Technology is not technology if it happened before you were born.
Sir Ken Robinson
There has been a significant shift in the workplace in the last decade toward “intellectual capital” and a reframing of the role of manager as one of leader. Gone are the days of being able to tell if a worker is a good one because he or she spends exorbitant amounts of time behind the desk. The age of the knowledge worker ushered in a time of “knowing,” an era when what was important was in your mind not on the assembly line. Good soldiers, you see, were broken. Their independence sacrificed for the cause. Their intellectual spark vanished because they lost something important in the battle of control; they lost their ability to think and act with autonomy. They lost the ability to think for themselves.
In many organizations, leadership is lost. They have little or no idea how to inspire and measure performance in the virtual world. They are lost in a paradigm of the past, one that says management should influence and control. In the virtual world, in contrast, it is essential for the individual to be authentically productive. The real reason people get called back to the office is not one of collaboration and inspiration but one of trust. When workers are not in a face to face environment, leadership is not sure how to tap into the creativity, innovation and productivity of their workforce. It is not the economy, business cycle, outsourcing or offshoring that is the problem. It is lack of individual support and empowerment. Manage comes from a root word that is the same as the one used for “manipulate” or “maneuver,” and means to change something to fit a purpose. The image of the good soldier willing to sacrifice everything for the cause is still alive in some organizations. However, even in corporate cultures long known for this, the mentality is beginning to change. Power is the ability to act with autonomy. To create and innovate you need the freedom to act without judgment.
Innovation in many organizations has become as extinct as Tyrannosaurus rex. This is really a dilemma in a world of constant change. Success seems to depend on adapting to the new. Some organizations are waking up to the need to empower people. This requires inspiring them to think for themselves so that they can respond creatively to the relentless change that surrounds them. Other are still operating in a fear-based mentality. They are afraid of what they cannot see. They are afraid of losing control and afraid of the soldiers deserting. The Harvard Business Review writes books about innovation and the Economist runs articles on creativity. But what really needs to happen will not be created by essay. It will be inspired by technology and the freedom inherent in the virtual environment.
Technology gives us the ability to be independent yet connected. You can be at basketball practice in a high school gym in Philadelphia and have a meeting with someone in Japan. If you have a cellphone, tablet or a laptop and a connection you can engage in global commerce. Access to world markets is easy. Organizations are starting to understand that managing people that work in this detached but connected environment might require a new approach.