We live in a digital age where the nature of work is radically changing. What humans were mechanically doing is now being automated by software. Tasks that used to require advance planning and a long execution time can now be done immediately with the help of online resources. Orchestration of larger events that required costly and cumbersome intermediaries can now be done directly. The units of resources are becoming more granular, available online through automated interfaces in large liquid marketplaces. Friction is being removed. Access to resources is broader; the industrial world is being democratized. A small startup can disrupt a giant corporation.
The networked economy is bringing change to all industries in the world. There isn’t a successful manufacturer today that doesn’t deal with a large number of suppliers and a large number of customers. To be successful, you must be able in near-real time to coordinate the activities of people who work for other companies. But collaboration between companies is hampered by information being siloed and delayed in individual emails, phone calls and telefaxes. We need an online platform that connects suppliers and buyers on a team-to-team level. We need instant access to vital business information, and we need to be able to take action quickly. The collaboration information needs to be visible, available, and actionable.
The great technological advances of the past decades have also brought with them an entirely new sort of complexity. We live in a distributed system – a networked world where anything can depend on anything. The solution to complexity and societal change is leadership.
We must upgrade the art of leadership to the level of the digital society we now live in. Leaders who used to hide in their offices need to come out and be as immediately available online as all other resources. Communication must be an integral part of everything we do as leaders, and the communication better be authentic. We must make the most of the new digital collaboration tools so that we can orchestrate work across highly diverse teams. Such teams will have full-time employees, part-time employees, outsourced teams, consultants, freelancers and more. They will geographically be dispersed around the globe, representing any number of languages and cultures.
To be successful in their jobs, leaders need to align the varied resources around the purpose and values of the organization. Leadership through command and control will be just a small and rare part of the job. Leadership is not about big fish vs. small fish. It’s about empowering all fish and guide them all in the same direction. No organizational unit is as powerful as a group of many acting as one. And in today’s world, those groups consist of teams representing multiple different companies who collaborate as suppliers and buyers or in some other fashion.
Software is eating this modern world, and we must in turn eat software. Nearly without exception, our societal and industrial resources will be managed by software systems and controlled through computerized interfaces. We all have egos that are self-centric. But our brains are eager to collaborate. The more we digitize the world, the better we can connect our world with our brains, and connect our brains with each other. Collaboration is a vital skill in the 21st millennium.
The collaborative models of the digital world and the new styles of leadership are leading us to a future where we can find fulfilling roles for all humans. Our jobs will change, and the way we think about work will change. But we will not be sidestepped by computerized systems. We will dramatically increase our own abilities to learn and do, and we will find new levels of human inventiveness and collaboration.
Mårten Mickos is a growth company CEO in Silicon Valley with a special passion for leadership and for open collaborative business models. Mickos is an Investor and Advisor of Jakamo.
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