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Safe Hands, Visionaries, and the Madding Crowd

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User offline. Last seen 7 years 26 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2007-02-26

In the early days of Apple and Dell, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell nurtured tiny startups into global giants. The guys and their companies fitted the profile of the charismatic leader phase of an organisations development according to prevailing academic theory. Sadly for them, there was more to the theory.

Venture Capitalists who get involved with a start-up often view the entrepreneur as a maverick without broad enough skills. So they bring in the suits, trusted operators glistening with so much corporate polish they can take a rag-tag pirate outfit and transform it for a spectacular IPO debut.

But the same mentality was applied to Apple and Dell. When Wall Street beheld a period of lacklustre performance they were prepared to believe the theory that these maverick founders needed to be replaced by safe hands at the helm, the boards of both companies knew this, and had to do something, so farewell Steve and Michael.

But the boards and Wall St. were wrong, very wrong. Safe hands are great at talking the Wall St. talk. They know all the buzz-words and can dazzle with eloquent pronouncements regarding the arcane nitty gritty of things like Sarbanes-Oxley. But safe hands it turns out, are a bad fit for companies who need to innovate.

Vision is the crucial ingredient, and you don't expect that from a CFO just because you made them the CEO. Visionaries anticipate trends in technology and weave them into a leading product that meets a demand they know is there. This eventually sunk in with the powers that be and Steve and Michael were treated to a chorus of "Welcome Home".

They have something else in common. Both have seen that some customers are deeply unhappy, and in both cases it's because of powerful short-sighted suppliers. For Apple it's the music industry with DRM, for Dell it's Microsoft on every pc like it or not. Both have failed to cut the deals they wanted behind closed doors. This is where safe hands capitulate, they followed the rules, job done, next task on the to-do list.

But charismatic leaders don't like to quit, or simply follow the rules, hell no, they make the rules. How could they bring greater pressure to bear on these suppliers? Easy. Go to the people and if necessary point the finger of blame at the suppliers. Michael set up ideastorm, Steve wrote an open letter.

The tsunami of discontent, long traversing the internet deep seas without impact, now had a shoreline. It rose up and crashed down on the hapless suppliers leaving their brands neck deep in mud. Journalists wrote reams, blogs and forums burst forth, and the deafening planetwide din wouldn't let up when the bell sounded close of business on the NYSE floor.

So now Dell have played their new card, they couldn't be expected to ignore such loud customer demand for preloaded GNU/Linux after all. EMI had the clarity within the storm to retreive some brand cred by being fustest with the mostest, so Apple have played their card too.

The online masses clearly have power, and the corporate titans now realise it can be used swiftly and effectively. But they can only do so if many individuals have already been busy making small waves. Each new free software release or forum comment can win hearts and minds, we're now encouraged to keep on the march storing up that latent energy.

What can we learn from Steve and Michael about how to focus that energy on certain targets? Non-free drivers, formats, and particularly software patents need a tsunami, but who is in a power position to channel our power to change things? Are we dependent on household name charismatic leaders?

dylunio's picture
User offline. Last seen 11 years 30 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2005-05-08
Charismatic leaders can be

Charismatic leaders can be very good, especially for companies. Your examples of Apple and Dell are very apt, and by being the charismatic leader they have lead to things a pair of safe hands would not have dreamed of, no-DRM and GNU/Linux preinstalls. I think they work by getting the workforce and the 'normal' people behind what they wish to do, though this can be dangerous with 1930s Germany as evidence and Le Penn getting through to the second round in the last French presidential election.


who is in a power position to channel our power to change things?

I the end the people are I think, they can vote with their feet and wallets. But I do not really see this happening without some kind of Bakuninite reeducation of the masses. So you could say we are dependant on household name charismatic leaders - we, a quite small group of people in the grand scheame of things, have been campaigning against DRM for ages, nothing happened, all it took was one open letter by Jobs and things are starting to change. It is basically democracy, only as strong as the people feel empowered. If the people do not feel empowered they leave it to the 'big' people as it were. We could end DRM by the population just not buying any music until DRM was removed, but I do not see this happening as a) people do not know about the problems, b) people do not think they can make a difference.

memenode's picture
User offline. Last seen 10 weeks 2 days ago. Offline
Joined: 2004-07-12
These safe wallstreet style

These safe wallstreet style guys are like computers just logically running a certain program, and charismatic leaders are in comparison "humans" who have intuition, feelings and sense of what can be good or bad. Of course, this is not literary saying that wallstreet people don't have feelings and intuition. It is just a contrast that seems to be at work in companies you have named.

I suppose it is almost inescapable that visionaries will always be the one channeling the change. Their vision is, afterall, built from the pieces that they acquired from the society at large. The reason why we call this a "vision" is because it describes something most people failed to see. In other words, visionaries are able to take knowledge from others, sense the desires of societies and combine this into concepts and ideas that describe the new world that the society at large really wants to see and build. If they didn't want that, these visions would not result in succesful initiatives..

In other words, the reason why we always seem to need a big and powerful persons to lead the change is because they are rare, because not everyone is a visionary. If everyone was so ambitious, then everyone would be big enough to make a change without having an obvious charismatic leader to channel it through. Smiling

So in other words, as long as an average person is not an ambitious visionary we will need to rely on the few of those to do all the worldchanging, even if we don't always agree with some of their opinions and policies.


Daniel Memenode signature

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