Sunday, March 8, 2009

Reset Losses: Autonomy, Privacy, Control

Reset as a leadership behavior is a more difficult option than hunkering down because it requires taking deep losses, which none of us especially enjoy. The losses are experienced in giving up practices, behaviors, ways of being and especially the values which are part of our identity. They constitute "who we are" as if we were some immutable beings rather than constantly learning and evolving.

And it requires taking some risks, like writing this half-baked idea in a blog and hoping that you will digest, refine, and challenge it with an eye toward helping all of us engage creatively with the uncertain world around us. So, have at it.

Here's a story, an example, and a moment which captured for me the potential loss in Reset. I have a wonderful friend, J. Michael Miller, who is an acting teacher and visionary extraordinaire. He started and is the driving spirit behind The Actors Center, a place in New York City where professional and often very successful actors can continue to hone their craft.

Miller is on a mission to return the actor, rather than the director, writer, or producer, to being the central force in the theater. He is inspiring and passionate about it and wants to nurture a national movement. So I put him together with my youngest child, Max, a web-savvy journalist who is the Managing Editor of a new public affairs website. I thought Max might help him think about how to use the web to achieve his purpose.

At one point in their high energy conversation, Max was going on and on about Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and Michael, listening intently, interrupted and said with some disbelief, "But if you put something on there, anyone can read it!" Max replied, respectfully but forcefully, "Of course, that's the point."

For my generation and Michael's, especially for men, information creates power and therefore should be hoarded. For Max's generation, networks and collaboration provide power and the dissemination of information is a way to harness that power. They couldn't be further apart.

And the distance between them is not about Max's being web-savvy or about his technical knowledge. It is about their values.

I have grown up with the idea that knowledge is power and that autonomy and privacy are among the most noble values to be protected. Oh, give me back the hours spent with our attorney at our firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, about protecting our intellectual property (Nothing personal, Fred. We love you.)

But we are living in a world where the Government and lots of other people have access to all kinds of information about you that twenty years ago you could keep to yourself: where you shop, what you read, where you make your donations, and your taste in music, sports, and food. Corporations are being forced to disclose information about their products and services which gives others a competitive advantage. And Max's generation does not see this as a loss. My old friend and colleague, the brilliant Esther Dyson, now blogging on The Huffington Post, wrote with her typical trenchant and brilliant insight in last summer's issue of Scientific American about distinguishing concrete harm from the emotional loss that accompanies a loss of a privacy.

We are living in a world where autonomy has given way to the reality of interdependency. And if you really internalize interdependency, you look for partnerships, collaborations, and networks that were unimaginable and even undesirable in the past. internationally, the US has gone from shunning the so-called "axis of evil" and other bad folks, like Castro and Hezbollah and Hamas to Obama telling the New York Times today that he is contemplating contact with the Taliban. The Taliban are not the first "enemies" he has contacted. See Syria and Russia. And it is not just the reaching out, he's also being transparent about it, because he knows that in the world we live in he cannot protect the information for very long anyway.

It is hard for someone in his dotage like me to lose the sense - the illusion? - of autonomy, privacy and control. But hunkering down will not do it any more. When the world comes out on the other side of the mess we are in, I would rather be part of that new reality, whatever it is, and do my little part to try and shape it, than keep my head down and hope that whatever others create will be ok for me.

ps. It's not all good news on the Reset front. As my friend Jim Rosenberg pointed out after reading Mark Landler's piece in the New York Times on Friday, context is key. Read it for a chuckle.


Unknown said...

For the record: Pluggedinedness is a relative concept. Consider my girlfriend's 3-year-old younger brother, who already knows his way around a keyboard. That kid is never going to lose touch with someone for his entire life without meaningfully deciding to do so. The generation below me—and yes, I'm including 3-year-olds in that group—will have an intuitive feel for this stuff I never will.

Didi said...

More half-baked ideas…

Thinking about reset in terms of those losses – relinquishing autonomy over personal information and the dizzying transport of ideas.

As Max writes, all this pluggedinedness is already a habit for everyone age three and upwards. So we might as well stop fussing...

But I fuss. Sites, blogs, tags, labels, twitters, friending, poking … Sometimes I grouse that the Declaration of Independence could never be written in these times. Which is my way of asking – How do these vast, dense, effervescent networks actually move us to interdependency?

In other words, how do we move from content to … contact?

Which brings me back to your friend J. Michael Miller and his grand project to hold the actor aloft. Actors are all about contact. The words matter but as anyone who’s ever had to improvise a scene using gibberish knows, behavior trumps language every time. A physical gesture, a moment of silence makes our hearts beat faster and pull us from our seats. No coincidence that you intuitively connected Miller to Max and his public affairs website. For sure, a good match of talents. A great match of ideas, entirely in tune with "reset"– that we need to become more vulnerable, relinquish faux-autonomy and reset our contact with each other as interdependent actors on the public stage.

Didi said...

.and to state the obvious, exactly what Obama is doing.

Tad Staley said...

Marty - great thinking here. Reminiscent of an article last month in New York Magazine, Say Everything, in which author Emily Nussbaum described the first "true generation gap [in] perhaps 50 years".

Marty Linsky said...

So, what does interdependence look like on the ground? Ideas, please. Less focus on protecting intellectual property - I got that. More contact between the US and the bad guys - I got that. But will it ever be the case that I will stop to pick up scraps of trash on the street, reuse teabags, not eat fruit and vegetables out of season, buy a hybrid?

Mary Rowe said...

Yes - if there were a way to monetize the value of these things:'... scraps of trash on the street, reuse teabags, not eat fruit and vegetables out of season, buy a hybrid...'. And if creating an economic connection is too daunting (taxing tea bags ...) we can routine-nize these things as we have recycling --even when the economics don't work once people have started to separate their garbage they don't find it easy to turn back.

I am still reeling from the 'my girlfriend's 3 year old brother...' at what age is dating legal in the US anyway ....?(from your friendly Canadian ....)

M Jacks said...

One place I think we might be seeing the intersection of reset and pluggedinedness: all these stories (like in today's NYTimes) about the sudden drop in conspicuous consumption. Did that happen in the 1920's? Or the early 80's? Because my half-baked theory is that thanks in part to the media and Web2.0 (and, you know, Obama), that feeling of self-consciousness among the wealthy set in much faster than it might have in an earlier era. I mean, some Madison Ave stores have been offering plain brown bags to customers for months. Mighty quick reaction time, I think.

Oh and, to a justifiably concerned Mary Rowe: fear not, I'm the girlfriend in question, age 27... (My savvy little brother is the product of my dad's 2nd marriage.)

Rodrigo Silva Ortúzar said...

It's great to read all these commentes, I can see what people is thinking in the US is not as far as how people is thinking in Chile.

Unfortunatelly, with all this crisis mess, I'm affraid that people in Chile is giving away their autonomy, privacy and control, for just a little of Protection: Employees want more Unions; Companies want the goverment to loan then money;Exporters ask to keep US$ high; and so on, but no one seems to want to find some creative alternatives. Nobody wants to take responsibility. It looks like everybody prefers to be a follower than reset their selves and become "leaders". It's hard to say it, but Resete Losses: Autonomy, Privacy and Control are for sale down here en Chile.


Jim said...

Re: pluggedinedness...Though I haven't read it yet, I suspect Don Tapscott's book Growing Up Digital could provide interesting ideas about this topic as far as how the net generation's relationship with all things digital plays a role in how they think about information sharing, collaboration, etc. As a side, Marty, wondering your thoughts, perhaps in an upcoming post, about the media frenzy that Obama is trying to do too much at once and the take that those like, you who study leadership, have on this. My belief is that the issues are inter-connected and not only is he smart, but he has a lot of smart people working for him, so why not?

Franklincovey said...

Thank you so much for that nicely written piece of text.