When considering the role of a 21st century leader, one must take into account how that leader utilizes technology in his/her role. Over the last eight weeks we have learned that technology has significantly impacted our current world. It’s amazing to consider the Internet is really only 20-years old. What amazing growth has taken place over the past 20 years! If you think about the varying viewpoints of Florida, Friedman and Shirky you may find yourself attempting to determine just how “affected” we have become as a result of the varying technologies and social media.
The first viewpoint of Thomas Friedman (2005) focuses on the importance of “competition in a technology-fueled global environment [as] a call to action for governments, businesses and individuals who must stay ahead of these trends in order to remain competitive” (Friedman, 2005). The emphasis he places on this statement is based on his belief that the playing field has been leveled based on the availability of technology and society’s ability to create, share and compete with each other.
Similar to Friedman, Clay Shirky discusses the fact that “the moment our historical generation is living through is the largest increase in expressive capability” in his 2009 TED talk. This moment, similar to Friedman’s theories, is a significant milestone in our technological journey. To assist him in backing up this statement, he used the example of the Chinese citizens tweeting as they were experiencing their 2008 earthquake (Shirky, 2009). Shirky (2009) describes a landscape in which the audience is no longer a consumer but a producer as well. He also goes on to speak of technical capital vs. social capital, pointing out that many technological tools do not get interesting until they get boring (Shirky, 2009).
These viewpoints differ from that of the third by Richard Florida. Florida’s interpretation of our world is not flat but rather “spiky” (Florida, 2005). In his rebuttal to Friedman’s book, Florida describes “spikes” in technology consumption, collaboration and production around large metropolitan cities (Florida, 2005). He further states that these “spikes” will inevitably continue to grow higher as the valleys fall farther below (Florida, 2005).
These three viewpoints can really be applied to everything we have learned in this course regarding leadership in the digital age. Though no viewpoint is incorrect, each one can be interpreted differently; similar to the role of a leader. I believe that to be an effective, 21st century leader, one must assume a certain burden of responsibility in regards to technology. To ignore technology would be the same as ignoring your responsibilities and admitting to defeat in your role.
First, if you apply Friedman’s theory of “flattening” to leadership, you can assume that anyone with the desire to be a leader can, theoretically, pursue that goal. As leaders strive for success, a natural competition forms; one that is similar to the competition amongst governments and businesses referred to by Friedman. This competition forces leaders to strive to be the very best and most effective they can be. Technology also places a wealth of resources at your fingertips and allows for access in Friedman’s flat world. The extent of access depends on the willingness of the individual. It’s reaffirming, however, to consider that leaders can grow from any area of the world, any demographic, any socio-economic status, etc. Desire + Access = Success!
Secondly, when taking a closer look at the role of a leader in our digital world it is important to consider Clay Shirky’s perspectives. If everyone is capable of expressing themselves through so many convenient technological platforms then a leader must learn to effectively manage them. Therefore, the example he refers to of how the Chinese government tried to regulate the media coverage of their earthquake becomes a lesson on what not to do. Today’s leaders need to understand that technology is far larger than them and to try to place parameters on it could inevitably make them look ignorant. They must learn how to rely on their employees and other resources for knowledge and input in addition to their own.
Finally, just as Florida believes that our world is “spiky” rather than flat, the field of leadership will have men and women that set themselves apart from the rest of their colleagues. These “spikes,” or exceptional leaders, will demonstrate that by embracing technology, social media and Web 2.0 they will excel in their positions. In addition, they will highlight attributes such as their ability to provide opportunities for collaboration amongst their staff, flexibility in the implementation of new technological initiatives and a mindset that accepts the reality that technology is constantly evolving thus their “responsibilities” as a leader may evolve as well. Their willingness to stay current in our ever-changing digital world will allow them to achieve success.
Florida, Richard. (2005, August). The World is Spiky. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/images/issues/200510/world-is-spiky.pdf
Friedman, Thomas. (2005, April). The World is Flat. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York, NY.
Shirky, Clay. (2009, June 16). Clay Shirky: How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_iN_QubRs0&feature=youtu.be