(Image: "Thursday 10 February 2011 - Day 17 Al Qasr Al Aini Street, Cairo as doctors and nurses walk peacefully on one side of the street, others take video from mobile phones in the other side of the street." photo by sierragoddess. cc-by-nd)

Renewing Networks: Egypt & “Losing Control”

(Image: “Thursday 10 February 2011 – Day 17 Al Qasr Al Aini Street, Cairo as doctors and nurses walk peacefully on one side of the street, others take video from mobile phones in the other side of the street.” photo by sierragoddess. cc-by-nd)

A lot of the recent talk about what’s going on in Tunisia and Egypt, about organizing today, digital media, anxieties about political organizational transitions… this all reminds me of this passage:

“Losing control is more important than trying to gain it. One distinguishing characteristic of the digital world is that power is being pushed to the edges away from organizations and towards people. This shift is good for organizations that need to engage many people in their work; yet to successfully power the edges, organizations have to be willing to lose control.

“Losing control” is a frightening phrase; it connotes flying through space without a parachute or a net. In this respect, social media are kryptonite for people who feel a need to control their efforts too tightly. But the reality in our connected world is that spending energy trying to control what other people do and say is counterproductive.

Organizations still need to be intentional about their efforts, they still need messages and plans, but they also have to expect that people and organizations in their ecosystem will march to their own drummers. More important, imperfectly coordinated efforts can be enormously successful, even exhilarating, as they unfold in unexpected ways.

Only by letting go and throwing off the yoke of control can organizations unleash the power and creativity of many people to do amazing things on their behalf. …”

— Beth Kanter & Allison Fine, The Networked Nonprofit

Some group of outside commentators frame changes like this as “chaos” or fog. But isn’t change the norm in life, and stability the exception often accomplished via some spectrum of repression? As the pre-Platonic adage goes, we never walk through the same stream twice. Where are we? We’re in an “unscripted time,” as Harvey Sarles has said in his essay “Responses To Change“— “a moment in history in which our ideas of the future seem really murky, unclear, unsure”— and what some in grappling with this recognition over the past 30 years have labeled: The Third Wave, The Aquarian Conspiracy, Blessed Unrest, or the Gutenberg Parenthesis.

Those involved in the the Egyptian and Tunisian protests are operating with a new spirit— the spirit of this age we’re in— and are doing amazing work to accomplish simple goals that have been articulated widely and for some time… a social code perhaps most eloquently documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and adapted and focused in on for local context. Some people focus on freedom to communicate, or freedom from want, or freedom of representative choice, or all of this and more.  How we’re doing this now has augmented, morphed, or in many ways is renewing long standing ways of human association that have been repressed via the narrow abstraction of printed words.

“Leaderless organization” is another phrase for networks. “Chaos” as used today is another word for networks, often used by idealist print-centered minds who’ve yet to reboot their awareness with actual human communication reality.

What can an organization learn from these recent events? The value of articulating outcomes and improving skills in sharing them, to then learn and co-create with like-minded peers… that’s the positive phrasing of what is meant by “losing control.”

That shock we feel over and over these days?
Sparks from reconnecting networks of human trust.