look good…or bad) while visiting our nation’s 50th state.  For example, when I think of recent conversations about technology that I have encountered or engaged in with a general lay audience, this same dynamic played out.  Participants often approached the topic wearing either rose-colored or doom-and-gloom lenses, in which technology is then seen as to offer promise OR peril, respectively.  But this EITHER-OR dichotomous perspective seems lacking as there are both reasons to be hopeful AND reasons to be concerned in considering technology, leadership, and a networked workforce.

Weinberger (2011) touched on a few advantages of the networked workforce.  One obvious point of optimism is found in the network’s flattening capacity.  It is not only that we have previously-unrivaled access to information and knowledge as consumers, but that the network has positioned each of us to also make our very own contributions.  That is, we are positioned—and ideally, encouraged—to be meaningfully engaged.  While I don’t have immediate access to the text (in order to provide a specific reference), I seem to recall that Lowney (2003) noted this advantage of empowering and inviting others to step into their own leadership capacity, thus requiring a leader to view him- or herself and all others through this important lens.

Whether we endorse this perspective (and to be clear, I do) …the network seems to have embraced it.  Today, we find that the primacy traditionally awarded to the credentialed subject matter expert has conceded some room for the participation of the amateur masses.  Weinberger spoke of this erosion as a blurring of lines, noting that “where there once was a gap between the professional and the amateur scientist—a gap defined and maintained by the credentialing process—the Net is putting out tendrils to find every way across the divide” (p. 131).  There seems reason to be encouraged by the potential scope and breadth of the network’s knowledge capacity (relative to any one individual) and its ability to out-scale a more hierarchical approach to leadership.  Weinberger sees this potential as an important pathway towards wise decision making in our networked environment, and I agree.

Now, this wealth of information available in the network may complicate and slow the decision-making progress due to sheer volume of information to be considered or the increased number of voices speaking into it.  The network’s messy fray requires our attention, as Weinberger noted:

Even scientific knowledge exists in a messy web of humans where we make decisions—for better and often for worse—based not just on information and knowledge but within a social realm of social striving, personal interests, shared hopes, motivating emotions, and barely sensed stirrings. (p. 151)

This seems a profound—and timely—challenge of this growing networked web (consider the era of fake news and alternative facts as a case in point).  The inherent good offered by a vastly-connected knowledge base—one that knows few boarders, is pluralistic, and multi-disciplinary—will be better because of its collective perspectives but will also be challenged to reconcile to some basis of shared or at least agreed-upon values.  Top Ten Online College’s infographic pointed to 6 key drivers of change, including a new media ecology and this diversity inherent in a globally connected world, and which it was suggested requires a workforce that possesses sense-making and social intelligence skills in addition to their burgeoning technical skills.  However, Annie Murphy Paul (2013)—in referencing the University of Connecticut’s Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus study—made a strong case for balancing our focus on digital skill development with a firm grounding in an acquired base of factual knowledge in any domain in which one desires to succeed.  She argues, “this base supplies the essential foundation for building skills, and it can’t be outsourced to a search engine.

My ability to engage in this venue from tropical paradise (well removed from my normal environment), in and of itself, seems to indicate one great benefit of uninterrupted connectivity made available by technology: it introduces flexibilities that were seldom available before.  In addition to this trend in education, the networked workforce is increasingly being shaped by such flexibilities.  While there are many benefits worth considering (increased productivity, cost efficiency, it is a benefit that seems attractive to current and prospective employees), this too is not without complication (see Paul Boag, 2013; and Ann Bednarz, 2013).  Today, I am particularly sensitive to the interpersonal divide that we often observe in our application of technology.  As my wife and I were at our first connection point en route to Hawaii, we were notified that our oldest child had an accident at school that resulted in a fracture.  While technology allowed us to connect, via phone and video…our ability to offer care and to express empathy were significantly limited (in comparison to our normal interactions).  This limitation is not enough to justify abandoning flexibility, but it’s something I want to understand better.

Fisch and McLeod’s (2016) Did You Know video reminded us that we are today preparing students for jobs that currently do not exist, using currently un-invented technologies, to solve unknown and unrecognized problems.  Leaders are key in navigating our path forward, noting as Kevin Kelly did, that our worn future is likely to include new layered on top of the old.  Much remains unpredictable, but we remain in control of our shared destiny.  The network, properly leveraged, must—and can—choose wisely.  I understand how that might be daunting, but it is exciting when viewed from the right lens.


Leadership, Cooperation, and the Synaptic Path

Why is it that every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?

-Henry Ford


While I can accept the inherent value of mechanistic repetition in Ford’s historical context, this comment nonetheless provides an interesting backdrop for a continued exploration of technology and leadership in today’s (and we might project…tomorrow’s) world.  In Ford’s era—when knowledge and leadership took on a markedly-different shape—isolation, authority, and a hierarchical command-and-control model made more sense…and seemingly worked.  Although the assembly line was constantly moving, it was not changing from one unit to the next, therefore demanding more hands and less brains. 

This is not the case in today’s digital world, which is constantly moving and (unlike the assembly line…) constantly changing too.  Our very understanding of knowledge—and therefore the tried and true conventions of leadership—need to be recast in light of what Weinberger (2011) referred to as today’s “shapelessness of knowledge” (p. 110) and its “web of connections” (p. 118). 

Enter Jon Husband’s “What Is Wirearchy?”, which noted this shift toward, “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” (para. 8).  This connectivity and the process of co-creation demand our brains in additions to our hands, but also the skills that permit us to leverage them well, among them: flexibility, dialogue, cross-functionality, collective mindset, relationship building—both within and beyond our enterprise boundaries (see Husband; and Gartner, 2010).      


While in a much different context—and captivating French (I think) accent—Yves Morieux (2013) perpetuated this distinction between our hands and brains (well at least sort of…just stick with me for a minute). graphic-depicting-a-synapse-a-connection-between-brain-cells In discussing how organizations might best respond to the increasing complexities they inevitably encounter today, Morieux likened the formal organizational structure and its all-too-familiar boxes with solid and dotted reporting lines as the organization’s skeleton (and for our purposes here, its hands).  While no doubt important, the skeleton (even when augmented with new structures and process…which is a typical organizational response to new complexities) alone cannot suffice.  Rather Morieux argued that the real solution to complexities lies in the interplay, in connections, and in interactions.  It is through the organization’s nervous system—its brains and the host of synapses that develop—that cooperation can be leveraged.  He advocates that in response to complexity…our leadership should not add complexity, but simplify through six simple rules:


In Morieux’s approach, layers are removed, people are empowered, timely feedback is available, silos and dysfunctional self-sufficiency are curbed, and blame is reserved not for failure but for failure to help or to ask for help. 

This meshes well with me.  And thankfully, I find myself leading in an environment that values progress, innovation, and the potential down-stream benefits of an inclusive big-data set.  That’s the good news.  The bad news: unfortunately, those values are too often defined by old habits (of the highly-bureaucratic and command-and-control varieties).  That is, although I lead an independent nonprofit entity with complete autonomy, our congressionally-authorized statutory mission is inseparable from our Federal agency (Executive Branch) partner.  Complexity is the norm and simplicity is well…nonexistent.  This is the source of both great determination and great frustration for me as I work within the sphere of my influence as a leader to anticipate, to empower, and to collectively adapt…only to hit a lid that remains beyond mine and our Foundation’s control.  Still, I concur with Weinberger, that “knowledge now lives in the messy web that has grown around it, the way life lives not in our neurons, bones, blood, and marrow but in their CONNECTION (p. 119, emphasis added).  I’ll keep searching for new pathways in this mess…and I’m banking on a few new synapses to help bridge the gaps. 




I’ll Take All That I Can Borrow…


As the quote above suggests (noting particularly its attribution to Woodrow Wilson’s 1914 remarks to the National Press Club)—and Nancy Dixon’s (2009) post confirms—thinking of KNOWLEDGE in terms of the COLLECTIVE is not an entirely new phenomenon.  While there is something romantic in seeing Wilson’s acknowledgment of this “great limitation of knowledge” and his response to it in the form of diligent efforts to “collect all the brains that are borrowable” …we should appreciate that considering COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE from the perspective of today’s NETWORKED WORLD offers a much different meaning altogether.  Technological and social advances have busted open knowledge’s traditional boundaries and curatorial filters (Weinberger, 2011).

The Internet—and particularly now Web 2.0 and the myriad tools that facilitate PARTICIPATION—have contributed to the evolution of knowledge management from its long-established focus on COLLECTION of content…to CONNECTION of people…and now to one of integrative CONVERSATIONS (Dixon, 2009). dixon


No longer can we say that knowledge resides in the domain of the individual; rather it is a finction of the network (Weinberger, 2011).

Dixon (2009) also makes a compelling case to this effect.  For her, collective knowledge is more than the sum total of one unit’s (however defined) knowledge content.  Rather, she views it as a “confluence of diverse perspectives and data from across an organization…”.  This seems to align well with Jarche’s (2010) social learning paradigm which values the group and its networked connection over any individual component therein.  Networked knowledge is about shared CREATION and SENSEMAKING (Dixon, 2009).

This impacts leadership in profound ways.  The traditional hierarchical process of leader as expert and knowledge gatekeeper no longer suffices.  Consider Lowney’s (2003) portrait of the centuries-old Jesuit leadership model (which I think is worth quoting at length):

The stereotype of top-down, immediate, all-transforming leadership is not the solution; it’s the problem.  If only those positioned to direct large teams are leaders, all the rest must be followers.  And those labeled as followers will inevitably act like followers, sapped of the energy and drive to seize their own leadership chances.

The Jesuit model explodes the ‘one-great-man’ model for the simple reason that everyone has influence, and everyone projects influence—good or bad, large or small—all the time.  A leader seizes all of the available opportunities to influence and make an impact.  Circumstances will present a few people with world-changing defining-moment opportunities; most will enjoy no such bigtime opportunities in their lifetimes.  Still leadership is defined not by the scale of the opportunity but by the quality of the response. (p. 18)

You’re right…Lowney’s focus was not leadership specific to an evolving knowledge management.  But it seems reasonable to apply it to this context.  That is, as a leader I can continue to value knowledge born of science or experience, but there are ample (and increasing) opportunities—if not necessities—to leverage the collective knowledge of those with whom I am networked.  Accordingly, in the first eight months of my current executive leadership role, I have worked hard to establish a culture that values—and implements—TRANSPARENCY, PARTICIPATION, COMMUNITY, DIALOGUE, and HEALTHY DISSENT.  Weinberger (2011) held that everyone is an expert in some capacity.  I agree.  The leader’s charge is no longer to BE the expert but to LEVERAGE the experts (very broadly defined), noting that “expertise multiplies when it exists between people” (Weinberger, 2011, p. 59).  51haz9pw0ll-_sx327_bo1204203200_Liz Wiseman’s book and video offer a message built upon her wealth of research data which demonstrate the stark contrasts between two classes of leaders: MULTIPLIERS and DIMINISHERS.  For Wizeman, leveraging the full capability of an organization requires that one amplify “collective, viral intelleignece” (chapter 1).  While Weinberger’s “riot of ideas” (p. 69) remains a distinct challenge in such an environment, the discerning leader will seek to empower the RIGHT PEOPLE with the RIGHT QUESTIONS (Weinberger, 2011; Jarche, 2010).

As technology continues to advance—including more sophisticated AI—will we witness knowledge management’s final breaths…to borrow Thomas Davenport’s (2015) language?

Vegard Kolbjørnsrud, Richard Amico, and Robert J. Thomas’ HBR article suggests quite the opposite.  As AI shifts the leadership landscape, harnessing other’s creativity and curiosity takes on added importance.  The authors contend that social and networking skills will separate top performing leaders from their peers in an environment crowded by AI.  No doubt, knowledge—and knowledge management—is DIFFERENT than it once was; but there remains much left to DISCOVER.  There is a place for LEADERS on this journey.

I particularly love Weinberger’s (2011) thinking:

Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smart.  We need to understand what of the old is worth holding on to, and what limitations of the new technology are going to trap and tempt us.  A new strategy for knowing our world is emerging, but we are not passive in its arrival. (p. 46)

Therein lie some fundamental questions that deserve our attention as leaders…questions for which I alone lack an answer.  Thankfully, there is no shortage of networked outlets on which I might humbly petition: IN SEARCH OF…A FEW BORROWABLE BRAINS! 



au·dac·i·ty / noun

While AUDACITY—in our common usage—can refer to one’s brashness or impudence with a certain negative undertone, I prefer to invoke the word’s more positive connotation, focusing on a boldness and daring that remains above the fray.  This unrestrained defiance of convention seems a very good theme on which to ground this continued discussion of leadership and technology in the world of Web 2.0 (Tim O’Reilly, 2005).  Bold INNOVATIONS delivered the technological infrastructure that set the stage…but (perhaps of equal importance) it was and remains society’s bold IMPLEMENTATION of these new and ever-expanding digital-social forces that create the real disruption impacting generations (Clay Shirky, 2014).  For Shirky, this audacity is best expressed through collaboration, sharing, participation—through ENGAGEMENT.

Jane Hart’s Top 200 List offers a glimpse into the variety of tools available to facilitate this engagement.  Among them—interestingly enough—is AUDACITY®…a free, open-source, audio software that can be used for recording (live or streaming), importing/exporting, and editing sound files.  audacity-software  It is one of many similarly-structured tools in what seems like a bloated field that offers end-users myriad options.  Two important upsides to Audacity are its cross-platform compatibility (Windows, Mac OS X, and GNU/Linux) and its free licensing under the GNU General Public License.  Audacity (similar to its counterparts…or competition) falls well short of the heavier-hitters (Apple Logic Pro, Avid Pro Tools, Ableton, Steinberg Cubase, PreSonus Studio, and Apple Garageband—to name a few) in terms of features and interface, but its simple platform translates to relative ACCESSIBILITY for users of varied tech-savviness, including those with little literacy specific to audio recording and/or editing.  Add to this the wealth of resources internal and external to Audacity’s site, and one should have no problem completing some rudimentary recording and editing in short order.  Our resident digital wizard (who happens to be 12) had it figured out in no time!


It is interesting to explore how Audacity might be used to leverage personal, professional, and workplace learning, growth, and engagement.  One should note some technical limitations (including Audacity’s ability to interface cleanly with midi inputs…a concern more for music recording), otherwise the limitations in terms of the specific nature or content associated with the use of this tool seems to be one’s imagination.  However, utilizing for podcasts, trainings, advertisements, vision casting, etc. seem viable (if not common) in today’s leadership environments.  Though irrespective of WHAT is said, the fact that Audacity allows one to SAY IT and SHARE IT—to PARTICIPATE and to ENGAGE—gives us reason to celebrate.

And I’ve learned a lot over the years (particularly as a pastor and a parent) regarding the power of the human voice as a profound MESSAGE CARRIER and CONNECTOR.  Along these lines, consider also this short excerpt from Will Coley’s post, which speaks to the value of using audio story-telling in the non-profit world…a lesson learned from public radio.  Coley noted:

Radio requires listeners to use their imagination, bringing us emotionally closer to the story. Add to this that audio is often more intimate than other media. We often listen alone or on headphones, putting these voices directly inside our skulls. Audio is also better suited to our busy multitasking lives: I can listen at the gym, while washing dishes or checking email. 

While the imagery may be a bit creepy, the prospect of “putting [our] voices directly inside [the] skulls” of our followers and other stakeholders is wonderfully powerful—in a wonderfully simple way!  And anecdotally, I know this thought of audio “bringing us emotionally closer to the story” to be true.  My emotional response is quite different when reading about something very great or very troubling as compared to listening to those actual events as documented via digital media.  Getting clarity of one’s own voice (inside one’s own skull) is another valuable application, akin to Seth Godin and Tom Peters’ meta-cognitive perspective on blogging.

For as many fans as Audacity has, there are also its detractors…though many acknowledge that much of their criticism boils down to personal preferences (of features, controls, interfaces, etc.).  While there is ample opportunity for me to expand my use of audio recordings in my business leadership, I might personally opt for Garageband as a tool, simply because of my experience and comfort with it, in comparison.  Regardless, generating the file is only half the battle; one still needs to distribute it via some other platform (which can introduce new challenges, i.e. my inability to include an audio file here without upgrading to a paid service!).  Though again, there are multiple options available for leaders.

One of the greatest takeaways regarding my brief exploration of the Audacity software hasaudacity-furtick less to do with the PRODUCT as it does the PROCESS.  The open-source and highly-collaborative approach to building, maintaining, and updating Audacity offers a valuable model of engagement, and a portrait of audacity…in the very best of ways.




A Tale of Two Digital Worlds

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…

                                                                                          -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Perhaps invoking 19th century literature—albeit a classic—seems an odd way to begin a conversation exploring themes on technology and leadership in today’s hyper-digital and increasingly-networked environment.  I definitely concede that point!  Though in reflecting on Thomas Friedman’s (2005) The World Is Flat and Richard Florida’s (2005) The World Is Spiky, I couldn’t help but consider the stark contradictions between the two worlds they described.  For Friedman, a series of historical forces contributed to a flattening of the global environment.  He suggested that a variety of technological developments have fueled both increased collaboration and competition on a global economic playing field that is arguably more inclusive and equitable.  Florida, on the other hand, laid out a portrait of a world that is anything but flat, rather one that is “AMAZINGLY SPIKY” (p. 48, emphasis added).  Using measures of population density, economic activity (estimated by way of geographic light emissions), and innovation…he ““charts a much different economic topography” (p. 48) than Friedman, calling attention to the great disparity between the spikes (largely dominant urban centers) and the world’s vast valleys.

While I appreciate Friedman’s position, I view technology’s leveling effect as one of POTENTIAL much more than I do as one of FULLY-REALIZED REALITY.  On this, I tend to side with Florida, believing that shifts in tectonics—for example, a shrinking gap between peaks due to increased economic and social connectivity—support a PERCEPTION of a flatter world, but I suspect this would apply largely (if not exclusively) to those who have the luxury of viewing this phenomenon from the vantage point of the peak itself.  It seems appropriate—particularly for an inquiry grounded in the Ignatian tradition—to expand our horizon well beyond the haves and the have-mores, to include as a part of the dialogue our concern for justice and care for the marginalized…or those on the have-not’s side of the digital divide.  The Digital Inclusion Survey noted both the great OPPORTUNITIES and the great CHALLENGES posed by the Internet’s ubiquity.  As promising, and encouraging, and exciting as those opportunities may be, the challenges also deserve our attention.  A truly flat world would seemingly demand as much.

Though technology has allowed us to make great strides, Pankaj Ghemawat’s (2012) TED, Actually, The World Isn’t Flat, offered some interesting data points to demonstrate that this talk of a flat world constitutes an overstatement based precisely on this difference between perception and reality…a phenomenon he termed GLOBALONEY.  While potentially useful in bringing the globalization issues to the fore, Ghemawat does seem to fear that if we subscribe to a flat world model as one that has fully arrived, we will be less motivated to continue innovating in pursuit of improvements towards additional digital inclusion and radical openness, of which there appears to be ample room.

Employing caution and control as we continue to dream, innovate, and implement remains a necessary and important part of the process, as Nick Bostrom’s (2015) TED, What Happens When Our Computers Get Smarter Than We Are, suggested.  Friedman also cautioned of the need to be bold and progressive while also harnessing technology and (to a certain extent) our own imaginations as we develop future generations of advancements, this to ensure that they won’t get the best of others…or ourselves (see Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Big Hero 6 for an interesting portrayal of this struggle in Hiro’s progressive development of Baymax).

The good news is that we don’t have to swing for the fences to be successful.  Ghemawat concluded that while radical openness and connection are great, even incremental improvements can have profound impacts.  Finding that right balance is key for leaders in this ever-evolving world.  The task is big…but recall to whom much is given, much is expected.  And while I acknowledge the world’s spikes…we are far from alone on this journey.  The best of times really are yet to come!  Magis!



In his book, Heroic Leadership, Chris Lowney (2003) invoked the “change-ready posture” of “living with one foot raised” as a hallmark of the Jesuits’ journey.  He insisted:

Good leaders share this restless, eternally questioning posture.  It keeps them a little ahead of the curve.  It’s what keeps them pointed toward the future, towards solutions and opportunities that others might overlook or be too timid to try or lack the energy to pursue.” (Lowney, 2003, p. 208)

There is much to learn on leadership, and it seems the learning curve is growing ever-steeper.  The advent of new and emerging technologies introduces a whole host of possibilities—challenges and opportunities—both daunting and exciting.  Yet we are not left to explore (or tackle) these alone.  One of the greatest benefits of our new[er] digital networked environment is our ability to access and to leverage the collective intelligence of those within our sphere…in an environment in which OUR SPHERE IS SEEMINGLY LIMITLESS! 

It is likely that I have more questions than answers, but I am committed to the processto the journeyof growing as a LEARNER and LEADER.  Join me.  Perhaps together we can chart the path ahead…if not to the final destination, then certainly the next step.  And may we do so with one foot raised.   


Lowney, C. (2003). Heroic leadership: Best practices from a 450-year-old company that changed the world. Chicago: Loyola Press.