Piecing the Puzzle of Technological Leadership Together

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


3 thoughts on “Piecing the Puzzle of Technological Leadership Together

  1. Nice post. I have enjoyed your reflections as an educator these past 8 weeks. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of THE WORLD IS FLAT, and I feel I should celebrate, as the book really had an impact on me and my leadership journey! I liked how you wove Friedman, Shirky and Florida into your response. I would suggest one further lesson … neither Friedman, Shirky nor Florida got it totally right (or totally wrong). The wired world has continued to evolve, in some rather interesting ways. These are exciting times to be a leader!

  2. Technology Ambitions,

    I completely agree with your assessment that leaders can set themselves apart by embracing technology. Not only will the leaders set themselves apart, but also I believe that their organizations will become leaders in the global marketplace offered by technology access in comparison to those leaders and organizations that do not embrace technology. Leaders do not need to know everything about technology, but if they encourage others to consider the possibilities and embrace the new opportunities they can move their organizations forward and likely recruit the highly skilled and innovated workforce that will be needed to navigate in this ever-changing environment in the future. Exciting times ahead!

  3. It is interesting to think about Florida and Shirky’s discussions on these topics, and consider that they are from ‘so long’ ago in the Internet age. Given that they web itself only dates back to the 90’s, their thoughts on the topic from the ‘00’s’ seem like they could really be out of date. From a research perspective, that seems like craziness! However, Shirky has been the one that has really stuck with me throughout the term as the perspective I would buy into. When we initially viewed the YouTube video several weeks back, I recall simply thinking ‘wow, I had not really thought of that before’. Now after having read Here Comes Everybody, I am a believer of many of his concepts. However, as Dr. Watwood said, I do not think any of them necessarily got it all right. Shirky, Friedman, Florida – they are all grasping at straws and the technology and those using it are changing so rapidly that no one can keep up with it.

    I completely agree that from a leadership perspective our role is to harness this technology to our advantage. We must determine what is needed in our setting, and then make appropriate use of it. I think it is vital that we do not abuse it, or allow the use of it to become abusive to our employees. I spoke in my blog this week about burnout, and how employees that are forced to remain connected at all times to work can become burned out. Leadership can help to harness this and encourage employees to ‘turn off’, get away, take their time off. Or, they can encourage employees to work on their off hours, which can lead to burn out. A good leader would choose the former, not the latter.

    – Jill

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