Leadership and Movement 2.0

From time to time I hear people wish there were more leaders. What I think they really mean is they wish there were fewer leaders and more followers.

I see leaders everywhere all the time: people making decisions, showing initiative, putting themselves out there.

Some leaders put on events. They see a missing connection between an artwork and an audience and they move to correct it. The trend of community-sponsored film screenings and issue-oriented house parties relies on this. Isn't every person who hosts a screening of "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" a leader? Or only Robert Greenwald?

(Interruption for a Google observation: Why, when you Google for "robert greenwald wal-mart" is the first thing you read "Robert is jewish"? Try it in reverse, searching for the phrase "Robert is jewish." This phrase does not appear on the page or in the source code, from what I can tell. (If this changes, I have a grab of the Google results.))

In some ways, every blogger is a leader. Spouting off isn't the same thing as leading, of course, but 20 million is a big number. Some percentage of those people are saying, follow me. And some percentage of those are worth following. At least for some percentage of us.

It's chic in some circles to pooh-pooh bloggers as self-obsessed loners. But people come together to start a newspaper or magazine pretty often, too, motivated by the desire to move others to action.

Some leaders start organizations for similar reasons. They see a need and they move to fill it. It seems like more people think to start a new organization then join an existing one. We have so many organizations that every political action requires a coalition. And every coalition seems to have another coalition as a member. And then you have your networks. And your networks of networks. You need a search algorithm to make sense of it.

So when people say they want more leaders, what I think they really mean is they want fewer leaders and more followers. They want more joiners, fewer starters. More readers, fewer writers. More audience, less media.

The people who say they want more leaders often use phrases like "charisma" and "plan." Sometimes they use words like "Clinton" or "Che." Occasionally, they'll use a term like "deed." There's a logic there. Perhaps if there was more worth following, there would be more followers. It often seems like people are little metal filings, all doing their own thing but ready to cohere into an obedient group the moment any magnetism is introduced into their world.

People look at the way things are and sense a daunting challenge. They decide, sensibly, that change will require coordinated mass action and the sacrifice of some people to the cause. Who will risk sacrifice without an authoritative reassurance that others will make use of that sacrifice? God makes that so much simpler. Or priests do.

Really people just want to see shit get done. Some of them share Andy Cornell's frustration that the open, consensus model of distributed decisionmaking leads to inaction. And if a lone individual can cut through that, we'll take it.

That simply may no longer be an option. The examples I gave above were all about action on the micro-level. You can't solve a macro-level problem with an organization, blog, or house party. It seems that the problems we are facing are so vast and complex that they are beyond the scope of an individual.

This is one of the points I tried to draw out in my previous post on Katrina: where resources and decisionmaking were concentrated, relief efforts broke down. Where resources and decisionmaking were distributed, people solved problems. Individuals solved small problems on their own and big problems collectively.

An old ranch hand used to say, you can't plan what's going to happen on a cattle drive, but if you don't plan at all, you know it will go badly. The only plan worth having these days is the one that allows for constant input and modification. Make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens.

The movement doesn't need more leaders. It needs a stronger architecture of participation, one that distributes problem solving and aggregates solutions – on the human level, not just with our websites. (Can we get an RSS feed for action, please?) Because the phenomenon of mass-micro-leadership is not a problem that we need to solve; it's a condition we need to adapt to.

Just as in the Web 2.0 world, it is no longer possible to get everyone to use a single protocol or visit a single website or join a single listserv, in the Movement 2.0 world it is no longer possible to get everyone to join one organization or follow one leader or repeat one message.

The only movement worth joining is the one that allows you to solve both your micro and macro problems, to be both leader and follower, a movement that rapidly implements innovation, that plans without offering the false promise of all-encompassing solutions. Because this is the only movement that will actually accomplish anything close to the scale of our dreams. The new world may still be in each of our hearts, but it can no longer fit in a single head any more than all of the world's data can fit in a single computer.

Now, to be clear, this paradigm does not apply universally. There are numerous proprietors of websites and purveyors of solutions that believe wholeheartedly in their own singularity. Many of them wield enormous power. This applies both within the capitalist West and in the nasty, brutish world at large.

And in the face of these nasty brutes we sometimes find ourselves dispersed and uncoordinated, more concerned with the principle of radical democracy than with confronting the enemy before us. That's what Andy was writing about. There's no real excuse for that. The point is not to give everyone a voice; the point is to be constantly open to input in order to modify failing courses of action and implement successful solutions.

On the flip side, and perhaps more challenging, sometimes the solution to a problem requires patience. Of all things, way more than leaders, this may be what movement 2.0 lacks and what we as the human beings that comprise it need to bring to it.

Our citizen journalism, of which blogging is symptomatic and Indymedia is emblematic, is fast, cheap, and out of control. That's ideal for capturing events and moments, but sometimes a little investigative feature reporting is in order. We're long on activism but short on organizing (a distinction borrowed from another piece by Andy) making us quick to take action but incapable of making change.

So none of what I've said should be taken to suggest losing focus. Sometimes focus is the innovation. If you've got a good plan, stick with the plan. We need to have faith that others will succeed where we fail. In fact, making an example of our failures is key to our success. So let us know how it turns out.


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