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October 16, 2005

The OneCleveland Effect: New Models of Open Source Leadership

New Rules – New Leadership

Open source leadership is a powerful new dynamic challenging, if not yet changing, the nature and quality of decision-making and management-styles in organizations across the world. From my vantage point, we might call the informing logic of open source leadership, the OneCleveland effect.

Predictably, the blogsphere got there before I did. Earlier this week I gave a breakfast talk at Cleveland’s City Club about leadership. For more than a decade, I have been observing and editorializing that there appears to be an ineluctable tendency, within the very DNA of the Internet, which challenges traditional forms of power and leadership. The Network does not respect borders, hierarchies, command and control organizational structures or traditional forms of power, including the power of centralized knowledge.

The study of leadership whether it is psychological, socio-political, military, religious, or a top 10 read from one of America’s corporate leaders has always been framed by what 19th century historian and social commentator Thomas Carlyle called hero and hero worship. E.H. Carr in his 1961 book, What is History, helped to contrast and ultimately critique what he called ‘great man of history’ lens from other socio-economic forces that help us to understand the march of history.

From sports heroes to American idols, from charismatic and powerful political leaders to Hollywood stars, ours has been a culture that creates its powerful myths of unity, cohesion and bonding through the well rehearsed story of triumph of the handsome and rugged ad copy- created Marlboro man.

Theories of organizational leadership and management follow, and actually help to reinforce the myths. The most dominant form of leadership style as any freshmen in an intro economics, business, or sociology course knows is the autocratic leader. They come with a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude. They’re long on order-giving and short on listening, great at micro-managing and poor at motivation, great at caring for the company or organization’s results and poor at promoting the welfare of the people who must achieve those results. Through the 1980s and 1990s the autocrat ruled the American boardroom and most organizations.

A second tradition, which has roots that date back to the late 19th and early decades of the 20th century is generally known in the literature as the laissez faire approach to leadership. As complex, modern organizations are formed and reproduced, rational planning is supported by various forms of meritocracies, plutocracies, and technocrats. As the theory goes, in these “new” organizations defined by competent deputies, the leader’s passive, hands-off role leads to a “sink or swim” world, where more times than not, the leader is her or himself a career technocrat who has “made it.” Throughout the world, and especially in Asia and Europe, laissez faire leadership is an extension of management rules and behaviors.

In a more thoughtful and well crafted review, I think it would be possible to make a compelling case that both autocratic and laissez faire forms of leadership are themselves products of the deeply embedded communication patterns associated the industrial era. Efforts at crafting a sustained democratic form of leadership with shared decision making, employee centered goals, personal actualization, participation and team building are all constrained by the rules of the game and the nature of the market.

So, it’s time for new leadership rules to fully align to the realities of the networked economy. The combination of world-spanning fiber optical networking carrying transactions, services, and information at more than a billion bytes per second, globalization and new, differently-manageable generations coming into the workforce is creating the need for new kinds of leadership. Leadership is no longer like piloting an ocean liner but more like white water rafting that calls for flattened organizations that can change rapidly and accurately, decentralized decision-making, motivated employees, and inspiring relationships. This is the proverbial period of transition. Organizational behavior, including the role of leaders is only now beginning to come together in a coherent manner. Open source leadership is hardly a forgone conclusion. This is distinctly contested terrain. Incumbent leadership is likely to resist to the decentralizing of power that accompanies open source leadership.

Distributed and ultimately shared power in the networked economy in order to achieve common goals is in marked contrast to the zero sum game of corporate power playing. It is the networked economy that makes possible (but not inevitable) the break out strategy from the tradition prisoner’s dilemma. There are a number of other contrasting realities that help to distinguish traditional leadership from the growing open source leadership portfolio.

Traditional Leadership / Open Source Leadership

“Do as I say” / “Do as I do”
“Get out of my way” / “Get on my team”
Intolerant of ambiguity / Welcomes ambiguity
Concerned with long term / Concerned with the short term
Sequential / Multitasking
Encouraging / Evangelizing
Focused on strategy / Focused on the execution
Constrained by money / Constrained by time
Gets to “yes” / Able to say “no”
Focused on retention / Focused on recruitment

The single largest leadership challenge in the open source model is building a new civic consensus. Power in politics has usually been defined as power over other people, some agency, or some other set of players. The nature of open source leadership—informed by a distributed architecture that encourages distributed communications—means that power will consist of leveraging individual power to work together. Much more than semantics, power in the digital (in contrast to the industrial) city portends a new, inverse form of Robert Michel’s iron law of oligarchy, which asserts that rule by a few is unavoidable in a large, complex organization. Where we see open source leadership at work, we see the leveraging of technology and the redefinition of models to meet the needs of the public (either stockholder or civic good). In contrast to Michel’s early 20th-century concept that technology alignment, service models, and public needs were variables at odds, in the early 21st century, under an open source leadership model, technology can align with service models to meet public needs. To the extent that inter- and intra-agency and organizational functions can be combined and a new service framework derived in the 21st century, it is probable that the new law of the open source leadership is at work. The new logic is a truly new framework that acknowledges and fosters the inherent attributes of distributed power in a networked society.

Likewise, to the extent that investment in both human and technology bandwidth fails to produce more effective models of value creation, it is probable that the dead weight of the pre-digital bureaucratic and hierarchical order still dominates. To be clear, open source leadership in the digital city is all about new models of power, service, and civic engagement that are anything but ineluctable. Traditional forms of power are slow to give way, as patterns of human behavior and our sense of identity are slow to change. In the emerging digital city, new leaders committed to open source strategies are redefining power in order to collaborate and transform by leveraging the infrastructure, systems, and outcomes made possible by marrying human ingenuity, vision, and the institutional missions of various stakeholders.

OneCleveland and Open Source Leadership

OneCleveland is a replicable, scalable regional community network platform for next generation services and application development. Unlike most similar efforts around the world, OneCleveland owns much of the fiber optics infrastructure and electronics connecting the hundreds of assets across northeast Ohio to one another and to the Internet. More important, OneCleveland’s integrated strategy for both wired and nomadic computing through wireless deployment has been developed, in large measure, through a deliberate form of open source leadership.

OneCleveland is neither a destination nor a technology infrastructure. OneCleveland’s effort is a journey of re-inventing rules for leadership and a deliberate collaboration to help imagine, chart, and ultimately construct a new, common future for the region. There is no choice but to creatively and imaginatively build the region's future through technology. We missed the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution. Our opportunity to help shape the revolutionary impact of information technology is our generation's. The last thing we want is a strategy for our economic and community future that does not explictly commit to using technology infrastructure and solutions to address community priorities. Future generations will look back and history will be written highlighting those examples of human ingenuity and new form of open source civic leadership that took the calculated "leap" to remain ahead of the curve.

Civic leadership in northeast Ohio while not uniformly engaged has nevertheless largely embraced OneCleveland as their own. This does not mean that our leadership has entirely or even significantly embraced the notion of open source leadership. Mayors, CEOs, technology leaders, leaders in the business, philanthropy, civic, education, museums, libraries, health care organizations, churches, newspapers, community centers, organized labor, and many entrepreneurs have all, to varying degrees come to own OneCleveland. OneCleveland strives to become “their” platform for innovation and provocative application development. The sandbox that has been created, and the extraordinary world-wide recognition that has come to the City and the region, invites even the most skeptical nay sayer (and we still have our share) to come under the tent and take ownership or create partnerships with others.

Make no doubt, these are new rules. Not everyone is going to be responsive. Case Western Reserve University, with support of the most senior leadership at the institution has remained committed to a new model of power sharing. We have never had any interest in building OneCleveland as anything but a world-class community network embracing next generation, fiber optical gigabit switched Ethernet to address community priorities. Like open source software development, Case’s commitment to open source leadership is premised on contributing “core” code (in this case an architected network infrastructure and vision). As other developers (or institutions, leaders, entrepreneurs) join the open source effort, they are welcome to use all the pre-existing infrastructure and partnerships to innovate and advance their own organizational mission or those of other partners. If they contribute new innovations and create new partnerships the only commitment that we have come to expect is that it will be shared and added to the repository of solutions that demonstrable change peoples lives and help organizations meet their mission.

This is, to be sure, easier said than done. Even in our region, with an enlightened new generation of leaders transforming their respective institutions, sometimes old values and norms kick in. Coordinating the autonomy of important institutions in support of an open source leadership strategy for our region is no simple recipe. There is a high probability that we will make our share of misteps along the way. However, the network effect will bit by bit reward and support those that embrace the new values and norms.

OneCleveland’s staff is and will in all likelihood remain flat and small. By design, our open source leadership and solutions orientation has invited vendor partnership to help build, manage and operate parts of the infrastructure. We also have a growing number of sole proprietor and small business entrepreneurs who are now helping to build solutions that creating real value for subscribers who are on the network.

Bring your solution to help connect, enable, and transform the region. OneCleveland’s open source leadership will help to fashion new opportunities that align to the emerging realities of a networked economy. We’re learning to ride this bicycle as we learn to build it. For those of us involved, I suspect we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Posted by lsg8 at October 16, 2005 10:20 AM and tagged Bytes 

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Other technologists out there may struggle as I do with this idea of open-source being ported from software development into other industries, which in effect is taking the development environment itself and applying it in broader terms in business and community leadership.

But I'd argue that examples like OneCleveland are less a trendy method or design of open-source yet rather free and open access to technology developed by those on the bottom rung or the furthest nods of the network.

The open-source components of OneCleveland are the developers themselves and what role they're playing to expand and grow the technology for what they need. Whether it be remote locations in Oberlin or Akron joining the network, OneCleveland becomes a regional initiative. Customers of OneCleveland are no longer just consumers of the technology but they're developers of the network. They can also be suppliers like IBM whose proposed computing grid for OneCleveland runs on open-source Linux. So the technology choices are still at play and support this flavor of open-source. Other stakeholders include investors like Intel who awarded Cleveland the distinction of being one of their Digital Communities. In tandem you still have the needs within the network and these needs will create demand and prioritize the development of the network.

I recently read about another open-access network by the non-profit pharmaceutical organization called Institute for OneWorld Health (http://www.oneworldhealth.org ), whose mission is to deliver medical and global health in partnership with other non-profits, private institutions, and investors globally.

OneWorld Health is organized in partnership with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies locating appealing outlets for idle intellectual property. Pharmaceutical scientists, drawn to a mission of saving lives and improving health worldwide, are eager to participating in groundbreaking research to stop the spread of diseases such as leishmaniasis, diarrheal diseases, malaria and Chagas in the developing world. International health advocates including governments, non-government organizations, hospitals in the US and abroad, all partnering to improve global health. And, investors and donors are engaged in a strategic and pioneering investment in the health of millions of people worldwide.

The comparison here is that OneCleveland is also a non-profit responsible providing the network access and assets to those in the community who need it. The opportunities may be endless depending on how much development takes places within the network.

Lev challenges us with this notion of open-source being ambiguous in nature beyond using it in an applied service for software development. He's suggesting that OneCleveland or maybe anything Cleveland can be done differently if developers at any level have open and free access to key resources. The critical component here is free access to develop technologies and alliances at the standards of the network. This is an opportunity for what we might call the Free Region of Northeast Ohio!

Posted by: Rachel Wilkins at October 28, 2005 11:45 AM

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