More Powerful Than Casual Fridays!

Last week, Andrew Taylor linked to the draft of Charles Leadbetter’s upcoming book, We-Think. It has taken a week or so, but I have read the entire thing and found much of it thought provoking.

The general theme of the book is that some of the biggest innovations of the recent past have been a result of the cooperative effort of enthusiastic amatuers. Among the examples he cites are familiar like Wikipedia, Craigslist and Linux. But he also reveals that mountain bikes were actually developed by enthusiasts who assembled prototypes from scavenged parts so they could ride off road. Many recent astronomical observations have been made the same way, placing cobbled together telescopes alongside multi-million dollar observatories as contributors to discoveries.

Since I have been on pondering the nature of leadership in the arts of late, one of the dozens of things that caught my eye was the following (my emphasis):

Most important for innovation, leaders will have to be open to challenge and question: they will have to be curious and inquisitive.They cannot afford to be intellectually closed.They will have to be accessible to the people they lead, visible and part of the conversation at work, rather than cut off in the executive suite. Leadership will not longer be the preserve of the people at the top of the organisation: it needs to be exercised in large and small way by many people at all levels. If innovation is going to come from all over the organisation, then so too will leadership.

One of the issues Leadbetter addresses in the book is that so many companies say they want people to come up with creative solutions, but the sentiment is mostly lip service. To be sure, the whole problem of companies not supporting their assertion that they value out of the box thinking is a regular topic of business magazine articles. (And lets not even get into the whole fallacy of the “we’re like family here” claim.)

I have a suspicion though that there is a movement afoot that companies will find themselves unable to oppose. As more and more people find some self-actualization in contributing to these collaborative efforts, their desire to feel similar satisfaction at work could end up subverting the organizational culture of their companies. The subtle proliferation of Casual Fridays will be nothing next to this trend!

As people see that they have something of value to contribute to the team laboring on their out of work interest, they may feel that they have something to contribute at work as well. This may lead to some big conflicts as the employee expects things to be restructured to facilitate collaboration or perhaps their expertise doesn’t quite translate over to the function they serve at the company.

A smart company may look into giving employees the opportunity to fill the knowledge gaps needed to translate existing expertise or explore reorganizing things if there is some potential in the suggestion.

They may not have a choice. Employees already create informal networks to get things done in many companies. Get enough people together who have participated in highly effective self-organized groups in their private lives, and the company’s management may find themselves out of the loop.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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