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OWS, Anonymous, Wikileaks – 3 insights enterprises may consider

July 10, 2012

Hacker – image (c) Throbedscribe, Flickr

Could corporate workers self-organize spontaneously, just like activist groups, to confront ethical breaches?

Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous, Wikileaks. The buzz around ‘wild’ initiatives of a new type is decreasing, while the crisis keeps getting bigger and bigger. Gloomy economic and politic al efforts to get out of a suffocating general mood are probably heavy enough to bear, until fall.

Why this post? Because corporations and leaders need to look beyond their direct environment to acquire a better understanding of the world, and take better decisions. The very first tool of any decision maker is to picture a representation of the macrocosm in which he operates, even including elements that seem unrelated or not directly impacting their area. Whether you call this systemics, scenario planning, butterfly effect, complexity, chaos theory, emergence, or new trends, it’s intellectual gym that fosters adaptability. And it is becoming increasingly essential.

I will be proposing here – with humility, debate is welcome – three ideas inspired to me by the cyberactivism. With the risk to offend some of my appreciated clients and colleagues, I have a soft spot for these movements, because from protestation they try to create a better world precisely where it seems impossible. Like sand in the gears. Like David fighting Goliath. Like many heroes from Jack Vance, for science-fiction amateurs.

1 – The silent majority raises a voice

OWS peacefully denounces capitalism abuses. Its members are just like you and me citizens who work, of all age and social groups, not only students, unemployed or troublemakers. Wikileaks, with the help from journalists and many volunteers, makes sensitive information public in the name of freedom of information and of the right to know. Wikileaks has numerous supporters who host mirror sites or archives, like Liberation newspaper in France. Anonymous supports OWS and Wikileaks causes by shutting down websites: among others, they attacked sites of eBay, Mastercard and Sony. The organization also supports other causes like the Arab Spring or fighting against child pornography by hacking websites; that’s where the name ‘hacktivism’ comes from (hacking+activism). They are backed by an emerging social movement, which is spontaneous and elusive, without hierarchy nor leaders nor spokesman.

Cyberactivism movements only recently spread to become a source of information for news businesses and not just a source of scoops. Their broad reach might be due to the fact that all three movements target concerns that most of us have in mind: is the world freewheeling, with politics, economical organizations and enterprises powerless or making it worse?

The silent majority now has one (or more) mouthpieces. What could happen similarly in the business world? Well, such initiatives could burst at a smaller scale and target ethical breaches, fairness issues or sustainable development contempt. Educating the Public Relations department on crisis management to be ready to talk to the media and stakeholders might not be enough. Even less as dissenting initiatives might grow internally only. How to prevent that? By working on root causes of potential problems, rather than strengthen defense mechanisms … And if this means challenging the primary activity for some enterprises, well, at least it deserve some thinking.

2 – Self-organization is not a myth

Self-organization is an emerging phenomenon, not a myth. We are discovering that it does not need a well-oiled complex process to exist, but much rather a sound motivation and collective communication tools. 50 years ago when the first research on systemics started and when socio-technical systems theories were drawn, we thought of a new era in organizational development. The idea was that each team, each worker in the team could engage more in broadening his tasks range and in self-managing. P&G was a pioneer in the 60s. Soon after two pitfalls appeared: first, every worker wasn’t ready for more responsible autonomy, even for a better wage and more sense in his work life. Second, managing teams were not all that ready to hand over their domination and control.

We still find here and there implementation of this model: Whole Foods, W.L. Gore or MorningStar, for example, or Argentina’s fábricas recuperadas movement (workers self-management) in response to the 2001 crisis. That can even make us think that the Enterprise 2.0 can exist without technology, like at Semco or Groupe Hervé.

In the cases of OWS and Anonymous, however, there is no strategy or process to self-organize, but rather spontaneity, balancing and repeated adjustments. That’s the case too for Wikileaks and the mirror sites. Cyberactivists have an intimate understanding of their common goal, this is what holds them together. They also have an emergency feeling which is their fuel. Internet is the flux and the action tool. Each and everyone find his own way to contribute. From that I submit a second proposal: self-organization in the enterprise could come to life without the involvement of executives and managers, if a common goal and urgency feeling appears. We should keep an eye on that.

3 – If the emergence of collectiveness slows things down it’s good!

The accepted theory is that collaboration and collective intelligence are there to boost the enterprise reactivity, make it more agile, quicker. But we are in a world that goes much faster than our ability to even think the transformations needed to adapt our society and organizations. A counter-power that takes time to think about complexity and find where it’s getting out of hands is a real boon. Because enterprises have neither time nor resources to do that. And a good counter-power has to be collective and untamable.

Internet and 2.0 technologies can accelerate communication but also, more broadly, generate a real collective consciousness and slow down wild horses. By wild horses, I mean ill-conceived projects, greedy rather than sustainable strategies, growth as a flagship where balance would be much smarter, reactiveness rather than proactiveness. I then contradict the fact that 2.0 technologies will deliver more swiftness: when they are correctly used, they should slow down decisions and innovations and make them better-advised.

Two years ago, I was often asked the following: “How will we gather all these alerts and good ideas that will be posted on the collaborative platforms and social networks? Should we create a cyber-intelligence department, focusing internally and externally? How to set up the process to redistribute asap all good ideas to the right people in the enterprise? Because they don’t have time to watch …”. I’m not asked this that often any more, which means we are learning: no need for a process as soon as the ‘right’ people, labs, etc. are themselves involved and engaged in the collective way of work . Whatever time they need to do so.

Voice of the silence, spontaneous self-organization, collectiveness that slows down things for a better result – are these three ideas I developed above ringing a bell?

This article was translated (forgive the hectic English) from its French version published on 01Net business here: OWS, Anonymous, Wikileaks – trois idées applicables par les entreprises. For other French posts published on 01Net, check here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 27, 2013 12:20 pm

    J’ai apprécié votre article et les 3 idées que vous mettez en lumière. Je pense comme vous que ces idées et ces façons de s’organiser sont inspirantes pour les entreprises et plus largement. J’ai publié un article qui se concentre sur l’aspect éthique de la rupture qui vient. J’ai eu la même réflexion que vous, ce qui m’a fait plonger dans l’histoire des hackers, leurs origines, leurs mythes fondateurs, et on y trouve une éthique que certains croient éteinte, je pense qu’elle est encore en gestation.

    Je suis intéressé par votre avis sur l’éclairage éthique, ainsi que les 8 boussoles que je tente de dessiner pour avancer sur ce chemin difficile et se préparer à la rupture qui vient.


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