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Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky is a writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He is an adjunct professor at New York University's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program[…]

Our two great visions of leadership — the grand visionary and the micro-manager — no longer make sense.

Question: How has business leadership changed because of the rnInternet?  

Clay Shirky: the question of leadership is really rninteresting, because for most businesses, really, at this point, the rnloss of control they fear is already in the past. Right? There was a rnmedia environment in which almost any message about IBM that was in the rnpublic was created by IBM and then circulated via press release, or rnreported by a newspaper, or what have you. 
rn And then of course, there was, you know, word-of-mouth, chatter on the rnstreet kinds of stuff, but that all operated at a level so much smaller rnthan anything a large company could produce.  The biggest change in rnleadership, I think, is that those days are over and there’s... the rnrange of choices leaders have about the perception of their company has rnbeen quite, quite restricted because the counter-story we’ll always get rnat as well, and it’s just much more of a dialogue of the public. 
Sorn the two great visions of leadership we have, like, the "grand rnvisionary" or the "micro-manager" now seem to me not to work as well.  rnThe Internet has kind of compressed the range.  And leadership has rnbecome instead a combination of infusing a company with whatever the rncore imperatives are and making sure that the company doesn’t rnoverbalance to far in one direction or another. 
So, Amazon, rnto take just one example—Amazon has my favorite corporate award ever in rnthe history of corporate awards.  They have an award that you can only rnwin as an employee, if you do something great and you didn’t ask rnpermission first.  Right?  Other awards you can get if you asked rnpermission, if you cleared things with your bosses, but if you do rnsomething really good and you just saw that it was a possibility and yourn did it, you get a special award for not having ask permission.  And rnthat’s an example of something that, to your earlier point about your rnfriend, lowers the amount of internal communication required, and also rnsets a cultural norm for the business that no amount of memos and rnmission statements could possibly say.  And that kind of leadership, rnwhat Bezos does, I think, in terms of creating a cultural climate where rngood ideas are rewarded matters so much more than, you know, either rn"grand visionary" or "micro-manager" in this environment.

Recorded on May 26, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown