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November 21, 2011



Digital Technologies for 21st Century Democracy.


On the "cacophony of voices" and the role of leadership in the 21st century:

Foundational assumptions of the roles of leaders and followers must be adapted to the new realities of the 21st century and our networked society. Two basic 'truths' that organizations have been operating by, over the last few centuries, are:
1) The role of leadership is to be strong, decisive, and solely responsible for choosing the path of the organization and guiding their followers towards a previously selected goal.
2) The role of followers is to support their leaders and have faith that their personal goals will be fulfilled by following the plans of their leadership.
While these assumptions illustrate a situation where leaders and their goals are the primary mechanism that change can occur, this no longer fits the emerging sentiments of the networked society that values active participation and personal opinion over passivity. As the Internet lowers barriers for participation and production, people who were previously passive followers are now expecting to take a much more active role in the decisions effecting their everyday lives. This does lead to more voices and potential for conflict but we also get the benefits of collective intelligence through those debates and opinions. The "cacophony of voices" should not be feared as a sign of an "epidemic of no decision," instead it is a sign that those who once passively followed are now wanting to lead themselves. Traditionally strong leaders are becoming rare because they are increasingly obsolete in this new environment. What we need now are leaders that share their responsibility for creating goals and solving problems with their followers and allow them to participate in the duties of traditional leadership. When Thomas Friedman says that someone must "meld those ideas into a vision of how to move forward, sculpt them into policies that can make a difference in peoples’ lives..." He is wrong when he says that those aggregators of opinion and innovation will be traditionally strong leaders, instead as ideas increasingly flow from the "bottom up" so will a new breed of leadership grow with them to enact those ideas.

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