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The Value is in Ideas and Distributed Contribution

The Day Control Died in Companies

Control vs. Order
No individual wants to believe they are under control, but society needs to have a sense of order which means we exchanged control along the way with our institutions. With that control being exchanged, we gave power and influence to a centralized few. I feel there is a collective yearning to splinter control and to no longer allow for the gross centralization of control. A belief that the risk of that power being used against us in some way goes down dramatically if that power is distributed among the many. A sense of order is more guided by the mores associated with a community which is upheld by the participants. If an individual ignores these guidelines, they are in essence, cast out of the community. Admittedly, this doesn't work well for areas that are life-threatening, but I'm pretty safe in assuming that most businesses aren't involved in life and death situations.

At a national level, the perception is that President Obama won the 2008 presidential election due to a grass roots campaign fed by millions of Internet users. The people involved believe that Obama's election and allegiance could not be purchased by a few which was the stigma associated with the Bush/Cheney years. We see what's happened in Iran and the desperate cry to be heard by those who feel that centralized control has squelched their voting voices. The former inspires us to dream of a even more democratized republic while the latter has turned into violence in the streets.

Add to this the centralized abuse of our financial markets and you can see the motivation for distributed control. We really can't trust the guy in the expensive suit on television, can we? We really do have to look out for ourselves, don't we? If that's the case, I want my control back.

Focus Efforts around Ideas, not Control
People want fresh approaches to old problems and they care less about where they originated. The power is in the idea and the implementation of that idea. I know ideas are cheap but that's the point. Build a culture that fosters ideas. If ideas are cheap and the ability to communicate them and test them are cheap, more ideas will be put on the table. Just like in sales, more ideas in the pipeline should improve the company's ability to find a nugget.

What happens to an employee's sense of worth when an idea they had is celebrated? They feel creative, they feel listened to and they feel validated. What happens when they feel controlled? Just the opposite.

Test Often
Entrepreneurs can try Internet businesses at a fraction of what it would have cost just five years ago. Computing power is up, storage is a non-issue on costs and web-based software platforms are waiting for ideas. As an example, just a few years ago it would have cost $25,000 to build a decent website with some e-commerce capability. Now you can have it built and hosted for under $100 a month. Times have changed and prices will continue to drop.

What about Management?
Management still has to set objectives, instill passion and share wisdom. We don't need management to be focused on control. Some companies have too many managers who aren't sure what their mission is outside of control. Too much control and the employee is rebelling in the shadows. The old saying that "he quit months ago, he just hasn't told anyone yet" is true. Just because someone sits at a desk, that doesn't mean they are there. Management's job is to set up and support an employee's skill and desire that is optimized in the direction of high level objectives. Employees need to know not only how to do something, but why they are doing it.

People that are in management are there due to the performance of the team. If a CEO has watched their stock price drop due to declining earnings, the board considers the replacement of that CEO if they feel he has lost the will of the company. Instead of that CEO running around telling people what to do, it would be better if he let them have a voice in what they were going to do. That's the new paradigm of control, order and shared power. I love it when I find an executive who is a master at listening to ideas, shopping them around a bit and then testing the idea.

The clock is ticking on command and control
Will the pendulum swing back to centralized command and control? Perhaps, but that's not where I would put my money. My money would have to go in the direction of the many. The big pieces on the table are moving around right now faster than ever and are going through a metamorphosis of society. That's the feeling of uncertainty we feel everyday. It's not that things are getting worse, they are just unsettled and probabilities are difficult to nail down. Of course, our situation can change daily, we're in the middle of a process. But if you're a person who counts on your name or background to get to the front of the line, I'm afraid that strategy is dying. We are being directed through our own collective ambitions toward a meritocracy like we have never seen before. It is liberating for many, it will be shared and you need to pack some value in your suitcase. Enjoy the ride.

More Stories By John Ryan

John is an experienced leader with a strong background of defining and executing company strategies. He is especially skilled in channel management, market analysis, brand marketing and selling technology products and services. He has successfully served in a number of executive positions and has been in management for 20 years. John is currently writing a book on increasing revenue generation. He has been a co-author of a comprehensive marketing methodology for high tech companies and has helped venture capitalists and private equity firms gauge their technology investments. In 2004, John served as Vice President of Marketing for the NA arm of the $6B IT Services division of Siemens, AG. John served on the board of directors at WebTrends, purchased by NetIQ (NTIQ) for $1 billion in 2001. WebTrends was highly successful dominating the web site analysis and reporting space. Prior to WebTrends, John was the Vice President of Marketing for Tivoli Systems. John has worked as a contracted consultant for established companies, start ups and top analyst firms. John can be reached at john@johnwryan.com or you can follow him on Twitter @buyersteps