Let the Inmates Run the Asylum


By Samuel Greengard

Modern corporations still lean heavily on a command and control culture. This approach--the wise sages at the top telling the dependable workers down below what to do and how to do it--worked just dandy during the Industrial Age, when getting people in the right place to hammer a spike or pour concrete was essential.

We know it's no longer the Industrial Age. But change doesn't come easily--and people hate relinquishing power. So, a lot of organizations and IT departments speed ahead on the Technology Express without ever recognizing that they've missed the Technology Rocket Ship. Hey, you don't know what you don't know, right?

Take social media tools. A lot of companies have rushed to set up a Facebook page and slap a Facebook logo on all their advertisements and marketing materials. Many are tapping into Twitter too. Assuming these organizations get it right, they're likely to realize gains.

But what many business leaders are missing is the ability to use social media in new and important ways within an enterprise. For example, instead of a product team assuming it's the official think-tank for an organization, why not dash off a question or problem and let the entire company work on it? Crowdsourcing is already changing everything from disaster relief to medicine. Who says the clerk or janitor doesn't have a novel idea and a fresh perspective?

Same with voting. Facebook has its Like buttons and many sites let readers rate articles based on stars or click a thumbs up or thumbs down button. Why not circulate ideas within the enterprise and let workers rate them? This doesn't mean they actually make a decision--though I have a feeling that voting offers some intriguing possibilities too. It does let IT or HR or whomever get an idea about what people are thinking and, possibly, what issues the organization is struggling with.

I have no doubt that within 10 years, employees will be voting on all sorts of things that would cause most of today's executives to hurl. They'll also be making decisions on how to run the company.

Today's business leaders need to change the way they think. Soon enough, the inmates will run the asylum.