Manuel Lima in his TED talk A visual history of human knowledge explains that “for a long period of time, we believed in a natural ranking order in the world around us, also known as the great chain of being, or "Scala naturae" in Latin, a top-down structure that normally starts with God at the very top, followed by angels, noblemen, common people, animals, and so on. This idea was actually based on Aristotle's ontology, which classified all things known to man in a set of opposing categories.”
Consequentially we accepted some kind of leadership whether of a real person or imaginative / invented super being. Normal people were part of a branching scheme of the tree depending on their power or wealth or importance. This concept is in fact such a powerful metaphor for organizing big communities, organizations, countries or super national entities or conveying information to map a variety of systems of knowledge that still persists in our understanding of organizational order.
At the end of the Cold war things somehow started to fall apart. World became globally connected via air transport and mostly due to evolution of Internet. To be precise I think the Internet is actually changing the tree paradigm we lived thousands of years, quite a lot and pretty fast.
Information is not any more spread via top down approach which gave top people the power of it. Organizational schemes are flattening. Even such organizations as armies follow the new principle when teaching combats units how to behave in the battle. It is dealing with decentralized, independent cells, where there's no top leader leading the whole combat process. Rather, any soldier should or could take command if necessity of circumstances requires so.
What we experiences today is the shift from trees structures into networks. Networks really embody notions of decentralization. Bring in interconnectedness. And the most important people, knowledge, information, organizations, countries and more become interdependent. A fact so well embodied in Nature that we keep forgetting all the times. For a moment think of your body. How many cells you have, organs, extremities. Do you feel each finger all the times? No, all these work in unity. But your body is not alone in the Universe …. Therefore, interconnectivity or better entanglement is a natural order.
Even more, this new way of networked thinking is critical to solve many of nowadays’ complex problems we face. From decoding the human genome or brain up to understanding the vast Universe we live in.
Back to the topic in question – is there a space for a leader in such network notions?
Is there a “leader” in Internet, Universe, Nature …? No, there's no leader per se.
We see this power of influence spreading across the globe when talking of financial institutions. They are managed by people with no names, no ‘faces’. But the ‘power’ of those institutions is well perceived. The political and other organizational systems - those that are supposed to lead or represent us – politicians, managers, teachers … are just ‘puppets on the strings’. They obey, they execute, but they do not lead! They are part of a bigger picture driven by interest, capital and (unfortunately) greed.
So, the two questions are:
- Is there an alternative to this “influentialisem”?
- Should we have a different leadership approach or be without it?
Bruce Mau said "When everything is connected to everything else, for better or for worse, everything matters" and if everything matters, who should be responsible to lead and be accountable?